African Children

After the visit of President Ayekoue and his friendly encouragement, we decided that we need to be little more diligent in following the words of the song, “The world has need of willing men Who wear the worker’s seal. Come, help the good work move along; Put your shoulder to the wheel.” I wonder if he knows how old these shoulders are? But we are so thankful that we are able to be here and working every day as we try to help some of the people in Cotonou. He wants us to move a little faster on getting the branch divided and finding a new missionary apartment in Akpaka. Therefore, the day after he left, we headed for Akpaka with one goal in mind: to find an apartment for the elders. In Cotonou this is not an easy task as there are no “for sale” or “for rent” signs on any of the buildings. So the first place we went was to talk to the owner of the apartment that we missed renting by one day and asked if he knew of any other apartments which were for rent. He said no but gave us the name of an immoblier, who is like a real estate agent at home. We called and met him to look at two apartments which were very nice but a little too nice and costly for missionaries. But he did agree, however, for 5000 cfs to look in earnest or us. I swore we would not use one of these immobliers but it seems as if we yovos don’t know the system well enough to do it solo.

Kids by the Ocean with Elder SchwiegerThere are many children in Cotonou and every street has many kids to keep the chickens and goats company. They seem to know a little ditty from birth about yovos, and it goes something like this: “Yovo, Yovo, Bon soir. Ca va Bien, merci.” Literally translated it means: “White person, white person. Good evening, How are you? Very well, thank you.” The kids seem to know this from birth and have no idea what it means except that it is to be chanted over and over again every time a white person is around. Needless to say, already we have heard it hundreds of times. The kids seem to be curious about us but the adults don’t pay any attention. A few days ago I was sitting in the car waiting for Pete when a kid about 11 or 12 walked by, and when he noticed a yovo was sitting in the car he turned his head for a better look and hit his face on the side mirror. A lady was walking toward him and proceeded to give him a big whack for his curiosity. Many of the little kids wave and want to hold my hand.

Lokossu Kids PlayingI love the little children here. I guess it is the grandmother in me but I have had the strings to my heart pulled many times already. In some respects kids are the same the world over–playing, laughing, arguing with siblings, and being mischievous, but here they have to be a little more creative in how they play. I have seen very few toys as we know toys. The most common one is an old moto tire being rolled down the road either with the hand or guided by a stick. The boys frequently have neighborhood soccer games going often with a flat, worn-out ball but they are having a good time regardless. One incidence that pulled at my heart in a more negative way happened when we were visiting a semi-active member. We had not seen her in church for quite awhile and were sitting in front of her apartment watching the neighbors in the little dirt courtyard as we visited. There were several little children and two or three mothers. One little boy about 2 or 3 was playing quietly by himself pounding a nail or something in the dirt with a stick and his mother got up from her cooking and gave him a big whack. A while later, she got up and gave him a bigger whack. I was so disturbed by it that I wanted to get up and give the little kid a great big hug, but I couldn’t interfere. Kids are generally not encouraged to be curious or creative. In school they are taught to memorize and recite and not reason.

Obed and Pacome with New Primary song booksI mentioned Obed and Pacome in a previous blog that they were both baptized not long ago. They both love Primary and love music so I promised them a Primary Children’s Song Book. I thought that I could get one from Ghana soon but could not so I really appreciated Jody sending them from Provo. Several weeks passed before I could give the boys their books. Obed was so excited he favored me with my first African kiss. Being a senior missionary definitely has its perks!

Back to the apartment search. When we were in Akpakpa talking to another immoblier, he mentioned that he had an apartment that met our specifications but it was in Mennotin instead of Akpakpa. Much to his surprise, we told him that it just so happened that we needed one in Mennotin, also. So the next day we were on the other side of Cotonou from Akpakpa looking at an apartment in Mennotin. Much to our surprise, it was indeed just what we were looking for in an ideal location and the price was right. So today, Saturday, Elder Black, Frere Lokkasou and Frere Pierre made the final arrangements for 85,000 cfs per month which is about $190. It has three bedrooms and three bathrooms and a nice large living room. Two elders will move in immediately and two more later, probably in October or November. The next thing on the agenda is to get it furnished, which will probably take most of next week.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and living it. Therefore, when President Ayekoue asked us to speak on any subject of our choice to help fortify the elders, I choose this topic. Elder Black spoke about self-reliance and how an independent church cannot consist of dependent members. It is relatively easy to learn facts and concepts of the gospel but definitely more difficult to make them part of our lives every day. That is why “enduring to the end” isn’t easy. The commitment part of any promise or covenant takes a lot of diligence to practice. Basically, the gospel is a blue print on how to live and part of this how is what to do, what to say and how to be. (The basic idea was expressed by Robert Fulgham.) When someone accepts the gospel, many times changes in behavior need to follow, and for some this can be a challenge. We feel a big responsibility to be the kind of example to those with whom we come in contact that the more fully you live the gospel principles, the happier you are in life.

