Monday, January 21, 2013

First week in TOGO!

Elder Hawkins: A Mission Novel

Wow... crazy to think I'm actually finally here in Togo... let me just say, it's pretty different from the U.S of A! Before I get going, let me just apologize in advance for the misspelling and the mistyping... this computer is set to French so every word I spell is wrong according to the French dictionary and I have to use these stupid French keyboards... even though I changed the keyboard layout to USA, it's still shaped a little differently so it's kinda odd.

So... here are my thoughts on Togo... (I'm in the Wuiti Tokoin area btw)

The Weather

IT IS SO HOT! Think about how PA feels right after a big rain storm in the summer... now multiply that by every day of every hour and add a few more degrees and you have Togo! I didn't think it was possible, but my back has turned into Niagra Falls and it basically never stops. Really, there wasn't a smell like most people said there would be when I first got off the plane... instead, there was just this blast of humidity. I have to tell you what happened at the airport too... I'll write about that later.

But yeah, it's just really hot here. Just so you know, every night when I go to sleep, my temperature gauge on my clock reads at about 90 every night, without fail. Thankfully I have a fan for myself (and apparently it's like that throughout the mission). But yeah... those handkercheifs are saving me because I just sweet all the time. And honestly, it really doesn't cool down at all (a little in the morning, but every morning I wake up drenched in sweat and feel pretty gross). BUT! The cold showers do make me feel nice and awesome in the morning... you really don't need hot water here. So yeah... it's just super hot here all the time... and the best part? It's the coldest part of the year right now! Apparently, all the sands from the Sahara come down and cool down the area but it's always super hazy... though clear skies aren't uncommon. So that will end in February or something and the rainy season will come some time in March or April... can't say I'm really looking forward to that!

The People

People like...
  1. To burn trash. Just in the middle of the street. Like it's no big deal. I'm sure that's what the trash people do with our trash when the trashmen come and pick it up. But yeah... there is just trash everywhere. Recycling? Hahahahahahahahahahaha... what is that??? You can just burn it! Let me tell you, it's smells really bad in the morning, like the same smell when you wake up after having a huge fire while camping. It smells so bad... I know a place sells Febreeze so I will be buying that later I hope! But really, that's the only smell that gets to me. I can deal with everything else but I just hate smelling that in the morning. Not a good way to start off your day... especially with the drenched back. Oh... saw a dead chicken in one of the smoke piles while walking to church the other day too! Had to double check that one just to make sure I wasn't going crazy!
  2. To speak their own language... Thankfully, they don't talk to me like that, but sometimes these people just speaking crazy fast in their native languages! But that's not too big of a deal. 
  3. COIFFURES!!! Oh my goodness... if you could guess what the most common shop/place/thing would be in Togo, what would it be? WRONG! It's a hair stylist (coiffures in French). African women love, love, love, love, love to get there hair done. With so little money, who would have thought?! Honestly, every street has these little shacks (litterally, no joke. They are these tiny huts, probably the size of the bathroom downstairs in the basement) where people go and get their hair done. We're actually teaching a coiffeuse right now... super sweet lady named Elaine but we were talking to her one day while she was cutting hair with this crazy old razor blade! It was all rusty and it sounded like it was hurting the client's head as she cut hair! And they are all named in some way or another about God. "The Hands of God" "Divine Coiffure" "Coiffure of God" to name a few. It is really funny how many of them there are. I have determined that the Togolaise love three things: coiffures, motos, and blasting big speakers. Pretty crazy.
  4. Obama... just because he's black... seriously the only reason. They have tons of stuff about Obama. Every day I walk past a shop called Obama's Cafe or something, with a giant painting of his head and the slogan "Yes We Can." Saw a kid running around in Obama underwear yesterday too. Just some weird stuff...  
  5. I'm sure there's more but I have to move on! So many things to say!
My Companion
Super cool... his name is Elder Kiputa and he's from Congo. I'm not sure how old he is but he converted to the church when he was 14 (first of his family, but now everyone in his family are members). He's been on his mission for about 17 months now and I think I'm his 2nd or 3rd trainee. He speaks English a bit, but not with me! He only speaks French to me which is really hard but super useful at the same time. He's pretty nice and understanding of my American ways. He always knows what to do and he takes over on a lot of the lessons. I'm gonna have to start speaking up more, but it's been pretty nice to let him take the reins. He is also a New Testament master... I'm pretty sure he knows every random reference there is in the Bible because he can reference it like nobody else. Also, he likes to talk long awkward silences... sometimes we'll just be at somebody's "house" (they're kinda houses... I can't really explain it) and we'll just sit there and people will just be doing stuff like we're not even there. Kinda weird... but I guess that's why they say there's no such thing as awkward here because there isn't a word for it in French.

