Happy with Elder OlsenThe most outstanding item this week was that, after wrestling with the area office in Accra for some past weeks and months to get chapel facilities established in Cotonou and Lome, we finally received the checks this week and were able to sign the contracts and bring all of that to a close – almost. The Gbedjromede building we have completely remodeled and have been using for a couple of months now without a contract. We are now official renters and also have a building for the fledgling Menontin Branch. As was the case in Lome, this will eliminate a lot of difficult travel for the members and will more firmly establish the branches as time goes by. It also paves the way for more missionaries as they will be spread throughout the city rather than being all bunched up together. Our understanding is that plans are in place to put more missionaries into both Benin and Togo, although we do not know how soon this will happen.

We got home from Lome on Sunday and President and Sister Ayekoue were scheduled to come on Wednesday for Zone conferences. Also Southams were here and getting ready to leave on Friday. That would have made the week plenty busy without any mechanical problems, but this is Africa and such problems occur – always at an inopportune time. On Tuesday afternoon, we suddenly discovered that the back doors on the pickup were locked and could not be opened. I drove over to the Toyota garage and they said they knew exactly what was wrong. If I would be back at 9:00 on Wednesday morning they could fix it in a couple of hours. I showed up right at 9:00 as I needed to pick up Ayekoues’ at 1:00. Being on a tight schedule in Africa is never comfortable. It seems that if you are on a tight schedule, you are alone as no one else is. They did get started about 9:30, however, so I thought everything would be fine. A little after 11:00 they came to have me look at the vehicle and I thought, “Great – all finished, and I will have plenty of time.” Imagine my disappointment to find pieces of the car laying all over the garage. They only wanted to inform me that three of the electric lock mechanisms were burned up and it was going to take longer and cost more. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised. With some prodding, they did get it finished about 12:30 and for $450 I was back on the road in time to pick up the President at the airport. Thursday I got to go to most of the Zone Conference but also had to run around getting everything done so we could leave on Friday morning. There were contracts to finish and the electricity in one Elders apartment to get turned back on. (That is another long story, but bottom line is that it was turned off because there was a $2.10 bill from November 2008 that had not been paid. One would think that would give rise to a balance forward on the statement, but such is not the case in Africa.) Soeur Black did her usual super hero job of preparing a zone conference dinner and keeping everything going at the apartment.

Thursday night we had asked President Ayekoue to do a teacher training seminar. Many of our members in Cotonou have not been members for long, and teaching is new to them. Since President Ayekoue is a master teacher, we made the request and he accepted. It was an outstanding meeting. He covered everything from why we teach in the church to techniques for teaching primary children as well as adults and did so in a masterful way. He has the ability to speak for an hour or more teaching from the scriptures and using all kinds of examples and never has a note of any kind in front of him.

After the meeting we went to get in the pickup to go home and could only open the driver’s door. All the others were locked as before. After worrying about what to do most of the night, on Friday morning we hired a taxi to take President and Sister Ayekoue to Lome for the Zone conference there, and I went back to Toyota to get the pickup fixed–again. Another three hours of waiting and again we were on the road. This time, they said they found a wire that was causing the problem and think it is fixed. We will see. To their credit, they did not ask me to pay again.

So, we sent Southams and former Elder Ellis off on Friday night and then traveled to Lome early Saturday morning. Luckily, we had decided to have the zone dinner at a restaurant and had made arrangements for that so things worked out pretty well for the Lome Zone conference on Friday without us.

Zone Leaders cleaning up HappyEven though we missed Zone Conference in Lome, the elders were around the couple’s house most of the day on Saturday for interviews with the president. Some of us did leave for awhile for the baptisms, though. Little Happy is a one-girl entertainment committee for all of the missionaries, including us. She just celebrated her first birthday, so she is at such a cute stage of life. She loves to play and, of course, she has many who love to oblige her. Happy learning to walkElder Black taught her how to growl and imitate a fake cough. She can even patty cake every time the word is just mentioned. She is just learning how to walk and we were privileged to see her take her first step.

The Lome Elders were reported to have about 20 people ready for baptism on Saturday. A week ago, in anticipation of that, we visited a little with the Branch mission leaders and, after hearing some disturbing reports, inspected the baptismal clothing. We found them to be pretty grim. Soeur Black refused to let people be baptized in most of them so she took on the assignment of buying some heavy white fabric and getting the baptismal clothing made. New Lome Baptismal ClothingLuckily, there are some good seamstresses and seamsters in both Togo and Benin and by Saturday we had a suitcase full of nice baptismal clothing. It turned out there were only 12 baptisms instead of 20 but the candidates looked really nice. Another project is to get adequate baptismal clothing distributed to all 6 branches and hopefully they will assign someone to take good care of them so baptisms can be what they should be.