The way we carry kids in Africa

The way we carry kids in Africa

Kids learn to sell at an early age

Kids learn to sell at an early age

August Zone Conference

“We are late. We are late for a very important date.” Maybe it isn’t an important date but it is an important blog letter, and we have plenty to write about but time has been at a premium around here. We have a zone conference every six weeks, and President and Soeur Ayekoue came on Saturday and left this morning, Tuesday. Most of the week was spent in preparation for their visit and the weekend was spent on the visit. As usual we had our ups and downs and our “in Africa you have to be prepared for anything” moments, but we made it and we put President and Soeur Ayekoue on the airplane this morning, so now we are kicked back and relaxing for a while.

The last time the President came, they stayed at a hotel 15 minutes or so away. It was such a hassle running back and forth and trying to get him to where he needed to be on time, so we invited them to stay here in our extra room and they accepted the invitation. That meant we had to upgrade the room. We started out by finding a plumber to put in a hot water heater for the bathroom. That went quite well actually and was done last week. The President\'s roomSister Black also determined that the room had to have new mattresses and proper decorations, bed and breakfast style. We also had a small desk built as well as a small table for suitcases, and we salvaged an easy chair from the storage at the chapel, which we cleaned up, bought new cushions for, and made into a very nice easy chair. When we hung the pictures and put in the finishing touches, the room was beautiful and comfortable and we now have a fine guest room for anyone when the President is not here.

In addition to the room preparations, Soeur Black stressed out a little over meals. Such things always cause a little concern even at home when you are in your own culture, but when you throw in African culture, it add that much more to the stress. It has always been tradition after zone conference for the President to treat the missionaries to a good meal. President Dil had a tradition of going down to a Festival des Glaces, an American Style ice cream parlor/restaurant that the missionaries enjoyed a lot. President Ayekoue is a little more tight fisted than President Dil and suggested that we serve the after-zone-conference meal in our apartment instead of going to the restaurant. Besides worrying about feeding the Ayekoue’s, Soeur Black also had to worry about the zone dinner. Being the resourceful missionaries that we are, we determined to ask two sisters in the branch, Soeur Nadia and Soeur Estelle to prepare a Beninoise meal with a few instructions from us. We knew these women were good cooks but you never know once things are out of your control. First of all, we stressed that it had to be good and not to skimp on anything, and we suggested that grilled chicken and some fresh fruit might be nice. Since this is Soeur Black’s area of expertise, I will let her tell the “rest of the story”.

On Friday, since Nadia and Estelle have no means of transportation except by moto taxi, we offered to take them to buy all of the ingredients they needed for the meal. Thus begins the story of the most unique wedding anniversary we have ever had-–forty two years together–and the day began at St. Michel’s Marche. Of course, we had no idea what was on their list and the first stop was at a chicken marche. Every stall along one path was lined with live chickens all making the noises chickens make along with the smells chickens make. We tried to tell them we had some wonderful frozen chickens in the freezer at home which they could use, but we could not convince them, as “fresh ones are better.” They went directly to one particular stall where a rather large woman was sitting with her chickens, which were all caged in wire pens and round bamboo and reed containers. Bargaining for chickensThey began the selection process by pointing at a particular chicken which the lady would grab out of the cage and then Nadia and Estelle felt it all over and it was either rejected or chosen. This whole process took about a half hour and finally 7 of the fattest and best chickens were on the floor waiting their fate, which would come two days later. There was a place directly across from the chicken stall where you could have your chicken killed on the spot and take it home ready for dinner. I was so relieved that they were not planning on using the killing stall as I don’t think I could have eaten them later. Estelle and Chickens (Giving their lives for missionary work)We carried the chickens to the pickup and put them in back with their legs tied together with grass reeds. At St. Michel’s they also bought some white dried beans and pineapple. They were not pleased with some of the prices on other things so we went to Tokpa for our next stop.

Tokpa Marche is the largest and most congested marche in Cotonou, and its different areas specialize in different products. We ended up on a little street that was lined on both sides with piles of pineapple. It was not as wild as the watch and dry goods area we were at two weeks ago or the area where we bought the items for the Branch storehouse last week. We told Nadia and Estelle that we would wander around the pineapple while they forged ahead to buy the other things on their list. We bought a few limes, pineapple, a small insulated container, and a light bulb and then waited in the pickup. They finally came and Nadia had about 10 pounds of onions on her head, a couple of sacks in her hands, and Estelle had a cement bag full of items. By this time, some of the seven live chickens had managed to free themselves from the reed string that was binding their legs, so we had chickens running around in the pickup. I don’t think Toyota envisioned their truck as a chicken coop!

