Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Fresh Prince of Ben-in

The changing of the flag. Notice how nice and pretty the Benin flag is!

Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the prince of a place called Ben-in. 

In western Togo, born and raised
By the beach where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool
And all preaching some gospel outside of the church
When a couple of amis, they were up to no good
Kept not progressing in my little neighborhood.
I got in one little slump and my pres got scared
And said "You're moving with me and the assistants in a place called Ben-in"

I whistled for a bus and when it came near  
The license plate was orange and had guys in white shirts.
If anything I could say that this bus was rare,
But I thought "nah, forget it", "yo homes to Ben-in!"

I pulled up to a house about seven or eight 
And I yelled to the assistant "Yo, homes smell you later!"
Looked at my kingdom I was finally there
To sit on my throne as the prince of Ben-in.

The Fresh Prince of Ben-in.

Yup... that's my story alright! My life has definitely got "flipped, turned upside down" that's for sure! Like Dorothy said, "Toto, we're not in Togo anymore!" At least, I think that's what she said but my memory is a little hazy on the place but I think she was from Togo.

So yeah... though Benin and Togo are only the size of West Virginia and PA combined... the difference is big and apparent between Lome and Cotonou. I feel like I have definitely left my small little town of Lome and am now in the big city of Cotonou. More paved roads, more restaurants, more nice houses, more stores, more people, more high rises... more EVERYTHING! I feel once again like I'm in a completely new world. There are also things here that don't even exist in Togo like this little slice of heaven that I have found called "Arevan," meaning French Walmart. No joke... it is the size of a Walmart supercenter and is just as nice, if not nicer. It's also a lot more expensive (so no low prices everyday) but my goodness I felt like I was at home when I was there... it was AMAZING!!!! The only drawback to the place is that they have little to no American stuff... but they do have all the French stuff, like good cereal, cheese, and meat... which are all rather expensive... buuuuuutttt... nice to have at my disposal nonetheless. 

Now, the other newness of Benin is my assignment as a bureau elder, which makes my days a bit different. First, as you all noticed, P-Days are on Saturday and then we have weekly planning on Sundays (which we do after Church)... and because of planning, we don't have enough time to go teaching on Sundays... so, my weekends are actually real weekends for me now! That's pretty awesome! 

On a day-to-day basis, we come into the Bureau every morning at around 9-9:30 and then stay until about 4 PM. We do a lot of different things, like updating phone charts and President's big mission board when transfers come along, updating the monthly newsletter, help the couple fulfill orders, picking up the mail from La Poste and packages from Customs, taking missionaries to immigration, and working on a lot of other tasks. Me being an American-francophone, I am often tasked with translating for Elder Semken and Sister Semken (the bureau couple) as they do not speak much French. There are a lot of other things that we do as well, (you know, like fix broken printers, and all that) but I don't have time to explain everything! 

All this newness really, really threw me off for the first couple of days. I honestly felt like I had left home again because I had gotten so used to Togo. I knew how to get all the things I needed, knew how to say a few things in Ewe (Fon is the big language out here), knew how much things cost, knew how to get places, knew how to get around my sector, etc. Now, all of that know-how is gone and then, adding that with all the stresses coming from my new assignment as Bureau elder, I could not even sleep the first few nights I was here. That's because I would be stressing out about being able to get used to everything. Even the fact that the sun rises at 7 AM instead of 6 AM (back in Togo and that's because of the time change) was stressing me out! It was terrible... I think it might have tripled my white hair count. 

And yet, I've been managing better since then, including being able to get good sleep. I've now gotten a grasp on what it is that I have to do and what is expected of me as a bureau elder. I think I've gotten pretty comfortable now so things are going a lot easier... especially since I have almost done a week out here too... now I have an idea as to what our weeks look like in the future. 