Saturday and Sunday was the Hedzranawoe Branch Conference. Soeur Black and I were both assigned to talk in the Saturday evening meeting. Soeur Black reworked her Akpakpa talk given a few weeks ago and gave the same talk. It is getting better and better. She gets all kinds of complements, and I get none. How is that for justice? When we were leaving the branch conference we found out how one young member enjoyed the conference. This photo may give the High Priests at home some better ideas for enjoying a meeting!

The New Lome Branch Chapel

Last week was a busy one in Togo. Back in days gone by, it used to be a little relaxing to go there but such was not the case this week as we needed to help equip the new Lome branch chapel with chairs, fans, a paint job in a few rooms, etc. We were moderately successful except for chairs. “Indian Trader” Mike told us he had all of the blue chairs we wanted. Blue was not our first choice but we were in desperate need, so we ordered 135 chairs. When they arrived our 135 had turned in to 60 and then only by using two different shades of blue. The final phase of the seating plan is to use these chairs now in the chapel and when we have benches made for the chapel later, the chairs will go in the classrooms. The branch rented plastic stacking chairs for more seating in the chapel and also the classrooms. On Sunday, I think every chair was used.

The Lome chapel is a beautiful facility. We are not really proud of the area that it is in, but that seems to make little difference in Africa. New Lome Branch ChapelAfter you enter past the high cement wall, you are in a beautiful courtyard with grass and nice shrubs. Before entering into the chapel, classroom and office area there is a large tiled patio. The patio area is large enough for a dance or other activities and also serves as overflow for the sacrament meeting. Originally this facility was a large upscale villa, therefore, there are enough rooms for classrooms and offices plus the chapel. One area appears to have been for hired servants to live which added an additional five rooms plus the rooms in the main building. On Saturday evening many members were there cleaning and excited to be preparing for the Sabbath. We went back to the chapel about dark. The choir was practicing and it appeared that most of the branch were just milling around, visiting and enjoying the yard and their new facility. The cost to rent all of that is about $600 per month – not a lot by US standards but quite a bit for Africa.

Future Lome PrimaryWe attended church there on Sunday and enjoyed the good spirit that was there. The African people really know how to sing and it is always a thrill to be in their presence when the hymns are being sung. They sing with feeling and gusto. You do not see anyone sitting there mouthing a few words or not singing at all. They sing! Even the organist was singing with all his heart and soul as he played the accompaniment. It is very contagious and we find ourselves singing with real intent ourselves. Lome Primary Sharing TimePrimary was well attended and it was fun to hear the kids singing, “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree”, in French, of course. They were doing the movements just like at home. I couldn’t help but wonder how these kids could relate to a song about an apricot tree but they were sure enjoying the song. I guess we need to find one about a mango tree! All the Primary kids know, “I Am a Child of God”, and it pulls at my heart strings every time I hear them sing it. The little kids here are so cute and lovable. Primary Chairs on the moveWhen it came time to go to class, there was no problem with the chairs. You will note in the picture how that was solved.

There was a baptism on Saturday in the Tokoin Branch for a sister. It turned out to be quite the challenge. We had had a problem with the baptismal font not draining so there was water standing in the font which was not really inviting and also dangerous for little kids running around. Last trip I contracted a plumber to fix the problem. As soon as we arrived, one of the elders said, “Elder Black the baptismal font is leaking.” Sure enough, we could see the water going in but the water level was not rising. Elder Black measured the level of the water and it would not go above 16 1/2 inches. This sister was not particularly big but it still took five tries to finally get her completely immersed in the water. She was good natured about it and thankfully was not afraid of water as are many Africans. You would think that in a climate like this, and close to the ocean, people would almost live in water and be very familiar with it. On the contrary, most people are afraid of water and baptisms can become a challenge at times.

Making Pate BlancAt the same time as the baptism, the Relief Society sisters had an activity going. They were sitting around preparing pate and fish. This was pate blanc and then wrapped in wet corn husks. They formed a ball with the pate and then wrapped it with the husks and then steamed it. I helped them with the corn husks for awhile before the baptism. Every time I attend and activity where food is being served, I marvel how these sisters can prepare so much food working in large pans on the ground or floor and then cook on a little charcoal burner. Tokoin Relief Society ProjectThe brothers were having a meeting and then they were all going to eat together. I think the brethren got the easiest end of that deal! We could not stay to eat as we needed to go back to the Lome chapel.

