Monday, September 30, 2013

Stand Strong and Keep Fighting On

First REAL letter sent from Togo!

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

Sleep. Shower. Study. Walk. Teach. Eat. Sleep.

And just like that I'm back to P-day again! Although my days usually have a little more variation in them, that's essentially what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis. And, to be honest, p-day is not much more exciting than that! 

Although, today we really went crazy on the walking part. Elder Haggard and I went to the bank to get out our money for the month and we figured since we thought it was only halfway to the marche, we could just walk the rest... well, we found out that there's no such thing as a straight road to the grand marche! We walked for probably over an hour in total (going from the apartement to the bank to the grand marche) and let me say my back was drenched! I happened to be wearing my cool Fred's Breakfast shirt that Fro sent me a few weeks ago and she told me to get a cool picture with the shirt so they could hang it up at the restaurant... well... to be honest, there's nothing more African to me than having the entire back of your shirt drenched in sweat! Maybe they would like a picture of that. 

So, I guess I should get some of the bad news out of the way first... we had to cancel our baptism that was planned for this past week because we both felt that our ami wasn't ready yet. It's too bad because she'll be moving to a part of town where the Church hasn't been established yet, but that's the mission for you! The good thing is that we did have a lot of people show up to Church yesterday! Our small little group is finally starting to grow and progress… we should be on the brink of becoming a branch anytime now! I know that there are branches in Lome that are even smaller than our group. It’s only a matter of time now before we become the 10th or 11th branch of the Lome Togo District! Exciting stuff, no?

Now, on to what I like to call the “Crazy Culture Corner” of my weekly emails! Today, I felt like I should shed some light on what exactly are what I call parcels, meaning the homes of the Togolais. Now, parcels vary from place to place and they are NEVER the same. Cookie cutter homes do not exist. Toll Brother's would not do well in Togo. Though the parcels are all somewhat similar, they all are built in different ways with different layouts.
Pic from my outside room door
The pictures I’m sending are of the parcel that are right next to my apartment. As you can see there’s not much going on but usually you’ll have all these little rooms surrounding a main communal area, which usually has trees, a well, and clothes hanging up and drying. Usually, you’ll even find a rooster roaming around with some other chickens too. And yes, I am pretty sure they eat them because I remember at Tokoin there was a rooster that would crow ALL THE TIME. AND AT 3 IN THE MORNING. I’m not sure who said that roosters only crow at dawn, but let me tell you, they don’t just crow at dawn. But anyway, that one rooster would annoy me every morning but then I noticed that there wasn’t an annoying rooster that was annoying me anymore, so I assume that our neighbors killed it.

Pic from our roof top

Anyway, the common area is always different too. Sometimes they are really big with nice and shady trees. Sometimes they are tiny and really crowded. Also, it’s really only been here in Kodjo and Nyekonakpoe that I have started to see wells. When I was in Tokoin/Wuiti, I would rarely see a well.

One of the things I unfortunately didn’t capture in my images is the communal bathrooms. These usually range from really sketchy to just a downright health hazard. That’s why I’m grateful that I just sweat out all the fluids in my system. I remember, one time I was hanging out at Fr. Francois house (he’s the return missionary from France that came back and married a Togolaise and now works out here). I asked him to show me where the bathroom was… and well… he just led me to a slightly hidden wall to urinate upon. The whole rest of the night I could only think about how he left all of the luxuries of life to come out here to Togo and have a wall for a bathroom. Okay, well I don’t think he moved to Togo to urinate on walls, but still...

Now on to the surrounding rooms. Usually, you can probably see about 7-10 rooms surrounding a parcel depending on how big it is. But even really small parcels have a ton of rooms around it. Like you can see in the picture, I counted about 8-9 rooms in the parcel. Rooms are usually about 10ftx10ft… sometimes they are even smaller than that but that’s been about the average.

Even though Lome seems to have a shortage of ovens, they must not feel the need to buy any of them because their rooms feel like ovens! For as hot as Lome gets, you would think they would put in nice big windows to catch the breeze but I would dare say that they almost never have windows and if they do, they are usually closed and you can’t see out of them. That’s really why we do most of our teaching outside in the common area of the parcels and not inside their rooms. And when we do teach inside the rooms, they always feel super bad for me because I just start sweating out of every single pore on my body! Everyone told me that my body would adjust and eventually just get used to the heat, but I’ve found that I’ve really just gotten used to sweating.  A lot!

