A Ride in a Coravoto

What we wouldn’t give for some of that $5.19 per gallon diesel right now. After we arrived back from Ghana on Sunday night we went to the Total station on Monday morning to fill up the pickup but they didn’t have any. After trying a couple of other stations, we became aware that no one in town had any gasoil (diesel). We had about 1/4 of a tank left but we want to leave a little in for a possible emergency, so the pickup has been parked. It really reinforced my fears of how vulnerable we are to the gas cartel of the mid-east, even though I think this is Nigerian fuel. Mentioning Nigerian fuel, I think this is the appropriate time to tell you about the black market gasoline that flows here across the border. Along every road inside and outside of the city are little mom and A fueling stationpop stations that sell this type of gas and gasoil. The motos are their most frequent customers as it is sold cheaper than the regular stations. It comes into the country in five gallon black containers, and the border guards on both sides just turn their heads, probably for a small payment. The gas is poured into smaller containers, mostly two liters and a few larger round glass ones that hold at least five liters. Then it is poured into the tank with a funnel with a cloth over the funnel for a filter. It isn’t refined as well as the regular stations so it emits a steady stream of pollution, hence my term for the motos, ‘smoky motos’. I think you can guess why we have not resorted to these stations for the pickup! I will add, however, that the government is trying to shut them down because of the pollution. But it seems as if that is an effort in futility as there are so many and they have an abundance of customers. If they shut one down they just go down the street a ways and start again. Gas can going back for another loadEvery once in awhile we see a moto carrying so many of the empty black containers that you cannot see the driver or the moto itself.

Wednesday and Thursday Elder and Sister Hill came to Cotonou from the West Africa Area office to visit with us about safety. He has had extensive training in the military in security and is well qualified to put the fear in all of the missionaries and us. He wanted to take pictures of everyone just in case of a kidnapping and a picture of the apartment entries for security reasons. He told a few horror stories of things that have happen to some missionaries and how to be aware of your surroundings when on the streets. We have never felt threatened here, but I guess it pays to be a little cautious. Each of our apartments is like a fortress and needs at least three keys to get in and out. All of the widows have bars just like a prison so we are not encouraging anyone to be dishonest by making it easy to get in. (Boy, you can not be in a hurry to get in and out, and it can be very frustrating for someone who doesn’t even own a key to our front door at home.) Sometime we should describe the process of putting the pickup into the garage and getting ourselves in the apartment and getting all locked in for the night but it might overload the Internet, so we won’t. Elder Hill did stress that almost all incidents occur when missionaries aren’t following the rules. In a city of 2 million people, there are bound to be a few dishonest ones, but we repeat again that we would far rather take our chances here than in Phoenix or maybe even Salt Lake City for that matter.

Since the pickup is parked, Pete and the Elders went to Akpakpa in a taxi this morning. I stayed home and did more domestic chores, as we are still trying to get the apartment organized. About noon he came hurrying in and told me to change my clothes quick because a A fine Corevoto RideCoravoto (probably not the right spelling) driver was waiting to take us to pay our Internet bill. One of Pete’s favorite expressions around here is, “Of all the experiences I’ve ever had, this is one of them.” And then he adds, “Just think we could be sitting in our easy chairs on Elk Mountain doing absolutely nothing.” This was without a doubt another one of those experiences that we will try to relate. A is like a tricycle moto and has a seat behind the driver that will hold about three people. The driver sits in the middle and steers but can slide over to one side and let another passenger sit in front with him. (Our Coravoto needed a push to get it going so Pete helped with that, too.) It would never pass an OSHA inspection as there is nothing on the side to hold anyone in – no windows or doors just the smoky air, motos, trucks and cars all around you. One car was just a few inches from me but fortunately another crash was avoided. As you slowly go down the road surrounded by cars, motos, motos and more motos, the street sounds and smells are real close and personal. We have mentioned before one rule of the road is, “If there is space, take it.” Therefore, all of this was taking place with everything going in all directions plus horns were honking all around us or maybe at us, it is hard to tell. The driver choose to drive smack through the middle of the largest marche in Cotonou called Topka so beside all of the vehicles, people were going in all directions dashing around motos and cars. Once again most merchandise was being carried on heads. “Just think, we could have been sitting in our easy chairs on Elk Mountain.”

Friday was also a red letter day for fuel. By paying about $500 in advance for fuel and getting a credit card we became a preferred customer so that we can buy fuel they won’t sell to the general public. We applied for that on Thursday and it was supposed to take until Monday to get the card but I think the little gal that was doing the processing was on our side a little because she called on Friday afternoon and told us the card was ready. Fortunately we had enough fuel left to drive down, get the card and go out to Fifadgi where there was a station with fuel and we are now again part of the Cotonou traffic problem. It seems good.

