Cotonou Going-Away Party

Happy Happy

Happy Happy

Missionary regulations notwithstanding, in Africa sometimes you just do what you have to do. Regulations say don’t tend children or hold them on your lap but it didn’t say that Happy couldn’t sleep with her adopted Grandma and Grandpa so that is exactly what happened. President Ayekoue took Stephan and went to Lome in a Taxi on Sunday. We stayed with Sister Ayekoue and Happy to give Sister Ayekoue a little more time to recover before traveling. As she was not doing well Sunday night, Happy chose to sleep with us instead of her mom. It has been a while since we had a 15 month old kicking us during the night. Actually she didn’t do too badly except for when she tried to crawl over Soeur Black about 1:00 in the morning. She never did cry and we discovered she loves to have her back patted. After Soeur Black wore out, I pulled her back into her place and patted her until she went back to sleep. The only time it was not pleasant was when she chose to put the tressed volcano in hair (see picture) into our face.

On Monday Soeur Ayekoue was still not well but felt like she could go if she laid in the back seat of the pickup so we went to Lome where she went to bed as soon as we arrived. With her not doing well, they decided to go home on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday as planned. With all the uproar, I am sorry to say we didn’t even get any pictures in Lome of the zone conference or the farewell. The only time we had a moment to take a picture was when the Branch Presidencies came over to the house to meet with President Ayekoue. We really did not get a chance to visit with President Ayekoue about our leaving and the Leavitts coming except for a few minutes in Cotonou so I suppose we will just have to make most of the decisions ourselves and try to leave things in as good of condition as possible for the new couple.

African Sash

African Sash

Our departure is somewhat official now. On Saturday, the three Cotonou branches combined to have a going away party and what a party it was. The Gbedjromede chapel was packed to capacity and a lot of people were standing outside. I think the young men and women along with the Primary kids had been practicing for weeks. We were invited up to the front and draped with a beautiful African sash after which the entertainment began.

Good Company

Good Company

There was singing, dancing, skits, drama, piano solos, tributes, and really nice gifts of a bronze African woman and a picture. It was just a wonderful evening. We wish all the family could have been there to share it all. After it was all over, they asked Soeur Black and I to respond. We had previewed that so Soeur Black had worked up a little farewell all in French and did a great job. It was less stressful for her than on Sunday in Menontin Branch when she was called up extemporaneously. Again, however, she did a good job – all in French with just a little translation help. I talked about why we call each other Brothers and Sisters. Just like we do work in the temple to ensure that families can be together through the eternities, we also know that spiritually we are brothers and sisters and will have opportunities to associate again in the eternities as an eternal family where there will not be an ocean to separate. We didn’t make any promises to come back. It is a long way to Africa.

A lot of these folks appear to be genuinely sad to see us leave. There are some things we will miss about Africa also. Most notably some of the good members we have come to know and love. A few have been over to visit since and express personal appreciation for us coming. There are a lot of mixed feelings. The sense of loss that we feel as we leave here combined with the joy of anticipation of seeing all the family and friends left behind a long year and a half ago at home. Several times I have told Soeur Black I didn’t know a year and a half was so long or I would not have come on a mission. At the same time, as we look back, the time has passed rapidly. I guess that is the way life is.