Anyway, things vary as to what’s inside of them. It depends on how much money people have. Most of the time it’s just very simple. A chest full of clothes. A mat to sleep on (and many times, not even). Many times, even a little TV with an antenna sticking out (I don’t know if you can see them too well in the pictures, but in the one taken from outside my room, you can see a wood pile with an antenna right in the middle of the picture). I cannot even tell you the amount of times I’ve seen some pretty crazy Nigerian Jesus posters too, which usually have a bible quote or two on them! And of course, many times the members hang up those oh-so-common paintings of Jesus that one would often see around a church building… those are always nice to see though!

However, that’s one cool thing I like about Togo. Parcels are almost meant to be built in a way to invite everyone outside and be social! Sure you have people mostly just keeping to themselves in their rooms but for the most part, everyone is outside enjoying each other’s company. I mean, when you don’t have an XBOX, a computer, a tv with 5000 channels, and many other things to distract you, the only thing you really have is your neighbor.

Even though most parcels are filled with strangers, most of them are family owned and have just a few random people renting a room and such. However, so many missionaries have found success as people start to share the gospel with their neighbors! And, with your neighbors always outside, it’s pretty easy to do that here. Whenever we have lessons, we always try to invite people who are just sitting around outside to sit in on our lessons. We don’t always get success from it, but for the most part it does work really well!

It’s getting a bit late now, but that’s about it from my “Crazy Culture Corner” for this week! I hope I shed a little bit of light on the dark continent for you all. It’s really fun for me to see how people live out here and be able to share what I learn with all of you. I know many who read my blog probably won’t have a chance to see what I see out here. It’s one thing to just read about it, but it’s a whole other thing to actually see it and live it!

Our first postcard! Colombe de la Paix in Togo. Elder H says: "Looks big, but in reality not so much.  And it's no longer white. And all the trees in the background are no longer there."

I love you all! Thank you so much for the prayers and support, as well as the emails! I’m doing my best out here to do the Lord’s work and I know a big part of it comes from you all. Stand strong and keep fighting on… “Car, rien n’est impossible a Dieu!” (Luc 1:37)

With love,

Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: I loved his testimony in French that he sent us in his letter and wanted to post it here.  He's doing well and is excited his group is almost ready to become a Branch.  For being in an area without any progress for over a year, I'd say he's learned to move a few mountains!  And I debated leaving out the bathroom wall part, but well, that IS part of the crazy culture he's living in!!  I, for one, am going to be grateful this week for nice bathrooms....

Have you written to Elder H yet?  10 more days until his Birthday!  Just enough time to drop a handwritten letter in the mail. I'm sure he'd LOVE it!

And one last shout-out!  Thanks to all the Missionary MOM'S that came out to meet together while I was in Utah last week.  How fun was that??? (THANKS Michelle for posting the pics!)  

Mom's of Elder Christensen and Elder Hawkins!

Mom's of Elder's Kunz, Layton, Hawkins, Gundersen (Elder G!)

Missionary Mom's rock!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Whistle While You Work?

Our bean lady used these Walmart bags for our beans today! Never thought I would be seeing that out here in Togo... they were brand new too! Weird! Can't really bring them back to our nearest Walmart for recycling though...

Not sure if I complained about it yet, but I always dislike starting off these emails... everything I write feels so cliche! Even complaining about it feels cliche! Ah! What is one to do? 

This week was another week on the mission, just like any other. We did have an unexpected interview from President Weed though! Usually they tell us when he's going to do our interviews but none of us knew until the day before. However, it was a good interview and it was nice to see President as always. We talked about some good things but not much because it was him doing most of the talking. He mostly tried to comfort me in saying that our trials make us stronger, etc... it was good! Although, he basically confirmed to Elder Haggard, Elder Digbe, and I that Elder Digbe would be transferred out of Kodjo when my Comp leaves... meaning that, because there's about a week gap between the people leaving and the new arrivals, Elder Haggard and I will be companions for about a week in our two sectors! My first American comp since the MTC! Nothing is confirmed or anything, so don't take my word for it, but we'll just have to wait and see. 

So, yesterday, for some odd reason, I was thinking about something that was very near and dear to the heart's of many Americans. What is that? Why it's informercials, of course! I guess it's only right that I talk about informercials as Jared finishes up his mission this week... us two watched way too many informercials over our Thanksgiving holidays together... but anyway, I was thinking... ummm... what in the world would people do for infomercials here? So, I got a bit creative and made some scripts to my would be informercials here in Africa! 

