Monday, April 2, 2012

April, 2, 2012

Hi Everyone,

President and Sister Weed and Elder Ethan Christensen
Haha, it's harder using a straight French keyboard than I thought it would be. I'm picking up fast though.
So I have news about mailing. Apparently due to some US regulations put in during the last few years, the US no longer accepts mail out of Benin. So it is literally impossible for me to mail anything back, without using an intermediary somewhere in Europe (and I have so many of those, right?). Because of that, President Weed lets us correspond through email with people that aren't family members, and we are given some extra time on the internet because of that (plus the internet is just slow here, and Benin is no longer free on Dear Elder).

Before I tell you all about Africa, I have to tell you about the trip there. So we left the MTC at 5 in the morning, got through security, called home, got on the plane, all good. Got to JFK airport and had to go through security again to get into the international terminal. Saw a few flights to the Middle East, was jealous. Couldn't sleep at all on the flight to Paris, so I played Mahjong and Solitare for most of the time (I figured watching TV or a movie probably wasn't bueno, and it was too dark to read). Got to Paris and had to go through security again. It's more nerve racking when you can't understand the security people. Then we got into the terminal and crashed. For hours. Finally we woke up to get on the plane. I had to get my bag weighed, turns out that the weight restriction is different going into Africa. Like half the weight of the American limit. So I had to check my bag, and they were going to charge me 200 euros for it. Somehow, when they pulled up my name in the system, they saw that I had 46 pounds free in my checked baggage, and let me check my bag without a fee. I know for a fact that I didn't have 46 free pounds, I didn't even have 4.6. So I'm counting that as in-field miracle number 1.   We got to Africa all fine and dandy after that. Got off the plane and said 'yep, feels like New York summer.' Our bags weren't even checked by customs, at least that I saw. President and Sister Weed picked us up and took us to the mission home, which had really good air conditioning and live security.

That morning I discovered my clock is broken, in that the alarm no longer works. Not the second impression I wanted to leave on the Mission President, but oh well.

In an unrelated turn of events, I ended up in Benin like I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting is that the rest of my group went to Togo. So they got another 3-4 hours in the car, and I drove 10 minutes to my apartment. I'm in the Gbedjromede branch, at least I think that is how you spell it. I live right across the street from the Southams, one of the missionary couples. My Companion's name is Elder Ntengo, a 24 year old from the Congo who has been out about 7 months. To my knowledge he only speaks about 20-25 words of English, so communicating with him isn't very easy. Luckily, I'm not the only English speaker in the apartment. There's also Elder Burkhart, who has been here for 6 weeks, and Elder Terranova, one of the zone leaders. Six of us all told in the apartment, which is a little high for missionaries.

As far as conditions here, I was very surprised. I thought I had come in with very few assumptions. Not only did I have quite a few, but they were almost all wrong. That being said, I haven't been to Togo yet. First things first, yes there is toilet paper here. Also, apparently the water is clean enough to drink without the filter, but I've been playing that one safe for now. The food has not been a problem at all. The sickest I've been have been some phantom jitters because I was expecting to feel a little sick. Foufou is pretty good it turns out, although I didn't really doubt that. It only smells like feces occasionally, usually it drifts between wood,charcoal, fish, sulpher (haven't figured out where I'm getting that from), and gasoline/moto exhaust.
The weather here has been really nice so far. Obviously it's hot, but it hasn't been anywhere near as hot as I feared. That being said, apparently it has just been a cool week, I haven't really felt the hot African sun yet. Well, except my arms, they're pretty burned right now. They're a nice bright shade of skin cancer.

I also was wrong about the work, although that's not my fault. I arrived and found out that we only have contact with one progressing investigator right now, and one recent convert. The missionaries in our area before, as far as I translated correctly, only filled out about 6 investigator sheets the whole time they were here. And most the ones they did fill out, they didn't put an address or phone number, so we have no idea how to get a hold of them. In effect, we're pretty much starting from scratch. Which was the tiniest bit disappointing when there were 7 baptisms on Saturday in Benin. That will come in time though. With lots of hard work, the Lord can't make things too easy.

I was wrong about a lot of things of the language too. I assumed that I would be able to understand most things and be limited by what I could say. On the contrary, the first few days I didn't understand any French unless it was spoken by an American, but I haven't really had to deal with not being understood in turn. The accent here is just very different from what was used in the MTC. Plus, different forms of address are used, it's a lot less formal. I was told on Saturday that all Congolese missionaries speak with a thick accent, but my companion's is particularly thick. I was told that if he spoke English, he'd probably be from Boston. I'm starting to figure out his accent, but if I'm not concentrating, I lose what he's saying entirely.

Easily the biggest misconception I had about Africa is how I would feel about it. When I went into the MTC, the fact that I couldn't understand what people were saying honestly made me a little upset. It wasn't for a little while before I really started to enjoy my experience there. Adding to the heat, the humidity, the food, all the warnings I'd received for the last 6 months, I really came in expecting to be miserable for at least a month, probably more. But last night I just started thinking back over everything that has happened in the last 100 hours or so since I had landed, and I started going through all the blessings I'd received since then. Which is weird, because I don't do things like that all that often. But as I was going through, I realized just how blessed I have been. Which really built a testimony for me the God loves the missionaries, and answers the prayers in their behalf. The point of all this though, is that as I was laying there thinking, I realized that I was genuinely happy, and had been pretty much since we had landed. I can't think of a moment so far that has been "miserable." Yes, not everything has been super fun, but there is always something cool and exciting. I really believe that anything can happen in Africa. I don't know, maybe as we start teaching real lessons this week things will change and I'll get frustrated. But I hope not. Because I think this is how missionary work is supposed to feel, only a bit more productive too haha. Only time will tell I guess.

More in the way of events, I got to bear my testimony to the branch on Sunday. By invitation even. Also, apparently April Fools here is when you shout "Poisson Avril!' which means April Fish, and then if you steal something you can keep it for a week unless your parents make you return it. I think that's what all went down, but again, I don't know how accurately I'm interpreting things. I think all white people probably look similar down here, a couple of members were surprised to learn after church that I'm not from France (thank you MTC for teaching me to bear my testimony, and for a bad microphone so that most people didn't hear when I said " my clothes in French are not the best (I meant skills, oops)). We also went to a market today to go buy food. It was insane. It literally felt like Indiana Jones or Jason Bourne was about to bust through in a high speed chase. I don't think I can accurately describe that experience in an email, I have to make noises for it. I also have a new scariest experience in a car. Let's just say the taxis here are not at all like taxis back home.

I need to go now,
Elder Ethan Christensen

1 comment:

  1. I loved his letter! He is a great writer and it was fun to read. Elder Burkhart was Landon's companion in the MTC. He will like him very much! So happy he is doing well!