Now I had more to worry about – seven live chickens and 10 pounds of onions for dinner on Monday, but at least I wasn’t the one who had to kill the chickens or peel the onions. They also had a bag of tomatoes, piment peppers, and sundry other items. Then there was something more to worry about. How many piments did they buy and would the dinner be hotter than a firecracker? On Monday about 4:30 after zone conference it was time to eat, and I realized that my worrying time was an absolute waste. We began with a white bean cassoulet and cut up hot dogs served with fresh bread. Hot dogs are not my favorite thing but I will have to admit this was absolutely delicious. After the bean cassoulet, they brought out mounds of grilled chicken seasoned to perfection, French fries, and pate rouge. Pate rouge is made of corn flour and seasoned with tomatoes and piment. It is served with a mixture of fresh tomatoes, onions and piment peppers. For desert they served cut up pineapple, bananas and papaya in a grenadine sauce. The whole meal was filled with, “Wow, this is soooo good. Mmmm, delicious, etc.” I think it got an A+ rating from the elders and the Ayekoues and, I know it did from us.

President and Sister Ayekoue flew into Togo this time, and our arrangement was that the Togo couple would bring them to the border and we would meet them there at 1:00 and bring them on to Cotonou, eat an early dinner and then have President Ayekoue to the Branch leadership training meeting scheduled for 5:00. That was simple enough except that before we got 10 miles out of Cotonou, we ran into a traffic jam (both ways) and it took us almost two hours to go 3 or 4 kilometers. We finally arrived at the border two hours late only to find that the Togo contingency still had not arrived. About a half hour later they came and we made the transfer. By then it was almost 4:00, and we still had a two hour drive back to Cotonou. Thankfully in Africa, no one gets too exercised if things don’t start on time. We arrived back at the chapel and started the meeting an hour late.

As soon as President Ayekoue got into the pickup at the border, he announced that we would have to go back to Togo on Sunday and divide the Lome Branch. That was a shock but it didn’t pose any problems, only that I was scheduled to teach a Sunday school class on missionary work and we couldn’t leave until 11:00 after Sunday school. That would get us there in time, however, if we didn’t run into any traffic jams. After the Saturday Night leadership meeting, some of the Ayekoue’s friends from Cote d’Ivoire came over to visit. We invited them to eat with us and finally finished eating about 10:30. Since it was so late, I offered to drive them home. We went down to the pickup only to discover the first flat tire since we arrived. How do you get a tire fixed in Cotonou late on a Saturday night when you have the leave for Togo the next morning? Esther (The Ayekoue’s friend) talked to the neighbor in Fon for a minute then disappeared into the darkness. In just a few minutes she was back with two young men in tow who were offering to fix the tire. It took until after midnight but they got the job done and did it well. We were ready to go. Esther told me they wanted 1,500 cfa for the job (about $3.00 or so) but she talked them down to 1,300. After she left I gave them 2,000 and felt it was the best money we have spent so far on our mission.

Sunday was our Primary program in Sacrament meeting. All the older Primary kids talked. Unfortunately there was not time to sing the songs they had been preparing all year to sing. Neither was there time for President Ayekoue to talk but we started and ended on time! Maybe the songs will come later. The kids did a really good job on their talks. There were 182 people at church and that made for standing room only. Not bad for a branch with 225 members. Afterwards I taught my class while President Ayekoue interviewed and then we headed for Togo as fast as we could. We arrived in time and had a sacrament meeting there also. President Ayekoue took charge and divided the branch and sustained the new Branch Presidency. Frere Dieudonne, one of the long time members over there who went with us to Accra when we were over there in June was also sustained as a second counselor to President Ayekoue in the Mission Presidency. It was really fun to see all of that done and done well with no involvement whatsoever from any pale faces. Happy Soeur Black and Happy AyekoueRiding over and back with President Ayekoue, I really had a chance to get well acquainted with him, and we sure are learning to have a lot of love and respect for him. He was a professor of biology then an educational administrator before going to work for the Church as the Seminary and Institute program supervisor and then was called as mission president. His teaching skill is evident every time he has the opportunity to teach or train. We didn’t get home until almost 10:00 that night and were very tired but it was a rewarding and eventful day. Soeur Black and Soeur Ayekoue stayed home and tended little Happy who was not feeling really well because of some congestion. Soeur Black is learning French and Soeur Ayekoue is trying to learn English so they have something in common (sort of), and they got along fine.

