Monday, October 31, 2016

Baptism Count: 2 1/2

Oh wow, the apostasy is over! Today we got money for the next month. Here in Benin we do not receive the full 300 dollars a month like most people but we receve 70000 west african francs which is about 117 us dollars a month and it is hard to survive on so little. About the last week and a half of every month is what we call the apostasy and we start being very careful how we spend our money and then some people run out completely and because I am a saver I have been buying food for the whole district for a week and a half. Everyone dips into personal money to feed the apartment at some point, and I am happy to do it.

Benin is crazy, as always,  and time is super realtive here and is all dependent on your attitude: I have hit some low points but have bounced back stonger every time. I think one of the points of being on
a mission is for it to force you to put your trust in the lord and grow close to him by preaching his message. I know I couldn't do anything without His help and all your prayers, so thank you.

Okay last week I talked about how Mukendi can't crack eggs and I just wanted you to know the highlight of my week was when Mukendi was embarrassed to keep asking me to crack the eggs so he tried to crack the egg like me (the normal way). But it is not something you can pick up by just watching, I guess. I was cutting tomatoes when I saw Mukendi winding up with an egg in hs hand and I watched as he just smashes it against the table and egg and shell goes everywhere and he looks up at me were both coverd in egg and I ask what was that, and he said I thought that is how you always do it and we just laughed for ever. It was the funniest thing. I still crack all the eggs and Mukendi doesn't know how to tie ties and so I get to do that for him too. I am so glad he is my companion.

And there was a baptism Saturday the people baptized from our sector was a couple brother Jo__ and his wife sister Ed__ and they have a cute noisy baby named Ah__ the cool thing about Ed__ is she is the first baptism I've had where I was peresent for all her lessons and I am so glad these 2 have such strong testimonies and faith because what they went through with the baptism would have really shaken me. Baptisms here are so hard to coordinate, people need interviews so we send in zone leader and then the baptism font is in a bulding in a different part of Cotonou and there are no addresses or GPS so no one knows how to explain to a taxi-man how to get there. So we have a taxi man who we use because he knows all the church locations and he has to come and tell the other taxi guys on motos where to go. Then we have to pay out of pocket for our investigatiors to get to the baptism but because I am white it is more expensive, and it was in the middle of the apostasy so I am the only one with money so I have to play for elder Olelas investigator too. Then we arrive at the font and the investigators aren't there and they left before us. We go out to the busy street and wait for 45mins hoping they will arrive and btw it is ranning like crazy so we are getting muddy and soaked. They finally show up. It turns out Jo__'s taxi guy got in an accident on the way and Jo__ scraped up his leg. Then I don't really know how to baptize people that well and Jo__ didn't go in the water very well so after 6 tries they had someone else come and try to baptize him but they still couldn't. After 5 more tries we finally got it and I got to baptize Ed__, so that is why the baptism count is 2 1/2. And that baptism service is actually about as smooth as it gets here. I hope little by little with these stories you can feel what it is like here too.

Classic no smile picture
We got smiles!
New stake center where we have church. It is a 45 minute walk, which we had to do because we didn't have enough taxi money this week.

Monday, October 24, 2016

2 months down

I couldn't think of a good pun this week, I used all the good ones I had. I don't know exacly what I want to write this week but I would love for you to really understand what it is like here but to describe general things is not enough it is just the little everyday things that make this place what it is. I will just try to type any little thing I remember. First off I don't think anyone here knows how to crack an egg, it's weird to think about, but no African I've met knows how. Everyone just uses a fork to smash a little hole on the side and shakes it till everything comes out the hole. I asked Elder Mukendi why everyone does that and he seemed super confused so I showed him how to crack the egg and he was fascinated, so after that magic trick I crack all the eggs.