First up, our gas flame burner... aka, our only kitchen appliance on the mission. 

Do YOU find yourself disappointed in your kitchen appliances? Looking for something to SPICE up those same 7 meals you make every week? Looking to add a little CHARACTER to your kitchen? Then why not buy the one and only 100% STAINLESS-STEEL DUAL GAS BURNER, better known as the StainSteeDuGaBURN5000. The StainSteeDuGaBURN5000 is a one-of-a-kind revolutionary product imported from the finest factories of China straight to your kitchen. Lightweight and convenient  it can provide and suffice for all of your cooking needs. Forget the oven, the toaster, the microwave... even the Easy Bake oven! The 
StainSteeDuGaBURN5000 will cover all of your cooking needs. Need to heat up some spaghetti? Throw it up in a pot and WOW... in TEN measly minutes, it's done! Is it magic? NO! This is just science folks... you see, with the gas burners masterfully and strategically placed by our engineers, they have streamlined your cooking process. Cook anything like sauces, spaghetti, mac and cheese, patte, even your favorite desserts like Betty Crocker easy mix cakes in just a matter of minutes. Because it's made out of stainless steel, it will be easy to clean all that grease that spills while you're frying your fish too... or any other meat for that matter! Buy today because this offer will go fast! Gas not included.

You see? Like it says, who really needs an oven or a microwave when your two gas burners can take care of all your heating needs! 

This is my favorite African meal... it's called Atcheke and it's much like couscous. It's really good and actually ivoriane. 

Ok, next up, well, my companion...

With all the rift and raft in the world of music, it can be hard to find quality, good music that will bring comfort and peace to the soul. That is why, today, we are offering a collection of CDs that can change your life. Introducing, "Congo's Greatest Hits" as sung by Elder Kapuku. Featuring such gospel classics like "Dieu, Soit Loue, Soit Loue" and "Dieu Est Bon". However, don't forget those classic Congolais hits like "jkladbav bjkadsfjlkfl asdfj" and "iqwhfjk vjxc cxvoiu." Though you might not be able to understand all the words, these will without doubt bring comfort to a troubled soul. With all five of Elder Kapuku's wonderful songs, you should not hesitate to buy this once in a lifetime CD (also available on cassette tapes). If you hurry and take advantage of this offer, we will even throw in a free CD featuring the Top 30 LDS Hymns whistled by Elder Kapuku and Elder Digbe, also known as the Whistling Bandits! Hurry now because these compact discs are flying off shelves as we speak. Call now! 

So yeah, might have to explain that one a bit... that was kind of me venting about my comp and Elder Haggard's comp. All they do is whistle hymns... AT ALL TIMES OF THE DAY. And they are the same ones over and over and over and over and over again. Like Ye Elders of Israel every Sunday times a billion. IT DRIVES ME NUTS. I thought you were supposed to fall in love with the hymns on your mission, not learn to despise and detest them because they are over whistled!!!!!! I know my family knows that constant singing already annoys the living daylights out of me, now imagine my comp singing the same 5 songs all the time... these weird Congolais songs even get stuck in MY HEAD. The real problem with his singing style is that he loves to sing super high... remember my sienna singing voice? Yeah, it's pretty much that. Not even joking. 

Next up, we'll have a little Togolais fun...

Tired of "Sweet Cinnamon Apple", "Sweet Pear", "Lavender Flower Fields", and "French Vanilla Bourbon"? Looking for something new, exciting and different? Then, look no further! New, from Glade plugins, TogoScents! Bring the exotic smells of West Africa right into the comforts of your own living room or bathroom. Featuring exciting scents like "L'Essence de Camion", "Fresh Morning Fire Fumes", "Side Street Sewage Sweets", and "L'odeur du corps", there is no way that your friends and family will be wondering why they have never visited West Africa before! Tested and approved by the Brain Center of Nigeria, these scents will be sure to soothe the body to its very core. Ranging from plug-able air scents to car air fresheners, they are sure to fit in every aspect of your life! Buy today and we'll throw in our brand new scent "Burning Cemetery Brush". Call now! 

Well, I feel like that last little bit just goes to show that you can honestly put anything in French and it sounds amazing and want-able. I hope you caught that L'odeur du corps means Body Odor and L'essence de Camion means truck gas (meaning the diesel fumes that you smell as they idle). I'm sure you are all just dying to get your hands on some of those wonderful smells! 

