I think I may have overdone it a little on authentic African food this week. In order to understand some of the happenings of the week, we need to introduce you to Mma. That name may sound a little different. It is for these people also. To say it you have to say the first M with your mouth closed (as if you were humming) and then say a sharp ma. Mma is Nigerian and lives out in Akpakpa across the river. She lives next to a member who introduced her to the missionaries. She is from an Ebo tribe and is learning French but is a native (as native as Nigeria gets) English speaker. The name Mma is Ebo and means beautiful. That name fits somewhat as she is a good looking gal and wears heals about 3 inches tall when she dresses up. Since Mma is Ebo, her English name is Crystal Rose if you prefer that.
Last Saturday, Elders Phillips and Ellis asked us to meet them at the church and help them to teach Mma. If they are teaching a single woman, they try to have someone else with them. We met her and gave her a lesson on the plan of salvation that went very well. She then stayed to the baptism and asked Soeur Black several questions about that. She was also to Church on Sunday. On Monday the elders asked us to take them to Akpakpa, which I did while Soeur Black was doing other things. I hadn’t connected that the first meeting was with Mma and when I found that out decided I better stay for that meeting. Mma had been working in a restaurant but was not making much money so she has decided to start her own. You don’t have to have much to start a restaurant here. If you have a little burner, a table and chairs, and a few dishes you are in business. The place she is starting doesn’t even have electricity. We sat out in front under a little lean-to shade and visited just a little when another guy showed up. She had previously told us that she had been going to another church nearby but had become disenchanted so was looking for something better. She introduced the new guy as an elder from her previous church. Whether that was arranged in advance or just coincidental I don’t know. Anyway, he joined us and we introduced ourselves and after pleasantries we told him who we were and began introducing the Church. He seemed very interested, especially in the Book of Mormon. We invited him to church on Sunday and he said he would come. We promised him that if he did, we would tell him more about the Book of Mormon and give him a copy. I hope he comes. Before leaving I suddenly decided it would be a really good idea to give her a little business for her restaurant as it seemed to be a little short of customers. None to be exact. I told her if she would have lunch ready tomorrow we would bring the elders and come out and eat. She had a sign out front saying “EBO FOOD IS READY”. She asked what we would like to eat and without thinking I told her to serve us Ebo food. That seemed like a good idea to me.
Now for the rest of the story from Charlotte. According to the previous day’s arrangements, we picked up the Elders and drove to her little restaurant for lunch. Elder Phillips told me the night before that I was in for a treat the next day so I was looking forward to the meal with anticipation. She had obviously prepared for our meal very carefully as she showed us the kitchen with the little charcoal cookers on the floor with different things cooking. It didn’t smell too bad. So far so good. She invited us sit outside at the table and brought us some pop to drink. Still so far good. She said she would begin with the first course and brought out bowls of soup. Elder Phillips said in his big enthusiastic voice, “What’s that?” The response from Mma was goat intestine soup. Dad looked at me and I at him and we did not need to say a single word as the look of the soup told it all! Immediately all of the etiquette lessons I gave to the youth in Blanding over the years were completely irrelevant. Did I actually say, “If it doesn’t kill them, it won’t kill you, so eat what you are served.”? I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I ate that, I would be flying home in a pine box. Besides the goat intestines, there were generous hunks of goat liver. We did manage to eat the broth which was mixed with some green leaves and was hotter than a “firecracker”. As we were eating the soup Elder Phillips said, “You HAVE to be kidding!” He was chewing away on some intestine when a fly flew into his bottle of pop. He tried to get it to come out with no success. Dad offered to pour some of the pop out on the ground and dump out the fly but Elder Phillips said, “That doesn’t work. The fly is always the last to come out.” So he just drank the pop anyway. He needed that to wash down the soup. I guess the Elders are experienced in such things. The fly made its way out at last and he tossed it aside. I was amazed at his determination to chew through that piece of intestine so he could swallow it down. It took him at least five minutes of chewing.