One of the cool things is that I get to work with President Weed! It's kinda weird that now I see him almost on an everyday basis... there was one funny experience this week where my companions had to go out and teach a lesson, but I had to stay and wait for the Semkens to go to their Institute class and translate for them. Well, because President Weed was in his office, we asked him if I could go on "splits" with him while the others went and taught. He said sure, so... for like a 1/2 hour I was companions with President Weed! The awkward part was that I really had to go to the bathroom but I didn't want to bother President Weed (because he would have to go outside and wait while I used the bathroom!) so I had to hold it in! Agh! That was hard! Except, now that I think about it, I think President might have just let me use the bathroom in his office. Okay... that's good to know for the next time I go on splits with President Weed!

That reminds me of another weird thing about my position as an bureau elder... I asked my companions who was our district leader and then what Zone we were in... well, apparently we aren't even a district and we aren't in any specific zone! We report directly to President Weed! Ah! What is this!?! I'm going from seeing President Weed like once a month to seeing him on a daily basis and actually working with him! This is crazy! 

And because I'm on the inside loop now, I was one of the first people informed of some exciting news for our mission: Lome is going to become a Stake! President Weed announced that in our Office meeting last week and by next Sunday, during their District Conference, they will organize the stake of Lome. How cool is that?! Also, Kodjoviakope, the group I just left, will now become a branch! I'm really excited for Togo, but to be honest, this is all bittersweet because now I don't even get to see all this excitingness going on in Togo! Ahhh! Just left a few weeks too early! 

The other cool thing about my call as an office elder is DRIVING! Yup! One of only 5 missionaries who can actually drive! I just got my international license yesterday (special thanks to Sur and Fro for that!) and am now taking "driving lessons" from Elder Semken. Now you may be wondering why I need driving lessons when I already know how to drive. Well, I need them for two reasons: (1) to learn how to drive manual and (2) to learn how to drive according to West African craziness. I have gone out driving two times with Elder Semken and both times were super tiring for me... today I was able to drive on some less busy roads, but I was still pretty scared in driving and not hitting other cars and motos. Another thing that is weird are roundabouts. The roundabouts here make no sense and all have different roads. On some of them, you have to stop in the middle and let traffic pass by you. In others, you aren't allowed to stop at all in the roundabout (like a normal roundabout should be). It's just super crazy! And tiring! Even though I've only driven for an hour at a time, my eyes get really strained because I have to watch and focus on so many things... Elder Semken says I should get used to it eventually and I says that I'm doing really well for the level of experience that I'm at (I think that's because he also trained Elder Mary, my French companion, who apparently didn't pick things up as quickly according to Elder Semken and would scare him a lot! Haha!) 

Nothing like buying road kill on the road from Lome to Cotonou! They were asking for like 40 bucks for the thing though... all because of the white people inside. One of the ladies selling it said (in Fon) to give us a higher price because we're white (one of the sister missionaries picked that up). Lame... couldn't buy our cool African rodent meat! I'm glad we didn't though because we still had a few hours to go until Cotonou and it probably would have smelled up the car by then.

Well, I think that's my new life here in a nutshell! Life is going well out here... I think I'm turning whiter because I don't spend as much time out in the sun... also have to watch out that I don't gain too much weight because the Semkens are not afraid to treat us to dinner every once in a while! (plus, there's a microwave in the office, and I'm making good use out of it with the cheese dip Fro sent. Yes!)

Thanks again for all your patience and your prayers. Hope everybody had a wonderful week and keep on going strong! 

Love you all!

Elder Hawkins

Just the Cotonou airport burning out brush next to the runway. Not dangerous at all.

Note from the Fro: In case you all didn't get that little poem he started out with, it comes from the theme song of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-air" TV show.  Haha!  He's such a nut. And of course, what I noticed in the picture of him was how the tread from his shoes is missing.  That's a lot of walking! He also shared this fun discovery with us: "Oh you know what I did do this week? Well, we were at the bookstore and they had Asterix! So, I had to buy one (even though it was like $15). I bought the one where they go to Switzerland. I won't lie... it was so cool and funny reading it. I remember taking my old Asterix back home in PA and trying to read it but not being able to understand anything. But, I read it over here and just breezed through it and it made me laugh so much! It was great! It was fun to reconnect with my childhood. And it made me really appreciate being on a francophone mission...  What I mean to say is the moment that I realized that over a year ago, I could not read a book like Asterix and now, I can do it with very little trouble, it made me super appreciative of this great gift that God has given to me. I feel really honored and humbled to have received such a wonderful gift of the French language."