The former Elder Ellis was with us for this week in Lome and everyone really enjoyed seeing him and he enjoyed seeing them. He had interesting names for some of the areas around Lome. For example, the big marche that we had trouble going through several weeks ago is “Outer Darkness” and a place where a member works by the port is “Kingdom of the Flies.” I thought that they were pretty descriptive phrases. He likes Africa so well that he is taking a jar of Togo dirt and jar of Benin dirt home so that he can be buried under African soil someday. Sunday we left for Cotonou along with Elder Jerman who was being transferred from Togo to Benin. Goodby to Lome BeachAs we were driving home from shopping on Saturday we caught a picture of him and his companion as he was taking one last look at the beach. It was easy to spot an yovo with a white shirt and red tie from far away.

The Service Project

Last Sunday was our anniversary as May 10 marked our departure date for home at exactly four months! That sounds like quite awhile but looking back at the last four it will zoom by real fast. That is only about six or eight more trips to Togo. We are in Togo again this week and we really like being here but the trip is getting to be wearisome. The first part of this week was spent doing administrative responsibilities which are pretty routine with things like getting the mail, working on elder’s carte de sejour (resident card), paying bills, and trying to communicate with Accra.

On Tuesday we helped move a sister’s things from Akpakpa to Calavie. We had not seen Soeur Juilianne for quite awhile so we took Landu and Precious along with Lydie, the girl who was moving, to see her. Juilianne’s mother had been staying with her for three months and she was unable to leave her and come to church. I always like to go to Calavie as once we are there it is a little more rural with more greenery and vegetation. We can even see the lake from her house. She has another garden of corn and manioc planted. Over here there is no growing season so you can just start over again after the harvest. Every day is a growing season here!

On a sadder note, our latest elder made up his mind that he could not stay here any longer. We tried everything we could think of to help him to reconsider without any success. He was bright, learning the language real well, and was willing to work. We could see the potential in him and the personal growth he would experience if he stayed. But we also told him the Church wouldn’t keep him here against his will. Finally on Friday we put him on a plane for Cote d’Ivoire so he could visit personally with President Ayekoue. We haven’t heard the result of their visit but hope that it was positive.

On Friday evening we were back at the airport to pick up Southams, our couple predecessors, and Caleb Ellis who arrived for a visit. Frere Ellis and Mama CatherineCaleb is Elder Ellis to us as he was a missionary here when we arrived. After about a year of his mission, he had to go home because of severe headaches. They found out that some African bacteria got in his sinuses and really caused havoc. He went through two surgeries and seems to be doing just fine now. He loved Africa and the people here so it is great that he can see them and leave on a more positive note this time. He came over to Togo with us and it was fun to see him surprise some of the members as they did not know he was coming.

President Lokossou in center ready to workEver since arriving in Cotonou we have been interested in promoting a service project. We have suggested it a time or two but couldn’t get anyone really excited. We were surprised last Sunday when the branch presidency member conducting gave a good talk on service and then announced that there would be a service project on Saturday. He made a pretty good announcement about how important it was to give service and encouraged everyone to be there. Then he said, “Now I will say it in Fon so everyone will be sure to understand. We want everyone to be there on Saturday.” Gbedjromede Relief Society at Service ProjectWhen Findlays were here doing the measles campaign, they had some money left over and asked if we wanted some “Mormon helping hands” vests so as a result of that, we had a number of brand new vests just needing to be used. Saturday was a very eventual day for the members in Cotonou. All three branches met at the chapel where we handed out the vests and then everyone cleaned up the Round Pointe Gbedjromede. The Round point is a traffic island where four major roads meet. It is right by the chapel. The bright yellow vests really drew the attention of the motos and cars which were continually buzzing around the round pointe. We had about 70 people there working hard in the hot sun. We walked over to the round pointe from the chapel and President Lokoussou announced we were going to get rid of all the weeds, grass and trash. Africans like to work bending overWe thought that would take all day or maybe even longer. But people started in with their grubbing hoes and rakes and in about two hours it was clean. It was such a thrill to see everyone working together and having a good time for such a worthy cause. Service is a concept that has to be taught here as in a survival society one usually just considers taking care of himself. To see the members developing the Christ-like attribute of charity was such a thrill.