Baptisms of Pacome, Obed and Jemima (Elders Crooks and Loveless)Saturday we also baptized Jemima (Gmama). She is the one we mentioned from Liberia. She wanted me to baptize her. She is really a nice gal but we still have a lot of problem with Liberian English. Somehow we manage to communicate. I had to laugh a few days ago when Elders Adou and Foucher were going over to teach her. They both speak English but as a second language. I asked them who their next appointment was with and they said they were going over to Jemima’s and pray for the gift of tongues. I guess it must have worked. Two boys, Pacome and Obed were also baptized. They are the friends of the son of one of the members and lives there in the same little compound. The elders have been teaching them for a long time now and they have been coming to primary. We also helped to teach them since the Elders need to have adults with them whenever they are teaching children. They are a couple of really sharp boys who know the gospel better than some adults. It was a really good baptismal service, and they were all confirmed in Sacrament meeting today.

So we shelled out about $900 for the Internet for the next year. We did it with a smile because that is our link to the outside world. Not only the world with our family and friends but also the world of being part of the mission, getting supplies, transferring missionaries, etc. The telephone works some of the time but seems like the Internet is more reliable except for when it isn’t. We paid on Friday and the Internet hasn’t worked since. After Church today it was back up so maybe we are in business again. Talked to Ken and Amber and got to see Stetson crawl. Right in the middle the power went off so we lost them. It’s all part of the fun of being in West Africa.

Visit to Accra

I guess the big news this week is that the week has been different than any other week – if that is news. The Southams had planned to get away on Sunday after church and drive to Togo that evening but with all the packing to be done and the goodbyes to be said they didn’t make it until Monday morning. We had planned to have a couple of days to move in and get settled before going to Ghana but that didn’t happen either. We did move some things on Monday but Monday is P day for the missionaries and that is a pretty busy day for us by the time we take them to do their shopping, help fix dinner and then we went with one team to meet Pierre’s wife that evening. Pierre is the member in the Branch that seems to know everything about everything. He arranges for apartment leases, gets anything fixed that breaks at any of the apartments of the chapel. Helps with missionary papers and everything else. It seems like if there is ever any question, the answer is found by asking Pierre. He speaks 4 or 5 languages, and if he doesn’t know the answer, he can find it. He usually brings his two little girls to Church but his wife is not a member. We were anxious to meet her and were not disappointed. She is from Ghana like Pierre and speaks English. She received us warmly and is a very nice person. They are expecting their third child very soon. We hope we will have a chance to teach her. I guess she spends some of her time in Ghana and some in Benin.

Last week I mentioned that with the changes in missionaries, our work has become a little more cosmopolitan. That is also true of our Monday dinners with the Elders. It was Elders Adou and Foucher’s turn to cook on Monday so we were anxious to see what was going to happen with one from Ivory Coast and one from France. Ivory Coast won and we had Acheeke. Boy did we ever have Acheeke. We are finding that while the elders are generally quite good cooks, being fairly young, they don’t always have a good handle on quantities. I will have to let Soeur Black describe the preparation and process as she is better at that then I am, but Elder Adou found some of the base ingredient at one of the markets we go to on Mondays. He was a little worried about the cost. We told him we paid for dinner on Monday so not to worry. We came out with about 7 or 8 bags of what basically looked to me like frozen dough that cost us a total of about $15 – not too bad. Turns out the stuff is sort of like rice and before we got it all cooked nearly every pan in the kitchen was full of acheeke. I will have to say that the elders did a credible job of diminishing the supply at dinner time and by the time we sent a bagful home with them to each apartment we were down to a manageable amount. Leftovers never seem to be a problem as the elders are on an adequate but not fat (no put intended) food budget. Acheeke is ground up cassava root which is the basis for tapioca and when placed on the table looks like real fine rice. Actually acheeke has no nutritional value whatsoever and is used by a lot by people here simply to fill the stomach, as it is very cheap in the raw form. Dad told you how the stuff grew and grew until the kitchen was full and then Elder Adou cut onions, cucumbers and tomatoes in small pieces and placed them in a big bowl. We then mixed oil and maggi boullion cubes together and poured over the vegetables. This concoction was then served over the acheeke and I will admit it was really good. We also cooked two chickens which we served with the acheeke.

Clean out the Fridge NightSpeaking of leftovers, we had told the Southams to take their things and not worry about the apartment as we would handle that, so there was an accumulation in the fridge of things that fridges are prone to accumulate. To correct that problem, Soeur Black invited the elders, when they were finished with their appointments on Tuesday night, to come and help us clean it out. It was an open kitchen kind of meal as we put everything on the table and if it need to be cooked or heated they did their own thing with the help of the micro wave. They cheerfully accepted the invitation and we had a fairly late dinner eating literally everything from soup to nuts. Soeur Black was quite amused by the combinations the elders chose to eat but whatever ends with ice cream can’t be all bad and with another bag for each apartment, our fridge is now nice and clean. They all went home raving about what a great meal it was. This will give you an idea of what was on the table: jello, stew, peanuts, bread, peanut butter, rice salad, fish sticks, pepperoni sticks, 2 hamburger patties, ravioli, pizza and then ice cream for the grand finale.

