The new crisis for the week is money. We have been trying all week to get money with our VISA card from our usual cash machines that have worked so well thus far. All of a sudden they won’t accept our cards. We are being told that it is a problem with VISA in all of Benin or maybe all of Africa. We asked when they expected to have them fixed and they said they didn’t know but is should be soon. Soon can have a lot of meanings in Africa but we will hope for the best and might have to borrow from the mission fund in the meantime.
We went over to Frere Geoffroy’s for a family home evening on Monday. Frere Geoffroy is in every sense of the word a returned missionary and is keeping the elders in that area pretty busy just with referrals. His brother (actually half brother) Floren was baptized a couple of weeks ago. Floren is a student at the university and is a very intelligent up and coming young man. Also their Father was there from Bohricon, a town a couple of hours drive away. He has changed from being quite bitter against the Church to having a lot of respect for the Church as he has watched what has happened to his sons but he is probably not a candidate for baptism. A big problem there is that he has at least three wives that we know of. Frere Geoffroy gave a really good lesson, and Soeur Black made some good treats so we had a really good evening.
Cotonou has many sad, sad people in destitute circumstances, many because of physical handicaps. Consequently, there are beggars on every major road intersection and many times in between. Many suffer from physical deformities, most of which could have been helped with early medical attention or even prevented with proper vaccinations. It always tugs at my heart strings to see some of the suffering here but at the same time we see some real every-day heroism.
At Leader Price, one of the super marches in Cotonou where we go grocery shopping, a young man without an arm sells phone cards. War is brutal here, and you see people that have had a limb chopped off, and he is one. When we go there we always buy phone cards from him as he is a clean-cut young man and seems to be doing well with his little business. He is not on the streets begging. Yesterday we bought an African bedspread from two gals who own a little boutique by our vegetable marche. It appears that one of the girls might have had polio, and her legs are shrunken and are in braces and she uses a walker. She is not on the street begging. Next to her boutique a man has a little business set up where he and two or three employees make bamboo furniture. One of his legs is badly deformed and mostly useless. We bought a little bamboo stand from him, and he made two poles and gave to us for us to hang an African tapestry on the wall. He is a very pleasant guy and not on the streets begging. These three people have our respect and our business. I always admire people with a positive mental attitude about their negative circumstances in life.
In a previous blog, we talked about an investigator Louie and his family. Louie has never missed church since the missionaries started to teach him but his wife and two daughters are being a little more difficult. They are pretty happy in the church where they are for right now. Every time we go there we have quite a bit of fun with the girls. Our granddaughter Brielle has corresponded a little with Scholastic (nicknamed Seco) and she is also taking piano lessons. The younger girl Deborah has been preoccupied lately with going to the beach. Since we have not paid as much attention to her, we decided we would set a time and take them. We were hoping it would be a family activity but Louie said they weren’t that interested – just take the girls, so on Tuesday evening we picked up Deborah and Seco and headed for the beach. The beach is probably about 3 or 4 miles from their home and this is only the second time they have been there. Most people don’t have cars, and transportation is generally by foot or taxi. It also seems as if families do not have many fun activities together. Most of their time and energy is spent simply living and surviving from day to day.
People at the beach tend to stake out a little area where you can park and they charge you a few francs to “guard” your car for you. We tried to avoid such places but as soon as we pulled in a little guy came over and offered to let us park in his area so he could “guard” the pick-up for us while we played on the beach and had our picnic. We weren’t sure but what if we turned him down we would need a “guard” so we asked him how much. He stated that he wanted 500 cfs ($1.00) and when the girls heard this they were talking back and forth about that being too much. Then the next thing we knew, ten year old Deborah came right up out of her back seat, got in his face and told him in no uncertain terms that was way too much, it should only be 100cfs. He responded by saying that 100 cfs was for a moto not a vehicle. She wasn’t willing to back off so we finally decided we better protect the poor guy and intervened on his behalf offering him 200 cfa, which he seemed quite anxious to accept if we would call off Deborah. We were quite amused by the whole scenario and were surprised that little Deborah was so spunky! When we got over to the surf, Deborah was a little hesitant to get near the water and held my hand tightly but it didn’t take her long to get the spirit of playing on the beach. When it was time to leave, she wanted to stay longer just like kids at home. We almost had to drag her away. We had a really good time and came away determined to see if we can put together a branch young women’s activity to go back again.
Soeur Black gets us in trouble once in a while by not speaking French fast enough. Tonight (Saturday) was one of those times. Either because she couldn’t speak fast enough or because she volunteered (although I can’t imagine that) we ended up in charge of a cowboy dinner and entertainment for a Relief Society Activity. Soeur Black rounded up a couple of charcoal cookers and some pans that we thought might serve as Dutch ovens. You really haven’t lived until you have tried to cook Dutch oven potatoes and chicken, without Dutch ovens, over a charcoal fire with about 15 women all speaking Fon at the top of their lungs interspersed with French telling you how to do the job. We were supposed to be the experts, but every time we turned around someone was trying to tell us we couldn’t do it that way or taking our tools away. First of all they won’t let you do anything. Every time you pick up a tool and try to do something they try to take it away and do it for you. We finally kind of got the point across that we were going to do the cooking and they were going to watch. They weren’t being mean. Just trying to be helpful. I don’t know if it is because we are white or older or just what but it seems like every time you try to do anything someone tries to stop you and do it for you. Sometimes it is for money but the sisters were just trying to help out. I got the chicken cooked in oil and started to dump out the oil so I could put in the barbecue sauce and that really raised a ruckus. We had to save the oil because that was something they could cook with later. Worse than that, they insisted on dumping the used oil in with the leftover marinade the raw chicken was soaked in. We hope whatever they made with it was good, but we don’t want to be invited to dinner. A Branch member loaned me his guitar and Soeur Black finally sent me inside to entertain while she finished the cooking. When we were ready to serve, I dished up what I thought was a pretty good plate of potatoes with a nice piece of chicken. The first sister frowned and said she wanted more potatoes so I loaded on about all those little plastic plates would hold and that continued until everyone was fed. Soeur Black and I barely got a little taste at the end. About 15 women went through close to 20 pounds of potatoes! Potatoes are quite a luxury over here and cost about 75 cents per pound so not many people eat them. Maybe that was why they were so popular. Anyway, it was a great activity and everyone had a really good time. We were thanked over and over for doing it. The taste that Soeur Black and I got reminded us of home and almost made us homesick.