Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Come and Gone...

I finally received all my letters from the Doylestown primary! Thank you all so much! They were super awesome and I appreciate the great drawings! (the candy too!)

Christmas in Africa: Check. 

Well, I'm thankful that that will be my last Christmas in Africa, though I am also a little bit sad because I don't think I will ever get to have another one like it.

Christmas here was just a little different out here. As I said in my last post, there were no decorations nor a beautiful big tree sitting in our living room. Probably why Santa didn't leave us any gifts this year under our non-existent tree... either that or the fact that we don't have a chimney... to be honest, not sure who would have a chimney in this area. Now that raises a big question in my head: how does Santa get into people's houses here? Nobody has a chimney, usually they all have bars on their windows... the curiosity in me says I should spend next year's Christmas in Africa to find out, but the sensibility, reasoning, and intellect in me says that will never happen. 

Okay, I'll give our neighbors across the street credit... they did a pretty good job at decorating, albeit they only did it like 5 days before Christmas!

Anyway, because of Santa's lack of access into our apartment, I did not wake up to find any gifts! Possibly because I opened my Christmas package from home two weeks ago. Hmmm, even though Fro told me not to. But, I did want to make Christmas a little bit special for my companion so I gave him a pack of Smarties (French Smarties, not the sugared chalk Smarties of America) and a piece of pigne (like a yard of the local fabric stuff here). He wasn't expecting that at all, so he was SUPER happy to have been given a gift for Christmas and thanked me like 1000x times for the gift when he got it! 

Street side Christmas trees for sale... just like home?

 Attack of the STREET VENDORS who only sell things of no value! 

And even though I had already opened up my Christmas package about two weeks ago, I did leave one last thing to open: my family! Yup, that's right, the Hawkins crew came to visit me in flat butcher paper form. I took tons of pictures with them and even my comp got a kick out of them. All the quotes and things all the family wrote on them were classic too! I really did love that and it made my morning for sure! 

When did I become the shortest? Fro is taller than me? Hahahaha!

Just me and my sibs, hangin' in Africa on Christmas, mmm-hmmmm!

Afterwards, I let the family rest a little bit from their jet lag and I headed over to the bureau to our office meeting. Then, we went to brunch... AT AN AMERICAN'S HOME.

Background: Wes is a member of our Branch in Gbegamey, probably the only American I have ever seen attend a branch here who wasn't a missionary. He works for the US Embassy and has been here for a little over two years (he says that he stays for 3 and he's next stop will be Mexico!). He's basically been all over the world: he's a return missionary from South Korea, he's been to Egypt, all over Europe, South America, etc. And now he lives in Benin! 

So, last Sunday, he invited all of the missionaries of the branch to come and have brunch at his place. Arriving there, I entered into a little slice of America. We had to take of our shoes and I think it was because he knew we would want to feel his amazing carpet with our feet. It has been over a freaking YEAR since I have walked on real carpet and rubbed my feet in it... oh my gosh it was so joyous and one of the best gifts ever! Also, sat on real furniture which was just as glorious.

Christmas chez Wes (notice the carpet!)

Then, we ate brunch that he and his girlfriend (who is visiting from London) made for us: potatoes, quiche, scrambled eggs, real thick ham, and, best of all, TOAST. It has been almost a YEAR since I've even seen TOAST! I put REAL BUTTER on it (with fake syrup, but I'll let that slide. I have real syrup back at the apartment). It was magical (though not magically delicious as there were no Lucky Charms offered). And then we got to drink APPLE JUICE AND ORANGE JUICE, which I have not tasted in OVER A YEAR. Again, it was magical. 

Christmas chez Wes....toast, orange juice, apple juice, OH MY!

Afterwards, Wes played cards with all of the French speakers (since he speaks French) and then all the Americans kinda just talked with his girlfriend because she doesn't speak French and because she was really funny and nice. Overall, we probably spent way too much time there but it was well worth it and it was a nice little escape for me! 

After dropping off the missionaries, we went back to the office so that Elder O could call his family and so that I could skype mine. I'm sure the Fro will tell you all how great it was to Skype, but it was fun and a definite morale booster that every missionary needs (which is why I think they let us do it!). It was also really fun to see Grandpa, Grandma, Emily, and John as well! Didn't expect that! Wish I could have eaten the raclette that you guys all eventually ate as well, but I guess you can't win 'em all. (but hey, I got to rub my feet in carpet. Carpet!)

