Monday, March 4, 2013

Togo and Benin Part 2

By Greg:


OK.  Here is the history lesson.  For the benefit of my grandchildren that are studying African History, here is the model.  Now this applies to almost every country, so you can just add the country’s name, and you will get an A on your report.


1.     Prior to 1500-many tribes warring against each other-narrow down to two or three dominated tribes


2.     About 1500 the Europeans begin to arrive-first the Portuguese, then the Dutch, Danes, and later the French, Germans and English


3.     The Europeans are trading for Gold, Ivory, Slaves, timber or other natural recourses

4.     The late 1800s-Africa is divided up into Colonies by the Europeans-Africans are held in a lower status-not slaves, but close to it

5.     After World War 1 all of Germany’s possession are given to either France or England

6.     After World War 2 African Colonies begin to seek independence-the major period of independence was in the 1960s

7.     Following a free election, the president is deposed or assassinated or overthrown by a coup and a dictator is installed-usually a military dictator-heavy involvement by the CIA and the KGB

8.     Several coups follow, and one or two civil wars occur before the people demand a free election

9.     In the last ten years a fragile peace is reached and the voice of the people is heard, hopefully


Togo and Benin fit this pattern.  The both have access to the ocean and an up-land portion.


Togo, formerly Togoland, had two parts.  Western Togoland was German until it was given to England.  When Ghana became a country, western Togo joined Ghana.  Eastern Togoland became Togo, and was and is French speaking.


The dictator ruled for 40 years and was followed by his son.  The son has been “elected”.  The Capital is Lome which has about 1 ½ million people.  The entire country has 7 million.  29% are Christians, 20% are Muslims, and the remaining 51% are local religions.


Benin is also a former French colony.  It was originally called the Slave Coast.  It also was known as Dahomey-or land of snakes, because it has lots of snakes, big snakes.


In 1991 Benin had the first successful transition from a dictator to a democracy in Africa.  There are 9 ½ million people in Benin.  27% are Catholics, 16% are other Christians, 24% are Muslims and 33% are local. The Pope visited Benin and they made quite the effort to clean up the country.  It is still relatively clean.  Maybe the new Pope can visit more of Africa in the future.


The people of Benin were warriors, and they have a strong tradition of warrior women.  They were called after the women of Greek fame; Amazon Women.  They still have a female military unit and a Camp for these Amazons.

We have found the African women to be pretty aggressive, but I understand these Amazon Women were at the top of their game! 

We had quite the experience getting across these two borders.  Togo is very strict.  Ghana did not seem to care that we were leaving but Togo was watching us every second. They are the perfect example of redundancy.  The same paper must be examined and stamped by multiple people in different buildings and offices.  Of course, each charges a fee.  Then we had to get out of Togo.  It is as hard to get out as it was to get in.  Then we had to gain entrance into Benin.  We even had to pay for parking while we visited the many stations.  There is a Nazi type gate that is painted black and white and is raised and lowered to let you pass if you pay the operator.


The wonderful thing was we got to do it all over again when we returned from Benin to Ghana. Ghana paid more attention when we came back. 


We travelled with our friend and translator, Folly.  Debi told you he was raised to be chief of his village.  He is the oldest of all the children from two wives.  I asked him why he could not be an Elder in our Church and the Chief of his village.  He said there were several conflicts.  The ceremonial clothing of a Chief is not compatible with our standards of modesty and clothing.  Second, the Chiefs smoke.  He does not.  Third, and this was the most important, it is the Chief’s responsibility to “manage” the gods for his people.  They believe in lots of gods and none of them are the true God, so that poses a problem.  And finally, the Chief belongs to the people, which make it hard to choose your own spouse and life and profession.


While we were driving we came upon this funeral.  It is a little hard to see, but there is a casket being carried.  The big bush looking things with horns on top are gods.  Folly said there are naked people inside them acting in behalf of the gods.  It was a major road block, sort of a mini-parade.