This week we also went out to teach Julie Ann. Julie Ann is the one we talked about a few weeks ago, Soeur Carole’s mom, that invited us out for the dinner before Soeur Carole left on her mission. Since Soeur Carole left, she has decided she wants to be baptized. She lives out in Calavie, about a half hour drive, and only speaks Fon. Also she is unable to hear so she reads lips, but they have to be speaking Fon. She also only reads Fon and there are no church materials yet translated into Fon. Under those conditions we normally couldn’t teach her but on the other side, she is the mother of a missionary, her other kids are members and she has been getting a taxi and coming to church on her own so away we went. We picked up one of the branch member missionaries, Soeur Nadia. Nadia is a friend and, I think kind of agreed with Carole before she left that she would take care of her Mom for her. Nadia only speaks French and Fon but doesn’t read either. So the process is, if Soeur Black is teaching, she teaches and I translate that to French for Nadia and Nadia translates it to lip read Fon. When Julie Ann responds, Nadia listens, tells me in French and I tell Soeur Black in English. Actually that is pretty slow so we don’t do much that way. Nadia taught about the Book of Mormon directly and we also had Julie Ann’s younger daughter, Josie Ann, read some scripture and tell her mother in Fon what they said. Actually it worked pretty well. It turned out to be a really good meeting and the spirit was really strong. It is quite an experience to hear the gospel taught in whispered Fon, a stark contract to some of the experiences we have had of sitting out on the street with motos and trucks roaring past and having to shout to be heard.

Early on Thursday morning, we set out for Ghana. We drove to Togo and picked up the Gillis’ and also Frere Dieudonne, the counselor to President Dil, and his wife. Frere Dieudonne was baptized in England about 18 years ago, long before there was ever a branch in Lome, and was instrumental in getting the Church into Togo and Benin. He is a marvelous man with all kinds of Church experience and speaks good English. With all 6 of us in our little pickup, we then headed for Ghana. Just outside Lome is the Togo/Ghana border. We had already crossed the Benin/Togo border and I think described that once before. It is bad enough but nothing compared to the Approaching Ghana Togo BorderTogo/Ghana border. First of all it had been raining and everything, pavement and all, was covered with a one or two inch coat of sloppy wet mud. Add to this a mix of trucks, busses, cars, and people all trying to get around through the bureaucracy and it really becomes a circus. When you pull in, you are immediately surrounded by a number of people all wanting to help you through the bureaucracy (for a price of course). Thankfully we had Frere Dieudonne who is somewhat of an expert at getting through the border with us so things went fairly well. It only took us about an hour and a half and we were on our way. We then had a mostly uneventful but crowded trip on to Accra that took about 4 hours. We thought we would be in Accra by 4 o’clock or so, drop Dieudonne and his wife off at the temple housing, then return to the MTC (about 15 miles) where we had made reservations for accommodations. I had just assumed that Frere Dieudonne had probably been there many times and would know exactly where to go. I guess he did but he was distracted and missed the cloverleaf where we were to turn off. Also we were a little later than planned so by the time we got there rush hour was in full progress. I won’t bore you with details but we now know what quite a bit of Accra looks like during rush hour traffic. Two hours later, just at dark we finally arrived at the temple and eventually arrived back out at the MTC about 8:00. They had saved us some dinner so we ate and fell into bed. It was really good to see President and Sister Harmon. I have known President Harmon from missionary days in France and he is the Doctor that treated Dad. Also the missionary that taught Leone before she and Robert Chollet (our friends in France) were married. The accommodations at the MTC were like a suite in a really nice hotel, and we enjoyed it a lot. We even brushed our teeth in regular water from the faucet which was a real treat.

From the stories we hear and our observations, Ghana is perhaps even a poorer country than Benin but Accra is in many ways like a big American city. The temple is located in one of the nicer areas of the city. The Area offices are located on one side of the temple, across a nicely landscaped parking lot, and a beautiful stake center is located on the other side. On Friday we got through as many of the area offices as we could in an hour or so – that wasn’t very many because as the word spread we were from Benin, as soon as we finished talking to one, another one would call us in for instructions and consultation – then went over to the temple and took in a session. Visit to the Ghana TempleThe temple is even more special here because of the contrast between it and the outside world. It is decorated with beautiful African wood, windows and even chandeliers of beautiful African designs and colors. We probably say this every time we go to a new temple, but I think the Celestial room has to be the most beautiful one in the Church. Most of the workers are African so you have the contrast of the dark skin and the white clothing and it was just a wonderful experience to be there. After the temple, more meetings at the Area offices. It seemed like everyone from family history to missionary security wanted to talk to us. We received a lot of good instruction and also a bunch of assignments. The vehicle department also worked on the pickup we were bringing back and got everything in good working order. It is a Toyota, like the other one but a little larger and newer and nicer and has a cover over the back. It is on the order of Dave’s pickup but I think his is a Dodge. It is large enough that it was a lot more comfortable with 6 of us coming back to Togo and the air conditioner works really good. It was really kind of funny. Most everything at the Area parking lot is nice and clean and we came bombing in in our little white pickup all battle scared and muddy from wheels to top after crossing the border. It almost looked like we were the only ones involved in real missionary work. I told Elder Gillis that we should drive our little pickup in with pride but he felt “honor” would be a better word. Elder Gillis is a real character and they are a lot of fun to be with. Saturday morning we attended the Physical Facilities meetings then headed back to Togo. After another hair-raising experience of crossing the border, we made it to the Gillis’ before dark and stayed there for the night. Went to church in Lome on Sunday and then came back to Cotonou with Elder Schweiger with us. Elder Schweiger is a new missionary from California and will be replacing Elder Kabangu when he finishes in about 3 weeks. In the meantime, they will be working in a threesome. He wasn’t scheduled to come for a few more weeks but has had a lot of French and was doing well in the language so they sent him out early.