Monday, November 18, 2013

And Their Burdens Were Made Light

"Yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord." 
Mosiah 24: 15

Yes, the burdens of Nyekonakpoe have finally been made lighter than ever, as the yoke of Nyekonakpoe has been completely lifted off of my shoulders now and I will soon be taking the yoke of Office Elder upon me.

To be honest, this transfer came completely out of the blue for me and I did not see it coming. I didn't think I was going to be transfered until after the 12 week training program that we do with new missionaries (which would have finished in January). I also didn't think I was going to be going to Benin anytime soon either... nor did I think that I was going to be put in the Office! Geez, how things have changed.

I don't know too much about what my time at the office will be like... whether it will be long or short (the past two Americans to work there were there for a LONG time) or if it will be more or less harder than my last two sectors have been. I also don't really know what kind of work I will be doing either, so don't ask me until next week!

However, what I do know is what I have endured over the past 5 months out here in Nyekonakpoe. On June 12, I came into Nyekonakpoe, knowing that the sector was in bad shape and knowing that I would be "killing" a companion who had already checked out. Then he left, and another tired companion came in and things weren't much different. Day in and day out, seeing the same not progressing investigators. Day in and day out setting up goals that would almost 90% of the time almost completely fail. Day in and day out returning to the apartment early, only to feel guilty of wasting the precious two years that I had given to the Lord. 

Day in and day out... it was the same sad, sorry results. 

Through all the ratez-vous, the non mangez-vous, the "interested" investigators who really weren't interested at all, the awful heat of that African sun, the long walks back and forth through and to the sector, I can say that I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I suppose the best way to describe my feelings toward this sector are "no pain, no gain" and "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."

One important thing I have realized is that Christ, in Matthew 11:28-30 as well as in the scripture I quoted to start, is that the Lord never promises to just take away our problems. Instead, he strengthens us and enables us to not only endure our burdens but succeed through our burdens. I don't think that I have ever read in the scriptures that God would magically throw away every problem we have or just throw our "yoke" off to the side of the road! No way! That's not the way He works. 

Instead, He takes us up and makes us stronger; builds us up, makes us stronger. I can honestly say that I am in no way the same missionary that I was when I first came into Nyekonakpoe. Before, I was that big timid white guy who would only spurt out a couple of nonsense phrases into a lesson. Before, I thought not baptizing even one person a month was hard. Before, I thought I could get away with just letting my senior companion do all the hard work...

But now, I'm the one taking charge in lessons. I'm the one who has the right scripture to help a troubled soul. Now, I'm the one who makes sure that an ami is cared for at Church and makes sure that members come with us to help teach and create friendships between amis and members. Now it's me calling the shots and who calls the plays! No longer do things just pass by me, but I have finally learned what it is like to play an active and engaging role in missionary work. I have really learned what it means to be a missionary.
The sector that I will be bidding farewell to is still tough. But, both I and it are in better shape than we were when we first met each other. And, the one baptism that I was able to accomplish in Nyekonakpoe will be forever embedded in my memory and cherished forever. And, who knows...I might have done a lot of sowing and planting here, there still could be fruits that come even after my departure!

You know, maybe the Lord could have given me 100 people to baptize in these five months. Maybe the Lord could have helped me turned Nyekonakpoe into the envy of the mission. Maybe the Lord could have helped me become a legend in the mission for doing the impossible in Nyekonakpoe.

But you know what? I have the feeling that the Lord didn't want all of that... instead, I think He wanted me to learn that even when the going gets tough and even when the yoke gets heavy, He's still there, by my side, helping me do my best.

To be honest, I think that's a lesson that I will cherish throughout the rest of my mission, and even, for the rest of my life.