Alright, well, unfortunately this trying to be funny and failing thing seems to take a really long time and I seem to be out of time. I hope everyone has a great week and hope that everyone knows that despite my comps singing, the whistling, and the wonderful smells of Africa, I am still loving the mission as always! Just gotta have a little fun with the things you don't like, of course, and find ways to laugh!

Take care,

Elder Hawkins

For the past few weeks, the marche that sets up every wednesday across from our house has just been PACKED with tomatoes. You just see a huge sea of tomatoes and it makes you even wonder if there are really that many tomatoes in West Africa! What happens is that they all come from Ghana and then all these trucks pack them in and take them to Benin... so Togo is just a little in between point.

Note from the FroShout out to Elder Hawkins' cousin JARED who finishes his two years TOMORROW!  So excited to hear from him next Sunday.  I'm sure he'll be excited to learn that he was the inspiration for the above infomercials. Elder Hawkins also received a few packages, which always make him happy!  He said:  I did get your package this week! Thanks for the Fred's Shirt! I'm not really sure what pictures I can take that would represent Togo well, but I'll try to be creative. Also, thanks for the journal with the cool quotes! Love those! And perfect timing since I am running out of room in my journal now anyway! Also, thanks for the drawings too... at first I didn't understand why Amber drew a killer rabbit but then I was like OH! right... I ate a rabbit lol. THe other ones were cool too and Adele's made me laugh haha. 

And I got Grandpa's package! So all is well on that front and I've been wearing the cool zipper ties... finally received Steve and Tami's postcard from topsail too! Steve made this funny comment about how there were two dolphins and how they were really me and jared in dolphin form lol.

Thanks everyone for taking care of our missionary!  Remember, his Birthday is two weeks away!  I'm sure he'd love to hear from you all.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

You Just Gotta Do It

Another week down and many more to go... not that I'm counting or anything, but you know...I did just past my 10 month mark on the mission! Almost on the other side of the mountain! 

This week started out pretty good... after the Cyber last week, we went to family home evening at the group, Some of the group members have been really hyping up the family home evening from last week... saying that there was going to be a huge surprise and everyone should invite their friends and what not.

Well, Elder Haggard and I were skeptical to say the least. A lot of times people hype up things and they never turn out as expected. And, family home evening has been super boring the past couple of weeks. We start a 1/2 hour late, then we talk about some random subject that is pretty boring, then we answer really weird and not funny at all French riddles... like here's my favorite: Name three pieces of women's jewelry that start with a b... the answer is boucles d'oreille, bracelet, and bague. Wow... wasn't that funny and witty?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! Oh wait, nope... that wasn't even a riddle. Then we end with a prayer.

However, this past week was an actual good family home evening. First of all, tons of people came and we had a short little spiritual message (like it should have been!), then a game (which was the only weird part because they segregated the members and the non-members.... errr... awkward), then... the best part and the key to any successful Mormon activity... FOOD! And we got good food too, meaning not patte! We ate some Ayemolo which is just rice mixed with beans and pima. They brought out a HUGE cooler filled almost half way full of it (we're talking one of those big coolers that are like 2.5 ft by 1 ft by 1 ft! It was good, but well... for some reason African's love seeing white people eat African food for reasons unknown. So, when they gave Elder Haggard and I our dishes, they asked if we liked pima and we told them of course we did, but they forgot that gospel principle about taking things in MODERATION. So they just gave us two spoonfuls of powdered pima, which is the hot stuff. 

And let me tell you... with the already poor circulation in the church building, Elder Haggard and I were sweating up a storm. It was tough to get through our plates, but we did end up persevering to the end... but my goodness I have never sweated so much from eating spicy food in my life. I remember someone telling me (I think it was fro) that the reason they eat spicy foods in hot climates is because they make you sweat, thus making you feel cooler. Let me just put an end to that rumor and tell you that that is NOT AT ALL TRUE. Eating spicy foods in hot, humid climates just makes things 100x worse. Not only does it make you sweat even more on the outside, but it starts to burn everything on the inside too! 

Elder Haggard with the spicy Ayemolo... note the sweat face... 

However, the Family Home Evening was still successful. Everyone had a fun time and ate pretty well too, even if I did sweat like a pregnant fish (not sure what that means, but Elder Owusu would always say that!)

