Visits around Man

Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
Trip End Feb 15, 2009

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This morning we were ready to go out for breakfast at 8:00. I had slept pretty well, no mosquitoes at all that I could tell. We drove into the center of town to a cafe called la Brioche, that looked reasonable clean and well-kept. Taking a table on the terrace overlooking the main street we ordered coffee and a large French-style pastry each. The coffee was instant coffee and it came in powdered form in a bowl we passed around. We each had a single-serving pitcher of milk and hot water already mixed. It wasn't too bad, and the pastry was quite good. The cool morning was pleasant, and the traffic on the dusty street always interesting: UN vehicles, a Save-the-Children 4WD, an occasional huge semi coming in from Burkina Faso, truck and van and car taxis, men pulling or pushing carts, shoeshine boys looking for work (we were asked constantly) hawkers selling CDs, DVDs, kitchen implements, T-shirts, Kleenex, pastries, notebooks, cloth, ball caps, and about every other imaginable item. While we were watching, a group of French UN soldiers, some in mufti and some in uniform, came and took a table on the terrace for coffee as well.
Seussié arrived as we were halfway through our coffee, so I asked if he would like one and he readily agreed. His pastry came pretty quickly, but the coffee (or more likely, the milk) for some reason took half an hour. The four coffees and four pastries cost a total of a little less than five dollars, a pitance for me, a small fortune for them.
We went back to the hotel to pick up our gear for the day, and then drove back out to Blolé. When we reached the checkpoint, as we waited to be waved through, I was looking down adjusting my camera case. A soldier appeared outside my window motioning for me to lower my window. When I did, he scolded: "you don't lower you window to greet me when I greet you! White people (les blancs) do that? That's really not good!" A few choice phrases came to mind, but I just smiled and waved at him, and the pole went up. We must remember to thank them and be polite for extorting money from us....
We arrived just after 09:00 at Mamadou's house. No one was there yet but his family. We sat under the little shelter he has made for meetings, and talked as people trickled in. While we were waiting Mamadou asked his wife to lead those present in singing some of our UCG hymns - she's apparently the musically gifted one here. When Paul Tia was here during the Feast of Tabernacles, he had brought 2 hymnals and taught them 4 or 5 hymns. Mrs. Tokpah sang and everyone followed along. They knew them pretty well, which was an accomplishment since they have no recordings of the hymns. It was touching to see how excited they were about a connection with a larger group.
Finally about 25 people, including children, were present. After a local hymn and a prayer, Seussié stood with a translator (for the few who couldn't follow French well). He welcomed everyone and gave Paul and me a very warm welcome. He actually overdid it; by the time he was finished I had become something of a world-famous theologian. Then Mamadou stood and added his welcome, he was a little over-zealous too. These are passionate people. He said there were Ivoirians who won't travel from Abidjan to Man because of the insecurity, but that we had come to visit them. He said now people in the local villages couldn't mock them any more for having "invented their own religion" that no one else in the world shared. We had come from far away for this small group because we shared same beliefs, in that he was certainly correct.
Paul Tia spoke briefly about the group in La Mé and the work of the Church in Côte d'Ivoire. Then I introduced myself briefly and spoke for about half an hour on the work of the United Church of God, using Matthew 28:19-20 and Matthew 24:14 as foundations. I thanked them for their warm welcome. After few comments from the local men, I was invited to take the floor again and answer questions, which I was happy to do. Questions came about the Sabbath: how did worship get transferred to Sunday in most churches? How can certain questions be answered about why we do what we do? We went through the chronology of the crucifixion and resurrection week; they were especially excited to go through that subject systematically. There were questions about baptism and how UCG functions, and what was happening in other parts of the world. This went on for perhaps two hours without a pause.
I don't think these simple farming folks are used to concentrating for such a long period of time.  Mamadou and Seussié thought by that time that they had about reached their limit for this first contact. They had brought in a photographer to memorialize this occasion, so we sat and stood for photos in all sorts of configurations. Everyone had a beaming smile on his face, the whole group was so excited about this simple event. Most of this group, I was told, had been together through several churches including most recently the SDAs but always felt something was missing and always kept searching to complete their understanding. They are excited to believe they may have finally reached port.
They had prepared a lunch: Paul and I were ushered across the sandy road to a little shelter used for such functions. Four of us could sit inside in the shade; two others stood outside while we ate. They had a pot of local rice and a sauce made of leaves that they called spinach but which didn't look anything like true spinach the term was an approximation. In the sauce were some bits of chicken and fish. This was a great sacrifice on their part, I know. These folks probably only eat meat a few times a year. I had a small piece of chicken with sauce on rice to honor their generosity, but ate very lightly, so as to reduce the risk of having digestive problems later and also to leave more for others who need it far more than I. The ladies had also prepared local specialy that Paul really likes. It was so viscous and slimly looking I don't think I could have eaten it if I'd been invited to!
After a visit of about 6 hours in Blolé, we said goodbye to everyone and drove back toward Man, stopping on the outskirts to see the house they had been renting for services. It was more centrally located for the people who came from other villages, but the rent had just gone up and the financial situation so tight for most attendees that they really had no church income anymore. It's too soon to start making investments here, but I will certainly follow this situation and we'll do our best to help them in an appropriate way as our relationship progresses.
We rested for an hour or so at the hotel. Mamadou and Seussié came around 5:30 and asked to talk with me. They explained the financial difficulties both they and the little congregation had and asked if there was any way we could give some small help. Mamadou's children had been sent home from school for not paying school fees. A member from the US had sent a small sum with me to be used to help people in need, and this seemed like a perfect time to use it. I was able to give them each $40 to clear debts and help them continue to serve the several little groups around Man. That will go a very long way here: the kids will be back in school, and the wolf won't be at the door, not that they have wolves here....
At around 6:00 we drove back to la différence for dinner. We found they don't started grilling until 6:30 so Paul and I sat outside and had a coke while waiting. Diaby drove into town to have the car washed (it did needed it by this time). Paul and I split a 4500 CFA chicken and Diaby had fish again. Over dinner I learned that Diaby's a Muslim, married, and father of 3 children. Paul talked about some of the difficulties he faces in trying to help the church members in La Mé. It was a very interesting conversation. We arrived back at the hotel finally about 9:00.
Tomorrow will be the long drive back to Abidjan, but this time via the capital city Yamousoukro.
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