On the way home we crossed the border into Benin and it was almost delightful. Maybe Sunday is the time to cross. We were almost the only ones there. No offers for help and the border people were pleasant and even joking with us. After you cross the border, there is a little stretch where you travel along just a few hundred yards from the beach. Since we were a little early we decided it wouldn’t be breaking the Sabbath to badly if we were to take a break and walk out and watch the waves. Village ChildrenAbout then we came to a little road so we thought we could drive out. Unfortunately, the road had some deep ruts and we high centered in the sand. As soon as we arrived, some of the village children started to accumulate and by the time we came back from the beach and started to dig out the car we had quite a crowd. I guess it is not every day that a bunch of Yovo’s in white shirts show up at their village and even the adults came to see what was happening. Elder Schweiger had some Soeur Black being stingey with the skittlesSkittles so we passed them out to everyone very carefully, one at a time. Soeur Black is getting good at that. When we tried to back the car up, the axle was hung up bad enough that the sand would just spin out from under the tires and leave us stranded. Elder Schweiger told the crowd not to help because we didn’t have money to pay them. (Actually we did but I was down to 10,000 CFA bills and I didn’t want to start handing them out in a crowd or you could start a riot.) We worked and worked, putting grass under the wheels, filling in ruts etc. but nothing seemed to work very well in the sand. The village people just stood there watching and laughing at us. Finally another guy came up and asked what was happening. I told him and he said, “We don’t work that way here, we will help you get out.” So he organized the troops and after some maneuvering pushed us out. Village push powerThere was still quite a crowd around feeling like that ought to be compensated a little and I would really liked to have done so as I don’t know how we would have gotten out otherwise. About the best we could do was to promise to bring them something when we come back the next time, thank them and drive away. I don’t know just what we will do but we will have to try to make good on our promise.

We found out when we got home that it had rained here all Sunday morning so not many were to church but Seraphin, Julieann, and Pierre’s wife were all there without us. That made us happy.

Cotonou Street after a rainstorm

Cotonou Street after a rainstorm

Cactus in Paradise

Cactus in Paradise

The Piano Recital; The Streets of Cotonou

On Saturday night when we got home, our guard Seraphin announced that he was going to attend Mass with us on Sunday. We had invited him to go and even driven by the chapel on one of our visits to the hospital but had not pressed it at all. We were glad he wanted to, and he seemed to really enjoy the meetings. It will be interesting to see if he wants to go again.

President Ayekoue, our new mission president, was here on Sunday so we got to meet him very briefly and also hear him speak. He is presently serving as the director of Institute and Seminary for West Africa so he and his replacement were here for seminary and institute graduation that took place in sacrament meeting. After the certificates were given, he spoke for a few minutes. He told the story of a woman who saved up enough money for a train trip and took bread and water to eat as she watched the others eat scrumptiously in the dining car because she didn’t have enough money for additional food. At the end of the trip she leaned that the food was included in the price of the ticket. President Ayekoue pointed out that some members are like that because we have seminary and institute, which are free to all members but some choose not to partake of the feast. We also learned a couple of interesting things. Elder Adou, one of our new elders here, is from Ivory Coast and President Auekoue has been both his bishop and his stake president. Also, one of our branch members is Frere Landou. Frere Landou is Mr. music man in the Branch. He plays the piano fairly well and can lead music and sing so he is pretty valuable in the Branch. Frere Landou served a mission in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) about 14 years ago and is the missionary that taught President Ayekoue. We are really looking forward to getting to know him better and working with him. President Ayekoue seems to be a really capable individual. He is a young man, I would guess perhaps 40 years old, although guessing ages is risky in Africa, and speaks really good French but no English. The seminary and institute graduation was a little confusing to Seraphin being at church for the first time. He wondered if they could go and be missionaries now or start their own church. It was a new concept for him that it is just for their own learning and not for professional training as there is no paid ministry in the church.