Youth Dance

Youth Dance

Primary Song

Primary Song

Akpakpa Saints

Akpakpa Saints

African Dancers and Coach

African Dancers and Coach

Lome Branch Leaders

Lome Branch Leaders

The “Finish Up with Zone Conferences” Week

Cotnou Zone Conference

Cotnou Zone Conference

This week was to be the “finish up with zone conferences” week and spend some time with President Ayekoue regarding turning things over to the Leavitts who are supposed to arrive about a month after we leave. However, in Africa there seems to be an unwritten rule that whatever you plan will not turn out that way. President and Sister Ayekoue arrived by air on Wednesday and brought with them their two children. Stephan, a 10 year old boy whom we had not yet met, and of course Happy who has been a regular since the beginning and is now walking and trying her best to talk non-stop although only a word now and then is understandable. We had a great conference here on Thursday. Soeur Black fixed a fine dinner of dutch oven potatoes and barbecue chicken–maybe not really but as close as we could come with what we had to work with in Africa–and the missionaries as well as Elder Black enjoyed it very much. That was about as far as the planning held. On Friday Sister Ayekoue woke up not feeling well. We took her to the hospital and it turned out she has miscarried a baby and so had to have a D&C. They were extremely disappointed as they would love to increase the size of their family a little and they have been plagued by miscarriages. While we were there, Elder Ghisquiere, our elder from France called and was having really bad stomach cramps and pains so we got him and also took him to the hospital. Both were there on Friday night. The Lome zone conference was planned for Saturday so we had to call and postpone it until Monday. On Saturday Sister Ayekoue came back to the apartment to rest but Elder Ghisquiere stayed until Sunday with a bad intestinal infection. We couldn’t leave with an elder in the hospital and Sister Ayekoue wasn’t able to travel anyway so on Sunday we sent President Ayekoue along with Stephan to Lome in a taxi for Sunday evening meetings that were planned and also to start the Lome zone conference. Monday morning Sister Ayekoue still was not doing well but we came to Lome anyway where she stayed in bed until Tuesday evening when they flew back to Abidjan but I am getting ahead of my weekly blog that is supposed to end on Sunday.

Happy and Stephan

Happy and Stephan

Before all of the medical problems started and even after we enjoyed the company of little Happy and Stephan. Stephan is a good boy and Happy is well named and performs the cutest antics of an almost 1 1/2 year old. Perhaps we are just homesick for our grandkids. We had hired a couple of girls from the branch that needed a job. Soeur Nadia is our regular that always helps when Ayekoue’s are here and knows how to do everything. Soeur Roka is sweet member girl about 16 or 17 years old. She goes to school in Burkina Faso but is home for the summer. She needed to earn some money for her books when she goes back next week so we had her come and help clean and generally take care of kids, etc.

Kitchen Crew

Kitchen Crew

The two were lifesavers especially for Soeur Black who had the major responsibility for the kids while the rest of us were at the hospital taking care of the sick. They did some of the cooking, washed mountains of dishes and entertained the kids all the time Ayekoue’s were here. We could not have gotten by without them. The hospitals here are interesting. For some of them “interesting” would not be a proper description. Actually we have found one that is quite clean and even has a decent private rest room with a shower as part of the room. They seem to do a credible job of taking care of things. Biggest problem is lack of communication. The doctor walks in, asks how you feel, make a note or two and walks out. That’s all. If you want any more information, you have to chase him down and ask and then he gives the impression it is not worth his time to visit with you. Someone else has to bring in all meals and everything else that is needed by the patient. Best part is that the room only cost $50 per day or so. We were glad to be through with the hospital stays and will not care if we don’t have to go back.

Well the blogs are getting shorter. That is probably good news and indicates the end is coming fast.

A well deserved nap

A well deserved nap

Going Home Plans

First of all some going home plans. Wow it seems like a long time since we were able to talk about going home without any guilt. Last week we got a message from President Ayekoue that he needed to arrange our travel so I guess that makes all discussion legal. We will fly from Accra to New York, then on to Salt Lake City on September 11, arriving about 11:00 pm. Before that, we will try to go to Accra a day or two early and go to the temple. The plan is to report our mission in Sacrament Meeting at 1:00 on September 20. A lot of former missionaries, missionary parents, friends etc. have suggested they may come. All are welcome and we hope you will. Remember that it is a long way to Blanding, however, and we will not have a roll call or be offended if someone isn’t able to be there. For those who do, the family will put together an informal social on Saturday evening at African Time prompt at our house. For those who may not know where that is, write us, call us, or ask most anyone when you get to Blanding unless everyone has forgotten us by now. We will also have a little lunch around 11:00 before sacrament meeting on Sunday assuming that most will need to return home after Sacrament Meeting since our meeting schedule is late. Most importantly, the plan is to bless little Dodger, the latest addition to our growing family at sacrament meeting. We get excited just writing about it all.

We also received the good news that we are going to be replaced by another couple. The bad news is that they will not be arriving until a month or so after we leave. The Leavitts from Mesa Arizona, have accepted a call to come to Benin. We have visited with them a little on Skype. They will do fine. About the end of the year they completed a mission in Nigeria and now are coming back to Africa so driving in a sea of motorcycles will not be new to them. We are excited to have them come but have our work cut out the next three weeks, not only getting ready to leave but arranging things for the interim and for their arrival after we leave.