Other than that... the week was pretty uneventful... taught a few lessons, made some mac 'n' cheese, finished off the jar of knock-off nutella I bought last Monday in less than a week... I also found out that my hands and bleach, laundry detergent, and dirty clothes really don't mix well together. My knuckles are destroyed and have tons of (what feels like) popped blisters on them... on the bright side, I don't think my hands have ever been cleaner than after I do laundry! 

Something pretty cool did happen yesterday however... As I explained a few weeks ago, Africa time is pretty ridiculous... people will always promise to be on time, but they never, ever do! That being said, when Church starts up at 9, the turnout can be somewhat of a bummer and can get you down a bit. Still, before the passing of the sacrament, we had an alright turn out... kinda what you would expect. But, the real miracle came AFTER the sacrament. Kinda like back home, after the sacrament there were about 20 people who walked in (including an ami who came for the first time!) and the room was absolutely packed! To the point where we had people standing up! 

Now, the reason why we had so many people there was because of the initiative of the members. We gave them the ward list a few weeks ago and they have, since that time, gone crazy in visiting the inactive's and what not. Now, because of that we have been seeing a lot more people at family home evening and as of yesterday, at Church as well! 

That just goes to show that the missionaries are not what keep this Church going, they are not what make branches/wards stronger, and they are not the key to success... really, it's the members doing their part in visiting/home teaching and being true examples of Christ! Sure, the missionaries are very important but there is no point to our work if those who we bring into the Church just fall inactive... if you think about it in a family perspective, that's like a family adopting some kids, then the said kids run away and the parents don't even going out to look for them! What is that?!? That's not right! 

Anyway, my point is that it's the members that really keep this church going. Remember, President Hinckley said that we, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ are the symbols of our church. We need to be an example of Christ in helping our brothers sisters, whether they be those, strong active members for their whole lives, or our inactive neighbor, or even just a stranger... it doesn't matter, but the key is that we show our religion through our character and example.

You know, that reminds me of another cool thing that happened yesterday in Church... let me tell you a little bit about "Brother John." To tell you a little bit about him, brother John has been a member of the Church for about 4 years. He found the Church in Nigeria (he is in fact Nigerian) and has stuck with it ever since... he even still has some of the original pamphlets that the missionaries gave him back in Nigera! He moved to Togo not too long ago but he managed to find the missionaries out here in Kodjoviakope and was able to have them show him where the Church building was. 

Now, because Brother John doesn't speak Ewe or French, he is only able to get a moto to take him half way to the Church and then he has to walk the other half to the Church (about 15-20 minutes). Sometimes he comes on time, other times he comes late because of the walking, but despite that he still comes to Church just about every week. 

His faith is what really is the amazing thing here... he comes to Church even though he understands nothing that goes on! During the second hour, I usually translate for him which, I got to say is still tough because his English and my English are very, very different. As hard as it is for me to understand him, I'm sure that it's really hard for him to understand me too. Despite that, he always thanks me and appreciates the service I give to him.

Now, this past Sunday, because he came early he sat next to me. I've never translated for him during sacrament before because he has never asked me and I don't think any of the missionaries before me ever did translate for him either. Sitting in sacrament, I was thinking about how I could help him understand sacrament meeting... I couldn't just talk to him like I usually do because that would be distracting to everyone else and, because we have no microphone, might make it hard for others to hear. So, I decided to whip out my planner and to start just writing out what people were saying. 

At first, Brother John was confused as to what I was doing but then he realized that I was writing down all the talks in English for him so that he could understand! The smile on his face was so big when he saw that I was writing it out for him! I asked him after the first talk if he could understand what I was writing. He said he understood everything perfectly (probably better than when I translate regularly for him!) and he just kept smiling and thanking me for what I was doing. I think he felt bad for me too because my hands were sweating up a storm because it was so humid! 

I'm just happy that I was able to do this little service... remember, service doesn't have to be perfect (I am not the perfect translator), service doesn't have to be a planned project (I did not plan that at all!), and service doesn't have to back breaking (just palm sweating!). I don't think I can completely understand the impact that I have on translating for Brother John, but I know that he appreciates it greatly and it makes me happy that I can help him out. 

Just remember what Christ said...

"Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

That's my message to all of you today... go out and serve! Doesn't matter who, when, or where... you just gotta do it! 

Love you all!

