Report from the African Bush Country

By Madelyn and Cannon Silver

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    Ivory Coast, Republic of West Africa, has been our home since the end of June 1974. Our father manages a sugar plantation that includes 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) of sugarcane, a large factory, and a refinery. Three thousand workers and their families work for this sugar complex, and many of them live in one of four company villages. Thirty-five of the families have come from either Europe, Madagascar, or Mauritius.

    I am Cannon Silver, age six. The best thing I like about Africa is riding on a crowded African train.

    I like to wrestle and play ball and lotto games (using flowers and fruit pictures) with my African friends. We also like to build cars and houses with my Lego set.

    I am Madelyn Silver, age eleven. I am the only one enrolled in our Primary Merrie Miss A class, but my brother Cannon comes with me. When they lived nearby, two American girls and two English friends sometimes attended too. We hold our home Primary on Thursday because that is a school holiday. I have sewed my Merrie Miss Marker and we sing “My Code” even though we are not sure we have the tune right.

    My mother teaches our home Sunday School class in French, and we invite our Ivorian neighbors to attend. Right now we have between six and twelve children each Sunday morning. They like the songs we translate from English to French, for example Jesus Me Vet pour un Rayon (“Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”).

    We attend the African public school where French is taught. There are nine students in my fifth-grade class but about fifty in my brother’s first-grade class. Many children don’t have a chance to finish the full six grades of primary school. Others pass the sixth-grade examination and go on to college (seventh through tenth grades). After that and if they pass another difficult examination, they may work three more years for a baccalaureate degree.

    The Ivorian people gave a fete (an outdoor entertainment) for us when we arrived. They cooked five lambs that were prepared in the special Muslim way.

    I often visit the small house where our houseboy lives to watch his wife cook dinner over an outdoor fire. They all eat out of one pot, and they like to eat lots of rice with different sauces.

    African women wear blouses and for a skirt they wrap a piece of cloth around themselves. The mothers tie their babies on their backs with a special piece of cloth so the baby doesn’t have to walk. The ladies carry things on their heads like firewood and baskets of food. They wear doughnuts (cloth rolled in a circle) to cushion the load. Even the men carry loads on their heads. We have seen men carry bed springs, a mattress, and a sewing machine in this way. The men ride motorcycles with pedals on them called mobylettes.

    We have ridden on an African train three times. In the first-class car, people brought baskets of bread and fruit and vegetables with them to eat. The car was so crowded that some people had to sleep on the floor. I sat by an African girl and made friends by sharing my pillow with her and smiling. At the end of the trip her mother gave me a mango.

    The second time we rode the train it wasn’t crowded so we sat right behind the engine. The third time, we slept all night in a couchette, which is a separate room with a bunk bed made up from a couch. We waved at people outside the windows. When we stopped in villages, vendors came along the side of the train, balancing on their heads baskets full of oranges, hard-boiled eggs, bananas, even toothpaste and shaving lotion to sell to the passengers. Little children sold baskets and food too.

    At home we like to ride our bicycles through the cane fields with our friends. Sometimes we hike and take our binoculars to look at birds. Once we found hippopotamus tracks in the mud near a stream.

    I like being here because I can share the gospel with people. I feel glad to have the Friend come because I like the stories. Reading helps keep me from being so lonely, and I can retell these stories for my sacrament meeting talk in our family meeting each Sunday.

    Here is a story about my friend Mariam who woke up one morning feeling all tingly and excited, but she didn’t know why. Then she remembered. It was the day of the Easter fete.

    She jumped off the straw mattress, put on her school dress and thongs, helped her mother carry firewood to the three stones where they cooked, and tidied up the case (adobe house with a thatched roof). Then she rolled up her pagne (colorful cloth wraparound skirt), tucked it under her arm, reminded her mother to come for them at two thirty, and walked to school with her brother Hervé.

    Finally they arrived at school. “There’s Zié and Eric and Souleymane and Loukou,” said Hervé.

    At last it was time for the mothers and fathers to come. When they were all sitting and waiting, they heard singing and the schoolchildren came marching in. Then they sang another song, did their drill, and marched away still singing.

    After that the dancers came on the stage. They sang an African song which went like this:

    Belé belé, bedio, belé belé.

    Belé belé, bedio. …

    This was the dance that Mariam was in. The girls brought their pagnes for costumes to dance in.

    After this skits were performed by the other grades. The skit Hervé liked best was “The Teacher and His Students.” It was very funny because the teacher was smaller than his five boy students.

    After the fete was over everyone talked and had something to drink and then went home. As Mariam and Hervé walked home, they talked about what a good day it had been.