We may be about through with picture taking. We have been here so long now that nothing really seems out of the ordinary and worth taking a picture of. Arranging things for going home doesn’t produce many “Kodak moments” either.

Cotonou Baptism

Cotonou Baptism

We might just have to include some of general interest from prior weeks. The Cotonou elders did have a baptism of 8 people this week. This is probably one of the largest groups we have had in Cotonou. There were a couple of member’s children mixed in and it was a very nice baptism. As mentioned before, one of the down sides of trying to cover both Togo and Benin is that we are lucky if we get to meet the baptism candidates much less get well acquainted with them as we used to do. Nevertheless, the Elders do a wonderful job, and in the past year or so there have really been some strong people baptized who will become future leaders in the Church here in Benin and also in Togo. After the baptism on Saturday we had all the missionaries over for a little celebration of Elder Adams’ birthday. The battery was dead on the camera so we did not even get any pictures of the doings. Getting together and eating some of Sister Black’s food always seems to be a highlight for the missionaries. Especially now that they work in different areas of the city, they love to get together and visit and we ended up having to chase them away so we could go to bed as we were tired. I guess at 65 you just don’t have the energy of a 20 year old. The missionary program of the church is wonderful and amazing and we really appreciate these elders and the work they do. For many of the members, it is a big step to accept the responsibilities of membership in the Church. Even basic concepts of honesty and responsibility are not well established in Africa. These have to be learned, sometimes through painful experience, when people accept the gospel. I don’t mean to imply that all who are baptized become honest and responsible either here or at home. I guess all of us are in a learning process as we struggle to follow the example of the Savior. The difference seems to me to be that whereas at home dishonesty and irresponsibility is generally frowned upon, in Africa it is a part of the culture and pretty much an accepted way of life for most. Maybe that is why every door has three locks. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could live the principles He taught us.

Sugar Cane and Coconut - courtesy Marlene

Sugar Cane and Coconut - courtesy Marlene

Mango Tree in Bloom

Mango Tree in Bloom

A real fan

A real fan

The Voodoo Python

Ouidah is a little (by African standards) town located on the coast between Cotonou and Lome. A lot of Beninese seem to trace their roots to Ouidah as it has existed for centuries. It is also regarded as the birthplace of Voodooism. The religious and secular history of Africa is interesting and a subject I would like to take time to study a little more. Things are not always peaceful even today, but compared to the past much progress has been made. Beginning in about the 1400′s the slave trade began to be established. That is a painful part of human history but especially in the history of West Africa since this is where many of the slaves came from. It was not a happy time to be a citizen of Africa. Citizen is probably not a proper word since a person in Africa had no rights other than what was bestowed by the King or Ruler who had all power even over life and death. In Ouidah, there were 5 slave castles established, built by the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish and one other I have forgotten. Most of the slaves were sent to Brazil or to Europe. Later America got into the act but that was almost a footnote in the history of slavery. Slaves did not live in the castles. That was reserved for the buyers and sellers and officials. The slaves were kept in a compound out in the open weather much like animals. There were guard towers on each corner of the fortress and a mote surrounding the castle filled with alligators to discourage escapes.

Voodooism, if I understand correctly, originally began as a native religion in Benin around Ouida about 6000 years ago. The slaves (and others) would go to mass in the morning and then practice voodoo in the afternoon. Voodooism in American is associated with pins stuck in dolls and other such things. It does seem to be somewhat secretive and the people here in general strongly believe in curses and such things.

Bravery with the pythons

Bravery with the pythons

Animal sacrifices are also practiced and once in a while you see part of sacrificed chicken hanging by a voodoo flag. The basic religion, however, seems to be worship of a number of gods such as earth, sky, sea, etc. The Python snake also seems to hold a sacred place and thus, in Ouidah there is a Python Temple, which is more of a tourist trap than anything else in my opinion, but seems to be an important part of every visit to Ouidah.

Cotonu Zone and future missionaries on P day

Cotonu Zone and future missionaries on P day

The elders had a beach activity planned for Monday so Elder Black, Marlene and the boys had a fun day at the beach on the other side of Akpakpa. A member’s father owns a little resort by the beach and is located in a very pristine setting. The elders enjoying going out there on occasion just for a change of pace. The sandy ground drops off abruptly to the sandy beach and the ocean with the waves crashing in.