My Apartment
Pretty junky... but that's to be expected. We get a nice cross breeze going through the hallway when we have both doors in the front and back open, but the rooms get really hot. The toilet would probably scare most people who read this email, but it's all good. The one good thing about my apartment is that I have a washer!!! I think it's the only one in the mission, but how lucky am I for that?! It's pretty archaeic but it works (I think... I'm using it today so we'll see how it goes... I desperately need it though because my shirts are basically disposable shirts now. You can only use them one day and then you have to wash them because of Niagra Falls and the dirt (all the roads save the main ones are either sandy or dirt... pretty weird but it makes everything dirty. Nothing can escape the sand here)). 

My roommates are cool! Elder Kabango is from Congo (like my comp, but different areas... oh just so you know, they're both from the Belgium Congo) and he has a really cool accent... been here the same amount of time as Elder Kiputa. Elder Imokwaday (spelling is probably not right) is from Nigeria and has been here since November and can't speak French too well... but I can barely understand his English too (his second languge... like French is to most people here). Then there's an Elder from Madgascar who I have no idea what his name is because he's kinda anti-social and never speaks to anyone... he just reads his bible all the time. Btw... Madagascans have the loooooooooongest names ever! One of the Elders who left before me has a Madagascan companion who has as many "a"s as he has letters in his last name! They are at least 15 letters long. But, his companion (also my zone leader) is Elder Hanna who is really cool. He's from California/Utah so we talk a whole lot. He gives me tips and pointers when I need it... tells me what things I should be asking for from home, where to buy things here, and stuff like that. He goes home the 10th of February so not too much longer, but he's really funny and we have a good time. 

Oh, I have to tell you about the noise here. Togo is probably the most noisy country in the world... who would have thought for one of the poorest countries in the world?! But anyway, on the right of us we have the family from l'enfer... they fight ALL THE TIME!!!! The parents and the kids! It's just ever constant. Then behind us, we have a school so every morning it gets really loud because they surround the apartment on two sides. Then, behind the school there's a giant Mosque! Boy, I sure do love those 5 AM prayers now! And the other 4-5 prayers they do throughout the day, especially on their Sabbath days (think it's saturday or something). Then, on the same block as us, there's this weird Christian church that I have never heard of. They meet in this warehouse type thing but they are super loud! They also blast their speakers and it sounds like they're mad all the time! Makes for Sunday morning prep very intersting and very loud. Yeah... Togo as a whole is just loud though. You also here their claxons going off (horns) because that's how they try and get you too look up and see if you need a ride. In Togo, you don't need a license to be a taxi moto, so anyone can do it... probably why they are banned by the mission! 

Tell you what though, the food here is pretty good! The fruit here is probably the best I've tasted any where. The pineapple here is really, really, really good. It's not as tart as Hawaiin pineapple, but it's just a sweet... it's also whiter than yellow. Still, all the fruit here is dilicious and you can buy it anywehere. Also had my first Mangez-vous this week. Two actually. My first, we had this spicy spaghetti which was really good and had pineapple for dessert. The other, we had the infamous pate... it's pretty messy stuff. The one we ate the the Branch President's house was really spicy stuff and really messy. It was good though... but his wife gave me this weird chicken wing that I thought was a tongue at first. Thankfully, I figured out it was a chicken wing and I ate it... probably the chewiest chicken I've ever eaten. Elder Kabango made Congo pate which is a bit tougher but tastes much better in my opinion. Hopefully, future mangez-vous will have cool things. Btw... most of the food is super spicy here! Yes!!!!!