Soeur Black in African DressOn Monday we held the zone conference. Soeur Ayekoue brought Soeur Black a really nice African dress from Cote d’Ivoire for her birthday that she decided to wear to the conference. She was the hit of the conference. Especially when she offered the opening prayer all in French. Then top that off with the meal described above and all in all it was a very nice day. Today, we had to have the President to the airport before 9:00 so we ate breakfast, took them to the airport and basically collapsed the rest of the day. It’s a good thing President Ayekoue is young. He runs a pretty heavy schedule and doesn’t get to rest like we do. Oh yes. We received another assignment also. In addition to our mini bishop’s storehouse, mini distribution center, and our music program, we are going to start a mini employment center. President Ayekoue wants us to help train the branch members in skills that will help them find and keep a job and also teach entrepreneurship. It is needed and I guess we should be qualified to teach it if we can find the vocabulary in French. All those things should keep us busy for the next while. President Ayekoue isn’t one to let people sit around and rest.

The First Bishops Storehouse and Church Distribution Center in Cotonou

President Desire and Soeur Felicite, the Relief Society president, decided that the Branch needs an effective way to distribute small sacks of food to the needy members. There is a definite need here, and thus far President Desire has given people money from the fast offerings to purchase food. There is no Bishop’s Storehouse here so we have no access to church commodities. On Wednesday the first mini Bishop’s Storehouse in Cotonou was opened in our apartment which made for a very interesting day. No ribbon cutting or ceremonies, we just picked up Soeur Felicite and headed for Tokpa Marche. The first stop was at an importer of rice. There was rice of every kind and description piled high in 50 kilo sacs everywhere. I even saw a few sacks that had Merry Christmas on them. Now what kind of rice is Christmas rice? Could it be long grain, short grain, parfum rice, par-boiled, extra short grain and the list goes on. As for the Merry Christmas rice, I guess we will never know. After a little negotiation, two 50 kilo sacks were loaded in the back of the pickup. Then we went to a congested part of the market to buy tomato paste, oil, canned corn beef, sugar, and powdered milk plus the plastic sacks to put the food in. Soeur Felicite and her children with food commoditiesAfter more negotiations, our mission was accomplished, and we went to our apartment to assemble the sacks. We ended up with 24 complete sacks and 10 with rice only, plus rice all over the floor. Soeur Felicite’s two children, Lillian and Hendrick helped and we had a good time especially when we could keep Hendrick focused. He seemed to be more interested in looking at pictures on the computer than helping to bag rice. I guess kids’ attributes don’t change with the color of their skin.

The Pineapple Marche at ZeLast week we had so much fun with the pineapple we decided to make another “pineapple run” this week. Since we go to Calavie to teach each week, we went on up the road about 30 minutes to where we attended the funeral last week and loaded up with pineapple again. There are a number of sellers by the side of the road at a pineapple marché and as soon as you stop, you are immediately besieged by 8 or 10 all wanting you to buy their pineapple. How do you choose which one to deal with? I don’t know, but there seems to be a kind of a code of ethics that as soon as you start seriously talking to one the rest pretty much disappear. Up until that time it is largely pandemonium. Soeur Nadia and Frere Geoffry and pineappleWe had Frere Geoffry and Soeur Nadia with us, so they helped us through the negotiation process a little in native Fon, and we ended up with 20 small pineapple and 10 large ones. I asked the lady delivering the large ones if we could take her picture and she wasn’t big on the idea so I told her that we would buy 10 more if she would let us take her picture which she thought was a good deal. Thus we ended up with 40 pineapple for a total cost of about $6 US. We have been delivering pineapples around to everyone we can think of, and they are well received. We probably should have loaded more except that it takes quite a while to get them all delivered. In the meantime, we are eating them as fast as we can. I suppose we might get tired of them sometime but not yet. Last night I took one of the small ones, trimmed it up and then just ate the whole thing like an ice cream cone with the top as the handle. I don’t know if I could recommend that at home but here it was wonderful. Selling Boiled PeanutsWe also bought some boiled peanuts from some cute little girls who were hanging around watching the pineapple negotiations.

We had our usual teaching meeting with mama Carole (Julianne). Names are interesting over here. I think last week Soeur Black told you that mama and papa are titles of respect and honor as are “chef” (chief) and “Patron” (boss). In English with an African accent, that often translates to my mudder or my fodder or mama and papa. Also it is not unusual to call someone by their name of their children. Thus Julianne becomes Mama Carole simply because she is the Mother of Carole or she can be Mama Julianne because that is her name with a title of respect. It took me almost 4 months to figure out that one sister in the branch whom I knew as Soeur Pascaline was also Mama Nancy since Nancy is her daughter and everyone know Nancy. It can be very confusing.

