A Dark House on a Dark Street in a Dark City

The dry season is upon once again and hence the electricity will probably a little sporadic for the next few months. At least we can write a little on the blog as long as the battery lasts. I bought an African type moo-moo today for relaxing around the apartment and already am putting it to good use as the electricity is off at the present time. I think we should take turns fanning each other tonight!

We have tried to help as many people as we can who have medical problems, and this week has been busy with clinic runs and helping with medications. Godwin, the young man who just got his mission call, has not been feeling well. We took him to a clinic and he was diagnosed with high blood sugar problems. He is pretty much on an involuntary meal restriction diet except when he eats with us, and the doctors told him he needed to eat regular well-balanced meals. We are going to help him so he can eat a little better as I think he has been eating gari and sugar most of the time. For 25 cfa’s (5 cents worth) mixed with sugar you have enough to fill your stomach but has absolutely no nutritional value. Soeur Estelle is home recuperating from what the doctors say is a liver problem, and we have checked on her. Last week we took her to the doctor and to the hospital for tests. He told her to eat only fruits with a few vegetables and nothing else. After visiting her we headed for Porto Novo where Frere Landu, our branch piano teacher, had reported in sick. He was doing a little better, but we took him shopping for some food and got him situated a little. I guess he has Malaria but he was to Church today and feeling a lot better.

Muslim goat fairOn our way to Porto Novo we passed a pond where Muslim goats were being washed. I commented on how they were being cleaned just to be a sacrificial goat. We went a little further down the road and there was a goat fair in process, quite similar to the San Juan County Junior Livestock Auction. Freshly scrubbed goats were everywhere and many Muslim men wandering around looking at them. The goats we see on the streets don’t look that good. You may wonder how you distinguish a Muslim goat from an infidel goat. The Muslim goats are big and ugly with horns that grow more to the side than straight up off the head. Many of the big male goats end up being sacrificed for special occasions.

Our neighbors who live below our apartment are Muslims and are very good neighbors. He is the counselor from the country of Niger, and one of his homes is here and the other one is a few blocks away. Benin is about 30% Muslim, and they are very peaceful people. They have large mosques in every neighborhood. The men are called to prayer about five times a day and all over town you see men washing their feet and faces before praying on a mat facing east. Not long ago we came home one day and a huge celebration tent was being put up in front of our apartment. Our neighbor came up twice to ask if it was OK with us to have the celebration in front of the apartment, as there would be some music. He explained that the occasion was to give his baby a name. When we went to church sure enough there were two goats waiting patiently to be sacrificed and when we came home the deed had been done and they were processing the goats. They did have music and food but the festivities never did get objectionable.

Monday turned into an interesting day. After the usual P day shopping for and with the elders etc., we had an appointment to have a family home evening with Soeur Pascaline and her family in Akpakpa. Soeur Pascaline is the Primary President in the branch and has 3 daughters, Nancy, Queen and Unice. The three girls go to a Nigerian school and speak English but are also fluent in French and Fon. Mama Pascaline is a French and Fon speaker. All that is pretty easy but the home they live in is a family home and there are always a number of other people there whom you have no idea who they are. To make matters worse, the power went off in the early afternoon and by 7:00 when we were supposed to be there it was dark as in DARK. We made our way to Akpakpa in a monster traffic jam with no traffic lights and managed to find the house. Inside there were two little candles burning. It was a dark house on a dark street in a dark city with dark people, and even dark cupcakes prepared by Soeur Black. Knowing the situation, she took a lot. We were hoping for a quick lesson, activity, refreshments and then escape to our pickup and come home, but Soeur Pascaline insisted we eat also and disappeared into the darkness. About a half hour later, we were eating rice (that we could recognize) with some sauce etc. but with no way to see what we were eating. Soeur Pascaline wanted to be sure we got plenty of the pieces of meat in the sauce so dished ours up accordingly. Soeur Black immediately became suspicious and sneaked hers into a sack in the darkness but I chewed mine as best I could. I think we would have been just fine if Soeur Black hadn’t brought hers home and examined the intestine in the light. Actually it’s not too bad if you can’t see what you are eating and you have tough jaws with which to chew. I could tell my next to the last bite was a vegetable of some sort so I just picked it up and ate it. Turns out it was a whole piment (a hot African pepper). By comparison, jalapeño peppers are quite mild. There isn’t any way to politely spit out a pepper once you have started to chew it even in the dark so I just had to eat it. It was already hot in the room and by the time I chewed the pepper I was sweating profusely. I did have one bite left to perhaps tone it down a little but – you guessed it – a piece of meat. Then I begged Soeur Black for a cupcake but there was only 2 left and she was afraid more people might come so she wouldn’t give me one. I can’t even express how glad I was to get back out into the warm dark night air of Cotonou. We did have a good home evening though. We showed a film on the birth of Christ and talked about the meaning of Christmas and left them with a scripture list for the 12 spiritual days of Christmas. We had to explain what the 12 days of Christmas was however. Sometimes it just comes home really forcefully that we have changed cultures. We still aren’t sure who all the people were that were there.

