Monday, September 1, 2014

An African Wedding

Usually when I start to write these weekly letters, I can never remember anything to write home about because I feel like absolutely nothing happened in the week... but, well this week was completely different... and it all started this past Tuesday.

TuesdayMy companion and I were in the middle of teaching a member at her small restaurant right behind the Stadium, when all of a sudden I get a call from who else but Brother John from Kodjoviakope! He had told me in previous weeks that he wanted to come and visit me to say hi! Being a missionary, I told him that was fine but that the visit couldn't last too long because we still have missionary work to do. Honestly, I didn't know if he would actually find the time to come or not.

Me and Brother John! Same as always!

But, he did! We walked across the stadium to go and find him! It was really great to see him and we were both really happy to see each other. All in all, we went back to my apartment to drop off all the stuff that he brought to me... he gave me carrots, oranges, apples, a 24 pack of Sprit/Fanta cans, and a couple of other gifts. Frankly I was so surprised and I really didn't know what I did to deserve all that stuff but, I was really humbled by it. John said it was just a way of showing his appreciation for the work I do as a missionary and the help that I gave him while serving in the Kodjoviakope group. We talked for a little bit but then we walked back to the stadium so he could get back to Togo! Thank you Brother John! 

Wednesday: A day that started out pretty normal... had a nice lesson in the morning, rendez-vous planned all through the day... ahhh what not to like?! And then, as we went to our second-to-last RV of the day, we find out that a marriage that I didn't even know was going to happen between our amis Ismael and Betty was going to go down... this SATURDAY. Apparently, Ismael had been working with our branch president to figure out all of the details for the wedding arrangements and the proper documents needed in order to be legally wed. And apparently, Ismael wanted to get baptized the same day as the marriage so that his wife could attend before going to Nigeria for a month. 

So, after getting all of that straightened out, I told him that we needed to see each other pretty much every day until the marriage/baptism... there were so many logistics that had to go into getting this to work and as I go through the rest of the week, you will see what I mean. 

Thursday: Now feeling the pressure from the upcoming baptism there were so many things I had to do: (1) call the first counselor to President Morin to interview Ismael for his baptism (2) figure out when the baptism would be and where it would be (3) teach/brush up on all the lessons with Ismael so that he would be ready for the interview. Frankly I just wanted this week to end so badly because I just couldn't help but think of all the things that could possibly end up not working out... but I didn't give up and I endured to the end! 

I ended up going on a split with Elder Mejean (from France) so that we could teach Ismael and his wife at the same time... let me explain that last phrase... Ismael comes from Benin, so he obviously speaks French but his wife Betty comes from Nigeria, and she only speaks English. And there was just way too much material to cover so I had to bring Elder Mejean so that he could teach Ismael in French (my comp isn't experienced enough to know what to teach and what not) and then I would teach Betty in English. At first we wanted her to get baptized too but because she would be traveling to Nigeria early Sunday morning, she would not be able to make the confirmation so we decided to hold off on that until she gets back in October. 

I was really happy with the lesson though because I was able to see that Ismael really remembered very well everything that we taught him and he was really prepared to be baptized! However, I think a lot of the credit goes to the fact that his family are members in a different branch and they have been encouraging him to get baptized and that helped him to be really familiar with the beliefs of the Church. Meaning, everything we taught him was stuff that he was already willing to follow! 

Friday: Friday morning I went down to Fidjrosse to attend my very last Zone Conference of my mission... it was a little bit surreal to be honest, but the lessons were really great and I had a great time. My companion testified for the first time at his first Zone Conference... and then I testified for the last time at my last Zone Conference (yeah, those kinds of things have been popping up a lot with him... his firsts, my lasts). I'm a bit sad that that was the only Zone Conference I would have with President Morin as he has some great plans to advance the work in this mission.

Cool picture of the storm that came after Zone Conference

Afterwards, we headed back to the Branch in Menontin because the Zone Leaders had three baptismal candidates that needed to be interviewed... also, we had to be there because I had managed to set up the interview with President Morin's first counselor and Ismael, which went very well! The three that I did were the very first interviews that I had done as a District Leader and they went well. Despite the fact that one of the couples I interviewed spoke French at a very basic level, I could really tell that they had the desire to be baptized and be in this Church... they had been attending for so long, but with all the marriage stuff, they hadn't been able to be baptized and they had been amis for almost a year. 

Anyway, those interviews weren't supposed to last too long but because everybody was late to their interviews (surprise, surprise Africa!). But, all went well.