Speaking of music in the branch, we sure do wish we had the services of Steve or Brielle or Marlene or Amber or anyone else who can play even a little bit. Sister Southam can play just a little so has helped out in the Primary and also spearheaded the music program with the help of Landou. A while back, the church received a large donation from someone to provide for music training in areas where there is very little such as Benin. The result here has been that we have about 25 really nice electronic keyboards on which to give piano lessons. Also there is some very simplified hymn music for beginning piano students. If a student is diligent he or she can actually earn one of the keyboards which is a considerable prize here. So far, only 3 students have earned them but there are several others working toward getting their own. On Sunday after church, since Sister Southam was leaving, they had planned a recital and had a nice program with about a dozen or so of the student playing hymns they had learned. Sometimes it is only the top hand with a note or two on bottom but it is a major step forward for those who have never seen a piano or a piece of music in their lives before joining the Church. With every investigator, you have to explain the process of singing a hymn – that you don’t start at the top and go straight down but sing the first verse all the way through and then come back to the top to start the second verse. As before stated, there is no problem with enthusiasm, just basic knowledge, but that is why we are here. Almost the whole branch stayed for the recital, and it was really good. Afterwards, Soeur Black and Soeur Southam had prepared a large tray full of rice crispy treats as refreshments. Soeur Black began passing them out. It would have been fine if she could have passed them out fast enough but before she could get through the crowd, all the kids started to recycle and before long she looked like the Pied Piper going up and down rows trying to serve the adults a treat. She finally put the tray up on her head out of reach which was a very African thing to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture. Maybe these Africans discovered that a long time ago, and that is why they carry everything on their heads. We need to talk some more about carrying things on heads sometime when we have a slow week it that ever happens.

After the meeting we were told to go into the Relief Society room along with the Branch Presidency, the Southams, and a few other members. There the Relief Society served us a really nice meal in honor of Elder and Soeur Southam. Church is at 9:00 so they must have gotten up very early to make all of the preparations.

We spend a great deal of time every day on the busy streets of Cotonou. We need to make a specific explanation of the road conditions here. One may assume that in a city this big there would be nice neighborhoods with paved streets and maybe even some curb and gutter. Wrong! The major roads going out from the etoiles are paved with either concrete or concrete cobble stones. After that it is like driving on the back roads of San Juan County. We are close to the ocean, so all of the ground here is simply sand, sand, sand and more sand. There are no road crews to blade the streets, so big dips and holes are everywhere. When it rains, the big dips fill with lots of water so we just forge ahead and hope the dip is not a too deep for the pickup. The motos go around to the side of the water hole but vehicles have no choice but to meet them head-on. Most of the neighborhoods look pretty much the same to me, as there are cement walls between the houses and the street with a metal door which opens up into their yard or a complex of real small houses that are arranged like a motel with a walk way in front of the doors and a place to hang up clothes to dry which is shared by everyone living in the complex. Pretty much all of the washing and cleaning and even most of the cooking is done outside in the common yard or out on the street. Generally there is also a hand dug well in the yard from which water is drawn up with a bucket. The water appears to be about 15-20 feet down. Most of these homes are very small and have only two or three little rooms. In front of many of these cement walls are little shack businesses that do everything from make furniture, sew clothes to sell eggs, laundry soap, rice, etc. Back to the roads. On every street are the chickens we have described before plus all of the goats roaming free. There are no garbage receptacles except the sand on the road so there are also many plastic bags and sundry other things in the sand. I will give a lot of credit to the African women, though as the sand in front of their house is swept every morning with a short little broom made of twigs bound together about five inches from one end. They are very diligent about keeping the trash and leaves swept off their turf. There are no public toilets so just use your imagination about where the men relieve themselves. Women wash by hand every day and after finishing the laundry the acceptable place to throw the water is out on the sandy street. Actually that is nice as it makes the road a little firmer for a short while in a few small places. Oh, I forgot to mention that when the water sits for a long time in one of these dips it can get pretty rank. I told Pete that he had better not get stuck in one as I did not like the idea of wading (or swimming) out!

We had an interesting morning on Wednesday with Soeur Josephine, a member of the branch. She offered to take me to buy some fabric and introduce me to her seamstress. Josephine is the mother of 5 grown children and is about 55 years old. She always looks impeccable and is more well-off than many of the people we have met and is even the owner of a car. Her husband left her when her youngest was three years old, and she raised the children herself. She retired within the last year from a good government job. We started at a real nice little fabric shop and the sales girl announced that what I picked out would be around $125 dollars. We looked at each other and decided it was definitely not the place to be so it was out the door and down to Missebo Market for some serious fabric shopping. This is my third time to Missebo and each time I cannot believe that I am actually there as it the most congested conglomeration of vendors I have ever seen in my life. This time we walked past a street that sold nothing but shoes and I don’t know if I want to tackle that for some sandals or not. Anyway, we just followed Josephine and she went directly to a store where she buys most of her fabric and we found a beautiful piece for me for about $2.40 per meter. It was not the same price as down by the river but for imported Swiss fabric it sounded like a bargain to me. It was a great bargain for Pete as he did not have to fight the crowds for more than 15 or 20 minutes. We drove across the bridge to Akpakpa and was measured by the seamstress, who made a sketch and promised the final product, a temple dress, by Tuesday. I’ll tell you next week about the result.

