Goodbye’s Are a Little Hard

We found out first hand this week that goodbye’s are a little hard as you leave people you have grown to love and know that you may never see them again at least in this life. No, we are not coming home yet, but Charles Briga leaves for Congo in the morning and we had to come to Lome last Friday, so we went by to tell him goodbye and good luck. We have talked about the family before. He and his wife are both in the military. She left for Cote d’Ivoire 3 or 4 weeks ago. Both will be gone for 6 months on UN peacekeeping missions so they won’t be back until after we leave for home. Brother Charles is my Angouleme brother. He started out in the military to be a pilot and went to France for training where he got in contact with the missionaries and joined the Church. For a period of time, he attended the Angouleme Branch where I started my mission many years ago and where I worked for about 15 months. He was washed out as a pilot and ended up in avionics so he now fixes radio equipment for the military. They do not necessarily enjoy the military but it is a job in a country where jobs are difficult to find so they do what they have to do. Their two little girls, Maelle and Myla will be staying with Charles’ brother and his wife while they are away. We will probably get to see the girls again a time or two before we leave. Helene was baptized in April as we wrote about before so they are looking forward to going to the temple and having their little family sealed about May of next year. What fun it would be to come back to Ghana and be there for that.

About three weeks ago, Frere Samba, the Elders quorum president in the Gbedjromede Branch, came to us and expressed a desire to do a service project for the orphanage in Calavie. We wanted to go there and see what the situation is for the kids, so on Wednesday we took him and Soeur Precious to Calavie. Orpahage Grounds and HousingThe orphanage is funded by a world organization called SOS which was started by an Austrian in the 1930′s. Much to our surprise it is a very well organized method of caring for the kids. There are 92 children there at the present time and they are all organized into family homes of about 10 children in each home with an adult “mother” who lives there full time assisted by several “aunts” who come in each day. The homes are clean and adequately furnished. There is also a large school for the children which is also open to community members for a tuition fee. Basketball at OrphanageThe kids all seemed to be well cared for and happy. We met a sports coach at the cafeteria who arranged for some of the kids to have their picture taken with us. They had just finished an “end of school” celebration and all had on tee shirts that they received for the sports competitions. The yards are well maintained and absolutely beautiful. The kids in this orphanage are the most blessed kids in all of Benin!

While in Calavie we also went over to visit Soeur Julianne. We need to have Precious or Nadia when we go for a visit with Julianne as she is deaf and only reads Fon lips. Frere Samba is from Congo so there are no Fon words from him either. We always enjoy our visits with her.

Preparing Storehouse ItemsLast year the old Cotonou branch organized a mini Bishop’s Storehouse for needy members. This was a great blessing to the members and after the branch was divided a blessing to all of the branch presidents as well. We started with 24 sacks of commodities containing rice, powdered milk, sugar, oil, tomato paste and corned beef. Several weeks ago all of the sacks had been distributed so we decided to once again get sacks filled to continue with the program. We picked up Soeur Felecite, the Relief Society president, and her daughter Lilliane and went to Missebo Marche to get a new supply of commodities. RS President Soeur Felicite and LillianThat is quite the experience as first of all, you need to know where to go for each thing and then be able to bargain for the best price all the while being surrounded by people, people everywhere, horns honking and heads carrying everything imaginable for sale. We stayed in the pick-up as a white face is no help at all in the bargaining process! After all was purchased we went to our apartment and filled the sacks.

Lome Baptism - Elder Bowman -KouakouSoeur Black has completed all of the baptismal clothing now for Lome. The baptisms have taken on a much better appearance as the candidates look very nice for their baptisms. We included a couple of pictures just to show off the new clothing. In the one with Elder Bowman and Kouakou, the Branch mission leader is doing the baptism and the persons baptized are his wife and his sister. These are the kinds of baptisms we like to see as another family is progressing eternally in the gospel. Lome Baptism - Elder Gondo-CarverYou may remember the little boy who was sleeping during Branch conference. We sent a picture of him in our blog a few weeks ago. He is the son of this mission leader and his wife.

The rainy season continues in force and along with the rain the temperatures are much cooler. In fact, we have needed a sheet over us every night for the past week. (The other night Soeur Black even got cold.) It sure does feel good but the natives are complaining about it being cold. A good old snow storm would wipe these people out! Getting to Lome in a rainstormThe rain does not help the road situation out, though. It rained continually from the time we left Cotonou until we arrived in Lome this week so the pick-up looked like we had been mud bogging in San Juan County by the time we got to Lome. Elder Gillis said a real dirty pick-up was “badge of honor” as it showed we were out there working in the Lord’s army.