Afterwards we went to visit Soeur Nadia’s Aunt and Grandmother and Elder (Frere) Geoffery’s mother. These were pretty much social calls since they live too far out and really don’t have the possibility of coming to Church but they are really good people and we just wanted to pay them a visit. They both live in Calavie so without the elders it was a better time to visit them. We have visitied Nadia’s grandmother before so we took her some pineapple for which she was most grateful. Frere Geoffry, his mom and sistersThen Geoffry guided us to his mother’s house, which was out in the country on the outskirts of Calavie. Our last turn was down a small road, almost more like a path, to her home. As soon as we parked, two young girls came running over to the pickup with big smiles on their faces, obviously very excited to see their older brother, Geoffry. How does one try to put into words the feelings we experienced as we met the worst case of poverty we have ever seen? Frere Geoffry\'s sisters and a friend shelling cornIn spite of their humble circumstances, we were offered a dry cob of corn that the girls were preparing to be ground. As we looked around it seemed that was about all that they had, yet were willing to share and were concerned about making us happy. That night, I was a little melancholy and mentioned that I was distressed and wanted to help those little girls and their mother. The pineapple and bread we left them seemed like a mere pittance. Frere Geoffry is a little distraught because as the oldest son he is supposed to be helping his mother but is unable to do so. He pretty much let everything he had go in order to serve a mission and is trying to pick up now and get a job or some other means of support. He will probably succeed as he seems to be intelligent and served a good mission.

Frere Geoffry\'s Mothers homeWe need to describe their living conditions and environment. All three of them live in a small one room house about 12 by 12 feet with no water or electricity. They also have a covered area for working outside. (The place where the girls were preparing the corn.) There was a well about 100 feet from their house and the water level was very deep, maybe 60 feet down. Every drop of water had to be pulled up by hand in a small rubber container. These girls did not have to fight over who got to choose a TV program, did not reject their mother’s cooking, choose what to wear to school or what to have for an after school snack. Their only concern was, “How am I going to survive today, will I have anything to eat tomorrow, is there any soap to wash my clothes with, will we be able to pay the $4.00 rent per month on our house, what happens if my health fails, etc. etc.?” The longer we live in Africa, the more sure we become that most Americans are spoiled crybabies and we don’t exclude ourselves from that list. The things we find to complain about aren’t usually that important from the perspective of most of the people living in the world today, let alone the eternal perspective. We are grateful for our mission and the chance the Lord has given us to understand a few things like that first hand and hope that we can always remember the lesson.

On Friday, the most exciting thing happened. We have been doing battle for some time to try to get supplies. The need for Bibles, hymnbooks, books, and other basic supplies had reached an almost critical level. Two months ago when we went to Accra we had hoped to return with what we needed but found the shelves basically empty. Since then we have been through a complete cycle, not worth relating of how can we get things? Can we order e-mail? How do we pay? etc., always with some kind of put-off that you have to be in Africa to understand. Last Friday, Pierre arrived from Accra with two large boxes and one suitcase full to basic supplies. So to add to the Branch Storehouse stored in our apartment we are now also the proud location of the Benin Church Distribution Center. We are making progress and things are getting better.

An African Funeral

We have now settled into a routine with our new mission. This week all the elders received a letter from the First Presidency telling them their call had been changed and they are no longer part of the Ghana Cape Coast Mission but are now part of the Ivory Coast Abidjan mission. I think they were a little disappointed to receive a letter from the First Presidency and then have it only tell them what they already knew, but it is official anyway. Soeur Black and I did not receive one, but I guess we will assume we are part of the Ivory Coast Mission also unless or until someone tells us differently.

