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.
Speaking 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 Togo/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. The 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. About 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 Skittles 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. There 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
Cactus in Paradise