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

Love you all... talk to you in Benin!
Elder Hawkins

Photos of our Hump Day Celebration at Akif's:

 Us with our signs that Soeur Dix made for us in the MTC that were above our desks!

The MTC gang

Obviously had to get REAL ice cream afterwards. Found out that real ice cream is actually too sweet according to Africans! Can something actually be too sweet?!

And, well, for dinner one of our members named Mama Happy prepared us some delicious sauce and patte... which made my comp really happy to eat! So, I got to celebrate both American and African style! I suppose that's kind of the story of my life out here on my mission... learning to balance the African newness with the American oldness that I'm used to!

Photos from dinner with President and Sister Weed last week: (sent by President Weed, so I didn't get the usual pic descriptions! - Fro)

And finally...

Note from the Fro: Love the lesson my boy learned in Nyekonakpoe!  He says he'll miss his new companion the most.  Sad they didn't get that long together.  He's also hoping that he'll be able to go back to Togo to finish out his mission as he's made so many friends there.  But he's excited to go and learn the ins and outs of the mission.  Although, he's most excited about the opportunity to drive a truck in Africa!  Boys. He also reached another milestone this week.  His apartment won for cleanest apartment!!!  First time ever for him!  This is what he said about that: 

"What won it for us though was that I cut our "lawn" with my swiss army knife and I think that's what impressed them. A few days before they came over and said they would give bonus points for any work we would do on our gardens but I was saying that's hard because we don't have the tools! Well, being determined to win, I knew what I had to do. So, I whipped out my swiss army knife saw blade and work gloves and just went at the lawn! I got it in pretty good shape for the hour work I did to it! Well, at least I got it good enough to impress the couple!" 

Oh I got a good giggle over that! If only I had a picture of it, I'd send it to the Swiss Army Knife company!

Last week we got an email mid-week saying he had asked President Weed for special permission to call his sister to say goodbye to her before she embarks on her own mission this week. He wanted it to be a surprise, so we weren't allowed to tell her!  She was shocked and confused, his voice was the last one she expected to hear over the phone. It was an unexpected wonderful hour we got to hear his voice over the speaker phone as he gave his sister advice for the MTC and wished her luck.  And so fun to hear their usual banter back and forth.  How I'll miss that! I'm trying not to think about how I won't hear both of their voices on the same day again until Mother's Day.  Nope, not thinking about that at all.  Love these amazing children God sent to us!  May He continue to watch over, protect, and grant them opportunities to learn and grow. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

P.S. 1

It was bound to happen with my comp as our Chef. He made patte last night. It was actually pretty good and I'm glad that I made him happy in eating it, but let's just say I hope it doesn't become an everyday thing

Wow, another JAM packed week for me out here in Nyekonakpoe... although, most of the jam packed fun didn't actually happen in my sector! 

To start out, we had our Zone Conference this past week, which is when the Zone leaders, Assistants, and the Mission President come and give us counsel and advice. It's about a 5 hour long meeting, but it's all worth it as there are free CHARWAMA's and HAMBURGER's involved... which is the real reason as to why everybody assists the meetings. I also try to sport a cool tie of some sort, and this time it was another pigne tie which everyone goes crazy after. Basically, I just have to stand there and be like, yeah, I am that cool to get a tie made out of pigne (fyi: I'm not actually that arrogant. In case you were wondering.) 

But, the real fun part of the day is when Elder Poll (one of the assistants) came down and did splits with us for the afternoon! He's a pretty cool dude and, even though we only really taught one lesson together, we had a great time. Doing splits is one of my favorite things to do on the mission because it just mixes things up a little bit... really, it's just to have a new face to talk to. But another thing you learn when you go on splits is new leçon methods and new ways to explain things!
And, by the way, just so everybody knows, a split usually just means when somebody either accompanies you and your companion, or just switches companions with you (so, for example, you stay in your sector and work with somebody else and then your comp switches with the guy who comes and works with you). So, in this case, nobody got switched out so we worked as a tri-comp, which can be annoying sometimes because we're so used to the duo dynamic, but Elder Poll is so fun to work with that we didn't mind.

