So, where to start? Our layover in Paris was cool. We couldn’t see anything from the airport, but I think I saw the city and maybe the Eiffel Tower as our plane was landing. The airport was super cool. Unfortunately, it had a lot of shops and advertisements for fashion and alcohol; go figure. :) I bought some macarons, and they are delicious! Also, since we were in white shirts and ties with name-tags, people in the airport thought we were airport workers and kept asking us where things were. We tried our best to explain we weren’t airport workers, but also help where we could. We arrived in Cotonou safe and sound and spent the night at the mission home. President and Sister Morin are awesome! They are very quiet and soft spoken, but they are really sharp. When President Morin gave us a presentation of the mission rules, he walked us through different scenarios we might face and what would be the best way to proceed.
The language is probably my biggest struggle right now. That, and I'm still shaking out the jet lag. Anywho, the language is an obstacle. I can understand my companion and Elder Destribois, but most of the time I can't understand African French. I'm speaking okay though. They asked me to give my testimony in sacrament meeting, and that went well. Comprehension is the hardest thing, but line upon line, right?
My new companion is Elder Hansen! He’s American, and he’s been out for about a year now. He’s super nice and patient, and has been the best teacher I could have asked for. The President told me that he struggled a lot with the language at first, but then really dug down to work and mastered the language!
Now, for the part you've all been waiting for... AFRICA!!!!
Africa is incredible. It continues to just blow my mind every minute. It's nothing like what I've imagined. I'm currently serving in Akpakpa, a subdivision of Cotonou. It's very urbanized, but Africa just the same. The city has got this look and feel that's indescribable. It's like a mix between Adventureland and a city from the Bourne films, peppered with tin huts everywhere. The smell, depending on where you are, is like bread, sweat, charcoal, and occasionally caca. There's quite a bit of poverty here, but it actually isn't too shocking to me, so far I've kind of just taken it in stride. I've already forgotten what houses look like in America. The people are by far my favorite part of Akpakpa. They might seem intimidating at first, but if you wave and say Bonjour, they crack into the most genuine smile you've ever seen and wave right back. Even if they don't want to talk to you, they still listen to what you have to say.
The children are absolutely adorable. When you walk by, they all sing this nursery rhyme: "Yovo yovo; bonsoir, ca va bien? Bien, et vous?" Yovo is their native word for white man, so it translates to "Whitey whitey, good nightey, how are you? Good, and you?" I love it! It's so fun to wave back and smile at them. One time I responded "Yovo?" and then looked down at my skin and exclaimed "Quoi? Je suis un yovo! Comment?" and they got a good laugh out of that. Other times I'll dance along as they sing, and that really gets them laughing. If you know how ridiculous I look when I dance, then you can guess how much it makes African children laugh. They also just love to touch white people, so on my first night in the area, there was a group of kids that just mobbed us with hugs and high fives. Whenever you give a kid a high five, they freak out and think it's the coolest thing ever.
My favorite family to teach is Soeur Christine's family. Soeur Christine is a single mom who was baptized in April, and is one of the strongest members in the branch. She wanted her children to be baptized as well, but she wanted them to do it for themselves, so she had the missionaries work with each of her kids individually, one by one, one at a time. Right now we're working with David, the last one who wants to get baptized, and he's just understanding everything, it's awesome. Christine's grandson, Nathan, is probably my favorite kid to teach here. He's a year or two younger than Adam, and he loves the missionaries. Whenever he sees us, he runs up to us, and holds our hand as we walk. That'll boost your self confidence any day.
Christianity is a very marketed religion here. You may think that to be a little irreverent word choice, but I have never seen so many signs for so many different churches anywhere in the world. Thank heavens for missionaries. Our church has chosen the most individual, genuine way to tell people about the Gospel.
Also, side note, there are as many hair salons here as there are churches. Funny thing is, there are more hairdressers that have the words "God" or "Jesus" in the title than the churches. Animals roam free here. There are no lanes or lines on the roads, and only the main streets have cobblestones, everything else is dirt. There are a bajillion motorbikes here. In terms of food, we cook all our meals, and they all have rice, salsa, and some kind of meat in them, because that's the cheapest to buy. There's only one temperature of water. We sleep in mosquito nets, and wake up right as the Muslims are finishing their morning prayers over the loudspeakers, so it's nice to know that there are other people praying to God that early, just in a different way. Church here is awesome! It's cheaper to rent out a two story building here than to build one, so the church rents out this cool building with tiles and columns. I love it. The branch has about twenty or thirty people in it, and about five or six of those are investigators who regularly come.
Sunday afternoon, two appointments in a row fell through, so we decided to go contacting. Our numbers were a little low this week because training took up a lot of time, so we were kind of tired and discouraged, when out of the blue, a woman asked to meet with us this week. Then, Elder Hansen, saw this baby playing in the mud, so he pulled him out and handed him to his mom. A man down the street saw this, thought it was cool that we stopped to help, and also asked to meet with us. Then, another man walked up to us and asked if we could meet with him. In a total of fifteen minutes, three people had contacted us, not the other way around. Even for Africa, that's rare. I guess someone is looking out for us. :) So, in all, I love Africa! I feel so at home here, and every moment I walk these streets just takes my breath away. It's hard, but boy do I love it here.
Avec un beaucoup d'amour,
P.S. The computer here doesn’t like my SD card reader, and I don't have my camera cord on me, so pictures will have to wait for next week. So sorry. Also, power outages are daily here, and connection is slow, and the keyboard is hard to use, so if I don’t send an email one week, I am probably alive, its just that I wont be able to reach you that week.
P.S.S One thing I forgot to mention hand-washing laundry is super relaxing.