Then, I got to say goodbye to all the missionaries going back home, all of whom I will dearly miss! I don't know if I really like that aspect of the mission! Saying goodbye to so many friends that I've made on the mission... that's been really tough!

President Weed playing some guitar and singing at the missionary party... a President with many talents!

And there you have it... my first and last Christmas in Benin, West Africa. I'm pretty sure everything that I did was not really at all African, but that's okay in my books. I get enough of that during the week anyway! I think that was just a little gift the Lord was able to give me on Christmas: my mini-American christmas. 

Enjoying some alloco (fried banana plantains) at Sister Ola's house, who is probably the greatest member in our sector (technically doesn't live in our sector but works in it and still comes to Church out here too).

Now, as Christmas has gone by, I am looking ahead to 2014... which has been a year I've been waiting for ever since November 2012. It's a little bit scary to be honest... to think that my mission is starting to actually come just a tad bit closer to nearing the end. As I look ahead to the new year, I don't really know if I have any New Year's resolutions to make... I think that's something that I will probably have to work on in the next couple of days... think of a New Year resolution! 

As I look back at 2013, my blackout year, I can for sure say that it has been a wild ride and a missionary for the entire year! I feel like every email I ramble on and on about all the things I learn from everything that's happened so far on the mission, but it's all true! I am for sure not the same person I was at this time last year. I don't think I could have ever imagined the person I am right now over a year ago, so I'm not going to try and do that for next year either! Though, I can imagine that in 2014 I will be very happy drinking lots of hot Solebury Farms Apple Cider, catching up on Phillies/Eagles/Sixers/Flyers highlights from 2012-2014, and, of course, teasing Adele. That much I will guess! 

Here's to a New Year, full of new challenges and problems... but also full of new good memories and experiences. It will be a great one! Let's MAKE it a great one!


Elder Hawkins 

Yup, it's African halloween time. Around this time of year, because all of the kids have off of school and because Voodoo day is coming up (Jan 10), kids go out and around with drums and other loud-noise making objects. Usually they are in big groups with about one or two kids dressed up from head to toe in "revenon" outfits (Voodoo spirits). Then they come up to you and try to scare you into giving them money. Because I'm white, this happens to me quite often... one kid even asked me for 1000 francs... I was like, "boy, I say, boy...who do you think you are asking for that kinda money!? That ain't chump change round these parts!" (only on special occasions do I make life commentary as a grumbly old Southerner).

Note from the Fro: It was SOOOOO great to see that face on Christmas day!  Best Christmas present ever!  Here's just a little of my favorite footage.  (Side note: He's singing in his goofy voice, which is why you'll hear me laughing in the background, haha!)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas in July....or Africa

Hey, almost forgot to talk about the baptism I had today! His name is Olivier and is only about 20 years old. He's a really funny guy and is great to teach. I found him when I got here but he's really fun to talk to and really outgoing... also has a pretty cool moto. He was pretty nervous to be baptized but the baptism went very smoothly. I wish I had taken a picture of the clothes he came to the baptism in... they were pretty stylish African! Maybe he'll come to Church in the same outfit Sunday and I can grab a picture of it!

Thank you to everybody for the kind words of encouragement that were sent to me this past week as well as the prayers... they really mean a lot to me and I know that they really helped me! 

So here's what went down... last week (last P-Day that is) I sent a pretty explicit email to President Weed about what happened that past week. Let's just say, I did not hold anything back as to what happened and how I felt about the whole week. 

I think because of my letter and that of Elder Mary's, President decided to meet with all three of us briefly on P-Day, right before we went to a missionary activity. President really didn't say anything new, but what he did say was that we really just need to get over this and that now all of this would be water under the bridge. After our little talk, he got up and then we all had a big group hug.

Now, I'm not sure what happened, but after that... all of the bad feelings I had and the stress that came from the week just slowly seemed to melt away, to my astonishment. Basically, slowly but surely things just started getting better the rest of the day. Finally, at the end of that day, I felt ready to forgive him and ask him to forgive me and the way I treated him all this week. And then, he did the same thing to me (asked me to forgive him and forgave me for the way I acted as well). Afterwards, Elder Mary and him did the same thing. 

And then, after that... things were back to normal. Even better than normal. Whenever we were walking some place, we would walk together and talk together. I don't know how it happened, but in a blink of an eye... all the bad that happened was just washed away! Last week when I wrote my letter home, I honestly did not think that this kind of miracle could happen. I thought it would at least take months before anything would get back to the way it was. Honestly, I am astonished. 

