Being without Electricity is Not a Tragedy

West Africa is really on a winning streak! Yes, West Africa is winning again and again. We told you of our diesel shortage last week and how it forced us to park the pick-up and do a little more walking. But that was OK as we never went without anything. This week our electrical situation is the news. It has been real discouraging. One day we had power for an hour or two in an 18 hour time frame and then the next day it was not too great either or the day before. We do have a generator but it kept blowing a fuse so at night it was sweltering. I know why it is a survival society as you do anything to make life just a little more comfortable. In fact, I turned around in the bed and put my head at the foot just to catch a little breeze. When there is no electricity it affects the water so we have had a water shortage. We also tried to fill the gas tanks for the stoves and guess what? No gas to be found in our neighborhood. I guess I was crying a little of my own but after thinking about the situation, I have decided that we still have it much easier than 99 per cent of the people who live here. We have a Toyota pick-up with a great air conditioner, a nice apartment with three bedrooms and bathrooms, a laundry, drying room, a kitchen with an apartment sized stove with an oven, a large frost-free freezer, an air conditioner in the living room and our bedroom and the Internet. So why am I crying anyway? I have to remind myself about how my perspective of gratitude has changed since arriving here in Cotonou. We are truly blessed! The things I just described are simply minor inconveniences.

Last Monday was another eventful P-day. We took the Elders to do their shopping and since we could only get 6 of us in the two seats of the pick-up, three were in the back. (Sometimes in Africa you just do what needs to be done as there are no good alternatives.) Just as we were just about to arrive at one apartment, a pick-up of about five policemen pulled us over. Of course, my heart was going crazy again. Two of them came over to us and said it was illegal for anyone to ride in the back of a pick-up and they needed to see our papers. Dad very courteously pointed out to them that they had three riding in the back of their pick-up, also. Without batting an eye, they told him that it was OK for them as they had a bench to sit on. They kept the papers for the longest time and finally found that the inspection had just expired. It was good news for them as now they could fine us 15,000 cfa’s on the spot or we could take our chances and they would keep our papers and we could pick them up later at the Mayor’s office. That would have been good-bye papers so Dad greased their palms with 15,000 or about $34.00. That was a hard way to learn that an inspection was even needed here. He was told that the only place to get an inspection was almost to Porto Novo which is about 40 minutes from here. That was a big joke as far as inspections go! Luckily, the Branch President sent his mechanic who understood how to work the system with Dad. Fortunately, you just grease a palm and all of a sudden you are at the front of the line, ahead of at least 60 other vehicles. The story is not over yet. The inspection consisted of paying the fee and getting the proper stamp to put with your vehicle papers. At least they didn’t find anything wrong with the pick-up! (Sorry we didn’t get any pictures of any of these stories. Our camera would have been confiscated on the spot.)

When we came home last night, there was water running out of the garage into the sandy street. That was definitely not a good sign and Pete knew immediately that the pump in the garage had problems. Today he decided to fix it himself as the last plumber that was called charged about $90.00 for a little job. He found the parts he needs but also needs a hacksaw to cut the PVC pipe. He and Elder Kabangu are trying to find one now but he odds are against them when you have no idea where to go. Well, he is back without a saw but thought he had it fixed anyway, but not so. Without the pump, we get low on water and can’t even shower. I guess the next way is to shower like any other good African. You simply stand in a very, very large bowl and pour water over the top of you, lather up a little and pour more water over you. At least that is the way the kids bathe so I assume that is the way the adults bathe also. I have seen some huge aluminum bowls that even we grand people could stand in. Right now I would welcome cool water as the electricity is out again. I really admire the Africans here in Cotonou as most are clean and impeccable and come out of such humble homes with no running water and sometimes no electricity at all.

It seems like more and more of our time is being taken up doing administrative kinds of things. Between mail, reports, bills, Church magazines being delivered in the wrong language, vehicle requirements, medical tests for the elders and various members, making repairs at the chapel and at our apartment, and a number of other things there is not a lot of time left. We did manage to get a little missionary work done this week in spite of it all. We took Nadia, one of the branch missionaries who speaks Fon and went to Calavie to teach Carole’s mother again. That is always a delightful experience. While we were there, Nadia also took us to visit her Aunt and Grandma who live not too far away from Carol’s Mom. They treated us very well and would love to have the missionaries come but when they live that far out, they need to come to church before we could do much. They have promised to come but haven’t made it yet. We also paid a visit to Jemimah and Liza’s house. When the Elders wrote down her information for her baptismal certificate, they discovered that she had two children and the first was born when Jemimah was 9 year old. That didn’t sound right so we went through things again and discovered her birthday was off by 10 years. She is about 28 now and has two boys she had to leave behind in Liberia. Her husband was killed in a bombing of the US Embassy there where he had taken refuge during the war there in about 2006. Don’t know all of the details but it is kind of sad. Jemimah seems to take it all in stride and is upbeat and always at church with a smile on her face in spite of everything. I guess that is just the way things are in a subsistence society. Kind of makes you realize that not having electricity when you need it to keep cool probably isn’t the greatest tragedy in life after all.

The 4th of July came and went without fanfare. Just another hot day in Cotonou. Sorry we missed the big reunion. Thanks to Ramon’s family for sponsoring it. Wish we could have been there. We had heard that the American Embassy here invites all Americans to a picnic with hamburgers and hot dogs but if it was so we didn’t get the word and half of our Elders don’t fit the American category anyway so we didn’t really pursue it. Maybe next year.

On Saturday, we received a call from our new mission President. He is coming over on Thursday and will bring his wife and little baby. We will be having a zone conference with all the missionaries here as well as interviews and meetings with the Branch Presidency. After he gave me the schedule he asked to talk to Soeur Black. She was pretty worried but apparently his English is better than her French so they got along okay for a short conversation. More on our new President after we get to work with him some this week.

This has been a slow week for pictures. About the most exciting thing going is our apartment so we included a couple of pictures from there. We also included one we took a few weeks ago of a lady delivering pineapple. We have discovered the way to get the best pineapple is to buy them off women’s heads. They walk around all over. If you buy the small ones they are about 12 cents each, the larger ones are closer to 25 cents. We have discovered the smaller ones are really the sweetest. Eating them is almost like candy they are so sweet and juicy. That will be one thing we will miss after our mission. It will be hard to have to pay a few dollars for a sour pineapple. We are sure there will be some other things that will take the place of the pineapples, however, like getting to nibble the ears of the grandkids. (Probably not the big grandkids, just the little ones)

Pineapple Delivery

Pineapple Delivery

Apartment Living Room

Apartment Living Room

Bedroom and Bath

Bedroom and Bath

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