Elder Ellis going home has generated a few challenges. We now have just 5 missionaries so 2 1/2 teams are trying to cover where 4 teams were just a few weeks ago. That has pressed Soeur Black and me into a little more service as we are officially or unofficially Elder Hubbard’s companion(s). We will probably be a little more busy until this situation corrects itself. We don’t know when that will be. There are only a handful of French-speaking elders in the mission, and I doubt that they will transfer any English-speaking ones over, so we may be like this for awhile. If so, we will work hard and get by.
Before Carole left for her mission we wanted to go out and meet her mother. The story of Carole’s family will have to wait for another chapter, but her mother is an excellent seamstress. She lives out in Calavie, a 30 or 40 minute drive along a crowded road from Cotonou. Her Mother is deaf but can read lips. Unfortunately not English or French lips, only Fon. She is the sweetest person you can imagine. I wish all of you girls could see her beautiful work and the primitive conditions she works under. She has two sewing machines, one has a hand crank on the wheel that controls the needle so when she uses it, she only has one hand to guide the fabric. The other machine is a traditional treadle machine which, of course, gives her more freedom to use both hands. Both are Singers and are in excellent working condition. She was making two blouses which had the entire top portion smocked, The workmanship was very fine and the stitches were perfectly spaced. She has the ability to look at a picture of a particular style and make an exact replica to fit your personal measurements, all without a pattern, of course. She has no electricity, no cutting board, no seamstress chalk; only the floor, a pair of scissors and measuring tape. Southams said her scissors wouldn’t even cut cloth so they had their kids bring her some really good scissors from home when they came over. She was very pleased.
We had a lot of fun as I asked Carole and her mom to show me how to do an African head dress. Her mother immediately found fabric for one and a wrap-around skirt. I got a quick demonstration and ended up looking like a pale faced African with white hair. We and the Southams were also invited to their home for dinner on Monday.
More about church yesterday. During Sacrament meeting the skies kept getting darker and darker. About the time the meeting finished the wind blew and the sky fell. The Aaronic Priesthood hurried to put down the flaps. Outside the chapel itself, there is a large balcony that serves as an extension of the chapel and where the Fon speakers sit. It is covered by a heavy duty tarp stretched over a pipe frame. The sides are normally rolled up for ventilation. When it rains the Aaronic priesthood boys scramble and roll down the sides to keep the rain from blowing in. The last of the meeting was punctuated by lightning, thunder, wind blowing the flaps around and rain pounding down. After meetings it was still raining so we expended some time and effort taking people home. Moto rides in the rain are no fun, especially for older folks. When we finally got home, our guard Saraphine was waiting to see us with news from his sister and her baby (the ones we visited in the hospital a couple of weeks ago). They had been released from the hospital but on Saturday the baby started having convulsions and died. His sister is not doing well either. He doesn’t really know if her situation is physical or just mental from losing the baby. Our evening was pretty well scheduled so we promised we would take Seraphine to see her again on Tuesday. When we got home on Sunday night the evening was cool and moist after the rainstorm. I spent quite awhile visiting with Seraphin and told him our belief concerning life and death was a little different than some religions. I ended up telling him the Joseph Smith story and about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I told him there were some scriptures in the Book of Mormon that I would really like his sister to read about little children and the resurrection. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to share some of that.
Teaching the gospel is interesting over here. There are so many churches. Almost every block there is some kind of a church–Church of the Lamb, Church of the Firstborn, Glory of God Church or the Evangelical Church of the Savior are a few. If that doesn’t fit try “The Ancient and Mystical Order of the Red Cross,” just to name of few we have seen. In addition there are several large Catholic Churches and some large Mosques for the Muslims. Most of the small Christian Churches appear to be neighborhood churches probably for the most part to provide support for the pastor. In addition most or at least a good number of business are named like a church. Gods Glory restaurant, Praise the Lord butcher shop, Jesus’ love hair salon etc. We probably owe a debt to the Catholic fathers who came here over the years and preached Christianity in Africa. I understand that most of them did not return home and that the average life span once they arrived here was measured in months and not years because of Malaria. Nevertheless, they kept coming and as a result a large percentage of Africa is Christian. It makes it a lot easier to do missionary work. The problem is that sometimes it becomes difficult to get past the church being just another neighborhood church preaching Christ. No one objects to that but gaining a testimony of the reality of the restoration of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon requires additional effort.