Anyway, I think I might have lied. Because to be honest, the day only got better after that split! From Zone Conference earlier that morning, my companion and I invited President and Sister Weed over to eat dinner with us! So, they come over to my English class first and then we all went back to the apartment, which was nice because I had some time to get to know the Weeds a bit better! The best thing was that President Weed actually got his dentistry degree from Temple University, so, of course, they lived in Philadelphia for a good four years so we rambled on and on about that! They went to the Jarrettown ward (or, it might have been a branch when they were there) but they lived near to where the new Pennypack building is. It was fun to throw around some names from around the area and hear some of the stories they have of Philly from back in the 70s-80s. It's really nice to talk with people who actually know Philadelphia, since the people who are the closest to Philadelphia are Elders from North Carolina and Michigan... meaning not at all close.

My companion ended up preparing boiled Enyam with an egg sauce that everyone really liked! My companion was super nervous about preparing for the mission president but he loved it! They ended up staying with us for around two hours, so needless to say we had a good time together. Although, the night didn't stop there because Elder Poll and I stayed up and talked forever until the wee hours of the morning (enjoying Halloween Oreos! Which, by the way, go completely stale in a little under an hour in the humid Togo breeze).

So yeah... last Wednesday was just jam packed full of awesome.
However, today was great too because we actually did a Zone Activity! We went to the National Togo History Museum (which turns out to be in Kodjoviakope). It was really cool, albeit really small! Nothing really like the Smithsonian, but I've learned that you can't have too high of expectations while you're out here in Togo.

The Palais de Congrais, which is where the musée is located. It's probably one of the nicer buildings that I've seen in Togo... no surprise that it's a government building! 

The entrance to the musée.
(I should have asked him what that woman is carrying on her head. Looks like a rock! --Fro)

As for the museum itself, it had a lot of cool, old artifacts that were collected from around the country and show some of the ancient tools the Togolais used to use for making weapons, pottery, drums, etc. And as you know, I do love a good history lesson. Unfortunately, I didn't really catch most of what the tour guide was saying because, even though the museum has air conditioners, they don't use it and instead use HUGE fans that make a ton of noise! So I couldn't really hear anything.  Still, it was cool to see the stuff. I'll show you a few pics I took.  But of course, my favorite was the drums! 

Cool old bows and arrows.
They had similar displays for old spears and guns too but I can't upload all the pictures!

A prince's chair, made with lions as the arm rest, an Eagle back, and then really cool elephants for the feet! 

A sculpture of a man weaving traditional African fabric. 

BIG DRUMS! Couldn't play them though... bummer.
I did get to play this big bell thing though! Not sure what it's for but it was fun to play! 

The only cool fact I can tell you that I didn't know beforehand was that the two first Presidents of Togo after their independence were not in fact from Togo! They were, of all places, Brazilian  It's not as weird as it sounds though because the two Presidents were descendants of Togolais slaves that were brought to Brazil. Though, after them came another guy who ruled for a few months and then a "President" who reigned for over 40 years! Yay Liberty! 

My comp excited to see a map of Benin in the musée!

Anyway, it wasn't too much of an exciting museum but it was fun nevertheless. And, we went to Akif's afterwards so, really no complaints from my end. For some odd reason, missionaries love to complain about how lame some of the activities we do are, but I never, ever do. Why? Because we don't do many of them and the people that plan them try their best to make them happen! One of the toughest things for me to deal with on the mission is the mundaneness of it... doing the same things day in and day out. So, to have an activity like that really helps boost morale on my part and actually gives me something to write home about as well. 

Alright got to get going now, but just hope you all know that I'm doing great! We actually had a good week in terms of lessons and finding people to teach! It's still hard to find people who will actually progress, but it's about keeping busy that's important. That's why this week went by so quick: because we had people to teach, meetings to go to, and we were just having fun staying busy!
Keep up the prayers and keep sending the good vibes out here! Because, we've got... hiiiiigh hopes! (cue the Fro: HK video)

Love you all!