Another thing that is hard for me to get used to is the lack of toilets, or maybe the excess of one big toilet that is the world. Everyone pees everywhere. I am not sure you want to know this but it is true, man, woman and child all just use the bathroom in the middle of the road, or the side of the road, or off a bridge, or on a wall, or in a corner, or in a puddle, everywhere. It is so weird and it's not at all hidden just there in your face and on your shoes, it's just great, it just makes me glad for the toilet I have at my apartment. The showers are always cold but I drip sweat every other waking moment. There are no adresses, everyone is selling something, the roads have no laws and driving is a contact sport and you need to be agressive or you don't go anywhere. People sleep anywhere and anytime: in a pile of sand, on the road, curled up on the seat of a moto and even on the floor covered in flies. When ever I see a kid I always just extend my hand and they all do something different it's really fun. Some will shake it, some will grab my finger and start pulling me around, some will smile and stare at it, some will give it a hi-five and the occasional one will cry. The responses are so different I always extend a hand. Oh by the way, Beniois don't smile for pictures I don't know why it is just a thing. A picture is like always a serious thing for them. After I sent that photo of me and brother Hy___ and he looks not excited to be baptized I want you to know that is the only time I have not seen a smile on that guys face. We even woke him up from sleeping one time on accident and he had still a huge grin, but for the photos even the happiest turn stone faced. I don't know why. And that's just the beginning of what this place has to offer, I just can't think of anything else right now. However I would like to talk about my dad. Elder Mukendi is just the best! He is a little tired he is in the home stretch of his mission but he is working way harder than lots of other missionaries who are older. But there are just some things about him that are just too funny. He always, always opens books upside down the first time he opens them, and I mean every time. I have begun to just watch in amazement how he always does it. It is like some kind of curse he has it is so funny, hymn book, bible, preach my gosple, day, night, during lessons he always opens it upside down. It is so funny then he always changes it he doesn't seemed fazed by it. I asked him about it once and he just kinda laughed it off and pointed out how I always look in the wrong suitcase first when I am trying to find something in one of my 2 suit cases. Which is true, maybe every one here has a curse when opening something, that's Benin for you. Also something Elder Mukendi does that is just the funniest thing ever is his guitar. He owns this guitar it is red with flowers I think, I'm not sure, but he has no idea how to play it at all, not a clue and it is old it only has 2 strings. But he will pick it up and pretend to play it all the time he will carry it around the apartment plucking one string and singing and dancing in all sorts of different languages. It just crakes me up how he brought a massive guitar with two strings on his mission and pretends to play it often, so funny. One other thing Mukendi does is walks like he is one person, even though I'm always with him. I know that sounds weird but he tells me to walk right next to him but he walks like no one needs to walk beside him so he will zig zag and I will be on one side of him and he will take a corner super sharp and cut me off and I will try to squeeze in next to him on the road and he will not move over to the other side but move closer towards me. It must be so funny to see me trying to stand side by side but constantly getting cut off and having to take crazy alternate routes to try to keep up. I don't know if you got the image or not but it is just little things like that that give the vibe of this place.