Elder Hawkins

P.S. I keep forgetting to tell you but a few weeks ago, you will not believe what I found on a moto the other day...I found a FRED BEANS Doylestown license plate on a moto! I would have taken a picture but it was getting dark and I think we were late to something but I thought that was the coolest yet strangest thing to find out here in Togo!!!

 Me helping out one of our amis Gibertine... I'm making "gâteaux" which are really the farthest thing from cake. It's really just fried dough. It tastes okay but... wellllll... there are better things to eat. Nevertheless, thought I could lend a hand and flip some greasy dough! To reward my efforts, our ami even gave us a nice meal of patte at the end! I think that's a true sign of service... doing something even with patte as a reward.

Note from the Fro: Well what can I say?  Service. Just do it!  :)

And speaking of service....PLEASE send letters (or hey, a package if you're in the mood!) for Elder Hawkins' upcoming Birthday (Oct 10).  I know he would LOVE it more than anything! Look on the side bar of the blog for his address.  It doesn't change!  Thanks for showin' the love. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

And Charity Suffereth Long...

So... Matilde hasn't come in like 2 weeks which forced me to do my own laundry. Be thankful for laundry machines. They are an amazing invention, one that has allowed America to progress in amazing ways. I am convinced that America is as advanced as it is because of the fact that we don't waste so much time hand washing laundry!

Hello World!
Well, here I am... back and better than ever. Well... or the same as ever. Maybe with more gray hairs and more acne because I've been using shampoo as shaving cream for the past week, but that's okay! I'm here and that's what counts.

This week was a pretty up and down week to be honest with you all. Transfers were this week (first since last month) and, well... nobody in our apartment was hit with transfers. I was absolutely positive that I was leaving this sector, but it just didn't happen. However, because I wasn't moved out of here, that means that I will be in this sector for quite some time. Why do I say that? Because I will probably "kill" my companion (who goes home on my birthday!) and, with 21 new missionaries coming in October... the chances are that I will probably be training... meaning, unless I have visa problems, I will be in Nyekonakpoe/Kodjoviakope for a very, very long time. 

So that's really the only big news for the week. That and I'm wearing white ankle socks with my missionary attire for the day because I washed all my socks today. I'll be honest, I do look fashionable but I don't think I'll be doing this any time soon back home.

On my interesting-foods-that-I-ate-this-week front, I have a new one to add to the list! Sugar cane! I've known about sugar cane for a while, but I have been waiting for the right opportunity to try it. Which really just means that I've been waiting for somebody to buy some for me. Thankfully, our ami Viviane (who has come to Church a few times) was just chatting with us and stopped a lady selling it on top of her head.

Sugar Cane Lady cutting sugar cane.

Just to give you a heads up, before I knew that it was actually sugar cane they were selling, I thought these women were just selling firewood on top of their head because it really does just look like kindling. But, what they do is they chop off all the bark stuff and cut it up into little pieces. 

My wood sugar cube!

As you can imagine, I was excited to eat it because it's (1) an exotic food and (2) SUGAR. Who doesn't love sugar!?! So I popped in the first piece and well... it basically tastes like eating pure sugar. It is surprisingly watery and juicy. I was enjoying it for the first 10 seconds but then it just turned into splintery wood... I was under the impression that it just dissolved in your mouth like candy, but I guess wood doesn't have the tendency to do that... so after chewing it for like a minute wondering whether to swallow or just spit out the rest on the ground, because it was getting gross just chewing on wood. Tasted a lot like toothpick actually. I ended up following my comp and spitting it on the ground right next to me and making a little pile.

What happens to my wood sugar cube, times 10! You would think those wood scraps came from a wood shop or something! Nope! Just my mouth! 

So yeah, it's pretty good! Except... after your 10th cube... you get kinda sick of it. I got so sick of it that for the rest of the afternoon I could not eat anything sweet, even my water that I put juice packs in! Everything was too sweet for me. However, it was good and I won't refuse it if anyone buys it for me but it's just a little too sweet for me after a while! But, if I had to describe fresh sugar cane in four words, I would say sweet watery flavored wood. Yup, that about describes it.

Hmmm... let's see what else. This week I went on my 3rd split to Tokoin (my old apartment) and was comps with Elder Kabedeh for a day. He is really awesome! He is actually from Liberia (only missionary to represent Liberia in the mission). His English is... well, I was surprised to hear that they speak English in Liberia. During our whole split we spoke French the entire time, so that should give you an idea of my understanding of his English. 