Southams are very friendly and loving people so everyone was happy to see them. I think that their two weeks will go by so fast that they will not be able to see everyone they want to see.

Gbedjromede Round Pointe

Gbedjromede Round Pointe

Note the Hoe and the Vest

Note the Hoe and the Vest

Finishing up

Finishing up

Missionaries on the Move

Missionaries have been on the move this week, and Elder Black has been with them both coming and going. Returning missionariesIt began on Monday when Elder Konkou returned to Congo after the completion of his mission. Elder Stucki was scheduled to go home to St. George, Utah the next day so we decided to have all the missionaries over for a farewell breakfast. Of course, the missionaries will never turn down an invitation for a meal so they were all there promptly at 7:00 AM. We had a good time, and Elder Konkou was gone by 8:00 AM. Elder Stucki consented to bring some of Southam’s things home so he was really loaded. He took a taxi from the Togo border to the MTC in Tema, by Accra, and was going to leave the next day for home. Lome Zone before transfersWe would then be two elders short in Lome, so President Ayekouoe sent us two from Abidjan who arrived on Monday afternoon. Boy, do we ever have a struggle with these African names as they are Elder Kouassi and Elder Kwokou. It is good that elders wear name tags or I would be in name trouble most of the time.

President Ayekoue decided to move two elders from Lome to Cotonou and two from Cotonou to Lome. That called for another run between the two cities to transfer elders. On Tuesday, Elder Black was on the road again, but I took the easy way out and stayed home in Lome. I guess I am getting real brave as I took the Lome pick-up to the Hedzranawoe marche twice. Blaise, the guardian, wouldn’t let me go alone so I did have company. The route is relatively easy and I felt real good about my little excursion as I did not get honked at. From the time Elder Black dropped Elder Stucki off at the border, went to Cotonou and returned back to Lome, it was a big 14 hour day. Elder Kpagni and Elder Lah went to Cotonou, and Elders Bowman and Gondo came back to Lome. We are getting fewer and fewer North American elders here so the flavor of the work here is changing but the African elders are doing a good job.

We came back to Cotonou on Thursday so it was back to work as usual. We feel the effects of getting older as it is very difficult to be constantly changing gears. In fact, remembering the little things like, “Is there enough butter in the fridge when we arrive?”, or “What bills do we need to pay?”, is proving to be a challenge. There is also an hour’s time change which makes the first day at each place a little difficult. But the Lord has really blessed us with the health we need to keep going. We try to count our blessings every day as these minor challenges are nothing at all compared to the severity of challenges most people face here in West Africa.

Our alarm clockWe have mentioned our alarm clock rooster that has his internal clock a little mixed up as he sometimes begins crowing about 3 AM. I finally got a good look at him this week and decided that you don’t have to be very big to make a big noise. I was surprised to see that one of his feet had been chopped off. I assumed it was done to keep him closer to home as it curtailed his mobility a little. I have seen others with a foot chopped off, also. Many chickens have an identification piece of cloth tied to or fastened on to them somehow. Some also have their feet tethered. We have not been on any streets in Cotonou without a few chickens scratching around in the sand, but they always get away from the truck as we pass by, as do the little goats.

Myla in trainingThe Sunday after her baptism, Soeur Briga had to work (she is in the military and sometimes that happens) so the confirmation was set for this Sunday. Unfortunately, Frere Briga is also in the military and is away on training for a month after which they both leave for about 6 months. They don’t like it but it is their job and they make a living by doing it, so away they go. After church, we invited Sister Helene and the two girls over for a spaghetti dinner. It was fun to visit a little and the little girls are just little dolls. It seemed good to have some kids around for entertainment. Briga Girls riding the elephantsThey had fun riding Southam’s elephants and playing with the few toys that we gathered up around the house. I guess this house really isn’t geared for kids like our home in Blanding, which we will see in four more months.

Baptism of Soeur Helene Briga

Some weeks are better than others here in Africa and this past one has been one of the best! I guess weeks like this are the fuel that keeps us going and going like the energizer bunny. Last Sunday the Akpakpa elders wanted us to take them to Porto Novo for a family home evening with Rodrigue and Carole. Rodrigue, Carole and AmenRodrigue has been an inactive member for several years but has become very active after the Akpakpa Branch was formed. They will soon be married so Carole can be baptized also. In a country where traditional marriage, and abortion are common practices, we do a lot of teaching about the family and living the plan set for us by our Heavenly Father. Carole had fried plantains and hot piment ready for us to eat which were very delicious. It is hard to believe that anything green could be so hot! Elder Black says it doesn’t matter how much you eat as a little bit is just as hot as a whole bunch. They have a little toddler by the name of Amen. We have mentioned before about some of the different names kids are given here and when I found out his name was Amen, my imagination went wild as I wondered if after he was born, it was such a wonderful feeling that all his mother could think of was Amen. Maybe he was the answer to a prayer or maybe it just meant the end. Anyway, he is a cute little guy and we really enjoyed their family.