The church is funny here too. It is so young here not many people know how everything works in the church only about 10% of the ward is endowed and probably only 35% active, don't quote me on that though. However there are just some really funny things that go down because the bishop tries super hard to make the ward exacly like the ones in the US and asks me after the meeting how they were and if they matched up okay. One very Benin thing is the way they sing hymns, no one knows how to play the piano so it stays in some class room unused. To sing a hymn someone who knows the song we are going to sing stands up and sings the first line how they think it is supposed to be sung, then everyone joins in and boy do they sing slow, very loud and with spirit but so slow. I think because no one really knows the tune they all just try to be followers and it is just a loud chorus of slow moving songs that are often un recognizable to how it is supposed to be sung, and I just love it. The bishop has an a goal to help those with the preisthood use it and He__ Hy___, my first baptism needed to be ordination to the aronic preisthood so they let this really funny old member do the ordination prayer, yet he didnt know how or the name of brother Hy___ so he had to give the prayer like 9 times before he finally got both the name and prayer right. I don't know how he could continue to mess up that name so much evey time he would just say some random name that would pop in to his head that wasnt even close like "Soeur Samuel". I was so close to losing it, it was so funny. That doesn't even come close to probably the craziest and funniest thing I have seen here. This past Sunday was the first ever Stake conference in Benin in the new Stake Center which just had an open house Friday. It was nuts, there were so many people at the building I mean ever member in the entire country was supposed to be there. Anyway because I was a missionary I was put in a small room with a tv to watch but the sound was so quiet and everyone was talking so loud I couldn't hear anything. Not like I would have been able to understand if I could hear. Anyway, it is pretty normal for mamas to breastfeed in public, or at any time really. I have been in many a lesson where a kid needs to be fed and they just feed them, no little american blankets or anything to cover it. But to them it's so normal so I just don't look. At stake conference a woman gets up to give the opening prayer and the kid she is holding is making a fuss and so just in front of everyone she just lifts up her shirt and starts breastfeeding in the middle of her prayer and over the pulpit, it just is the cherry on top that explains this place so well. On another note, I am the new mama of the Menonten district. It was Elder Olela but now its me. I have done all the dishes since I have arrived. At first I did it because I didn't cook and I felt bad doing nothing so I did them to show them I want to be helpful but now I think they have gotten used to it. Now I do it for service and to keep the apartment clean because it is nasty, so if I can do anything to clean, I do it. I organized the very clutterd cabinet with all the brochures and books of mormon. In district meeting they called me as the new mama of the apartment because I help cook evey meal and do the dishes, it's a good calling to have. So I am a yovo, I know this yovo is my life but along with being a yovo, I am a yovo from the United States and for some reason just because I am from the United States everyone thinks that I can get people to the U.S. So after I introduce myself to people and say where I am from, many times they ask me to either take them with me or ask if they can take my place. I don't know what that means but I guess some people think that every for every american in Benin there should be a Beninois in America and I have gotten "you should marry my daugter and take her with you". Elder Warr gets that request much more. Every time they say that I just say I don't understand french, for now that's easiest even though I am understanding much, much better. I will use that card for as long as I can.

I want to tell you about what missionary work is like here, because it is cool and weird. Everyone will talk to you. No one "doesn't have time to talk" Benin and Togo are in a religous awakening right now, it is just like New York in Joseph Smiths time, so many churches, so many new ideas. Everyone is finding a chruch and talking about church, it is cool. All the time people will call us over while were walking and say, "I want to hear the word of God". It is super cool that is an almost daily experience. In lessons we find many people who are super engaged Elder Mukendi uses the bible for his teachigs a lot and everyone here believes in the bible so when he teaches with the bible the truth people get really happy and all the time write down the scriptures we use to study them later and be able to tell their friends. Also we get lots of people who invite themselves to church, which is super cool, however most of them never come. It is cool when they ask where and when is your church and do you have any other religous classes, no one is ever like oh 3 hours for church that is too much. However Beninois are liars somtimes they will have a appointment with us at a spot on the side of the road somewhere or at the church and we called and they said they would be there so we arrive and they are not there. So we call and they say "wait I am coming" after 30mins we call again they say "I am just about to leave stay there" after 45mins we say okay were leaving and they say "oh yeah I was too busy today". That has happend to me 4 times already, 2 times with the same guy, but Mukendi says thats just normal. People don't like to say no here, while in America thats all anyone does. I have had some cool experiences teaching; there was one where we were teaching this new investigator Mama Wi____ (it showes a lot of respect to call people mama or papa if they are parents) about the plan of salvation and used the bible to show there was life before this. I bore my testimony about that principle and she says "wow that's so beautiful" and she then bore her testimony that she knew it was true too right on the spot, it was so cool she was so captivated by the message. We also found a family of 11; parents and 9 kids 7 girls and 2 boys and boy are they ready for the gosple we just talked to the mama on the street one day because we had been teaching just one of the daugters and told her about the open house on Friday for the new stake center, not thinking much of it doubting anything would happen but she came and she loved it. The members here had a great orginization going and then she was so ready, the next time we came she listened and took notes and then called in 3 of her daughters and one son and told them to listen to the word of god and take notes. The family is so nice and they all speak to each other in french when we are around no fon. They are facinated about how we leave are homes for 2 years and they talk to us like real people it is so nice, I am excited to continue teaching them.