Still, it was great to see their sector because I already know a lot of people from there. Most of them still remembered me too! We ended up teaching tons of people and I had a lot of fun with him... but the most rewarding thing was at the end of the night, we were at the Tokoin branch building where I ran into Samuel, one of my recent converts from Wuiti. Turns out he's doing strong in the Church and he's getting married! Elder Jenkins (who replaced me in Wuiti) and I connected the dots and we figured out that they are actually teaching his fiancé right now! How cool is that?! I'm super happy for him! 

To tell you the truth though, for all the lack of success I'm having in my sector, I'm happy to see that a lot of the things I did back in Wuiti are producing good fruits! For one, Attiogbe is now having his family take the missionary lessons (he even got to baptize his daughter last week himself which I thought was so awesome!). Samuel had his mother baptized and now his fiancé will soon follow. Alex, the son of the branch president of Wuiti, has been going on splits with Elder Jenkins and his comp very frequently too. So even though success isn't coming quickly to the sector I'm working in right now, I'm thankful that through my efforts the old branch that I was in is continuing to grow. 

Hopefully the same will happen to Nyekonakpoe. The sector is still tough but things are getting better. We do get amis to come to Church and we do have some people progressing  We don't find many people to teach throughout the week, but I know that this little group here is getting stronger... slowly but surely. In our weekly meeting with the Group Leader, we asked him if there was anything we could do for the group as a whole. The only thing that he asked was that we would stay for a little while so that we could help get this group turned into a branch... turns out his wish was our President's command because we will be here for a while! 

I am happy though... you can ask Elder Haggard, but I may or may not have gone through the five stages of mourning after hearing that I wasn't moved out. I've finally hit the acceptance stage and I'm happy that I'm still out here in this little nook between Ghana and Togo. Sure it's tough, but life's not fair, right Sur? I could complain, but I won't! Just gotta keep working hard and hoping that something happens because of the work and effort that I put into this area! 

Thanks for all the love and support you guys are sending me! Don't worry about me though... I'm still fighting! Hope you all have a wonderful week and don't forget to send me a postcard or something!


Elder Hawkins
P.S. Scripture of the week: Moroni 7:45. 

Note from the Fro: He really was in good spirits this week. Despite having to do his own laundry by hand and staying in his sector for a bit longer.  I'm glad he gets to visit his old sector every once in awhile!  He got our postcards that we sent from the beach back in August, which made him happy. And I also find it interesting he chose this scripture this week.  Obviously it's a very apt reminder for him (and us!) each day, but also interesting because out of ALL the scripture mastery scriptures this year, yesterday I chose THIS one to teach! Great minds.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Maybe, Just Maybe

Fro asked for a picture of me at the cyber. Here it is. Exciting, right? Just tapping away on my Pentium 4, Windows XP beast of a machine for 20 cents an hour! 

Yikes... gotta say that my creative juices do not seem to be flowing this week.
I might have to blame the fatigue... today, the District organized a sun-burning activity... I suppose technically it was a soccer activity, but it wasn't like the last soccer tournament we did at Easter time... this one was not at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium of Togo, to my displeasure. Instead, it was on a completely dusty field with absolutely no tree cover! I hurriedly put on some sunscreen before we left, but I feel like it wasn't meant to last in the sun for 5 hours. At least I know what continent to blame when I get skin cancer when I'm 30 years old! Yay African sun!

This week wasn't much different from the past few weeks though... you know, like fought a giraffe, challenged to a machete fight by a local tribe member, drove a Jeep Wrangler 10 hours to the North of Togo, rode an elephant to my lessons this week because the car was in the shop... you know... nothing special! 
In case you missed it, that was sarcasm because this week was just the same as last week. I've probably ranted about it 1000 times but sometimes the weeks just go by super quick here and I'm like... what?!?! Dang it! What am I even supposed to write home this week!?! Quick make up a story about how I killed a cow and ate nothing but its innards all week, but some how made apple pie out of its femur bones. But, nope, didn't happen this week and probably not the next either.

Looking from the outside in, you could say life here as a missionary is actually pretty boring... waking up, studying scriptures, going from door to door, teaching people, who probably just let you in because you were wearing nice clothes and seemed like nice people. Start with a prayer, ask a few questions, listen to a few comments, read a few scriptures, end with a prayer. Pretty standard procedure.

Then you go to the next rendez-vous, where you find the same thing happen over again. Stop by a few members homes, talk to a few people on the side of the street, go back home, plan out the next day. Repeat about 700 times.