The Rainy Season

Well the rainy season has definitely come to this part of Africa. It has rained almost every night for the last two weeks and a few days it has rained most of the day. A PuddleThere are puddles everywhere that you have to cross as you drive around the roads. I probably should say small lakes, as puddles probably is not an accurate description. When you start through, you never know how deep you are going in before you come out on the other side. A few times, water has splashed up over the hood but we have yet to stall in the middle. Hope our luck holds. For the most part the rain is welcome. Things get pretty dry during the dry season as they do at home in Utah. It does bring a few problems, however. The typical African home for the common people is a concrete room or if you are more affluent, perhaps two or three rooms, in a row of homes behind a concrete fence that separates the homes from the street. Generally, there is a metal door of some kind opening through the fence into the yard of the homes. Typically, there is a small wall you have to step over as you pass through the gate to keep the things that belong in the street where they belong. This includes the water. Unfortunately, a wall that will keep the water out will also keep the water in, so when it rains as it has the last while, many of the homes flood and the people find themselves living in water. In Africa, life is not easy.

We returned from Togo on Tuesday and decided to be little adventurous and see if a small road that followed the ocean by Ouidah actually went all the way to Cotonou. Typical BeachWe thought that the worst thing that could happen was to have to turn around and go back to Ouidah. The main road between Cotonou and Lome is getting to be very repetitious so this new found road was a welcome change to our routine. What we discovered was small village after small village along the coastline in almost pristine settings. Pulling in the fishImagine, if you will, tall palm trees with the constant splashing of the ocean’s waves in the background, fishermen pulling in their nets of fish and small thatched roofed homes clustered together in little villages and a few people walking along the road. There were some huts that had smoke coming out the roof and we finally determined that is where they smoked the fish. There are many smoked fish for sale in Cotonou and we finally discovered where they came from. It made us feel like we entered another world far from the bustle of the city life in Cotonou and Lome. It definitely buoyed our spirits.

After going for a few miles we came across a Peugeot pickup that was stranded in one of the lakes of water. Good TurnThere were several men there trying to figure out how they were going to get it out, so we stopped to offer assistance. It did not take them long to come up with a skinny little rope for us to use to pull them out. I would not have guessed that it was at all possible to get the job done with that rope but they doubled it and told Elder Black to go forward but sure enough, it broke. So it was time for plan B. They decided that they would retie the rope and then help the pickup along but giving it a little “push power.” Plan B was a success and the pickup came out. Those little Peugot pickups are low to the ground and Elder Black said that they must have splashed water in the electrical system when they tried to forge the pool. All is well that ends well!

All the rain the last while has made the grass glisten, the palm trees and other vegetation were especially beautiful. Even the cacti looked greener and prettier. (I still can’t get used to seeing cacti in the tropics or having the ocean facing south.) People were friendly and we received waves all along the way. The little kids were especially interested in seeing real live yovos! Seaside VillageThe quaintness of the villages really conceals the poverty of the people. Any time we stopped or even just driving by, donations were always requested. I guess the people generally survive on fish, coconut and probably a little rice.

When the rains come there is an area by the beach called Fifadgi where the road is almost impassable because of the huge pond in the road. There is nowhere for water to go but to collect in the biggest low spot in the area which happens to be the road. When we reached it, there were motos stopped everywhere as their engines stalled after trying to forge the water. We made it through okay in our pickup but I will have to admit I was a little worried.

On Thursday morning we went over to the Menontin chapel to measure a window and found President Lokossou and his son Jacques cleaning. They were listening to the Hymns on a CD player. I truly felt that we were entering the house of the Lord. We then told them that we were able to get the Primary Hymns in French. We told President Lokossou about them and he kept asking, “En Francais?” Yes, we assured him that they were indeed in French so Elder Black went out in the pickup and brought ours in for a demonstration. We put in the first CD and it began with “Je suis enfant de Dieu” or “I am a child of God.” President Lokossou and Jacques were so thrilled and big smiles came from both of them and then they started to sing along. It was beautiful. President Lokossou changed to a high falsetto with perfect pitch to match the young children’s voices on the CD. There were just the four of us in that small room and as I listened the Holy Ghost bore witness to me that we were doing what the Lord wants us to do–to help the members and the church get established here in Cotonou. That was truly a spiritual experience. The members here in Africa are so grateful for the small little things that we take for granted at home. Imagine that much excitement over a CD.