Now I have talked about a lot of stuff. Sorry if it is too much, but I hope it makes up for weeks I can't write a lot. There are a lot of hard times here and it is not easy for me I can't understand a lot of things or speak very well, my companion is tired a lot and I miss home at times but I keep busy by cleaning dishes and washing clothes by hand, it is kind of therapeutic in a way. Thank you for your continued support and prayers.

The old church
Balcony of a newer church in Fidjrosse, Cotonou, Benin
By a discus statue
My bed - mosquito net required!
Me being the mama and doing the dishes

Monday, October 17, 2016

I will cotonou onward

Okay I have been in Benin for a week and a few days, I guess, I have no clue really. It feels like I was born here. I am bewilderd by the bright lights, I am helpless, I don't speak the language, I am cared for by these two people who call me their son, which is true. When you are in formation (forgot Engish word) the trainer always calls the trainee "fils" which is son. It is funny I spend all day with my "dad" (Elder Mukendi) I have met my "grandpa" (formature of Elder Mukendi) and my uncle (another fils of grandpa). They are both in my zone they seem to like me because of the new missionaries in Benin I can speak enough French to make jokes and that's all they care about. Anyway it's just weird. I was born here the paralles are undeniable except my parents are two Congolains so that's cool. However let me back up, Conference was so cool. I was feeling pretty sick before we went up to the choir loft but when I was there I sang better than any practice. I got to see up close all the apostles just walking around talking to people and I got super close to Chirsofferson because he came up to the loft to talk to the organist. I am still embarrassed about my super huge vowels but they said always look at the director, even in practice, so I had no idea I was singing so different than everyone else. I guess these guys didn't go to west high for choir. But it was such a cool experience and it happened so fast. I got to see all the behind the scenes of conference which was fascinating for me and when I watched the Sunday sessions, I knew how all the cameras and TelePrompTers worked, so that's cool. But honestly that is a distant memory, it feels like a dream. Here I don't speak English like ever so it's like everything I ever learned in english has left my head and it's all trying to remember crazy names and french words. Like I saw a poster of an actor and it took me a whole 5 mins to remember the name of Sylvester Stallone, ugh it's crazy my brain is becoming just like this country.

This country is crazy. not in a bad way at all, but I don't even know how to describe it, it is just absolutely nuts. It is not that Africa is crazy it is just Benin and Togo this special little corner of the lords vinard: like missionaries by them selves are weird enough, but when you put a whole bunch in this place it is a recipie for something. I don't know what but it smells like burning food, or trash or just Benin depending on where you are but it never smells like pleasant. It's not bad as I have said it's just crazy and boy will this place change you...Elder Mukendi showed me pictures of him at the beginning of the mission and he is almost un recognizable. He had much much lighter skin, he had a longer face, he had glasses, he was taller. Africa changed him so much he is worried when he goes back home his family won't recognize him and he says the same thing will happen to me.

I would try to explain but it's too hard I can try, it's just these two countries are just so weird like I saw some article about the church here in west africa and how its growing and stuff and that is all true but it seemed to not highlight these two countries as much like Ghana and Algeria. My zone leader says he reads his mtc buddies e-mails and he says they have no idea how much different this mission is. Elder Olela says this is the realist mission there is, I don't know about that, all missions are real, but I would put my money on most crazy.