Transfers, Cartes de Sejour, and a Baptism

Tuesday was a 3 meal lunch day! You just never know what experiences you will have on any given day. When we left home in the morning it looked like it would be another “lean cuisine” day as there were no plans for eating. Before going any further I need to mention that Tuesdays are when we hold our District meeting with all of the Elders and mid-way in the meeting Elder Hubbard received a phone call from the mission office saying that transfers were to take place immediately. That was pretty much the end of the District meeting as such and the buzz was all about the transfers and the changes taking place. Elders Hubbard and Howard are being transferred to Togo, and Elders Foucher and Adou will be coming here to Benin. That pretty much changes everything except for Elders Crooks and Loveless, and Elder Crooks is going to be the new District leader. Our project for the week is to try to get all of the visas and Carte de Sejours current, as pretty much everyone is here illegally right now. To be in Benin legally, you have to have a current visa and to work here as a missionary you have to have a carte de sejour or a resident card. All of the missionaries, including us, need to get that and for most all of them their visas have expired, so we determined we would do whatever we had to do in order to get them current. It is quite a process. After filling out a long form, you then have to visit the “chef du quartier” or the neighborhood chief and get a certificate that you live in the neighborhood. Then you have to take that to the mayor’s office and receive a certificate from there. After that you have to go to a hospital and have a blood test for AIDS and chest x-ray for tuberculosis to prove you are fit. You then submit all of that along with a letter of your missionary call and the letter from the police at home stating that you have a clean record to the immigration people and they will give you the required carte de sejour. Of course each step is accompanied by an appropriate fee which, when multiplied by 5 of us, costs the Church quite a lot of money. I don’t know exactly how much yet but the visa renewal is just a stamp and it cost about $60 per missionary. Anyway, back to the lunches. Elder Kabangu is pretty much exempt from all of this since he is African from Congo. Elder Hubbard and he went with us to immigration to get all of this started and on the way back, since it was after lunch time, he suggested that we go to a Congolese restaurant for lunch. That sounded good to us so we stopped at a little place we hadn’t been before. It wasn’t quite as clean as some of the other places we have been but now we have been here a few months it wasn’t too bad. For about $.70 you can get a nice plate full of rice with white beans over the top that was really quite good. Soeur Black wasn’t quite brave enough to try the chicken, but for an additional $.70 you can get a piece of barbecued chicken with it. Elder Kabangu searched around and found me a really good breast piece. It was about the closest thing I have had to real barbecued chicken. It was really good. Along with a bottle of pop, it made a really good lunch and the bill for all four of us was around $7 or so.

After that we picked up Elders Phillips and Howard and drove out to Akpakpa to teach Mma. We had a good lesson and then she told us not to leave and went in and brought out a large bowl of rice with fish and meat and pop for each of us. (No more goat intestine stew this time.) There was nothing we could do but eat lunch again. After that, we left the Elders off at another contact’s house and hurried home (well sort of hurried through one of the worst traffic jams we have been in) as we had promised Seraphin that we would take him out to see his mother and sister again since his mother is leaving to return to her village. We were a half an hour late, which doesn’t mean much in Africa, and then went out to Celestine (his sister) and Marcel’s house. (Celestine and Marcel are the couple who lost their baby about three weeks ago.) As they live in a tiny room, we had sent word with Seraphin to tell them not to make arrangements for their landlords house – that we would be just as comfortable in God’s living room out under the banana and palm trees. The yard where they live is a ways out of town and is really beautiful. When we arrived, they had a table all set and a nice meal prepared. There was nothing we could do but eat the spaghetti and peanut oil salad mixed with carrots, onions and other vegetables along with a large bottle of pop. It was really good but we were far from hungry. They were so glad to see us and made us feel so welcome to be there and were wondering where Elder Hubbard was since he was with us last time. Celestine has recovered somewhat but still looks quite frail and weak.

When we were about finished with the meal, Seraphin looked through the trees and could see dark clouds in the sky and announced it would soon rain and sure enough in a few minutes we could hear the storm coming and decided we better move in. Before we even finished, it was as if someone turned on the shower and dumped water on us. We were all running trying to get the table and chairs, dishes and us into the little room. I have no idea where Marcel took the table but it disappeared and the chairs were taken inside. It was a tight fit but quite an experience to have the six of us plus another fellow named Patrick whom I never did understand who he was, and a student from the university who was Marcel’s brother, all inside laughing and visiting with the rain pounding on the tin roof. They thanked us profusely for our friendship and help and we did likewise. They are really good honorable people and we expressed our appreciation for that then said our good-bys and came home.

On Saturday Mary and Dieudonne were both baptized. We have been in somewhat on teaching both of them. Mary is an English speaker from Nigeria. She is 26 but looks 18. She has already been teaching the English Sunday school class so it was important to get her baptized to make her legal. She does a credible job of teaching the class. Not in the sense of explaining doctrine but just encouraging participation and comments. When everything gets quiet, Mary says in her sweet way “I am not going to continue until I have some more comments.” Then a few of us quieter ones jump in and make some comments and Mary goes on with the lesson. Mary’s mother and father live in Porto Novo, the original capital of Benin, located about 40 minutes from Cotonou. Her mother came with her to the baptism and extended a warm invitation to come visit them in Porto Novo whenever we can come. We will be anxious to do that as Porto Novo is officially the capital of Benin and is an older town with some interesting museums and buildings to see. Dieudonne is the investigator I spoke about earlier on, whom we visited the first time and he almost begged for a copy of the Book of Mormon. He has been studying hard, is very intelligent, and I am confident will be a good member. He never misses Church.

