Soeur Josephine, a member since about a year now told me a few days ago that she had a piece of property she wanted to give to the Church. President Desire and I determined that we would go with her last Saturday to look at it. We went north of Calavie about a 45 minute drive to a village out in the jungle. The property is about an acre or so of raw jungle land. It is located in the village where Soeur Josephine grew up. I have written to the Area Presidency to see if they want to accept it. Whether they do or not, it was a most interesting trip. The jungle is interspersed by bicycle paths (some of which are wide enough you can get a vehicle down if you are careful) and pineapple fields. Not fields really so much as little patches that are worked by hand. There was quite a group of us since 3 of Josephine’s children and one nephew also went with us but I was the only Yovo. After we finished looking at the land, we went to the little African hut where Josephine grew up and where her mother and the children’s grandmother still lives. She is probably the oldest person we have seen here. Maybe even as old as us, except she is not out doing missionary work. After the visit, she was insisting that she show us to the gate which is always African courtesy, but President Desire managed to convince her that we could make it on our own. She only speaks the native language so I could not communicate much. We also met Soeur Josephine’s sister, aunts and uncles and cousins to numerous to mention even excluding all the children. It was almost as bad as being in Blanding and trying to meet the Black family. It was just a delightful experience.
When we left the village and headed back I assumed we were finished and going home. Before we had gone very far on the highway, Soeur Josephine told me to slow down and pull of the road in front of a large nice home. She said that this was where her husband lived but she was not welcome there. Nevertheless, everyone piled out and went inside. The yard was more beautiful than the house. There was green grass bordered by immaculately trimmed hedges, paths and small tropical and bonsai trees. We went around back and were welcomed into a beautiful and spotlessly clean house by her husband’s brother and two women, whom I assume were his wives, all of whom greeted Josephine like a long lost sister in law. On the wall were paintings of her husband. I don’t remember the title, but if we were at home it would probably be something like President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Benin from about 2001 to 2007. I guess they separated about 16 years ago but were never able to get a divorce. Beyond that, I try not to ask too many questions. I have about given up on understanding African culture and now just go with the flow. You will understand that better as you read further.
Later that evening, we were at the chapel when a man stopped by with an invitation for us to attend a school graduation – another cultural first. I will let Soeur Black write about that.
First of all we need to address the invitation which was from the Unique Academic International School of Cotonou inviting us to “Graduation and Prize Giving Day.” It was to be held on Wednesday, July 23 at 11:00 Prompt. Not ever having been to such a graduation we had a suspicion about the terminology of it being a “Giving Day” as it is a private English school run by and for primarily Nigerians. But the 11:00 am prompt threw us as we did expect it to be a little late but maybe just a little. We had three of the students from the branch with us and were immediately ushered into a large auditorium about the size of the elementary school auditorium complete with a stage and decorations. Just before we arrived the proprietor chased us down on his moto and asked Elder Black if he was going to do his magic tricks as Elder Southam did last year. Blindsided once again. We were the only ones in the auditorium even after 11:00 prompt so he decided to go back to the apartment and get Elder Phillip’s harmonica as it looked like he was going to be on the program.
While he was gone, our three student friends abandoned me as it was a lot more exciting in the courtyard with their friends. (Sounds like home, doesn’t it?) As I sat as a primary observer, a man began to set up some real serious music equipment. That means a CD player with huge speakers and I knew what was coming – LOUD music. The sound of the music drew the kids in out of the courtyard and soon the stage was full of kids of all ages dancing to the beat. Africans seem to be born with a built-in sense of rhythm so the sitting got more entertaining, and I can still hear out of both ears so that part was a success. Here, louder is better! Elder Black missed the dancing as he was on the harmonica run.