I have lots of stories as evidence here is one. I have just a quick thing to help you understand my life here in Africa. It is Yovo. Yovo is what I am. All day every day kids will call me Yovo. It is white in fon (tonal language in Southern Benin) but some take it to mean a racial slur. There are songs about it and drunk people call me it. I can't go 30mins in the sector without hearing it. The song is "yovo! yovo! bonsoir, ├ža va, bein merci" followed by laughter. They will shout yovo all day until I wave at them and then they laugh. It might mean something offensive, but I am not offended. All the white elders say you get really tired of it and I can see why. It's just so funny. I have learned to say goodby in fon and that really throws them for a loop when I say that. Most little kids don't learn french until school. Everyone here speaks fon, and boy do I wish I could too. if you try to buy anything here there is a price for if your black and speak fon, then there is a price if you use french which is more expensive, and it is most expensive if you are a yovo who speaks English. And even more expensive if you are dressed in a white shirt and tie, so we often go home and change before buying the next days groceries. It is just Benin, what can you do? Is it racist, maybe, but i don't care I love it anyway. Some of these kids are just the cutest little things some will come and just grab your hand and start playing and some cry at the sight of you but that's that. I had my first baptism. Like I actually baptized somone into the church, I said the prayer in french and did it all. it was really cool his name is Hete Hypolite I only taught him 2 lessons he was pretty ready when I got here but i just did the baptism because my companion has done so many already.

The french is coming along pretty well I can express to my companion almost everything I need and we have many conversations I have taught one lesson and prepared a few meals. I have destroyed my hands washing clothes by hand and have given my self an awful hair cut. but I am happy the days are long and I have the same few foods every day (eggs, onions, tomatoes, peppers; oil salt rice and chicken) evey day however its not that bad because its only the begining Elder Mukendi has had the same sauce everyday for 17 months. so it's nothing for me right now.

There is so much to be said and not enough time. I just know I am being helped from the lord and from your prayers thank you all so much.

Me with my "dad" "grandpa" and "uncle"

First Baptism

This is Benin

Me & Elder Mukendi (dad) by the lagoon

Monday, October 10, 2016

Well, I've been in Benin

Note from Kaelyn:

Riley said he didn't have time to write a weekly email, but I could piece together the short emails he sent to Scott, Davis, Owen and myself. I hesitated doing that because it isn't the usual up-beat Riley, but this is how it is going. He got to Africa Wednesday evening (October 5). The email we got today was the FIRST we have heard from him. It was great to hear from him. That was a LONG 10 days not hearing from him!

Here is what he wrote to his family:

Africa is alright, to be honest it is really hard I have had diarrhea all day the food just hates me. My first meal I had in Africa was a some what normal breakfast at a hotel and then I had shwarma, you know the stuff that the avengers eat at the end of avengers 1 and the first meal my companion cooked me was a red sauce with an entire fish in it, head and all. It is really humid but I have yet to see the sun. I am to allowed to drink the bags of water they are dangerous but when ever you go over to someones house to teach you give them water to drink as a social custom and if you don't drink you are considered super rude so I have had my fair share of weird water. My appartent is pretty dirty but it is alright, I have pictures but I can't send them which stinks.

My p-day is Monday and it was so great making all those friends at the MTC and it was rewarding with food I know and everyone could speak English and I made amazing friends but here all that is gone and it is so hard. Both Linderman and Segal went to Togo and I might never see them again the whole mission, because there are no entire mission conferences just country ones: however knowing there are 16 of us in the same situation makes it a little better. My trainer is Elder Mukendi he is from the Democratic Republic of Congo he speaks a bunch of tribal Congo languges and he speaks French, but no English. He is super nice: He calls me "companion" I don't think he knows my real name. or if he does he never uses it. The sector I am assigned to is the Zogbo sector (in Cotonou) and I am in a district of 4, the elders in our apartment it is me, Elder Warr, Olela, Mukendi we are in the menonten district I think I don't really know what any one is really saying I get the gist most of the time but It is hard to know exactly what is going on.

-Elder Larson

A picture we got today from President and Sister Morin
(Riley's Mission "parents")

Before Riley flew to Africa he got to sing in the choir for LDS General Conference

I (Kaelyn) tracked his flights 
I didn't sleep well that night, this check in was at 3:13 am

His second flight - straight south from Paris