I say goodbye to converts, members and amis. I pack my bags. We're picked up by the Togo Assistants. We drive away from the apartment that I've lived in for nine months, we drive down the road I've walked hundreds of times, and we drive across Nouveau Pont, crossing the Lagoon, and I say goodbye to Akpakpa.
The rest of the week is kind of a shmorgasbord of experiences and adventures, so this'll be a bit jumbled. Tuesday, we hung out at the Benin Bureau for a little bit. The Togo Assistants treated us to Festival des Glaces, which is a nice restaurant that makes legitimate fast food. It was soooooo good. Confession, I did fall on my no-soda diet, but it's all good, repentance works. (:
We then road-tripped West Africa. That was probably the most fun I've had on my mission. It was a day for me to take a break from the work of salvation, and just enjoy this place. We drove past Ouidah, and from thereon out I saw a ton of new terrain. It was hours of small villages, tall trees in the distance, green shrubbery and rivers surrounding us, and eventually we were running alongside the Gulf of Guinea. This place is gorgeous. It was the West Africa I imagined in a safari or something. Heavenly Father has made a beautiful planet.
Togo is a beautiful country! It's not too urban, like Cotonou, and the actual city-like parts are well organized and relatively clean. By the end of the road-trip, we dropped off Elder Kola in his new sector, then did a u-turn for mine. According to Elder Jorgensen, we were only a mile away from Ghana. We seriously road-tripped West Africa. It was awesome. It was like our family roadtrips, minus the family, but plus on the roadtrip. I wish y'all could've been there, but it was still sufficiently fun. Definitely an "I Lived" moment, and a great way to finish being 18.
We arrived in Attiegou that evening. I met my companion, Elder N'Guessan Bi, and then we joined up with Elders Hammons and Oléla for a Family Home evening. I ended up vomiting the food they gave us, but it was still delicious! (:
Elder N'Guessan Bi is from Cote d'Ivoire, he's been out for about 18 months. Elder Hammons is from Payson, Utah, and has been on the mission for about 20 months. Elder Oléla is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he's been out here for around 5 months. Our apartment is a solid group of guys, and we have a blast.
For my 19th birthday, we didn't quite have the time to do a legit party, which is sad, but oh well. I got to walk around and get to know my sector. It's a completely different ballpark out here, folks. Togo is much less urban than Cotonou. It is exactly what I imagined Africa being. The roads are red earth and uneven, like you're on a hike. The streets are much more calm, the shops on the side of the road fewer, and the houses smaller. One finds an occasional patch of corn.
Imagine Adventureland, mixed with Indiana Jones, mixed with Freetown. That's Attiegou. It is such a sweet, awesome town. I have been taking pics like crazy. No Benin pics compare to this place. It's a lot more physically strenous, but it's so much fun. It's an adventure. (:
Our apartment isn't an apartment, it's a small house, and it's beautiful. There is legit grass in our front yard, and it's beautiful! I love our new house. (:
The ward of Attiegou shares the stake center with other wards (Hedzranawoé, Kegué, Kélégougan, etc), and we actually teach some of our amis at the chapel, so we run into other missionaries in our zone a lot more frequently. The Togo Assistants are in our zone, our zone leader is Elder Whitt, who was in Elder Hansen's MTC group, as is Elder Joseph. There are some of my Benin friends, like Elders Kiala and Ouizan Bi, and some other new faces too. It's a great zone, from what I see. I like it.
Our sector, specifically our sector, has a reputation for being the Akpakpa of Togo. I personally feel like it's because the missionaries before us weren't working as hard as they could. My companion is setting a pace that's way too slow for me. I'm internally screaming. Y'all know me, I like running like a wild horse, going at reckless speeds. Maybe the slower pace will be healthy, but for now I feel like I'm not doing all that I could be doing. It's like you said, Dad, the work will go on at the Lord's pace, not ours, we just need to put in our efforts. But I'm still banging my head against the walls, hoping for a change in pace. Or a new companion in 6 weeks, whichever comes first.