The French has been tough. When I first got here, I could not understand what they were saying because they do speak fast, quietly, and it's not perfect French either. Now, however, I'm starting to follow the lessons and what's going on... it just takes a lot of focus and a lot of attention on my part. However, that being said, people love my French-ish accent. I don't have the awful American-French accent that most missionaries comes with so people compliment my French on being very clear and percise, albeit rather European. I always have to explain that I live in France for about 8 years and the people seem to like me here. I had to bear my testimony in French yesterday in Sacrament meeting which was scary. Especially since I am the ONLY white person in the branch of like 40-50 people... though I've gotten used to being the only white person since getting here. All these kids sing this little song whenever I pass by... it goes like this...

Yovo, yovo, bon soir, ca va bien?, merci. 

Apparently it gets pretty annoying after a few months but I think it's funny right now. Yovo is the West African way of saying white person (kinda like gringo).
But yeah, the French is coming. I can feel the progression little by little everyday. It's hard to believe that I'll ever be fluent, but everyone says I'm going to be a translator soon since I already have a pretty good level of comprehension here. So, at least I'm already ahead of the game.

Don't have much time now, but the airport when I got there was a mess. Not having my yellow card was a problem. Had to go into this shady doctors office and talk to him (in FRENCH!) about if I had it or not. Paid him $10 to get a new yellow card since I already had it.

Okay, so I just realized I wrote a novel down in about an hour and I need to write other things now! Can't reply to everyone who emailed me this week, but I think this email answered a lot of questions. Also, thanks to everyone who sent me a letter before I left the MTC. I won't have time to respond to them today, but I will definitely try next week!

Now, here's what I need! Thank you for sending me all those drink enhancer things!!! SEND WAY MORE!! I thought they were a waste of space when I first got them, but the water here is gross!!!!!!!!! So send some more of the powder and Mio stuff. Also, if you can send some stuff I could make for dinner that's really easy like Mac 'n' Cheese and stuff that can be made on a stove (that's all we have... no oven or microwave), that would be really useful. More beef jerky too maybe. Also, maybe a letter explaining how to find ripe fruit on the sidewalk stands here? They have pretty much everything under the sun so if you could just email me that would be awesome. Also, if you can my comp really wants "References Par Sujet"... if Dad can find another copy somewhere that would be super awesome. OH, also I hear the deoderant here is awful. Could you send me some more deoderant (like 5-8 sticks) with anti-persperant in it? I'm sure I'll need other stuff but if you could send that stuff that would be really helpful. Oh also, my glasses fall off all the time. If you can get me something that will prevent them from slipping or glasses that won't slip that would be much apprecaited. But not one of those straps that go behind your head... that's just dorky. The constant sweat makes it a pain in the butt to wear the glasses. I have to wear my old ones that are all scratched up because they don't fall off.  Elder Hanna actually said he was like me and then he just switched to contacts because he had the same problem. He says he hasn't had any problems with the contacts here, but will get his eyes checked out when he gets home. I don't think it's a bad idea if we get the perscription renewed and then just send me the contacts. I have filtered water here and soap to wash with so that's not a problem. Let me know if you come up with anything.

Okay, got to go now! Sorry for the novel!

Love you all and hope to hear from you soon!
Elder Hawkins

P.S. My mosquito net apparently does nothing. I have over 40 (Elder Hanna counted for me) on one arm alone. Not sure when, but at this rate I will probably get malaria sooner or later. Not surprisingly, people say it's pretty awful! I am taking my Doxy every night though. And apparently, after the first two or three weeks, the bites start to die down a lot. I think it's just because I'm fresh meat to these mosquitos here. It does die down though, because Elder Hanna doesn't even sleep with his netting any more since they never bit him. 

P.P.S. Said Hi to Elder Maxwell... he says hi to Josh!

Note from the Fro: Well it appears that he didn't have TOO much trouble typing on that French keyboard as he was still able to type out a "novel" as he said!  He tried to send pictures, but they were taking too long to upload.  Hopefully he'll get that figured out next week.  Sending a HUGE THANK YOU to all you Missionary Mom's who suggested we send water enhancer's and handkerchiefs, he obviously appreciates it!  

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