Fun in the beach sand

Fun in the beach sand

It is a beautiful spot and a fun place to play. It did not take the elders or Aaron and Jared long to come up with the idea of jumping off the sandy cliff into the sand below. Cyprien, the member, fixed a delicious meal of couscous and fish.

After some souvenir shopping on Tuesday and a nice home evening with Shella and her girls on Monday evening, we headed back to Lome on Wednesday with Marlene and the boys making a stop in Ouidah to visit the slave castle and the python temple. We also visited the beach and ate a nice picnic lunch while watching the waves crash in. The pictures can tell most of the rest of the story. On Thursday morning after final packing, we took them to the border to return to Accra. Again, the suitcases were transported by friendly natives for a fee across the border. That in itself is quite amazing to see. As soon as we stopped the vehicle, we were immediately surrounded by ladies offering to carry the suitcases across the border. A considerable argument began in the native Heve language, I suppose about who got to carry what, but that is where President Blaise comes in. We just let him handle all of that and soon it was sorted out. The suitcases were the maximum weight allowable on Delta – 50 lbs each – and there were 6 of them.

Suitcases heading for Salt Lake City

Suitcases heading for Salt Lake City

Some of those ladies are not all that big and I wondered if they would be equal to the task of carrying one of those big suitcases. Much to our surprise, as soon as the argument was settled, each selected transporter put TWO on their head and headed for the border. Getting them on their head is a bit of a problem and requires help but as soon as they are on the head – no problem.

Marlene and boys have reported a smooth trip back to Accra and on to Salt Lake City. She got to go to the temple on Thursday night while the boys were a little bored but easily got a taxi to the airport on Friday. The plane was late leaving so they missed their connection in New York but it worked out well. The airline put them up in a nice hotel. On Saturday they took a tour of the city and then Delta flew the on to SLC in first class – not a bad way to be delayed. We were thrilled to be able to share with some of the family, the sights and sounds of our mission. We had a great time, saw a lot of Togo and Benin we probably would not have otherwise got to see, and took probably a thousand pictures or more. It was a time we will always remember. Thanks Marlene, Aaron and Jared for coming.

On Friday night we attended a funeral wake. We talked about President Dieudonne from Togo near the start of our mission. The first time we got to go to the temple in Accra last June (2008), he and his wife went with us. He lived in England for some time and joined the church there before it ever existed in Togo. When he returned to Togo he was instrumental in getting the church established in Togo and eventually into Benin. He was branch president for a period of time and now serves as a counselor to President Ayekoue in the mission. He and his wife Philomen have been over to Benin several times on church business and stayed with us so we have become quite good friends. His father never joined although he had great respect for the church. His father has been ill for some time and passed away a few weeks ago. Here in Africa, the funeral celebration takes place a few weeks, sometimes even months after death. The wake or “Veille” as it is called in French, is really a celebration complete with an MC, a brass band, dancing and entertainment although it did have its serious moments. All the members who were there sat in one place and sang three hymns throughout the course of the evening. The whole event is held in the street in front of the deceased’s home. A very large tent is set up complete with rows of chairs. Few were there when it started but probably 4 -5 hundred were in attendance by the time it ended.

Brass Band at Cemetery

Brass Band at Cemetery

Saturday we went to a part of the funeral mass then went in the procession with two of the Togo branch presidents to Togoville where the burial took place. Togoville is a small village by the Benin border. It took almost two hours to drive there, much of it over dirt roads. You have to remember that graders are scarce or non-existent here so the roads are not well maintained. After a tour of the ancestral home the party made its way to the cemetery again escorted by the brass band where the burial was LDS style and the grave dedicated. It was a long way to go but we wanted to give Frere Dieudonne all the support we could in the loss of his Father.

Sunday was a day of trying to finish up audits of all the branches and some much needed rest for Soeur Black and me.