Saturday: This was the day we had all been waiting for. We woke up early (before 6) so that we could get ready and meet people at the branch in order to take them to the marriage in Calavi. My couple getting married was going to go there themselves so they didn't need a ride but Elder Mbala and Mejean's couple did need a ride so the Office was nice enough to give us a ride to the wedding.

The view from Calavi branch.

The marriage was supposed to start at 8 but it actually started at 8:20, which I was really mad about because I thought it was actually going to start at 9 (because usually they tell people to come an hour earlier than you're supposed to, for African Standard Time). The reason why I was mad was because my couple hadn't gotten there yet! ARGH! Africa time strikes again! 

So, I took Elder Merrill and stood on the side of the main street to help people find the building (people can't miss two white guys in missionary attire). Thankfully I did that because my couple finally did arrive and were finally able to make it to their wedding. 

To give you an idea of how weddings work, you need to know that it's very hard for people to get married here because of the immense amount of paperwork required by the government as well as the dote (dowry) that has to be paid (which is usually expensive). Thankfully, through the negotiating of some Church members, we have been able to find a guy who can marry people for cheap and with little paperwork! So, we had about 10 couples from around Cotonou come to the wedding ceremony to get married. 

The upstairs pavilion... by the time everybody got there, the place was packed.

So, you might be wondering, what does a Beninois marriage consist of? Well, let me tell you... nothing very special. The mayor comes and basically gives weird council to the couples. My favorite was this: "Even if you are going to the marche to go and buy eggs to make omelettes and your husband is in bed, you need to go and tell your husband that you are going out." Other than that, I did not listen because this guy ended up talking for almost 2 hours about things that quite frankly were pretty dumb. At one point, he even talked about making tea or something and everybody got a little chuckle out of that as we don't drink tea! 

Betty and Ismael exchaning vows

After that, all of the couples went up to exchange vows... some of the couples chose to do it in Fon, others in French... it was funny to see Betty go up and exchange vows because she's Nigerian and doesn't speak very much French. However, the funniest part of it was whenever the couple had to "prove to the mayor that they loved each other" (ie KISS!). It's funny because people here do not kiss... "public display of affection" does not exist out here in the slightest sooooo all the kisses were super funny. However, I'll give it to Ismael and Betty because I'm pretty sure that they had the best kiss out of everybody as it looked natural and loving... and not like two 7 year olds kissing each other from peer pressure (that's the best way I can describe the other kisses).

After that, they had to sign the big book of weddings, as I call it. I think that's to legally record that they were married. The couple signs it as well as the witnesses. It was romantic.

Signing the book!

Afterwards, everybody took pictures with the mayor and then pictures of all the families. I was thankful that it was at Calavi because it's a beautiful building with a great view of the lake! It made for some great pictures. 

Us with the Newlyweds!

After all of that, we hopped in the back of the assistant's truck to go back to the apartment to get ready for the Baptism at 3 PM. Once we did get to the Aibatan branch for the baptisms, we found that nobody was there to unlock the building (oh the Sisters were late... surprise, surprise and it's their branch building!). Thankfully, they came right on time at 3 PM, but forgot the fact that we had to prepare for the baptism by getting people in baptismal clothes and setting up chairs (thankfully Elder Jenkins and his comp had filled the font a few days before). All in all, it went pretty well. I gave a talk and my comp did the baptism and everything went nice and smoothly. Though, it did end up taking like 2 hours to do everything.

At the baptism!

(Elder) Semeha the Baptist (he ended up baptizing like 4-5 people so he got plenty of practice).

But, with all that running around, we were WIPED OUT at the end of all of that. I don't think I had ever slept so well on my mission. 

SundayThankfully, Ismael came to Church on time and I was able to confirm him as a member of the Church! And then to cap everything off, we went to Jericho later in the afternoon to celebrate Elder Hank's birthday at a member's house who promised to prepare "American food". It wasn't really American food, but hey it was salad with cucumbers, radish, chicken, balsamic dressing, etc. I'll give them credit, it was the most American salad I've ever had here! Then for the second course we even got spaghetti and fried potatoes with balsamic vinegar, my favorite traditional American dish! It was good nevertheless! 

Party at Jericho! Oddly enough, Elder Hanks (the birthday man is not pictured). 

So yeah... that was my week in a nutshell for you guys! It was crazy and I'm glad to be everything turned out well.  My hopes are that this week is a little less hectic, but as I've come to learn in Africa, you've gotta be just about ready for anything and everything!

Thanks for all the prayers everybody! Hope you all have a great week and a great Labor day! Elder Mejean says that he loves you guys too! Oh that little Frenchy.


Elder Hawkins

Family picture of the yovos.

Elder Silvas and I... had to take a picture of my man in his sharp suit.

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