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!

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