Elder and Sister Semken work in the mission office and he sends these emails out every couple of weeks. He gives a perspective to living over there that adds what Elder Jenkins sends home and helps with understanding the culture, and I thought it would be fun to add to his record.
16 July 2013
Hello to all of you,
Yesterday was a very unusual day. All of the missions were given some direction to provide or make available more zone activities on a regular basis. So about once a quarter a zone (about 12 missionaries in our mission) will have some kind of activity. Like playing basketball, or going somewhere or to the beach. Benin and Togo are not teeming with very many interesting places to go like in the U S. In the U S they can go to museums, they can go to Mormon Night baseball, they go air craft carriers, they go to state parks, they can visit the Empire State Building etc. None of that exists here in the cities of Lome nor Cotonou. Our two cities are concrete and dirt. But, this one zone was informed about some valley near Porto Novo that was unique. It was told to them that there are only 2 valleys like this in Africa. One of the valleys is in the Nile River drainage and the other here in Porto Novo. This valley I am told by the member, who is reliable, that this valley has rich and fertile soil. Most of Africa's soil has been used over and over and over. There is no resting of the soil for a season like in the US. We have winter and the soil rests. Well they put together a zone activity with the member's help. Francine and I were the bus drivers. The location is 80 km (50 Miles) away. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to get there. This means we had good roads for Africa. The member got us to the valley and sure enough it looks great. But, what do we do now that we have seen it. I suggested to this member that maybe we could find a road on one of the hills of the valley so that we could hike for a while. We went back across a bridge and found a path that we might take. So we did. As we walked we found a river on our left side. We walk about 1 km and could see a small village. It has about 25 members. The children came to greet us. A little timid at first. Then we shook their hands. It was obvious that they hadn't seen very many white people and one or two had never seen a white person. Three women came to see what was going on and two men then came a met with us. The member visited with them. And they were friendly enough. They spoke Fon. One of many tribal languages. So, I asked if we could visit the village. They said yes and they would take us to the river. We walked into the village which was right next to a river. Not the same one we saw we hiked next to on our way in. The hike was not extreme in the least. It was more like a stroll along an irrigation ditch. This river was about 100-150 yards wide. We did a little looking around and visited and asked questions and took pictures. One of the elders from Scotland asked about animals and they said that their were crocodiles. I couldn't confirm if this was a current sighting or in the past. They did say that their used to be many croc's but they were hunted and are nearly gone. They told me that they had a farm across the river. I asked what they grew. Maize, beans, casaba, etc. I asked if I could go to the farm when I came back. They said yes.
The river was about 5 to 6 feet (2 meters) below the bank. In the second raining season (about September) the river generally will rise about three feet (1 meter) above the river bank. Wow, would this be an impressive sight to see! I hope to go there then as well. I then examined their huts and sure enough they have been build up on bricks or mounds of dirt so they won't be flooded. They then get to the road by canoe. If this is the case then I can see why this would be such a fertile valley.
I took several pictures and they said that they would love a copy when I came back. We found two or three species of birds that I haven't seen. I am sure that there is a lot that I didn't observe. I also found a couple more butterflies and flowers Back to the river. They are sandwiched between two rivers. We will look on google earth to see where we were. They do not have any water, other than the river and they do not have any electricity. This village, though small, is what one we might think of when we read about African villages.
The valley was very beautiful. The earth is full and there is enough, and to spare.
As I asked the missionaries if they enjoyed the trip. Without exception they thought this might be the best activity they had. One of the new elders said; this is a most welcome relief, it came at a good time for me.
One more thing, apparently we are in a severe drought. This is the second year in a row. With this year being more severe. From what I can piece together the crops for this harvest will yield very little. Even if we got rain now, it wouldn't help for the current crops and of course would benefit the next crop. Things to grow year round but even so, there are seasons. Not like in the US or Canada nor Europe, but seasons when things grow better than others.
We are getting ready to occupy a new branch building in Cococodji in the next week or two. Remember, this area was opened for missionary work in Feb/Mar. The first group meeting was held in May. There were 47 in attendance. From the very start the room we met in was not able to hold the number who attended. Last week there were 110 in attendance. 35 inside and 75 on the patio. It is a marvelous thing to see the literal fulfillment of prophesy. The gospel is being taken to the whole world.
We are now preparing the required paper work to organize a Stake in Togo. I wouldn't be surprised that this will be ready by the end of the year. I don't think that I will be here for the first stake in Benin, but just 3 months after we complete our mission and just before the President has competed his assignment, their could be a Stake in Benin.
All of a sudden, it seems as their has been several illnesses. Most can be treated like the flu. I hope they get over it soon.
As reported we are having 24 missionaries go home over the next 2 months, 6 left this past week. I thought we would drop down the missionary count of when I first arrived (about 90). But, as of yesterday when the final 6 of the 24 go home, the next week we will get 16 new ones and with the other 6-8 we will be at 104. It now appears as if we will climb to 120 over a period of time.
Well, the elders are faithful in these trying circumstances.
Elder & Sister Semken