Thursday was Elder Hubbard’s last day in Cotonou before making the trip to the Togo border for missionary exchange, therefore, we took him to the foofoo bar for one last meal of foofoo before leaving. He has really mastered the art of scooping out a piece of foofoo with one hand and dipping it in the groundnut and cheese sauce. We left early Friday morning with him and Elder Howard and brought back Elder Foucher from France and Elder Adou from Ivory Coast so we will be a bit more cosmopolitan in our missionary work here. We had the opportunity to be Elder Hubbard’s companions for about three weeks and really grew to love and appreciate him. He is an excellent teacher and really cares about the people. I’ve even forgiven him for referring to Adjovon as the “old man” when he was only 51 years old! We will miss both him and Elder Howard but at the same time are looking forward to getting to know more of the elders in our area.

Yesterday we had our first personal encounter with the medical system in Benin. As we mention previously we needed a blood test and chest x-ray to obtain our resident card. I have been dreading that for some time now but it had to be completed by June 23 for us to legal so we found the nearest ministry of health department and got the job done. Bureaucracy here is terribly slow as everything is recorded by hand and each official office has its own recording to do. First on the agenda was the blood draw and after Elder Howard’s negative description of a painful experience, I was most apprehensive. A clean cut young man greeted us but immediately informed us that only one at a time could come in and Pete had to wait outside. Pete thought it was the x-ray and the direction was for privacy purposes so he closed the door. He was wrong! It was the blood test and I found myself in a room on an examination chair with a technician who spoke a little English and his patient spoke even less French. I showed him my best vein for such purposes and he handed me the vial to hold while he put on latex gloves and opened the drawer with the needles. I was so relieved to see that they were individually wrapped sterile needles in disposable containers. He then proceeded and I’ll have to admit that it was not too bad as I have had worse at home. Then it was on to the x-ray technician who was in another building. Pete is still laughing about that! He showed me a little enclosure behind a canvas partition and I couldn’t understand him and Pete did not hear him so I just stood there for quite awhile thinking that this is the most primitive x-ray set up that I have ever seen. I was wrong! He wanted me to strip to the waist for the x-ray. I am not African by birth so did not think that was a good idea as they don’t even offer a robe for privacy. Pete was quite amused and was wondering how many sparks would fly off the metal in my bra had the technician not made me take it off. He did let me wear my under garments, though, or that residency card would never happen. (Over here women nurse their babies any time anywhere even if they are in a meeting with the missionaries or walking down the street so I doubt that it would have been a big deal for the technician but is sure was for Soeur Black.)

It has been another great week here in Cotonou.

Banana tree in Marcel and Celestine’s Yard

Dinner under the Banana Tree

A farewell hymn for Elder and Sister Southam

Slavery Is Alive and Well

After spending a couple of months in Benin, I have decided that slavery is still alive and well here. Unfortunately, I have ended up being the slave. Soeur Black affectionately refers to me as her “Mytag Washer”. Every Monday I have to get up, wash all of the clothes by hand, then rinse them all by hand, and by then I am sweating so profusely as to be unable to remove my clothes to take a shower. It is terrible. It would make harvesting cotton during the summer in Mississippi a picnic by comparison. What does Soeur Black do during all of this time? She sits by the air conditioner and studies French with appropriately spaced comments about how difficult it is and how hard she is having to work to learn the language. I think her comments are designed to invoke pity and to keep me scrubbing hard on the clothes. I guess she does hang all the clothes out to dry and fix breakfast so maybe I have it a little better than the average slave. All in all it seems to work out pretty well and I have to admit that she is making strides in the language although learning does come slow at our age. I guess if Aunt Wasel can learn Spanish at 90, we should be able to handle French at 64. (I will add that I do all of the ironing when Pete is sitting at the computer, reading, or whatever but I still have the better end of the deal!)

The Southams have been wanting to have the Branch Presidency over to their home for dinner before they left so they designated last Sunday as the day and invited everyone over after church for dinner. I mentioned last week that President Desiree and his wife are the only ones in the Branch that have been sealed in the temple. The first counselor is Frere Loccossu. His wife is not a member but is really a fine lady. She has a business importing items from China so she travels quite a bit and spends quite a lot of time in China. The Loccossu’s have a daughter that lives in Paris and Frere Loccossu left to go to Paris on Friday night so he wasn’t to the dinner but his wife came as did Frere Didier, the second counselor and his wife. His wife is also not a member. In fact, even the Southams had never met her before the dinner. The Southams, along with some help from Soeur Black, fixed a wonderful American type dinner chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables and cake, mangos and whipped cream for dessert. We had a wonderful time, laughed a lot and just had a nice evening together. We also discovered that some of the things we eat are as foreign to these people as some of the things we have eaten over here. Mrs. Didier did try everything but only a small amount and did not want seconds. We were the most amused when it came time for desert as we served cake with diced mangoes and whipped cream. I can testify that is a very fine desert but Mrs. Didier was definitely not impressed. She put a teaspoon of cream on the cake without the mangoes and took one nibble, then let her husband eat it. She was very gracious about the new tastes and did a better job than I did with the goat intestine soup. The people over here are not used to some of the tastes we have – especially in sweet things. A few weeks ago one elder got a package of marshmallow peeps from his parents. They are those really sweet marshmallow chickens the stores have about Easter time. We took them over to a family that has a lot of kids and passed them around. They didn’t like them at all. Maybe that is why our missionary boys only have one small cavity after not going to the dentist for 20 plus years.

