Two Mondays ago our zone had an activity scheduled to go to Ouidah, the place with the snakes. Our zone has four Elders and four sisters and the Dyson couple picked us up in the mission van. When the sisters were finally ready half an hour after the supposed departure time, we began our journey to our activity's location which eventually ended up at the police station.
We were on the main road about half-way out of the city in an area called Cococodji. We stopped at a red light at one of the major intersections in the area, there was one Honda accord between us and the intersection. When the light turned green the Honda accelerated into the intersection and at the same time, I saw a motorcycle leave the right side of the road toward the car's path as though the two vehicles would intersect. I assumed that the motorcycle was going to stop just before the traffic but to my surprise he continued right into the path of the Honda and the two collided. The man on the motorcycle buckled onto the hood and hit his head on car's windshield before falling off to the side and rolling in the center of the road, luckily he was wearing a helmet. His motorcycle was pretty beat up but he stood up and walked off to the side of the road. Elder Dyson had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the man who almost rolled under the van and another motorcycle hit us from behind. This man wasn't wearing a helmet and he hit his head right on the corner of the van. Contrary to standard safety procedures, some bystanders dragged this injured man over to the side of the road where he held his head and writhed in pain. Luckily the emergency call center was literally 40 feet away from the accident. An ambulance came out immediately to take the injured persons. Aside these two, no one else was hurt. We had to do a lot of waiting while the police took information and measurements and notes. Eventually they had us drive over to the small local police station where we had to write an incident report. I translated from English to French for Elder Dyson. We had to leave our van in their yard until we brought back information from our insurance provider. There are hundreds of motorcycles stacked, piled, and lined up in the police yard. The vast majority of motorcycle owners don't have a license or registered vehicle, so if they get into an accident and the police get involved their motorcycle get's confiscated and they have to pay a fine to get it back. The fun part is that this fine is determined randomly and increases each day that the motorcycle is in their possession. At the end of the day, no missionaries were injured and we made it back safely.
This last Monday I drove the van for another zone's activity to the same place, Ouidah (about 25 miles west of Cotonou). The Togo assistants followed us in their vehicle. The activity went well, those who wanted to see the snakes saw the snakes, then we went to the beach for a little to play frisbee and look at the waves. On the way back, we encountered a puddle in the road. I decided to give it a try. I drove into the water, it was fairly deep maybe a foot or so but not too bad. We hurried along and just as the front tires were about to roll up out of the water and onto the dry ground the engine died. It would not start. Usually the missionaries stay in missionary attire during outings but this time their zone had decided to change their clothes at the beach. Everyone was wearing shorts and a t-shirt (except for my companion and I) so the ten passengers in the van hopped out and pushed the van out of the water.
At this point we had attracted attention from the local dwellers and we had many self proclaimed mechanics come over and offer to send for a new battery or remove the starter from the engine. We wanted to try starting it by pushing but these persons were so pushy that it was difficult to get rid of them. The first guy said that "the battery is obviously dead". We told him that the battery is not the problem but that the vehicle had been in water. He didn't want to accept that and even sent for his mechanic friend who showed up and started disconnecting the battery. We told him to leave it and we finally convinced them that they shouldn't be touching things in a car that doesn't belong to them.
We tried pushing again but the tires would skid when the car was put into gear, the motor wasn't turning. Up the road a ways, another mechanic man offered to help us and opened up the engine compartment. In the van the engine isn't under the hood but under the front seats. Kind of strange. Anyways, he started touching things and moving the car back and forth, but the motor wouldn't turn. He told us that the starter was locked up and was keeping the motor from turning and that removing it would allow the motor to turn. It bothered me that I was so ignorant on the subject as to decide whether this was a good idea or not. I guess it's better than doing nothing. We allowed to remove it and ... well... the engine still didn't want to turn. While he'd been doing this an older man approached us from a house just off to the side. He carried in his hands jumper cables and a voltage meter, finally someone who seems to know what they're doing! I figured he was some sort of retired master mechanic guy. It turns out he used to be an engineer in France (now retired) and knew the church there. He showed us the Book of Mormon that the missionaries had given him in France years ago. He just happened to live there with a freight container full of tools. He tested the battery and said it was fully charged. The others had driven into town to buy a tow rope which was too wimpy and snapped on the first couple attempts to pull the van in order to start it. The old man lent us his heavy rope to tow the van into town behind the Togo vehicle. What a nice guy.
I had the opportunity to steer a towed vehicle in a rainstorm, that was pretty cool. We moved slowly and we made it safely back to the mission home. We don't seem to have much luck with this van.
Transfers are coming up. We'll see what changes will be made. Elder Adjo is taking driver's ed to get his license. It's brought back some memories from my own driver's ed experience. Maybe someone will replace me and he will be the driver.
In the last picture Elder Adjo learning parallel parking in Africa
Until next time!