Somehow I have never thought of Redd’s True Value as a great blessing until I got to Benin. What we wouldn’t give now for a good hardware store. On Monday Soeur Black was in the process of fixing breakfast as usual when an additional flame appeared on the back of the stove, along with a big “poof.” (The stove is not built-in but a unit of three burners that sits on the counter like the one Kenny has in his cabin except the quality is by far inferior.) The problem seemed to be the loose L fitting where the gas hose hooked into the stove piping. Fortunately we had Mom’s leatherman (our only tool) and I was able to tighten the fitting. Unfortunately, the fitting was of such quality that I broke off the hose barb in the process of the tightening. No problem, just send Saraphine out and get a new fitting. I gave him 5000 cfa (about $11), and sent him out to buy a new one. When we arrived home after dark Monday night, Saraphin had arrived just before us. He had spent the entire day going from shop to shop looking for the fitting, spent 3000 cfa on moto rides and still didn’t find a fitting. He had arrived home a little earlier and the neighbor from Quebec had told him he knew someone who could weld the fitting so they set out again. The welder couldn’t weld it but knew someone who could. It would cost 6000 cfa for the welding job. The next day he set out again with another 5000 cfa. When we arrived home that evening, Seraphin was just getting home, in fact, we met him on the street just before we got home. Seems as though the guy that was supposed to weld it had broken what was left in two but after another day searching, a part from another stove had been located along with another repaired one. I almost forgot the most exciting part. Seraphin had also located a roll of Teflon tape which I was extremely grateful to see. After a payment of another 1000 cfa the problem was solved. I carefully installed the part with the tape in place and we were able to cook again.
Monday is preparation day, so it began by taking the Elders shopping, which is pretty entertaining in itself as it is fun to observe their different buying and eating habits. We left for Calavie about noon and by then we had another couple from the branch going also. We left before Southams and had no idea what to expect prior to our arrival as I knew that they had no electricity or running water. Their house was a hubbub of activity and full of people, most of whom were young men and women who were about Carole’s age. Nadia: a member of the branch here in Cotonou, two other young women and at least six young men besides Carole’s brother and sister.
It would help you visualize the home situation, so we will deviate from the dinner at Carole’s and explain a little about the house-building process in Benin. All buildings here are constructed out of cinderblocks and cement. The only wood inside are the doors and cabinet doors if there are any in the kitchen. Also sometimes the trusses are of wood poles with tin nailed on top. In our apartment, the kitchen cabinets are made of cement with a curtain pulled in front and a shelf above the sink. As credit is not available, they only continue the building process while they have money. When the money is gone, construction comes to a halt until they have enough money to continue. Consequently, there are many partially built homes and apartment buildings all over the city. Carole’s home falls into this category. The home is located in a beautiful setting in a quiet neighborhood overlooking the lake but is not finished. The next phase is to get electricity into the home. The sewing area is by the living room and the future kitchen. There is a large opening with ragged cinderblocks, the floor is cement and there are some makeshift shelves in the kitchen. There is a hallway going from the living room to the back of the house and outside the backdoor Nadia and the other girls were cooking. There is also an open well where they draw their own water up with a bucket.