But is that really all that is happening? Maybe in waking up, you thank God for giving you another day to live! Maybe in studying your scriptures everyday, you will learn things that have answered lifelong questions... maybe, it will even help you understand how to become a better person and appreciate the world around you. Maybe it will bring peace and joy to your soul, something that nothing else in your life has ever given to you.
Maybe in going from door to door, you find and learn new things that you would never have known. Like maybe you find out that the reason why the Togolais call everyone their brother or sister is because there is no word for cousin. Maybe you'll find out why people plant a certain bush or flower in their front yard. Maybe, just maybe, you'll even make a new friend!

Maybe in teaching people, you'll meet somebody who has been looking for the truth their whole life. Maybe, just maybe, you will find somebody who has never known how to pray, who has never known why we're here on this Earth, who has never really known how much their Father in Heaven really actually loves them.

Maybe in stopping by a member's home, you'll help somebody with a stressful problem. Maybe you'll give them a word of encouragement that will help them get through the day. Maybe you'll teach them a new cantique (hymn) that they never knew existed, but will comfort them in the rough waters of life. Maybe you'll give them a scripture passage that they had never heard, but turns into their favorite and helps them out in troubled times. Maybe, just maybe, you'll give them advice that will help them through their life.

Maybe in talking to a person on the side of the street, you'll find a new fashion style, like wearing a wife-beater tank under a fluorescent orange construction worker sleeveless jacket. Maybe you'll give them the time that no one else seems willing to give them. Maybe, just maybe, you'll just make another friend again. 

Maybe in planning at the end of the night, you'll reflect on your day. Maybe, you'll find that only one of your 5 planned lessons actually happened, but maybe you'll appreciate the fact that you could have had none. Maybe you'll even realize that there's no other place you would rather be at this moment now than being a boring old missionary. Maybe you'll think about all the lives that have changed because of your willingness to go out and do work that not many can do. Maybe you'll remember all the thanks you have gotten throughout your time as a missionary, for helping them strengthen their family relationships and becoming more Christ-like. Maybe you'll reminisce about those once-in-a-lifetime moments; like seeing a Flyers hat in the middle of West Africa, like watching another missionary kill a rabbit, or like being surrounded by thousands of dead animal skeletons at a Voodoo market. Maybe you'll even forget for a moment the difficulties of walking miles in the sun, being rejected daily, and the memories that just keep making you think about your good life back home. Maybe you'll even read a few journal entries from the past almost 10 months of your mission, where you might realize how you are not the same man you were when you said goodbye to your family on that cold November morning. Maybe, just maybe, you'll even find that, as hard as things might be, as hard as it is to think about the year plus you have, and as hard as it might be to do the same thing everyday, this little mission is really nothing in terms of the blessings, goodness, and love the Lord has given you through your whole life.

But, then again, that's just maybe.

With Love,

Elder Hawkins

After weekly planning, we found these random people tugging on a rope outside the cemetery and making tons of noise. I wasn't too sure what they were tugging at but...

Turns out it was just the bottom of a tree? Oh Africa, you will never cease to leave me with tons of questions.

Note from the Fro: Really?  No creative juices today?  I was all worried because that's what he told me in our emailed conversations too.  Then he writes one that makes me laugh and cry at the same time?  That kid. I love Monday's!  And my boy. 

This made me laugh too....
Elder HAlso, you need to ask dad how possible it would be to have a drum as a carry on and then putting a machete in your checked luggage.

FroUm...I asked him. He's just shaking his head like you're a crazy person.

Elder HFa-rooooo! This is a serious question! I expect Sur to have the answer for me next week, alright? I really want to know whether or not to spend money on these things!

Alright, got to get going now! Thanks for the emails as always. Hope everyone has a good back to school week. Tell keegan I said hi... didn't get a chance to reply to his short email and tell him to not worry about the missed email... but tell him I expect a good low down next week!
Love you bigger and thanks again for everything! Miss you too.
Elder Hawkins

P.S. Elder Hawkins has a Birthday coming up October 10th!  He would LOOOOOOVE handwritten letters!  If you send them soon, they might actually get to him by the 10th. 
Here's the address again (you can also find it on the sidebar of the blog---->):

Elder Trevor Hawkins
Benin Cotonou Mission
Cadjehoun Lot#1158- Bloc F
BP 3323
Cotonou, Benin, West Africa