Map of AfricaWe have talked about our new Ivory Coast Mission in bits and pieces before but now that everything is in place, perhaps we can explain it a little more concisely. The West Africa Area is huge and I am not sure of the boundaries. Basically, the part we are concerned with is the part of Africa that has a southern coast line to the South Atlantic Ocean. On the far East is Nigeria then moving to the west you next have Benin where we are, then Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia where the continent makes a turn and the countries from there on pretty much have a Western coast line. Nigeria is a huge country with a huge population and I am told it is very densely populated with about 132 million people. Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia are all English speaking, whereas Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast are French speaking. French or English is the official language of the country, but Africa for centuries has been dominated by tribes, and still there are a lot of people that only speak the tribal language. Here in Benin that is Fon in this area, although there are other languages spoken in the country. Togo is Mena and Ghana is Fante and Twi, just to name a few. Most people prefer to speak the native language in everyday conversation and around here most casual conversation usually defaults to Fon. Most people, however, will also speak French or English or both. In all of Africa, I am told there is something over 2000 recorded languages and estimates as high as 4000 languages if you count all the tribal dialects. Quite a translation problem if you are going to have everything in the gospel in native languages. We are actually facing that now a little here. Frere Paul and his wife Honorine are planning to go to the temple. Frere Paul speaks Fon, French, and is making good progress on English but his wife only speaks Fon. President Desire is from Togo and doesn’t speak Fon. President Ayekoue doesn’t either. The temple session is not translated for Fon so we are trying to figure out ways of getting them interviewed and to the temple. I am sure it will work out okay but it does present problems.

The church in this part of Africa was started first in Nigeria and Ghana, the English speaking countries on either side of us. That is where entire congregations joined the church during the late 80′s. It wasn’t unusual to have 100 or more people baptized at a time and some really strong people came into the Church. In both countries there are now wards and stakes and even a temple. Benin and Togo are sandwiched in between. The church was started in Togo in the late 1990′s, and the first missionaries arrived here in Benin in March of 2003. They were left in the Ghana Cape Coast mission even though they were French speaking countries, simply because President Dil and his wife both spoke French. When they finished their mission, it was natural to put them with Cote d’Ivoire even though it is further away since it is also French speaking. I understand that Benin and Togo used to be one country but were divided politically at some time. I don’t know the history of that.

So here we sit, kind of on a little island with our mission president a 2 day drive or a two hour flight away. Thank goodness for e-mail as that is our chief means of communication. We also have telephone service but the sound quality isn’t all that great, and when you are trying to understand French or a different English accent it is difficult enough when you have both ears and can see the person, let alone one ear to a telephone with crackling and background noise. President Ayekoue told us he is going to be using his couples more and seems to giving us more and more responsibility over what happens. I just hope he doesn’t give us so much rope that we end up hanging ourselves.

Pierette after her tongue was clippedIn our last week’s letter, we talked about the new little daughter of Pierre and Rosemond. We have been taking Rosemond and the baby to the hospital for check-ups and they were scheduled for another one on Wednesday. After arriving at the hospital, Pierre told me I needed to take the baby up to the third floor while Rosemond waited to see the doctor. Pierre left us there while he went to attend to the paying process and the next thing I knew we were being called into a dentist office for her to have her tongue clipped! The memories of having that done on Dave hit me like a blast from the past and wasn’t looking forward to that at all. She was sound asleep so the dentist opened her mouth, got his scissors and began to saw. I say saw as it would have helped if the scissors would have been sharp. What an angel she was as she just let out a little cry and went back to sleep. Africans start out being tough. The office looked like a blast from the past also, as it looked like the ones that terrorized me in my youth. It was not an example of sanitary dentistry either. Does anyone remember the old “rinse your mouth with this and spit it out” dentistry? Once again, I made Elder Black promise that if I need any serious medical attention, he will put me on the first plane for Paris, a short 6 hours away.

The weekend was another one of those cultural “firsts”. We told you a couple of weeks ago that the brother of Soeur Josephine had passed away. Around here they wait a few weeks before the funeral and it was scheduled for this weekend. I think the reason for the wait is that is just takes a while to get word out to the villages etc. with communication being what it is. It is a lengthy process to inform all of the relatives and raise enough money for the funeral. Sister Josephine invited us to be involved and also asked me to dedicate the grave. Last Sunday she invited us to go out the Bankole home where he lived in Cocotomey (8 or 10 miles from Cotonou) and meet some of the family. It was just a social gathering. On Friday evening we went out again. If we were at home, we would call it a viewing. Just after we arrived at the home, the funeral coach arrived with a police escort complete with sirens blowing and the casket was taken inside. A room inside the home was draped in white and decorated with colored lights and candles where the casket was open for the viewing. We (several of the branch members went with us) were invited into the room and spent a minute paying our respects. The casket was beautiful African wood. We were surprised to see that the body was dressed all in white. Afterwards we left and came home but I understand that the program went on all night with various music and cultural things.