In the hotel there was this cool totem-type pole. All around and to the top is a big snake.  At the top a big bird is fighting the snake.  This is Benin, land of snakes.


Also, there was a statue of an Amazon Woman.  I had Debi stand next to her so I could have two warriors in one picture.  The statue is a nude, but they put clothes on her so I could take her picture (the Amazon, not Debi).



One more thing.  While in Togo I met several policemen.  The mission president in Benin asked us to take back several cases of missionary tracts that were in English instead of French.  So it looked like we had contraband in the back of our car.  We had to open the back and show the pamphlets.  Some of them wanted a fee for inspection. One set motioned me to pull over but in Ghana I have just ignored that and driven on.  Well in Togo, one has a motorcycle and he jumped on it and chased us down.  Fortunately we decided to turn around and go back and turn ourselves in so we were not charged with resisting arrest.


Yesterday as we were shopping we were approached by a man for money.  I tried a new approach, and it worked so well I am going to use it again.  I turned to him and said, “We are seeking contributions for our church, would you like to contribute?” He almost ran away from us!

 I don't feel like we adequately described the traffice in Benin.  This picture does not even protray what we drove in.  There were millions of motorcycles.  These are diesel motorcycle, mostly made in China.  Along with the trucks and cars they provided a major challenge to drive in. It reminded me of the Oklohoma land rush.  There is a scene in the movie Far and Away that is very similar.  It was really wild.


A final note.  As we travel we must use the local currency.  It is really a challenge to figure out what things cost.  The exchange rate in Benin was 450:1.  I exchanged $1,000 USD and received 450,000 CFA.  They are in big notes of 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000.  At the boarder there are men with “fists full of dollars” ready to exchange and defraud.


I know this all sounds so romantic.  Some of the other couples wish they could travel more.  But we are doing this out of duty.  We did stay in a luxury hotel, and that was nice, and safe.  But usually in nice places the beds have a mountain of pillows.  This was our room.  And the pillows were rock-hard!


Welcome to Africa!



By Debi:


Our journey to Benin was probably one of our most dramatic trips because we drove instead of flying and we went through two countries.  The experience really made an impression upon us.


Right before we crossed the Ghana border into Togo we passed a little community that specializes in pots.  We passed a lot of little displays by the road.  They were so beautiful.  I wished I could sneak a couple of them into my luggage to bring home to my yard.  There is some real artist here in Africa.



At the border crossing into Togo I waited in the car with our entire luggage while Greg and Folly went into the offices to do the paper work.  I was protecting our luggage. I am not sure how I was going to do that but we made it safely through. I took a few pictures of the area.  When Greg and Folly came back to the car I found out that I wasn’t supposed to take pictures at the border crossing.  So these are once in a life time opportunity to see a border crossing in Africa.


Not too far into Togo we saw women making salt to sell in the market.  They have ponds that they let the seawater evaporate and then they harvest the salt.


The Church has built a brand new building in Togo. It is the first Church-built building in the country.  They have 12 branches and a District.  They are hoping that it will be made into a Stake very soon and 12 wards.  The second picture is one of the rentals that they are currently using.

We took a picture of Folly and his brother and the Branch President now serving in one of the Branches.  They are very thankful for the new building.



We spent a lot of Saturday at the Benin Mission home and Mission offices. We posted some pictures of the interior last week but this is what the outside looks like.  They use scrapes of tile left over from construction to make the outdoor walk ways.  It looks very nice and uses the pieces that would have been thrown away.  This is a very good way to use all of the materials.



While at Church in Benin I saw this bush outside of the building.  Many times we see razor wire (a very serious barbed-wire) protecting buildings and homes. With this bush outside of doors and windows I don’t think there will be any problems. This is a bush you don’t want to tangle with.


The members in Benin and Togo are so very strong.  The Church is young but growing fast. President and Sister Weed are the first Mission Presidents of this brand new mission.  The work is moving forward.  The young missionaries are excited and working hard. We loved our time in these amazing two countries.



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