The main dish was served in two bowls. The first was fried cassava root. That was in a big blob that slightly resembled the fofo we told you about previously. It came with a bowl of some sort of fish sauce. You took a hunk of the cassava root and dipped it in the fish sauce. I think that the fish had been brined as it was very salty. It actually tasted pretty good but I don’t think that I will try to bring the recipe home. I leaned over to Elder Ellis and said, “If my kids could only see me now!” After the main course, Mma brought us a nice fruit salad of a mixture of tropical fruits. Now that was delicious!
They say if you laugh a lot as you eat it helps to digest your food. I guess that must be true or maybe it was the goat that got the last laugh but we didn’t have an ill effects from our first brush with goat intestine soup. Maybe Charlotte’s etiquette lessons were correct after all. I hope Mma wasn’t offended. Dad explained in a very considerate manner that the soup was just a little too different than what we were accustomed to at home. We tried to be as gracious as possible and compliment her on the cooking but will have to confess that most of the stew went back uneaten. As she was taking the bowls away she just started to eat the soup out my bowl so we know where the left-overs went! Sanitation isn’t a big deal over here. Last evening one investigator we visited brought a large cup full of cold water and we just passed it around. Luckily even though a cup is round, it has 4 sides.
After we went to bed that night, we laid there and laughed and laughed about our experience of eating Ebo food. Pete said, “Just think, we could be at home watching the news and never have had a day like this.” So much for Pete’s good ideas!
Eating Ebo Food
Anyone for goat intestine stew?
On Tuesday, I had a meeting with President Charles Briga. He is the Elders quorum president and I wanted to go through the member list with him both to start getting an idea of whom we need to visit and also if there are potential Aaronic Priesthood holders who should be recommended to the Branch Presidency to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. As we visited I found out that he was baptized in France and afterwards attended the branch in Angouleme. Since that is where I spent 15 months of my mission we had a lot in common. All of the people I knew in Angouleme have either moved away or passed away by now, but we had a pretty good bond anyway. Interestingly enough I don’t have any trouble at all understanding his French.
We found out that it can storm here in Cotonou. Last Thursday it clouded up and really turned loose. In a matter of minutes, all the streets were running full with water. All of that was accompanied by a good wind and appropriate amount of lightning and thunder. When we left to go over to the chapel that evening, our cake lady’s tree had blown over onto the road and we could barely get past. There is a lady who has a little cake stand out under a tree by the road between our little house and the main road. She makes some excellent pound cakes and we have enjoyed them as have the elders. I guess we ought to find out her name so we wouldn’t have to just call her the cake lady. She is always nice and waves to us even when we don’t stop to buy a cake. Adaptation is the rule here in Benin, however. The next day she was still in the same place with an umbrella over the cake stand.
Elder Ellis, a missionary from Wyoming, has been plagued with excruciating headaches for about eight or nine months. He has been unable to work several days just since we arrived in Cotonou. The Southams have taken him to several doctors, had numerous tests done on him, one of which was a brain scan but as might be expected they are not able to do much for him over here and it seems to be getting worse. After more consultation with President Dil this week it was decided to get him home. Yesterday we spent some time at immigration getting him all legal to leave the country while the Southams took him to do some last minute shopping and helped him pack. Last night he left for Paris then on to SLC. The reverse route of how we came two months ago. We sure hate to lose him. He was a really good missionary and knew French well. Maybe some clear cool Wyoming air will fix him up but it could also be something more serious. That puts us down to five elders so I may be doing some regular missionary work for a day or two.
Church today was packed as usual. Not when we started but before we ended. It is almost uncanny the relationships that can be drawn between Cotonou and the reservation. It was Soeur Carole’s missionary farewell and her mom was there. More on that later. Also the father of the Dike family is back from Nigeria and was there. It was good to meet him. Mma was there but the preacher did not show up.