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

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