On Wednesday we had another brand new missionary arrive. Elder Bowman from Riverton Utah. That brings us to 10 now. When we picked him up at the airport, I told him I hoped he was a tough elder because the sewer line in his apartment was plugged up. That didn’t matter a whole lot, however, because there wasn’t any water anyway because the power had been off and that is what pumps the water. It continues to amaze us how tough these elders are. They just laugh about it and buy some bags of water (you can buy it packaged up in 1/2 liter plastic sacks) to “shower” and do dishes with and keep on going on their regular schedule. Since we have so many elders and are strung around the city we have had to discontinue our little Monday dinners we used to enjoy so much, but this Monday we will celebrate Thanksgiving together so we are looking forward to that. Soeur Black has been scheming for a while now on how to make a traditional Thanksgiving feast out of African ingredients plus a few things that have arrived at various times from home. The elders are planning to spend some time just kicking back a little and enjoying the day before going to work in the evening. We will let you know next week how it turns out. It was wonderful to talk to everyone at home on Thanksgiving and we are so glad everyone got together even without us. We just keep telling ourselves “wait until next year.”

Yesterday, Saturday November 29, we went to the Benin-Togo border to get Elder Howard as he is being transferred to Cote d’ Iviore next week. He was unable to get a visa in Togo but we can in Benin. There is a little strip of land at the border where both countries have their customs offices. It is almost impossible to describe and no pictures are allowed. There are cars and trucks parked everywhere waiting for proper papers, people walking both ways and many beggars and sellers and a few thieves. It is CHAOS in my estimation. After we arrived and met Elder and Sister Gillis and Elder Howard, we were immediately surrounded by people selling watches, tee-shirts, snacks, etc. The first beggar was a young man in a three-wheeled bike you sit in and peddle with your hands. Just as we were leaving a young boy came begging with a blind old man and wanted a cadeaux (gift). I handed him a chocolate cupcake, and he looked at it in the funniest way and then as we were leaving, I looked back and the young boy, old man the watch seller were all examining it and finally the watch seller pinched off a little morsel and tasted it and had the funniest look on his face. That definitely was not the gift they were looking for!

Today the sacrament meeting was put on by the Primary kids. I think we could challenge any primary in the church to a singing contest with our 20 or so primary kids. It was wonderful and all of the parts were perfect. It really made us feel like there is hope for Africa. There were 177 people there. The building just won’t hold any more. Hopefully the branch division will come soon.

We are going to include a few pictures that Soeur Black took going to and coming from the border. Maybe we will talk about driving on Benin roads another time but this might give you some idea. It is about the only pictures we got for the week. Sorry. Maybe we can do better next week.

To market

To market

Is this a scooter, a car, what?

Is this a scooter, a car, what?

This can ruin your day

This can ruin your day

Another shot of the load of plywood

Another shot of the load of plywood

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