Elder Hawkins


P.S. 1

Note from the FroONE YEAR MARK THIS WEEK!!!  Woohoo!!!  I'm almost giddy with excitement to reach that milestone!  I think I might even bake a cake.  Or decorate the house?  Maybe put a big sign on the front door?  Tell every person I meet "hey my son's been in Africa a whole YEAR!" I don't know, I'll have to do SOMETHING! So after he sent his weekly email and he hadn't even mentioned such a TREMENDOUS achievement, I asked him if he wanted to say anything about his ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY this week!  He said, "Oh! I forgot to mention that! Hold on, let me add the addition I wanted to make!" So he sent another email, which simply said, "P.S. 1" I emailed back sure that I had missed something monumental.  But he replied, "Yup, that's all I wanted to say about that!"  Geez, that kid.  Said he's planning on celebrating the year mark with his MTC buddies at Akif's so maybe we'll hear more about that next week. 

I also laughed at him for succumbing to his comp's insistence to eat his patte. He replied, "Yeah, more precisely, it's called djenkuman which isn't like traditional patte. It's really good though. Just, you know, not like good ol' home fro cooking."  Awwww. 

And lastly, HK is the famous Harry Kalas who used to announce games for the Phillies. One of the best parts about going to a Phillies game is singing High Hopes with Harry Kalas.  Guess his talk of Philly with Pres. Weed this week made him a little nostalgic. Or, maybe it's more one year down equals "oops there goes another rubber tree plant." ;)

Monday, November 4, 2013

November is Upon Us!

What a crazy week it has been! From finding soft serve to Jour "Tous Saint"... it was a rather exciting week.
First of all, yes, I did find soft serve here in Africa at a restaurant called Kostas in Doumassessee. We do our monthly zone meetings every last Tuesday of the month, so this past week we had our meeting and then a bunch of us went to Kostas and bought some ice cream and burgers (okay, well the 3 Americans and the 1 French missionaries of our zone did!). Ah, it was so crazy to see a soft serve machine out here... though, I must say that it wasn't really soft serve because it became rock solid in the cup they gave me... but coming out of the machine, it definitely did look like it! Even though it was good, you can't beat Dilly's.
Halloween really wasn't as exciting as it would have been back home unfortunately .. during my English class, I did explain the holiday to them and they all got the gist of it. I did buy candy just in case there would have been some trick-or-treaters coming by... of course there weren't so I shared it with everyone in the apartment. Though, coming home that evening, I did lock my comp outside the apartment and made him knock on the door and say trick or treat. He was super confused at first as to why I locked him out of the apartment, but we all had a good laugh about it and he also got candy so he was happy! 

The next day, we had the real Halloween come in the form of "Tous Saint", or more commonly known as "Day of the Dead" back home. I was surprised that they actually celebrate it here because I thought that was only a Mexican thing, but nope! They even give all the kids a day off for it. Probably out of all the missionaries though, I probably got the coolest experiences from Tous Saint day because we're right across the street from a cemetery! People started crowding the cemetery early in the day... around 7-8 in the morning and by 10 it got pretty crowded. To me, it seemed a bit like a community service project because all they were doing was sweeping up the cemetery and cleaning the graves.
So, that was cool and all but, of course I had to go out and actually do missionary work. In the morning we didn't go out because of weekly planning but in the afternoon we headed out as usual. After heading out the door, it seemed like a nice day, but then the sky just got DARK. As we were crossing over into our sector, the wind kicked up and we could barely see... and then... I felt the rain drops. My comp and I just started BOOKING it to the nearest members house, hoping that we would be able to dodge the rain. Well, half way to the members house, BOOM, RELENTLESS RAIN. Oh my goodness I don't think I have ever seen more rain in my life! We probably walked another 5 mintues in what can be described as a waterfall of rain. By the time we got to our member's house, her and her family just laughed at us because they felt so bad for us! There was not one part of us that wasn't wet! 

Moi et Elder Legbanon DRENCHED after the storm! Still happy campers as you can see! 

