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."

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