Boy, did it ever smell good. A huge pot of rice was cooking on one charcoal burner, a tomato sauce with cabbage on another and fish were cooking in a wire grill over another. Nadia turned them frequently and basted them with a tomato piment sauce. Nadia also had made a huge batch of beesap, a favorite local drink made from the dried flowers of a tree. I think that we mentioned beesap before. It is really good. So good that we buy six bottles from her every week. Before we leave, I need a beesap and cooking lesson from Nadia. Dinner was not quite ready so I helped cut pineapples and mangoes. (The mango season is on right now and we eat at least one every day. Yum, yum!) There were only places for six at the table and Southams, Lokosus and we were invited to sit there. We were served the food I described cooking outside and then everyone else was handed a plate and the food never did run out even with the hearty appetites of the younger guests. It was absolutely delicious, and we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.
We went back near Calavie on Tuesday, along with Elder Hubbard, to visit Seraphin’s sister, a much sadder occasion. We turned off the main road and wound around for quite awhile in a more rural area, still people everywhere but there were gardens and greenery. Finally Seraphin’s brother-in-law, Marcel, met us with his moto and led us to their house. The roads on the reservation made these roads look like a major highway, and I was thankful we were in a pickup. We were invited into a nice home to visit. We later found out that the home belonged to their landlord as their home was too small for all of us to be in. They showed it to us and it was one square room about 12 feet by 12 feet and no furniture, only a mat on the floor for sleeping. Seraphin’s sister, Celestine, had not eaten for five days and looked so emaciated and sad. It was a difficult time for me as a mother as I know how much I loved each of my babies. Seraphin’s family are good Catholics so our purpose was simply to show them that we cared and give them a message of comfort. Elder Hubbard and Dad did an excellent job of that, and I tried to express my feelings but with much difficulty. In fact, tears come to my eyes now as I am writing. Be thankful we live in America where medical care prevents us from losing the majority of our babies. We have helped some with their hospital bills as they have so very little and seem to be such wonderful people.
This is getting quite long and we haven’t even covered any of our regular teaching experiences this week but a couple more things before we get this sent off. One real highlight of the week was saying goodby to Sister Carole going to the MTC in Ghana. Size-wise, Carole is about as big as half a minute but her spirit is a big as all outdoors. She speaks both French and English as well as Fon. Yesterday (Friday) morning as she left with the Southams, we were just finishing our planning at the Elders’ apartment. The Elders’ apartment is just across the street from the Southams. Each has a nice balcony and the street is only 15 or 20 yards wide so you can holler across easily. We all went out on the balcony and sent her off with a rousing chorus of “Appeles a Servir Notre Pere” (Called to Serve). Sister Carole, who had never shed a tear throughout the whole process, finally just broke down. I think the song took on new meaning for her right at that moment. I’ll have to admit that I couldn’t sing part of the song either but that is natural for me. I have no doubt of the quality of missionary that Soeur Carole will be. Two others are following close behind. We have doctor and dentist appointments scheduled for Elders Godwin and Elvis this week to move their paperwork along. When they go, it will give us 4 good missionaries serving from the Branch.
We have promised (or threatened) the Southams that we were going to take them out to a nice dinner before they left as a going away present. Even though they still have 4 weeks left, one of those weeks a son in coming to visit, and you never know when it will rain, so we determined to take Friday evening and go. The Marina Hotel, where we stayed the first night in Benin, has a really nice buffet dinner out by the beautiful pool. Also one of the members often entertains there with his guitar and singing on Friday (so we thought). The weather was perfect. The warm humid air in the evenings is as wonderful as the hot humid air on a sunny day is uncomfortable. The buffet was also fantastic. More good food than you could imagine. (we were a little disappointed they didn’t have any goat intestine stew). The member wasn’t playing that night but they had a band that was magnificent. They played some African beat music and some Mexican and American music. They had a better Louis Armstrong than Louie himself. We stayed for quite awhile after we finished eating and just enjoyed the evening and the music. It was wonderful. Also expensive. It makes you feel a little guilty to spend on one meal two or three times what some families spend for a month’s rent but we lived with the guilt and did it anyway.