Have miracles ceased to exist?  NO! "And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles." Moroni 9:15

So, just like that... this past week was great! It was just like any other week and I am so happy to have just had an ordinary week with no crazy problems like last week! Now I think I can really appreciate having just an ordinary missionary week! 

Okay... now that that is all taken care of...I can go on to answering a question that a lot of people have been asking lately! And that question is, what is Christmas like in Benin?

Well... pretty boring so far! I think I've told multiple people that if people told me it was July, I probably wouldn't think twice! But here is a list of similarities and differences between Christmas in Benin and Christmas in Pennsylvania:

1. It's Colder - It's the Harmattan! What's that you might ask? It's the dry and dusty season of West Africa. What happens is that the trade winds pick up the dust off the Sahara and bring them down to West Africa. What does that do? Make things really dry and cool, much like back home when winter hits! It is really cold in the mornings here and my lips are almost always chapped now (thanks for all the Chapstick, Dad!) The sky also does look a lot dustier than it has before, which makes for really cool sunsets and sunrises! It's really funny though because people here would make you think it's below 0 degrees... they are all wearing long sleeves and even the Zimijans (moto taxi drivers) are wearing big winter coats... all the meanwhile, I'm still sweating, even though I do feel cold! 

2. There are sales and some store decorations - Surprisingly, in driving around town, I do see a lot of the big name brand stores having sales and wishing people a "Joyeux Noël" and a "Bonne Année". I know that the Sony store downtown is having a big sale (not really sure who is going to be buying a PS4 out here though!). A lot of the little stores out here do hire window painter people that paint Santa's and little decorations on their windows and doors! They vary in quality but it does make things just a little more festive. 

3. People do get off for Christmas and (I think) places will close - From what I can tell, most places will be closing down on Christmas Eve and Christmas itself because we've been having to work our schedules around Christmas.

4. PAAARRTTTY - My gosh, I don't know how people afford it but they sure do love to party out here. Actually, I do know how they fund their parties because I have seen a billboard out here of a bank that encourages people to take a loan as big as 1,000,000 FCFA ($2000) to fund their Christmas and New Years parties. Anyway, the way I know a lot of people are partying is because all the schools are partying it up. The school across the street from us went crazy the other day and blocked the road with their tent thing (basically, to throw parties/funerals/weddings here, people set up these huge tents in the middle of the road and have parties under them). And then their speakers. BOOM BOOM BOOM. Like I said my very first week in Africa, if there's one thing that Africans love it's blasting their speakers at FULL BLAST. Also, I've been seeing a lot more of the party tents throughout the town which creates a lot of detours for us and makes it a pain in the butt to drive through town. 

Christmas lights... yeah, the reason why the picture is mostly black is because... well... they're pretty lame Christmas lights.

1. Nobody really decorates - Christmas Lights? No. Garland? No. Wreaths? No. Ornaments? No. I have seen a total of one house with a few Christmas lights on it. Even going to people's houses, you see no signs of Christmas, whatsoever. 

2. No Amazing Christmas Food Specials - Yeah... not a whole lot of people ordering Peppermint Hot Chocolate from the local Starbucks... oh wait, there is no local Starbucks (although, I don't think that the street coffee vendors have any special holiday flavors, but I have never ordered so... guess we can't be 100% sure on that one!). Haven't seen any special cookies or baked goods either... though Sister Eastmond did give us a delicious carrot bread with raisins for Christmas which was AMAZING! 

3. Creepy Santa Masks - One thing that you don't see in the states are "(in the) street vendors.' What I mean by that is people sell you products while you're sitting for a red light. So, as of lately they have started selling the creepiest Santa masks you could ever imagine. I don't know who on earth would actually buy them, but I guess there's a market because... well... they're selling them. 

4. It Just Doesn't Feel Like Christmas - To be honest, the biggest difference here is that there really isn't any Christmas spirit here. The music they blast at the bars and in boutiques is still awful sounding African music. People don't act any happier than usual. I don't know... there just really isn't that Christmas spirit that you would feel back home. I really think that's been the hardest thing for me to adjust for this Christmas season... the fact that it doesn't even feel like Christmas. Even at Church, you would think we would be singing tons of Christmas songs all the time... however, we end up just singing Silent Night almost every Sunday. I would definitely say that that has been the hardest thing to get used to... the fact that all of December has really just felt like July!


A few people have asked me if it has been easier for me to remember the true meaning of Christmas this season as compared to back home. To be honest, I think it would have to be harder because, like I said before, sometimes I forget entirely that it's even Christmas time. 