Eating FoofooWe haven’t done anything special on P-day with the elders since we went to Ouida so we invited them to eat lunch at the Foo Foo bar. We have some new elders that had not been there yet so we thought it would be a good cultural experience. Foo Foo is made from the igname (African yam) It is a big root that can be a foot or two long, peeled, cooked and pounded into a thick glob, which is about the consistency of bread dough and very sticky. It is served with a peanut sauce made with something like peanut butter, tomatoes and piment and probably more that I am not aware of. To this sauce meat or cheese are added. We go for the cheese as the most preferred meats are Agouti and tough rabbit. Agouti is simply another name for rat. Even though the word rat brings up visions of the little creatures at home that are best seen in a trap, this rat does in no way resemble ours at home. It is about as big as small rabbit with a rat like snout. Elder Turner practing the art of FoofooBut still a rat is a rat and I would rather not eat one. But I did try a small taste once and I will have to admit that it was not too bad. Two bowls are place in front of you, one with foo foo and the other with the sauce which you eat with your fingers. First you pinch off a bit of foo foo and then dip it in the sauce. It is very good but very filling. (Soap and pitchers of water are on the table to wash before and after eating.)

Landu, the member who teaches music on the keyboard, has been living in Porto Novo for the past several years, decided to move to Cotonou as it is about an hour taxi ride that he had to make at least three times per week. Therefore, on Tuesday we were back in Porto Novo moving his belongings to Cotonou. Over here whenever anyone does anything a little out of the ordinary, it really draws a crowd and this moving process was no exception. Loading Landu\'s thingsImmediately after stopping by his house, several young boys were there to see what was going on and offering to help, in hopes of getting a few cfa’s. We persuaded them to be bystanders as loading that much stuff in the pickup was best done by one or two, not a crowd. It took two trips and all day but the job was accomplished and Landu was very happy but at the same time a little sad to be leaving his beautiful garden.

Charles and Helene Briga and MaelleWe have been teaching Soeur Helene Briga for the past few months and on Wednesday night she was baptized. Her husband, Charles joined the church in Angouleme, France in 2002 when he was assigned there in the military. He is also the first counselor in the Menontin branch presidency. We have posted pictures of their cute little girls previously on the blog and have grown to really love their family. Whenever we arrive and leave their home, we get the biggest hugs from the girls. Meila, the two year old, is always so happy to see her Yovos. The gospel of Jesus Christ simply outlines the path we must take in our lives to live once again with our Heavenly Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ together with our families. It was so wonderful to see another family on their way to becoming an eternal family. Helene insisted that Elder Black baptize her even though he tried to talk her into having her husband, Charles, do the honors. After a discussion in their native language, the final word was that Elder Black would baptize her and Charles would give a talk. The baptism was well attended with members from all three branches. Our Singer Girls (and one little brother)Their little girl, Maelle sang “I Am a Child of God” with two other little girls in the Menontin Branch, Marjolaine and Jeanette. They did such a good job. In fact, everyone was so thrilled, it was all we could do to refrain from clapping and saying, bravo. Charles left on Saturday for six months on a military assignment in the Congo. Helene is also in the military and leaves in two weeks for Cote d’Ivoire. She too will be gone for six months and the girls will be staying with an aunt. We feel bad that we will be home by the time they get back in Cotonou.

Early Thursday morning we were on the road again for Togo. Elder Kounkou was scheduled to go home to Congo on Monday after serving here for two years. Once again, a visa was need so he could leave and we needed to be at the Togo embassy before noon on Thursday so we pick it up on Friday. (They get you coming and going with this visa deal.) We will be here all week as we have two elders going home, two coming from Cote d’Ivoire and four being transferred between Lome and Cotonou. It was wishful thinking hoping that we would have a little time to relax on this trip to Togo.

Foofoo makers

Foofoo makers

Helene and Vivian

Helene and Vivian

Helene and Branch Friends

Helene and Branch Friends