After waiting out the storm, we had to walk the 1/2 hour back home to get changed. So, once we get back home I realize that I have no pants to wear out because I washed ALL my dress pants earlier that morning... so, I was like, great now what do I wear out... well, I don't think a missionary has ever looked more ridiculous but all I had to wear were my Levis. Yup, my classic American blue jeans. I looked pretty ridiculous, but since all I had for the rest of the night was my english class, I wasn't too worried about it. All the members complimented me on it haha. 

  Hipsta missionary.

But, anyway, after the English class we came back home and the cemetery had hundreds of candles lit throughout the place. It was actually a rather pretty site. Earlier that night, hundreds of people were coming up to the cemetery for the little ceremony the Catholic church holds. I wasn't able to see it because of English class, but everyone was really nicely dressed and it seemed almost like a church service. 

Cemetery at night with the bougies.

The next day, the Group finally through it's first real activity since I have been here. Attendance was really good considering I only found out about the activity 2 days before it happened, but it was really nice! A few of the members gave some talks about the Church, but the highlight of the activity was when the members did this funny sketch about the Church coming to a Togolais Village. It was funny as they all got dressed up... even one member went all out in his village attire as he was portraying a village chief! 

 Picture of the sketch the members did. Note King in the center! 
And of course, in classic mormon tradition, there were refreshments as always. And, because our Chef de Groupe is awesome, the missionaries got doubles! Score!

Mormon activity refreshments, AFRICA STYLE... nothing quite like funeral potatoes, but delicious nonetheless. Surprisingly, the sandwich tasted like a meatball sub, even though there was no marinara sauce or meatballs in it. Yeah... I think there might be something wrong with my tastebuds. The yellow stuff is just water mixed with powdered juice mix... nothing too special.

The next day, we finally were able to watch General Conference as well. It was really tough for me to pay attention through the 4 hours we watched however... it was better than when I watched it the first time 6 months ago, but the amount of concentration it takes for me to understand what they're saying is a lot! However, oddly enough (or maybe not) my highest point of understanding came at the last talk we listened to (meaning, the last talk of four hours worth of conference!) was President Monson's talk, which was pretty much exactly what I needed to here.

You see, despite this week being exciting, in terms of missionary work, it was dismal. During conference, I tallied up the weekly numbers and they were really bad in terms of lessons taught. The problem has been, though we have been talking to a lot of people, actually getting lessons with them has been very hard. And then, with the ones we do meet with, it's hard to get a follow-up lesson as well. That's to say... ratez-vous, ratez-vous, ratez-vous. And then, it's been hard for us to get lessons with people that we've been teaching for a while now.
I can't really tell you anything specific as to what President Monson said that touched me, but what really helped me was the I understood what he was saying and the warm feeling in my heart was undeniable. It was a really comforting experience for me though... and of course, you can't beat MoTab singing an extremely powerful rendition of "We Thank The Oh God for the Prophet." I'm not exactly sure how things are going to get better, but I'm comforted by the fact that the Lord knows that I'm here! All the way out in an unknown and seemingly forgotten place like Togo.
I don't really know where I'm going with this, but all I have to say is that I'm thankful to be here, even though it's tough. And, if there's one thing I've learned on my mission, the Lord always seems to send little reminders to me that he remembers me! That he has not forsaken me and that he still watches over me. It's not always when I expect it, but it always seems to come when I need it...
Best be going now. Thanks for the prayers, emails, love, and support you all send my way! Except the heat... I'm not sure why you all are sending me heat and then you all complain to me about it being cold back home. As if it wasn't hot already, it's now only getting hotter!
Alright, love you all! Take it easy!
Elder Hawkins

Cool after-the-storm picture I took when we got back to the apartment. I always love the clouds after storms out here. There was also lightening that would pop up every once in a while, but I couldn't get pictures of it!

Note from the Fro: Sorry if this post comes thru a bit funky. Posting with spotty wifi from Mexico. Today MY wifi was more spotty than his! Go figure.