The actual program began about 1:00 pm and was in English (I think). Between the Nigerian accent and the quality of the loud speakers it was really hard to tell. The chairman wasn’t there so one of the teachers got up and filibustered for another hour and by this time we found ourselves sitting at the “high table,” the dignitary section, wondering what in the world was going on. Every time some students were presented for graduation or performing, their parents or friends came up and threw money at them or pressed it on their foreheads. There were what looked like 20 dollar bills being thrown everywhere. (We found out later they were Nigerian currency valued at less than 20 cents.) so when our friend Nancy was presented for graduation, her mother was not there so we gave 2000 cfas which is worth about 4 dollars. She was happy and could leave the stage which leads up to the next part of the giving process. The kids are not allowed to leave the stage until someone comes up and gives the kid money for the school. When some of the little kids performed on at least two occasions, 4 little kids were left standing looking so sad. We felt so bad for them so we bailed them out for 1000 cfas each. We had another appointment at 3:00 (it was originally for 1:00 but we called and changed it when we could see what was happening at the school.) so we excused ourselves and left. We found out later it was just before the big donation time and they were expecting us to be big time givers and thought we left because we did not want to give. We had already given the equivalent of about 40 dollars and thought we had done pretty well. We suspect that the Southams were a little more generous last year and perhaps we disappointed them. We also found out later that after the big donation time there was more program and eating and the entire graduation lasted until 7:00 that evening. Next year we will be a little wiser! A post script to the graduation, no harmonica from Elder Black this year as it was going to happen after the big donation time.
Saturday was another big day in our lives in Cotonou. Mma and David were both baptized and both are Nigerians. We have helped teach both of them, and they are really fine individuals and will be great assets to the church. They are some of the first people we met here after arriving. Mma wanted to be baptized sooner but because of certain conditions she had to have a personal interview with President Ayekoue. I decided that Nigerians like to celebrate as afterwards David served sandwiches and drinks, and Mma served chicken and hot rice. When Mary, also a Nigerian, was baptized everyone got a drink and some little cakes. Maa and David both have such strong testimonies now so hope they will both continue in their spiritual progression. It seems as if fellowshipping by the members at this stage of their lives is absolutely essential and it appears to be happening as both have a lot of friends in the branch.
After the baptism, the Relief Society had a social planned with a cooking lesson on Ebo food by Mma and Victoria Dike. I couldn’t help but remember the goat intestine stew, so I was a little apprehensive about the tasting afterwards. My fears were in order as I soon learned that the main item of the day was cow intestine stew served with cassava pate. I learned exactly how to prepare this most cherished dish of the Nigerian Ebos but do not think the grandkids would be very impressed. I will give you a step-by-step description of the process.
- It is cooked on a small charcoal burner on the ground so the charcoal must be started and fanned.
- Pour water in a big aluminum pan and bring it to a boil.
- Take the bones out of dried fish and throw the meat in the pot along with a huge dried fish head.
- After it has cooked for a while, add a plate full of cow intestine, onions and liver and cook for about one hour.
- Cut a huge pan of greens in small pieces and add to the above cooked fish and stir real well.
- Add some dry shrimp powder and dry piment (hot pepper).
- Cook until it is not bright green any longer.
- Serve with pate made from cassava meal which is poured in boiling water and stirred until it will form big thick blobs.
This is eaten with your fingers by pinching a piece of the pate and dipping it in the green mixture. I was instructed not to chew but old habits are hard to break so chew I did. It took four Tums last night before sleep came my way!
Elder Black adds: But she was a good sport and the social was a success.
Making Ebo food
Soeur Black got some help with her Ebo food
This stuff is GOOD!!
As a post script to the lead paragraph this week, Soeur Josephine had a younger brother who has been in the hospital for several weeks. We have been to visit him a couple of times. The last time he was completely non-responsive and it appeared his time here was growing short. We got word on Thursday that he had passed away so went over to Soeur Josephine’s. His wife and their son was there. We gave them a message of comfort as best we could. They came to church today with Soeur Josephine. We also had a baby run this week. Frere Pierre, who is kind of the fix-it man for the chapel, our apartments and everything else, and his wife got a little baby girl born C-section on Thursday. Since they only have a moto, we offered to provide transportation to and from the hospital, and the help was gratefully accepted. We were a little surprised and pleased since they seem to be very private people. We will give more details and some pictures next week.
July 24th came and went unnoticed as did the 4th of July. We probably should have at least had a program at the chapel and talked about pioneers. Maybe next year.