However, that doesn't mean I have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. I've shared with a few people my favorite Christmas scripture, and I'll do it again here. It's 1 Nephi 11:16, which says, "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" I hope we all remember how amazing the Birth of Christ actually was and also, what an extraordinary gift the Lord gave to us in allowing his son to come to earth and do what he would eventually do. Jesus, who before was one among the Gods, came down to Earth in the most humble birth possible: in a manger... not even a barn, but a manger! If you ask me, it doesn't sound like the way a king would be born! And yet, that was still good enough for Christ, the King of Kings.

I'm so grateful for the magnificent gift the Lord has given unto us. Like any gift we receive during Christmas, the best thing we can do to use the gift the Lord has given us is by applying the principles and teachings that Christ taught into our own lives, by inviting others unto him, and by remembering the sacrifice that he made for each and every one of us. I think that's the greatest way we can say thanks to our Heavenly Father for Christ. The greatest way we can thank him for the love he gave to us in sending his son is by showing our love and gratefulness for this wonderful gift. 

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas day, full of love, gifts, and cinnamon rolls. Even though I'm a thousand miles away, you are all in my heart and I think of everyone constantly!

With love,

Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: My "Mom" heart is so full of gratitude to all of you who wrote encouraging words to Elder Hawkins this past week.  He was so astonished by the outpouring of love and support. Not only did he and his companions get past their difficult spot, but they had a baptism!  A God of miracles indeed.  May you all have a joyous and wonderful Christmas season! 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

If Only Trails Came with Warning Signs..."Bumpy Road Ahead"

H is for....hope?

I asked Fro to post this song.  It's my theme song this week.

As a missionary, the Lord seems to throw me a lot of different sorts of trials. Many times, I do not know what they are supposed to mean. I do not know how they will affect me in the future. I do not know how they will change me. However, one thing that I've learned since coming on the mission is that I usually find a way out of these trials and they always seem to turn me into a better person. 

In the beginning of my mission, the biggest trial I had to face was adjusting to African life and Missionary life, two things which are difficult just by themselves but even more difficult when they are together. There were many nights when I thought I wasn't going to make it through my mission due to the newness. There were many days where I thought I could never get through the infinitely long 2 years. Though it took many months to adjust to my new missionary-in-Africa lifestyle, I finally did find a flow and have gotten a good groove going. 

In my second sector, Nyekonakpoe, my biggest trial seemed to be trying to find success as a missionary. Though my first sector went really well, the success didn't seem to stick so I was always trying to find ways to make things better. As I'm sure most of you know, my success was still rather limited in that sector, but I came out of that sector learning so many things that made me not only a better missionary but a better person, as it really taught me how to care for the few investigators that I did have and it also taught me how to keep my head high even when the going got tough. 

Coming into this third sector at the Bureau of the mission, I thought things were going to be pretty smooth. I thought to myself, finally, I'll be able to work in a not dead sector, I'll be able to do some different things like drive and work on a computer, and I'll be able to handle all the problems that come to me because I'm an experienced missionary now. Really, I thought the only problem that I would have to face is the fact that I still had a year left on my mission and that things might start getting mundane because I was so used to all the problems and I knew how to handle everything. 

Well, you ever hear of the "refiner's fire"? Yeah, apparently it only gets hotter and hotter as you go through your mission. 

Why do I say that?

Right now, the Lord has given me another trial to go through in this third phase of my mission. This time, it's not adjustment issues nor sector issues. Instead, I have been running into a variety of problems with one of my companions (there are three of us), we'll call him Elder O. I really don't want to go into too many details, but because of events that happened this week, our companionship with the three of us has gone completely downhill. Because of his conduct, I have lost a lot of respect and trust for this person, which has in turn made doing missionary work together extremely difficult. 

However, I know that even though this is a huge test and a huge challenge, I know that the Lord is putting my through this trial for some reason or another. I don't know why and I probably won't know why for a while, but I believe that there is a reason and there is a purpose. 

This week, my goal is not to repeat what happened to me this past week: meaning, being spiritually null. After living a week that felt like the spirit was non-existent, I know that I never want that to happen again. So this week, I really need your prayers and your help because I know that I can't succeed without them... I need the Lord on my side this week because I want to do everything possible to move forward with His work.

As discouraged as I have felt this week, as depressed as I have felt this week, and as disheartened as I have been, I know that there's always a balance in the universe. Where there's evil, there's good. Where there's fighting, there's peace. Where there's sadness, there's happiness. 

