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