Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Did you know that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a good hymn for prelude music in Sacrament Meeting? We have been struggling to get all the chapels outfitted with everything they need. One of those items of course is a piano. Yamaha makes a electronic piano for the church that has the hymns pre-programmed onto the machine. Not being successful in finding out how to get one, we solved the problem in each branch so far by using one of the little student models that we have to teach people how to play. It has some pre-programmed music but not any hymns. Last Sunday in Lome it was raining and rain always keeps people home. It is not fun to ride a moto or even walk in a torrential rain. Of course, we are one of the lucky few who have a vehicle so it doesn’t bother us as much. When we arrived at the chapel, the piano player was not there (He arrived about half way through Sacrament Meeting) but the piano was reverently playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over. We listened to that for probably 30 minutes or so before the meeting started (almost a half hour late on account of the rain). Everyone was very reverent, even more so than on most Sundays. Maybe we should consider putting that one in the hymnbook. I remember years ago, President Joseph Fielding Smith gave a talk–I think it was at BYU–and although I don’t remember the context, I still remember his poem.

Twinkle, Twinkle little star,
I don’t wonder where you are.
I surmised your spot in space,
When you left your missile base.

Any wondering I do,
Centers on the cost of you.
And I shutter when I think,
What you’re costing us per twink.

That is probably even more appropriate today than it was then considering the pace of government spending.

Lome Zone Activity at Kpalime Falls

Lome Zone Activity at Kpalime Falls

Missionaries at the falls

Missionaries at the falls

Back to mission things. We had promised the Lome missionaries for some time that we would have a zone activity. President Ayekoue has allowed and even encouraged us to do that once in a while. As the missionaries come and go, some of them miss out or get in on several depending on the timing. Elders Halterman and Carver, two brand new missionaries, arrived in Togo on Thursday and the activity was planned for Monday to go see some waterfalls at Kpalime. We thought it was an hour or so out of Lome but it turned out to be a 2 1/2 hour drive. We only got to see one waterfall as the rain had made the road very bad according to the report but the one was almost worth the trip. Best of all we got to see some small mountains which was a welcome site as we have seen nothing but flat land and seashore for a long time now. Soeur Black and I fixed a fine lunch and we got in the two mission vehicles and headed out with Blaise and his son Alma as guides. We will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. At the base of the falls, it is damp and dare I say even cold. Soeur Black says “The elders were anxious to see me drive and I found out that I can still drive but the motos scared me some. Thankfully most of the driving was out of Lome. When we went around a corner and saw a mountain in the distance, it was mighty thrilling.”

Dodger Black and Parents at 1 Day

Before coming back to Cotonou, we arranged to get some benches built for the Lome Chapel and worked on some other problems in the missionary apartments. Then we learned the other big news of the week–the arrival of a new grandson. This caused us to hurry a little faster back to Cotonou in hopes of being able to see him on the web cam. Dodger M Black, son of Andy and Alicia, is the newest member of the Black family and the 2nd one born since we left for our mission. Once again we are so thankful for modern technology as a picture was e-mailed to us when he was only one day old and then we saw him on Skype when he was two days old. All he needs is a Grandma and Grandpa to help rock him in a big rocking chair.

We got back in time to welcome the two new missionaries that came to Cotonou the same day the ones arrived in Lome. They are not brand new, having been in Africa a couple of months now. Elder Halvorsen is from Washington State and Elder Ghisquiere is from France. We are really glad to have them here and it brings our count up to 10 elders in Cotonou and another 10 in Lome. Ironically, we also have the same makeup in each city — 5 from Cote d’Ivorie, 4 from the US and 1 from France. I don’t know if President Ayekoue planned that or not but that is the way it turned out.

4th of July festivities

4th of July festivities

7up (wish it were root beer) floats

7-Up (wish it were root beer) floats

We have mentioned that it is absolutely essential to have a good sense of humor here in West Africa, and another music story is applicable for the 4th of July. We had a nice baptism in Cotonou on Saturday, July 4 for three people. Elder Ahoutou was playing the prelude music before the baptism. He is really getting quite good on the keyboard having practiced quite a lot since he came to Cotonou. Of course, we and the American elders were thinking a little about our hometown celebrations and patriotic songs, when the prelude music turned to “Joy to the World.” If you stop and think about it, a baptism is certainly a joyous occasion. After the baptism, all of the missionaries came over to our apartment for a little Fourth of July celebration. We had hamburgers and French fries and 7-Up floats. Root Beer is not even heard of over here so we had to substitute 7-Up for the root beer. We put some Mormon Tabernacle Choir patriotic music in the computer to put us in the right spirit. All we needed to hear was “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the fourth of July.” Everyone had a great time even without fireworks.

Kpalime Picnic

Kpalime Picnic

Closest thing to being cold

Closest thing to being cold

Base of the falls

Base of the falls

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.

Happy

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