I hope you all are continuing to have a wonderful Christmas season! It's still hard on my part, to be away from home and the states during this season, but it's still a reminder that Christ is really the center of all of it! And that can be celebrated at any time, and at any place. 

Thank you all for the encouragement you give me already! I love you all! Take it easy!


Elder Hawkins

P.S. I know my P-days are on Saturday now but people can email me anytime of the week! What the heck! Sometimes those emails are the only thing that gets us through tough weeks.  I love when I hear from you all! Please write!!

Just said goodbye to these Elders.  Really sad to be honest. Gonna miss them all!

Note from the Fro: Prayers and letters!  That's what this Elder needs this week.  He would love to hear from you!

More Picures: Warning, we got a pig this week.....and ate it! (scroll really fast to see the bottom pics if you want to skip the pig:))

The pig

Meets the BBQ pit

Why yes, that is the back of a cut of pig's head!

So that's what end tables are for?!

A cool bird that makes the weirdest sound I have ever heard! It sounds a lot like someone sucking gulps of water out of a straw! I can't really describe it but if he comes back, I'll try to record it!
 Well, I guess somebody from PA really didn't want to renew their smog and emissions stickers so they sent their car to Africa!

Santa has a bit of a tan. And yeah, I recognized the Walt Disney font. Might be the closest they get to Disney in Benin...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Voodoo, Temples and Snakes, Oh MY!

Snake + Me. nbd.

The road was bumpy. Motos seemed to be passing by on every side of the truck, though traffic seemed to be diminishing, slowly but surely as we left the city. However, as the traffic diminished, the worse the road seemed to get. It was almost as if we were dwindling away from the known, civilized world, venturing into the untamed wilds of the "Dark Continent." 

Every rock we passed over, every hole we dipped through, and every debris we dodged around only seemed to remind us that our final destination was not just a simple grocery list task. Rather, the task ahead was ominous: venturing into what some have called the birthplace of "Voodoo" and explore its temples. However, despite that, we continued our journey on the unbeaten path, preferring not to think about the mysteries and potential danger that lay ahead. 

To that point, only rumors had been heard as to the mysteries of "Ouidah." Even the name is a mystery! Some have called it Gléhué, others Whydah, and then others Juidah. Even what makes this village famous is disputable: some have called it the birthplace of Voodoo, though others refute that. One might suppose that the only sure fact of this mysterious village seemed to be that there really are no facts. 

However, the history surrounding this village is frightening. For hundreds of years, it was used as a major port for one of the most disgraceful and cruel trades to taint our history books: that of the slave trade. Thousands of slaves would, according to legend, stay in less-than-habitable huts, only later to be shoved like sardines into the large masked ships of the Europeans. Even the French burned down their fort, not only to burn away any value that was left in the fort, but also to cover the atrocities that happened on the inside too. 

Though, with the amount of suffering that happened through her history, "Ouidah's" top chiefs are said to have been the definition of the word royalty. According to the locals, the chiefs would throw huge feasts and other spectacles for their European guests. Some say that they would even last weeks, the largest lasting for at least two or three months. The fortune of most of the tribal chief came, of course, from the selling of their people to their European guests. Apparently, a European cannon would cost upwards of 20 virgin women. Who knows what else they could buy with just a few poor souls. 

Of course, that history is completely different to that of the infamous Snake Temple. As the legend goes, the ancestors of this village were under attack and were about to lose their battle, but then snakes came and protected the village from their attackers. Ever since then, the townspeople have worshiped the protection given by the serpents. They are even marked on their faces, with four strikes on each cheek and two on their forehead; a symbol of their thankfulness for what the ancient serpents had done. 

Now, the traffic has ceased. The forest has become dense. The skies just a bit darker. Though the road ahead seems ominous, we charge ahead... waiting and wondering what will be our fate...

Well, at least that's what I thought on my way to Ouidah, the infamous Beninois town known for its slave trade history and voodoo background. As a missionary, that's one of the the apparent "highlights" of the mission. In Togo, that's all we heard about as the things we were missing out on! I'm lucky that I happened to fall on a trip down to Ouidah on my second week in Benin! 

So needless to say, my expectations were high and I was really excited to go visit the Snake Temple! But first, we went to the old Portuguese fort, which was rebuilt in the 1970s at the expense of the Portuguese. It's not really that great, in terms of a cool fort, but oh well! You take what you can get! Unfortunately, like I mentioned before, the French fort was burnt down by them before they abandoned it in the 1700s. However, inside the Portuguese fort (which was turned into a museum), they had a model of what the old French one looked like and it was pretty huge! 