Soeur Elise and SistersI, Soeur Black, came down with an African bug on Thursday and was out of commission for about four days. I missed church yesterday but am up going today even if it is at a slow pace. I missed the baptism of a girl by the name of Elise on Saturday. We have known her for about seven or eight months and were thrilled when she chose to be baptized.

What Do You Carry on Your Head?

What do you carry on your head? ANYTHING YOU WANT! Probably a basket of BreadWhen the mangoes were in season we stopped a lady with beautiful mangoes on her head and asked to buy some. Of course, she readily agreed to sell us some and after the transaction I, Soeur Black, wanted to help put them back on her head as I have seen others do. I asked for reinforcements real fast as that big round tray of mangoes weighed at least 40 or 50 pounds! Now I know why someone needs to help put the trays back on the women’s heads. The stool is not to sit onMany of them also carry a wooden stool in one hand as they walk the streets. At first I thought it was for them to sit on when they got tired but I was wrong. It is simply for the tray of goods when they stop to sell. If they don’t have a stool they just set them on the ground which is even harder. The women here are tough!

BenchesI am always amazed at what is carried on heads. The most amazing one I saw was a lady walking down the street with a long bench on her head. It was perfectly balanced and she did not miss a step. The following can give you an idea of what is carried: a complete manicure and pedicure set with about 50 different choices of polish colors, Breadloaves of bread, dried fish, eggs, even the live chickens, all sorts of vegetables and fruits, live snails, clothes hanging from the edge of the tray, wooden display cases of pastries, cases of soda pop, snacks, soap, toothpaste, and the list could go on and on. Another one really amused me when we were going to Soeur Rosemond’s house for a lesson and I saw some school kids carrying their back packs on their heads. We have seen little kids carrying small containers of water back to their homes on their heads. Kids start at a young ageThey learn at a real young age what heads are for–to carry anything you want so your hands are free. Not a bad idea really!

Last Monday was another birthday celebration for two elders here in Cotonou, Elder Lah and Elder Ahoutou. Elders Ahoutou and LahI try to give each elder a special dinner on their birthday and they really look forward to the special attention. I really enjoy giving it to them, also. They are really easy to please as this dinner was simply all the spaghetti they could possibly eat, and all they could eat was certainly a lot.

I have been thinking about events that happened miles across the ocean and continent lately. Brielle and DaisyLast week our grand-daughter, Brielle, was riding horses with her dad and others and the horses were required to go up a rocky trail. Daisy, the horse, was hesitating so Brielle got off and led her up the trail. At the top Daisy’s foot caught on a rock, she slipped and fell off a twenty foot cliff. The horse had a bad puncture wound in her hind flank and broke her vertebrae which controls her tail. Daisy is expected to recover but without her fly whipper.

Why did Brielle get off her horse at such a crucial time? I truly believe that the Holy Ghost whispered to her to get off the horse! The gift of the Holy Ghost is such a blessing in our lives if we live close to the Savior and follow His commandments. We need to be worthy of such blessings so we can be receptive of His influence. The Holy Ghost testifies in our souls that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, it helps us discern right from wrong, it comforts us when we are sad or have cause to mourn, it helps us feel a spiritual message when we hear one or even hear heavenly music. The Holy Ghost can also whisper that danger is imminent. But when we feel these small whisperings to do or not to do something, we often, dismiss them. We use our mortal sense of reasoning and say to ourselves, “Don’t be silly or afraid. Go ahead and be brave and stick to your original plan.” This is simply Satan trying to get us to ignore the promptings of the Holy Ghost. I am very thankful that Brielle listened to the promptings and was not in the saddle when Daisy fell.

It has rained almost every day this week and the cooler weather is wonderful. Little blessings are certainly more appreciated over here.

A pan full of ________

A pan full of ________

Backpacks

Backpacks

Chickens and pastries

Chickens and pastries

Fish

Fish

Five Mattresses

Five Mattresses

Plant Hairdoo

Plant Hairdoo

This is easy

This is easy

Tropical Thunderstorm vs. Wireless Router

At the beginning of our mission we wondered if we would be able to actually come up with something to write about every week and have reserved a few things for a week with nothing, but they are still in reserve. Elder Olsen and Frere PaulWe had another week of coming from Togo, this time with Elder Olsen who was being transferred from Togo to Cote d’Ivoire. We cannot get Ivory Coast visas in Togo so we bring the Togo missionaries over to Benin so they can leave with the proper documents. We arrived here on Tuesday evening, got the application in on Wednesday but he was not able to leave until Friday. He stayed with us and we really enjoyed having him around. We were quite amused at him as he is somewhat small in stature but can eat like a football player. He is very polite and waits until we are finished, then with a little prodding he will finish up everything that is left on the table. Maybe he was just tired of rice and fish! He isn’t the only missionary that can eat a lot either. We have learned that when we invite all of them over, we have to emphasize quantity but it is fun to see them eat all they can of Soeur Black’s good food and they always appreciate it.

