Monday, July 29, 2013

The Should-Have-Been-4th-of-July Weekly Email

Pic of Zoey's awesome drawing of my future wife under a rainbow! I have it hanging up over my desk now because it's so cool. If people want, they can send me more cool hand drawn pictures for me to hang up.
But......Zoey's will always be the best.

Hey Everybody!

So, let me apologize in advance for this weekly email. I have already admitted that I cannot top the one from last week, so if you can forgive me for not being that creative every week, maybe this letter home won't be too bad. 

This week was an interesting one for one reason... and that reason? Politics! One of the cool things about Togo is that they love fighting about politics which makes my life here just a little bit more interesting. This week, I finally got to understand why Togo is known for being very politically active!

This week, they had their legislative elections. Now, like I said in the photos from last week, there has been a TON of campaigning going on. Just droves and droves of people all over the place... they even have pines printed with political party logos and party figures. I guess that's Africa's way of doing politics! It was really weird because just about two weeks ago, all these political posters started popping up out of nowhere. Since there are (from what I heard) 9 political parties here in Togo, it made the usually dull and not fun to look at walls very colorful to look at... even though the posters were usually pretty ugly and look like things I could have designed when I was about 5 years old on Dad's old HP Windows 95 PC. 

However, the names/logos of the parties are rather interesting. The two main parties are UNIR (unir meaning "to unite" in French) and then the Comité d'Action pour le Renouveau (which is the opposition party). There's some other political parties with other weird symbols, like there's one called "Arc-de-Ciel" (meaning rainbow) and then another party with a weird white chicken as its logo. Not quite like the donkeys and elephants that I'm used to you could say. 

So anyway, things all came down to Thursday which was election day. We were told on Tuesday at a Zone Meeting that we were not to go out and work Thursday because of the political activity. So that was really... ummm... BORING! We had to stay in the apartment all day Thursday because of the elections. I only left the apartment once and when I did go out, everything was just empty! The roads were very, very quiet with almost no traffic whatsoever. Also, almost EVERYTHING was closed! Cybers, boutiques, restaurants, coiffeurs... everything I tell you! I think I saw more things closed that day more than I did on Easter and other official holidays here. 

Now the reason it's so dangerous is because of the government here. I'm pretty sure West African corrupt government was born out of Togo. To give you a little background, in the 60s there was some guy who came into the presidency and ruled Togo for almost 40 years. Then, he died of a heart attack in the mid-2000s and his son took power. Then, he was "elected" into power in 2010 and has remained since then. Needless to say, people are SICK of their president and want him out (next presidential elections happen in 2015) but they are also sick of his party (which is apparently UNIR). When people told me that UNIR was his party, I wasn't really surprised because they were the ones who always had the nicest cars going around, nicest flyers and the most posters. 

So, because people really hate the government, that's why it's pretty politically active here. However, nothing really happened Thursday... since the results didn't come out, nothing big has happened. Apparently they were supposed to come out today, but nobody has said anything to me about them yet. Everybody seems to have different opinions about everything... some say that when they get released, we should stay home because that's when the rioting will happen... others say that people already know the results so when they do get released, it won't be that big of a deal anyway. 

As someone who is really interested in politics and government back home, it was really interesting seeing the political system out here. It was cool to see everybody with their right pointer finger dipped in ink too! Usually you just see that on the news when a third world country holds its elections... but nope! I got to see that in real life! People hate the ink though because it doesn't really wash off for like a week. Also, ink on black skin looks like a dead finger tip dead with frost bite so sometimes it looks pretty gross. 

Of course, in seeing all of this, it can't make me help but think about how lucky we are back home. I mean right before I left on my mission, I voted in the US Presidential Elections... did I have to worry about political corruption? No. Did I have to worry about staying home at night due to riots? Nope. I just walked in, cast my vote, and had a nice rest of the day! Here, everything just shuts down due to the elections and also the danger of riots. I'm not sure if it was true or not, but apparently, there was a curfew set in place for everybody in the city. I think there were still people out but the roads were very quiet traffic wise and apparently the military was patrolling the streets. I still did hear tons of whistles and vuvuzelas in the streets off in the distance so I'm guessing there was some rioting going on elsewhere but not too much in my neck of the woods. My companion was telling me about when he was in Souzanetime and he had to stay in the apartment for three days straight because of rioting (Souza is right in the middle of where all the riots happen so it's a little worse than everywhere else). That sounds crazy and really boring to tell you the truth.

Anyway, it just made me thankful (yet again) of the country I come from. Sure there's always something to complain about, but I don't really hesitate to say that Americans take almost everything they have for granted, especially when it comes to political freedoms. This week, I don't think I've ever really taken to heart what the preamble of our constitution really says... I didn't even realize I had the words (sorry fro, you know me and song lyrics, it's even hard for me to remember the school house rock version!) but it's on the photocopy I have of my passport! Here's what it says, just for a refresher for you all:

"We the people, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America" 

I'm not sure if anybody back homes realizes this, but people here in Togo are not guaranteed ANY of those blessings. Domestic tranquility? Try rioting and protesting every other week. Common defense? Try having an army that's capable of a coup d'etat at any time and isn't scared to shoot down students marching in a protest. General welfare? Try a country who sits at the bottom of almost every statistic that measures health, wealth, etc. in a country. Secure the blessings of liberty? Try having the same president for almost 40 years, hoping for a change, and then his son coming into power. Sounds more like a kingdom than a democracy. 

I hope I'm not coming across as bashing against Togo... that's not my point. My point is people really don't know how lucky they are back home. (Fro: cue the Dr. Seuss!) I can certainly tell you that my testimony of how lucky I am to live in the USA has definitely grown. 

So that's my message for this week! Especially for those Philadelphians back home. Go and appreciate the country you live in! Go down to the Constitution Center, go see the Liberty Bell, and go to Independence Hall... what our Founding Fathers did over 200 years ago is truly incredible. They could have done anything they wanted with the USA... they could have even turned it into a Togo! But they didn't. And thankfully, by the grace of God, those founding principles are still in effect today. 

Alright, I think the ranting is enough for today. Thanks for all the love, prayers, and support as always.

Thank you all and (I do feel really dorky saying this but I don't even care!) 
God Bless America!

Elder Hawkins

Me making Pat. Whenever I go to somebody's house, I always ask if I can help them with something. Usually, they just say no and that I can help next time. FINALLY, Victoire (member here) was making pat and I asked her if I could help her and she said sure... hooray for helping! And my gosh does it get hot in a concrete house mixing pat for 10 minutes.

Note from the Fro: I'll admit I couldn't read the "preamble" without singing the song! And yes, we are truly, truly lucky to live in the US.  I told him about the BYU Alum who is running for President in the West African country of Mali, he thought that was pretty cool.  For those of you who missed it, I will post it here.  Pretty amazing.  Maybe Togo will have a chance one day! You think?

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