We've got 3 amis, all kids between the age of 9 and 13, with a baptismal date fixed for the 25 of June. They're named Eli, Louise, and Noelle. They're awesome, and we get along great. We've also got a really cool, awesoe ami named Celestin. He's in his 20s, and he loves the Church. He has a problem with his eyes, the pupils are extremely dialated, so he's blind in one eye, and sees with very limited vision in the other one. He can see the forms of things pretty well, so he sees us, but he can't read. Here's the catch: he goes to a special school that gives him training to read and write, and the school is funded by a Baptist pastor. The pastor refuses to let Celestin continue in the school if he joins the church, so he's blocked in progression right now. He can't come to church, but he excels really well in the lessons. The pastor is old, and won't be able to fund the school for much longer, so with time we're expecting Celestin to be baptized. He's a sweet, genuine guy, and I like him a lot.
Here in Togo, the government accepts traditional marriage as sufficient for a civil marriage, so it is much easier for couples to get married. Relatively. There is no searching for government papers, they just have to get the parents of the wife to sign a paper saying that they're married. However, for the dowry, parents can often ask for very ridiculous expensive random stuff, like 20 pagnes, or a box of cigars, or a smoked fish. It's still a financial burden to get married, but it's more convenient, from a paperwork standpoint.
We had stake conference at the Palais de Congrès of Togo this week, which was super. I got to catch up with a lot of Benin buddies, and meet a lot of cool new faces. I caught up with Elder Herring, my MTC comp! It was so great to see him, we were both super stoked about it. Stake conference was different here than from Benin. It felt a lot more casual. Maybe because I wasn't here for the announcements, or Benin had just gotten a stake, but it was cool to see the differences. The people here seem to be a lot more humble here, which I like.
The poverty is a lot more striking. Togo is the 9th poorest country in the world. But interestingly enough, the people aren’t bothered by their poverty. They just accept it as a fact of life and keep going.
I'm having more culture shock going from Benin to Togo than I had going from the USA to Benin. It's such a weird change. Jorgy told me that it would take about a week to get used to. I am doing better now. I don't have the sector mastered yet, which is frustrating, but nothing I get down about.
My companion is... an interesting guy. Our honeymoon period lasted until about Saturday. We have companionship inventory every night, which I like and dislike all at once. He lets the littlest things bug him, which is a curse, but he is very open and communicative, which I like; He just gets mad a lot.(;
I do take it in stride a lot better. My skin's a lot tougher, and I don't spend my time pouting too much. Just pray that I'll be passive about the unimportant things, courageous about the important stuff, and that I may have the wisdom to know when to sit down, and when to fight back.
Monday evening, back in Akpakpa, we were in a Family Home Evening, and one of the members had texted Elder Dakouri telling him that I was transferred. He called, and I got to talk with him. It was such an awesome conversation. He's happy to be home, he's having a tough time finding a job, but he doesn't let that get him down. He asked me how the sector was doing (he was super stoked to learn that the Johnsons were getting married), and he asked me about the challenges I was facing. He was completely loving and encouraging. After that conversation, I totally let go of any bad feelings, regret, or sadness I had about my time with Dakouri. I love that guy so much.
In listening to John Bytheway's talk, I thought a lot this week about Matthew 5:46-48. I think it could be appropriately modified to say "If ye are only happy in your comfort zone, what reward have ye?...Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Or, as they say, "There is little growth in the comfort zone. There is little comfort in the growth zone." This could be applied to our relationships with others. If we loved others only when times were easy or good, then we'd never develop a greater capacity to love, would we? If happiness was based only on what happened to us, then we'd only be happy in the happy times. If we were not asked to step out of our shell and try a new one every now and then, we would stay cramped up.
During stake conference, the first speaker talked about the love of God. She didn't say anything extraordinary or new, but as I was taking notes, the Spirit hit me hard, and I felt like Heavenly Father was putting His arm around my shoulder. I felt that He was very aware of me, lowly me, in a room of thousands of Latter-day Saints. It was a humbling experience. I cried. I was motivated to step up, pray for grace, and spread that love to the people I get to serve.
I know that charity is the pure love of Christ. Feeling God's love leads us to love others like He loves us, and that leads us to feel more completely God's love for us. It is the best cycle in the world.
Here's to a week full of adventures and charity!
P.S. The connection at the cyber is great, but their software is out of date. Therefore, all the pics I took this week can't be uploaded. Bleh. So no photos this week, despite the fact that they're awesome!!!!! Seriously, my Benin photos don't even compare, Togo is significantly more photogenic than Benin. I will take photos this week on a different card, and see how that goes.