We arrived in Cotonou just in time to go see Helene Briga before she was to leave for her six month military duty in Cote d’Ivoire. We have really grown to love their family over the past few months. It is so much fun to go to their home and feel the love that is so evident there. The girls, Maelle and Myla, greet us with open arms and it makes us feel like we are their Cotonou grandparents. When we see another family embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ so they can become an eternal family, we are reaping the rewards of being missionaries here in Africa. When she returns to her home, we will be at our home in Blanding. Already we are feeling sad about leaving the members here that we have grown to love as we know that we will probably not see them again.

Soeur Angel cleaning Menontin ChapelIt was an eventful week for the Menontin Branch as the first sacrament meeting was held in their new chapel today. Of course, before the first sacrament meeting could be held it had to be cleaned and prepared. The members met on Wednesday to start the project and then again on Saturday, a lot of the branch was there making ready for Sunday. The building will be a great blessing to the members that live in that area as it will save many of them about a 6 kilometer ride to get to church. Church went very smoothly considering it was the first meetings in the new building. Menontin Chapel and members going to meet neighborsAfterwards, the Branch Presidency invited everyone to go visit the neighbors. We divided up into about 3 groups and visited the neighbors up and down the street for a hundred yards or so. It was quite interesting and we were well received.

Soeur Black has been diligently working on the baptismal clothing project. Finding material and getting it sewed into decent clothing for 6 branches is a large enough project in itself but then you also need towels. Not having a Wal-Mart handy, we have made a couple of trips to Missebo market. I think we have talked about this before. Missebo and Dantokpa markets are a huge area of outdoor markets. We can send some pictures but probably can’t really describe them as there is nothing to compare them to at home. You about have to see for yourself. As near as I can tell, only one street divides the two markets and the area is probably a half mile or so square. You can buy anything or everything under the sun there, either new or used, but you have to find it first and bargain for the price you will pay. If you have a white face, the price always starts out higher. It is reputed to be the largest outdoor market in Africa although I understand almost every country has a market that claims that status. The only semblance of any order is that different items are grouped together in different areas of the marche. For example, as you enter one area of Missebo, the street is lined with shoes, shoes and more shoes. Past the shoes you find jeans and neck ties. The elders have found a brand of tie called Jaleta which is made in China and is virtually indestructible. For the big sum of 800 cfas or about $1.60, you can chose from a few thousand or more nice ties of every color under the rainbow. Of course, there is also an area of used ties which are also nice and which sell for 100 francs or about $.20 each. I think we have talked about them before. As you pass the shoes on the way to the ties you pass about 10 or 12 young men selling towels. Soeur Black Bargaining for towelsSoeur Black’s goal was to replace all of the stained, torn and bright colored baptismal towels with white ones. They sell used towels but they actually have some nice towels if you persevere. As soon as it is known you are a potential buyer, you are immediately swarmed with all of the sellers waving their towels in your face and wanting you to buy from them. The first time we went there they started out with a 2500 cfa price but Soeur Black soon established the fact that she would pay no more than 1000 cfas ($2.00) per towel. She has learned what “trop cher” (to expensive) means in French and can say it convincingly. Maybe this oneThere is not any softness left. She drives a hard bargain! It was surprising how all of a sudden everyone had 1000 cfa towels! It kind of looked like piranhas in the Amazon River attacking their prey but Soeur Black managed to escape with the needed towels at the right price.

One night this week we had a good old tropical thunderstorm with lightning and thunder all night. In the morning I was working on the computer when a lightning bolt knocked out all the electricity. Fortunately the computer has a good battery so I continued. The next lightning bolt nearly knocked us out. It must have hit the house as there was a loud pop and an arc of electricity shot out from somewhere near all our electronic things. (computer, printer etc. ). Luckily the computer was okay so I thought surely the printer, scanner or something else would be burned. After all was checked out it turned out the only casualty was our wireless Internet router. Even the current stabilizer was okay. We were very grateful that nothing else was damaged. Another of the blessings of Africa of which there are many.