This week we also said goodbye to President and Sister Dil. They came over on Wednesday for interviews and then we had zone conference on Thursday. Wednesday night after things wound down a little, President and Sister Dil, Soeur Black and I and the Southams went out to a nice dinner. We really enjoyed the evening. The zone conference was also wonderful. A lot of good spiritual food as well as practical advice and general direction was given by President Dil and the two missionaries who are his assistants. Afterwards, we all went out to dinner again, sort of a tradition at zone conferences and then, after pictures, President and Sister Dil and the AP’s left to back to Ghana. They will be released at the end of June and return to New Zealand. Having been here since 2005, I think they have earned the release and will be as glad to see their grandchildren as we will be to see ours next year when we get home. Also Elder Kabangu was transferred over from Togo as Elder Hubbard’s companion so we are no longer in the threesome that has kept us working pretty hard. Elder Kabangu is from the Congo and is about to finish up his mission also in another 6 weeks. One nice thing is that he started his mission here in Cotonou 2 years ago so he knows a lot of the members that we need to get acquainted with before he leaves so hopefully we can take advantage of that the next few weeks.

The rest of the news is that we will keep our little pickup here until we go to Ghana on June 20th and then take it back over to the Area Presidency. We are glad that we are not going to be on foot and at the mercy of the taxis for the next two weeks. It worked out good because Elder and Sister Southam are going to go over to the temple in Accra with a family from here who will be going for the first time and then fly home from there. They will go over on Monday of that week and fly home on Tuesday, and we will go over on Thursday, go to the temple on Friday and the PFR meeting on Saturday and then leave our pickup and drive theirs back to Cotonou. Timewise, Accra is about a 7 hour drive but part of that is crossing two borders from Benin into Togo and then from Togo into Ghana. Speaking of our little pickup, it is quite famous now. If you look at the May 17 Church News on page 8 where it talks about the measles vaccination program the Church is involved in, the picture on the left side with the crowd of people has a white pickup in the background. That is the pickup we now drive. I guess the couple that were here a year ago working on the measles program drove the pickup also since it is kind of the spare. On the same page there is a picture of Benin taken out at Ganvie on the lake where we went a few weeks ago and told you about. We understand a couple is coming back again in November to vaccinate more children but haven’t heard much more than that.

Yesterday, Saturday, we had another cultural experience that we need to share. The father of Ramauld, a member of the branch, died about three weeks ago and we attended his funeral yesterday. Funerals in West Africa are a huge and costly event for all extended family members and friends. It usually takes the family weeks to collect enough money for the burial and traditional festivities. Therefore, the body is kept in cold storage in the morgue until just before the funeral. The family rents a huge tent that takes up the entire road in front of the family home. All traffic just takes another route. First there is a viewing at the home which we missed because it was over when we arrived even though we were there when it was supposedly time to start. As soon as we arrived Ramauld came running over and needed us to drive him to the cemetery. We told him sure, jump in. A bench was brought out and put in the back of our little pickup and before long we had 5 in front and 10 people riding in the back. I’m not sure what mission rules say about hauling a lot of people in the back of the pickup, but we are in West Africa and sometimes you just do what needs to be done so I just went slow and we all made it to the cemetery. About half way there, we got stuck in a traffic jam and Ramauld was concerned about getting there to put a handful of sand into the grave and other ceremonies so he jumped out and caught a moto taxi. Those moto taxis get pretty good at just going around or in between when cars just have to wait in line. The service itself at the cemetery was not unlike what you might find in Blanding. I am not sure if it was a priest or some other minister. He was not in priest robes, but he gave some kind of talk for half an hour or so in Fon and then they closed the grave. The biggest difference was the Brass Band that was playing as the family and friends left the cemetery. I was surprised when they played, “When the Role is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There.” After that, everyone went back to the tent in the street in front of the family home that we described earlier. Since the Southams have 5 of their children here and most of the missionaries went, there was quite a group of we yovo’s in white shirts. When we arrived they rearranged the chairs so we and some of the other members were all in a circle whereas most of the others were sitting in rows but everyone was served beans and rice and pop or cold water to drink. The electronic music was playing through loudspeakers when we arrived but soon the brass band showed up and took over parading around through the crowd and everyone had a good time. There were several neighbor kids watching the festivities and when the band began, they put on quite the dancing show for us. We didn’t have to eat any funeral potatoes. I have some video but it is too large to send on the internet so it will have to wait until we get home.

Santa hats are in style this year

Flamboyant Tree on the road to Togo