A foofoo feast

A foofoo feast

Marlene enjoying the Ocean

Marlene enjoying the Ocean

Trip to Pendjari

Tata Somba Village

Tata Somba Village

We are very grateful to President Ayekoue giving us approval to take four days with Marlene, Aaron and Jared to go to the Pendjari National Park in Northern Benin. Our life has been centered along the coast in the large cities of Cotonou and Lome and it seemed so good to leave some of the city madness for a slower pace in the Northern villages of Togo and Benin. We left Lome early Monday morning for this adventure of a lifetime. When driving in Africa there is never a dull moment as you don’t know what you may see in the next minute. Just getting to our motel in Natitingou, there were several wrecked trucks, rows of women carrying sticks on their heads, Tata Somba villages, and even a mountain to ascend, to name a few. Fortunately, over the mountain the trucks were going at a snail’s pace so we did not see any wrecks.

Lunch on the mountain - Togo

Lunch on the mountain - Togo

The biggest bonus of being in the mountains was finding a beautiful place for a picnic lunch. Everyone waved as they drove by and it made us so welcome to be there. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all practiced the Golden Rule as stated in Luke 6:31, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” After our lunch we always greeted those we saw with a wave and a smile and got so many in return. After lunch, the next stop was another border crossing, and boy, what a difference between the coastal route and the northern route. We found just one friendly official in a small shack and we breezed right through.

Safari African Hotel

Safari African Hotel

We arrived at the Hotel Tata Somba just at dinnertime. Since it was Marlene’s birthday, we decided to have a nice meal outside by the pool, but when it started to rain, they moved us inside. It was very enjoyable and she even had a nice Happy Birthday sung to her from the hotel workers – in English and in French. We asked about visiting the park and we were assured that we had to have a guide and a 4 wheel drive vehicle and that they could find one for us. We decided to decline the offer anyway and go closer to the park the next day. There was a safari type hotel in the very small village of Totongou and this is where the real adventure began. Each room was built to resemble the round huts of the native Tata Somba people. The running water trickled down from a plastic barrel by each bathroom and the lights were off by 10:00 when the generator was turned off. Anyway, we checked in, left our things there, and drove to the park entrance, bought our tickets, and entered the park without a guide or a 4-wheel drive outfit, both of which we were told were necessity. It is the rainy season in the park so not all of the roads are passable and we were told animal sightings were improbable.

Baboons

Baboons

Our first road was a bust and we did not see any animals but we did have enough time before dark to go on another road to the Mare Mali and the first thing we saw was a large family of baboons going down the road in front of us. That pick-up was full of “buck fever” and the excitement began! Aaron and Jared were sitting on the open windows so they could see better and Aaron spotted them first. We were fortunate enough to get some pictures as they were so interested in us. When we reached the Mare Mali there were three hippos in the water. It is fascinating to watch them slowly move in the water, come up for air and spout like a geyser. One even showed us his tonsils!

Pendjari Deer

Pendjari Deer

We had ordered dinner at the hotel and ate a very good chicken dinner under a gazebo outside then retired to our huts. We wanted to leave early the next morning for the park but we found out that the generator is only turned on in the evening so we shared the one flashlight between the two huts. We stopped at the entrance and got some cake for breakfast which pleased the boys. We rounded a corner and surprised some water buffalo but I think that we were the most surprised and they ran before we could snap a picture. This day we saw about three different kinds and sizes of deer or antelope-type animals, the three hippos were still there, wart hogs and various birds. We did not see any elephants and were a little disappointed as there are supposedly 2000 in the park. It was a thrill to be there regardless.

We left the park in the afternoon and went back to Natintingou to the Hotel Tata Somba. This time we were not so anxious to eat a nice dinner so decided to buy some bread and eat leftovers from the ice chest. By then the ice had melted so we were told the only grocery store in town carried ice but that was not true so we asked the lady who sold us bread. She told us that was easy–you just go around the corner, down the street by some tires, and there is a lady around there that sells ice. We found a tailor who took me through some houses to a door and sure enough there was a lady who had a freezer and sold ice for 5 cents a bag. I don’t think a Yovo (white person) had ever been in their compound before as I was quite the novelty. We then bought some bean cakes from another lady and were well received by the boys. In fact, they want me to learn how so I can teach them at home. Back at the hotel, we ate in the hotel room and then crashed.

Thursday was spent driving back to Cotonou and as usual proved to be very interesting. Our first stop was at a Total gas station where the toilet flusher was a bucket. I was just thankful it was not the bush! Once more it was time to enjoy the ride and try to keep from getting lost in some of the potholes. Generally speaking, though, the roads were better than we expected.