On Saturday morning, the program continued in the little village of African Village ZeZe. This is the family home of the Bancole family and the same village where we went a few weeks ago to look at the property Soeur Josephine is proposing to give to the church. Unfortunately, I was unable to find my way back to the village and missed the turnoff but after asking directions we finally found our way. A lot of the service was something like we might have in Blanding but some was also very different. There is quite a nice Catholic Church in the little village where the service was held. After everyone gathered near the grave site where the tents were set up for the dinner afterwards, we were invited to walk to the church. An African drum band complete with dancers, followed the procession. These people get really good of those drums and the volume is such that you should have heard it on your side of the ocean. It is really pretty neat sounding out in the jungle. I didn’t know if I dared take a picture or not. I didn’t want to be culturally insensitive. Actually we spent most of the day trying not to be culturally insensitive. There were exactly two pale faces in the group and quite a bit of attention seemed to be focused on Soeur Black and me or perhaps we were just a little self conscious. After inquiring if it would be alright, I took Funeral Band and Dancerthis picture. As soon as I did, they wanted me to take more pictures. The dancer out front was almost insisting that I take some pictures of him and his dancing. I found myself surrounded by the band and dancers and my support group (Soeur Black and the members who were with us) wandered off toward the church. I told them in my best French how good it sounded and thanked them and made my escape to join the others.

The blessing of the casket took place outside the church. We were told that the deceased was not a practicing member so that part of the ceremony took place outside. Village ChurchAfterward everyone went inside where the service was held. Probably 150 -200 people attended. The priest gave a talk but mostly in Fon. Soeur Josephine’s brother spoke and gave a talk not unlike you would hear in an LDS service. Also a young girl spoke in Fon and I didn’t figure out her connection. I suppose she was a family member but not one we got acquainted with. Soeur Josephine’s father was polygamist so we met all of her immediate brothers and sisters but not the half brothers and sisters. Also her husband was there and we got to meet him. He is the one we told you about who was in the Benin National assembly for 8 years. He and other members of his family kept away from the main group but received us very cordially.

Funeral Procession to CemeteryAfter the service, the group then followed the funeral coach back to the grave site where I was invited to dedicate the grave and the priest also gave his blessing. After the casket was lowered, it was important that each family member sprinkle some dirt on the casket. If you have ever been to a Navajo funeral, you will find that interesting. After that, it was back to the adjacent area where tents, chairs and tables had been set up and the celebration began complete with food, loud music, and a DJ welcoming everyone. Funeral DinnerSoeur Black and I were trying our best to blend into the group but that was not to be. The DJ made sure on the loudspeaker that he welcomed the “Table of the Whites.” After we finished and decided to try to slip away unnoticed he also announced that the “whites were leaving now” and thanked the whites for coming and hoped that we had a good trip home etc. So much for trying to remain incognito. We went over and met Soeur Josephine’s Mother who was unable to come to the service, then made our escape to come home.

On the way out, it was important to the members who were with us to stop and buy some peanuts. Over here they boil the peanuts the way they do in the south but they are really quite good. Just hard to crack and get out of the shell. Pineapple DeliveryWhile we were waiting a lady came by from a little roadside stand where she was selling pineapple. I ordered 1000 cfa’s of pineapple (about $2.00 worth) and we ended up with about a half a pickup load. The picture is of the second pan full she got for us. I think the pineapple came to about $.15 cents each. We learned they are called “sweet bread” pineapples. You will notice in the picture they are green. This variety does not turn yellow like we are used to at home but they are as sweet as candy. We got home tired, but it was a very interesting day, especially with three Relief Society Sisters sitting in the back seat speaking Fon as fast as they could and laughing all the way home. It was good to see them having fun. We have one sister in the branch, Sister Lokossu who is apparently quite a character. She speaks mostly Fon, but whenever she is around, there is always a lot of laughter.

“Horse” on P-Day

A raging football gameWe have a fairly active group of member Branch missionaries here in the Cotonou Branch. Monday is P (for preparation) day for the full-time missionaries. That is the day we wash the clothes, clean the apartments, and the elders write home to parents, etc. (Soeur Black and I have the luxury of communicating any time we like). Also physical activity is encouraged. In Africa that means football (we would call it soccer in the US). Between the branch missionaries and the full time missionaries there was a movement afoot to play soccer on Monday morning. Soeur Black and I went along as interested observers. About a dozen of the branch members showed up. There is a little football field not too far from the chapel that is apparently available on a first come first served basis. It was half covered with water from recent rains, but there was enough room in the sand to play, so those who were physically fit enough played. The rest of us watched and shot a few baskets at an adjacent basketball hoop that badly needed some repair. We hadn’t been playing our game or Horse very long before quite a group of young boys assembled and were useful in chasing lose balls, as the sisters weren’t too good at making baskets. Soeur Black only made it because she talked some of the boys into taking her turn, although it didn’t take much talking. Game of Horse with spectatorsThe mighty might in the picture with no shirt was a dead eye with the basket. Soeur Josephine and her Sister in Law, Victorine (the one who lost her husband last week) showed up and seemed to really enjoy the activity. We were really surprised to see them come and thought that they were there to observe and just brought her son to play. They were dressed in very nice dresses then before we knew it off came the dresses and they had on sports clothing complete with tennis shoes. It was like my hospital experience. You just start to peel off your clothes and no one looks or even cares for that matter. It turned out to be a really nice branch activity.

