Before we came to Benin, we ran across some information that the legendary Amazon Women Warriors actually originated, not in Brazil as I had thought, but in Dahomy which was the predecessor country of Togo and Benin. They were apparently a fierce female fighting group feared by all. This week, in trying to get Elder Kabangu sent back home to the Congo after finishing a good mission, we found out that their descendants are still very active. Let me explain. Being unlearned in African air travel I naturally assumed we could buy a ticket at the airport and get him on his way so last week we attempted to do so in order to be ready. All we came up with was the phone number of Benin Golf Air, of which we were assured made the only non-stop flight between Cotonou and Kinshasa in the Congo. After a number of other inquiries and a trip across town, we found their offices and sure enough were able to purchase the ticket for Wednesday. We were instructed to be at the airport at 7.00 A.M. for his flight at 10.00 A.M. We were there and all was calm and peaceful. So far so good. The security guard told us to get in a line for the Congo, and another one was made for those going to Nigeria. After waiting for an hour or so all of the Nigerian passengers were very orderly called and proceeded to go into the room where they could check their luggage. Still, so far so good. About a half hour before the flight was to leave for the Congo word got out that it was not even going to fly. The good so far deteriorated very fast and all pandemonium broke loose.
The aforementioned security guard was a little shrimp of a guy who couldn’t have weighed more than 125 pounds, and all of a sudden he was surrounded by at least a dozen yelling women. Some of these women were at least twice the guard’s size, all dressed in very fine embroidered dresses and adorned with fine jewelry and yelling at the top of their lungs. It is probably good we couldn’t understand what they were saying. I knew it was time for reinforcements when another guard came in to offer assistance. It wasn’t long before more reinforcements were needed so they turned the women loose to talk to the ticket agents and supervisors inside. I wanted to take a picture but refrained as I certainly did not want the wrath of those warriors turned towards me. (We later found out this was the third week they had been there to catch the plane with the same experience so I guess you could hardly blame them for being upset.)
Elder Kabangu tried to get on another flight that was going to a city across the river from his destination and then catch a boat across, but it was full. He would have had to go through another country border anyway. The next step was to get his money back, another trip all the way across town, and start over. When we returned to the airline office they assured us that the flight would leave at 1:00 P.M. so it was back to the airport. The story at the airport was 1:30. We waited until almost 2:00 and sure enough they started to check in the Amazon Warriors and Elder Kabangu. The only question left was where the flight was going. It might have been Kinshasa or Brazaville or even Point Noir with a bus on to Kinshasa. Only ticketed passengers were allowed in the check-in area, but after he checked in, Elder Kabangu gave me a “thumbs up” sign, so we were hoping for the best. The reason for the delay had something to do with airport and country politics. I guess that the Congo was not sending enough passengers this way or they had not transferred some airline cost to Benin. You never get the real story over here. (later note: We received word from Kinshasa that Elder Kabangu did arrive there at 2:00 on Thursday morning and made his flight on to his home town, so we assume he is home.)
Paying bills is another story that nowhere resembles what we are accustomed to. For example, the electricity bills are paid in cash each month, so you need a bag full of bills for that transaction. We pay the bills for the missionary apartments and the church. They were due last week, so we tried to pay them at least three times but the electricity was cut so the doors were locked and the bills could not be paid. We finally got the bills paid yesterday morning but with communication the way it is I guess we were already scheduled for cutoff and so the meter was locked a while after the bill was paid. Today the power was off most of the day anyway so I guess it doesn’t make a great deal of difference, but I decided we better get it turned back on. I won’t bore you with all the details, but to summarize, I waited in line for a couple of hours and after a day of uncertainty and a payment of about 7 bucks penalty, the power was finally restored this evening. Maybe I had better make a greater effort to get the bills paid faster.
While I was out paying bills, the neighbor kids came over very animated and excited – all talking French as fast as they could and were sure that Soeur Black should understand. With the help of a lady waving from the roof of the Elders apartment across the street, she finally did understand that the lady (their mother) was locked on the roof and had forgotten her key. I guess she was out on the roof hanging out clothes or something and the elders left and locked the downstairs door. (This probably doesn’t make any sense unless you realize that the door to the stairwell is kind of a common door and there are several apartments in the building, one of which is occupied by 4 of the elders.) I was quite proud of Soeur Black, she talked enough French to tell her to wait and she would call the elders to come back and let her out. They arrived a while later and the crisis was past. We went out awhile ago, and the lady came across to tell us that the prisoner wanted to say thank you. We all had a good laugh.
We have had some amazing teaching times this week. We went with the Elders to Akpakpa to teach Mma about tithing and fast offerings. Elder Phillips asked if she knew what tithing was and her answer was “of course, you can read about it in Malachi.” When he asked if she was willing to commit to pay tithing, her answer was “of course, I already have.” The same answers were given for fast offerings. Then the most amazing thing happened. Here is a girl who doesn’t even have electricity for her little restaurant but she pulls out this little book in which she had listed every item she had sold since she opened the little place and explained that she needed to go through and make sure that she had paid her tithing on each item. I told her as one accountant to another, be sure to subtract your overhead as you don’t have to pay tithing on any costs. I am still amazed by the incident. The next stop was at David’s house. David is another English speaker–a tall good looking guy. Before we finished, he was teaching us out of his scriptures. Both of these are scheduled for baptism on Saturday, July 27th.
Another first this week was the return of Benin’s first missionary. Elder Geoffry (I guess I don’t know his last name) got back on Tuesday night. He is a bit of a lost soul and has been over a couple of time already to tell us about his mission and deliver letters and show us pictures. He is going to be a real asset to our rapidly growing branch.
A day after our teaching experience in Akpakpa, we went out to Calavie to see Julianne, Carole’s mom who is the deaf lip reader. We asked her what we talked about last time and she basically reviewed the whole plan of salvation without stopping. It was quite humbling to realize that someone so handicapped on the outside has that kind of a spirit inside. We are really enjoying the experience of going out and teaching her with Soeur Nadia, our Fon translator. Nadia is a young girl who is 24 years old and speaks no English so we use the driving time for Soeur Black to try out her infantile (her description, not mine) French. Nadia is also a very good cook and is teaching me how to prepare some Beninese cuisine. In fact she came over here on Monday and we prepared a dish called atashi which is rice and beans cooked together with a tomato, piment and shrimp sauce on top. It does not taste fishy at all as the shrimp is a dried powder and there is not much in the sauce. It was really delicious. Back to the ride to Calavie. On our way I asked Nadia where I could buy some dried corn and have the neighborhood man with a grinder make some corn meal. She said wait until we get to Calavie as it is cheaper there so as we were bumping along on a back road to Julianne’s, she told us to stop and buy some from a woman who was selling some by her house. After the discussion at Julianne’s, it was time for a lesson in how to clean the corn before taking it to the grinder. First, you put the corn on a square woven screen type of contraption. We picked out the bad kernels and the Nadia flipped it up in the air so the chafe would blow away. It was really and efficient way to get the job done and I was impressed. With the job all done the corn came back to Cotonou where the elders know a man who will grind things and it was turned into corn flour, as opposed to corn meal. The resulting corn bread was well received by the elders and I even got a little taste that Soeur Black had rescued for me when I got home from another adventure which we will describe next week.