The Portuguese fort (with the museum inside)

In the museum, they had a bunch of other cool old artifacts that were found in renovating the old Fort. On the lower level, they actually had an art exhibit from a French photographer who took photos back in the 60s of the similarities between African-Brazilian culture and Togo/Benin culture. There are some photos where you wouldn't even think there was a difference in what they were doing, even though they happened to be on two completely different continents. (See Sister SieHawk? It's like we ARE connected! Africa and Brazil!)

The old doors to the fort, donated by the Portuguese. I think they were removed because they were afraid of somebody stealing them. As for the hearse thing... not sure about the story behind that.

On the second floor, they had more of the artifacts and they explained what Ouidah was used for during the slave trade days (mostly, party central). Yeah, what I talked about in that little beginning intro was true... they would party for months with the Europeans! And it was always thrown by the tribal leaders to celebrate. However, some of the things I found the most interesting were the diagrams of the ships they would transport slaves in (I think sardines have more room in a can than the African slaves did in ships). The slaves would actually be kept in the forts for a matter of days, weeks, and even months until they could be taken down to the port and put in the ships. So, they would always have to go through a "death march" down to the shore (only about 4-5 kilometers away). There they would reach "the point of no return", which has a big memorial but we didn't get to go see it on my trip.  

Old memorial to the Portuguese... notice the canons around it, which were really bought by old Chiefs for 20 virgin slaves. Each.

The Catholic Church of Ouidah... I think there's a problem when the Voodoo capital of the world's Voodoo temple is 30x smaller than the Catholic Church next door.

After the museum, we headed on our way to the Snake Temple! VOODOO CAPITAL! Wooohoooo! Except well... I gotta say... it was kinda lame to be honest. First off... it just looks like a really unkempt garden and then, on the side, there is a tiny little hut that has a lot of cool paintings on it. Our "tour guide" (only said like 5 sentences because the temple is so small) brought out a python and then everybody took their turn and wore it, er held it. Afterwards, we were given the chance to go inside the "temple" (hut) and look at the snakes.

 Inside the grounds around Temple, this is the prophets house... or as I call it, prison cell.
 Doors of the Temple.

Now, I was expecting an Indiana Jones-type snake pit thing inside the temple. I mean, you would think that Voodoo Capital, crazy famous temple would be like that... but no. It was just a little room with a bunch of curled up snakes (it was morning so I guess they were sleeping? Do snakes sleep?). It was still kinda creepy to be surrounded by the 15 or so snakes... but... well I guess my expectations were too high. And to be honest, I wasn't even scared putting on the snake because I was expecting an INDIANA JONES SNAKE PIT. The disappointment just made me like... "oh, nbd, there's a snake on me. cool." 


Some snakes just chillin' taken it easy.

However, one cool fact about the snakes is apparently they let them roam around the town one day a week. Elder Semken told me that every time they let them out to roam around, every single one of them always comes back! Thought that was cool.

Anyway... yeah... snake temple was kind of a bust but, you pay for what you get ($2). And I still had a lot of fun being with all the other missionaries and seeing how scared they were around the snakes. 

Aside from my Ouidah trip, my week was pretty boring to be honest. Not too much to report on. I'm still trying to get used to all the newness of Benin and the Bureau but things are coming along now. I am learning a lot about how things work out here though. For example, how customs sorts through the mail, how we have to do immigration for all the Elders and how that plays a huge factor in the timing of when missionaries go home... I'm learning a lot! I am also learning that whenever you deal with the government here, you're gonna have to wait... imagine the post office, customs, department of immigration, etc about 10x as bad as the DMV back home... and for some odd reason, the Beninois DMV here has to be worse than everything else, just like the DMV back home, so it's like 20x worse. Good times!

Thank you for all your prayers and all your support that you guys give me! It's very helpful and it keeps me going. I hope everyone is starting to get into the Christmas spirit a little bit and gearing up for the holidays! Hey, maybe you could think about sending your favorite missionary a Christmas card or something?  What a great idea! 

Miss you all! Love you! 

Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: One thing he didn't mention in his letter this week is that he is SUPER excited for Togo to organize its FIRST STAKE tomorrow!  He's sad he won't be there on the momentous occasion, but is excited he played a part in making that happen.  Yay!  Also, he says it's a little depressing going to pick up hundreds of letters at the post office and NONE of them are for him.  :( How about taking some time to write to him this week?  I know he'd LOVE hearing from you!  Remember to wish him a Merry Christmas! Here's the address once again:

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