Buying Ties in Missebo

Buying Ties in Missebo

We had made arrangements to visit two orphanages on Saturday so Friday was spent getting ready and going to Missebo Marche while Elder Black did administrative things for the mission. We had to visit the 800cfa tie shop first and then on to the fabric and belts. Buying in Missebo is quite an experience as it is almost overwhelming with all of the sellers, people, motos, trucks and cars. Most moto drivers would just as soon hit you as look at you so you just have to keep out of their way. Thanks to the generosity of Julie Lee and her family from Blanding we bought 100 pounds of rice in Missebo, also enough flip flops for everyone in the orphanage and some balls and Frisbees.

Lunch time

Lunch time

The orphanage in Allada is run by some very dedicated Catholic sisters and is home to about 34 little kids from 1 to 12 years old. We stopped there as we passed by on Thursday and told the sisters that we would bring a picnic lunch for everyone on Saturday. It worked out well since Saturday August 1 is Independence day in Benin. When we arrived they were all cleaned up and even had a program ready for us before eating lunch. Two little boys played homemade drums, everyone sang a native song and a few danced, even a sister joined in the dancing. I was so overcome by the warmth and love of these little kids as I was truly seeing an earthly example of being as a child to be able to enter the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. The sisters had all of the kids bring small chairs out and some Muslim mats, and a sandwich was given to each child and then they said a prayer and not one kid ate anything until all had been served. They were so well behaved and polite. The word got out that it was my birthday and it was truly a most memorable one as all the kids and sisters sang me Happy Birthday first in English and then in French.

Sister Delphine and flip flops for everyone

Sister Delphine and flip flops for everyone

After lunch the festivities began when Sister Delphine handed out the sandals to each kid. She looked at the sandal then called a kid to come forward with the right sized foot. The kids were allowed to wear them for the day and then she said they would be saved until school started in September. Marlene brought four suitcases full of clothes for the orphans from her ward in Garland and they were well received. The sisters were going to distribute them later. Southams had left some balloons in a closet and Aaron brought a ball pump so we began pumping up balloons. Fortunately, all of the kids got one before they started to pop. Marlene and I were kept busy making balloon hats! Aaron and Jared played soccer with the older boys and Elder Black got a game of dodge ball going. They did not seem to like the Frisbees as much as the ball games.

Drums and Dancing

Drums and Dancing

We owe a debt of gratitude to the sisters who run the orphanage as they give to these kids complete Christ-like love and charity. They teach and discipline the kids under austere living conditions as there is no running water nor electricity. They seem to have plenty of food and are just now putting in gas for cooking instead of charcoal. How would it be to cook for about 40 over charcoal every day? The kids are organized so that they all help with the responsibilities but keeping 34 kids on task is quite a job for three or four sisters.

Our next stop was at the SOS orphanage in Calavie, which is a much different environment as they are funded by a worldwide organization and live in better conditions than most of the people in Benin. We had made arrangements for Aaron and Jared to play basketball there so that was our last stop before returning to Cotonou. Actually the guy that coaches at the orphanage also coaches the Calavie town team so the boys ended up playing with them instead of the younger boys.

Sunday was Fast and Testimony meeting and we attended church in Gbedjromede, the largest of the three branches in Cotonou. The chapel was full and there were many testimonies given, including Elder Black and Marlene. I too have a testimony that I know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we will have the opportunity to live with Him again if we repent, are baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and endure to the end. I guess enduring to the end is the biggest challenge as we try to live the commandments and live a Christ-like life. Right now we have a project of enduring to the end of our mission. Just a little over one month to go.

Transporting Firewood

Transporting Firewood

OOps

OOps

A termite mound and tata somba village

A termite mound and tata somba village

Yawning Hippo

Yawning Hippo

Pendjai Wart Hogs

Pendjai Wart Hogs

Baboon posing for pictures

Baboon posing for pictures

Raging game of Dodgeball

Raging game of Dodgeball

Program and Dance

Program and Dance

New clothes from Tanya

New clothes from Tanya

A Ballon Hat

A Ballon Hat

Aaron, Jared and Basketball team

Aaron, Jared and Basketball team