Soeur Black demonstrating how its done

Soeur Black demonstrating how its done

Soeur Black cheating at horse

Soeur Black cheating at horse

We also usually try to have a nice dinner for the Elders on P day since they do not often get invited out. As we have said before, they take turns doing the cooking and bottle washing. Elders Phillips and Schwieger were on duty this week and proposed a good American dinner with chicken and mashed potatoes. They also very casually suggested maybe even apple pie. We didn’t get quite that far, but Soeur Black was able to find some really nice Granny Smith apples at the supermarket and made a great apple crisp that everyone enjoyed a lot, especially me. Maybe I won’t come home as skinny as I once thought I would.

Pierre Agassin FamilyWe hinted last week about Frere Pierre and Rosemund and their new baby. We picked her up and took her to the hospital last Wednesday evening and the baby was born C section on Thursday morning. When we went to get her, Soeur Felicite, the Relief Society President, was there. She is a midwife, and we found out later stayed with Rosemund the whole night and helped in delivering the baby. Little Pierette Emanuella is the cutest little girl, about 9 lbs and just a perfect little angel. She joins two other sisters, Elizabeth and Cecilia. We also took Sister Rosemund some food. Around here if you get anything to eat in the hospital someone has to bring it. The good news is when you check out the bill is figured in hundreds instead of thousands. They went to a fairly nice hospital, however, and I think the bill did come to something over $400 which is a lot of money here. Also the way they have of enforcing payment is that you cannot get out of the hospital until the bill is paid. When we went to pick them up, we waited in the car almost an hour until Pierre was able to convince them that he had made payment. We thought for awhile we were going to have to take her back into the hospital and leave her there but finally Pierre rode his moto back to his house and came up with all the receipts to prove he had paid, and they let her go. We were glad because her room was on the second floor and there is no elevator. Women are tough over here but still climbing two flights of stairs three days after having a C section is asking quite a bit. That is exactly what she did, however, the next morning when we took her for a checkup. I carried the baby while Pierre helped her and just cringed with each step she took.

On Thursday we made our regular outside run with Elder Adou and Foucher and Soeur Nadia to teach Mama Rosemond and go to Calavie to teach Mama Julianne. This time we took Frere Geoffry, the first missionary from the branch who just returned from his mission with us since he speaks Fon. As we have said before, both are mothers of missionaries from the branch, serving in Ivory Coast. There were a couple of surprises, however. Dinner at Mama RosemondsBy way of explanation, any older person is addressed by mama or papa so instead of Elder and Sister that is how we are frequently addressed. First when we arrived at Mama Rosemond’s she said it would be a few minutes so we waited and visited and she finally came for the lesson. As soon as the lesson was finished she got up and started to put a feast before us. There was no intestine soup here and everything was absolutely delicious. She made a big bowl of pate rouge which is corn flour and tomato paste mixed and cooked in a pan. It was accompanied by a sauce of fresh tomatoes, onions and piments. She had a big bowl of fried rabbit and one of French fries. After that she served fresh papaya and bananas. We like those kind of surprises!

We have mentioned going to Calavie before and we thoroughly enjoy seeing Julianne every week. He speaks Fon so he was able to teach her in Fon so she could read his lips just fine and we could skip the translation process with Nadia. It was really fun to sit there and hear both of them teach the gospel taught in Fon. Once in a while they filled us in on how she was responding. She really understands the gospel despite her hearing handicap. Elder Geoffry was obviously an excellent missionary and really knows how to teach. We couldn’t understand the Fon but I could the French when he was helping to teach Mama Rosemond and discovered that the same thing happens to these African missionaries as happens to American missionaries when they go on a mission. They come back mature adults with a good knowledge of the gospel and how to teach it to others. I hope the same thing happens to Soeur Black and me.

Soeur Black’s Birthday was August 1. As the word spread a little she received lots of birthday wishes from members and missionaries. We pretty much took the day off just doing things that needed to be done here at the apartment then drove around looking for a missionary apartment in Akpakpa and went out to a nice dinner. August 1 is independence day here in Benin so most things were closed and there were celebrations going on here and there.