Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lengthen Your Stride

Either it's snowing outside or there's a huge snow flake in my window. Probably the latter. (thanks Teagan!)

I think it's fitting to say that this week definitely went a lot quicker than my first week went in Africa a little over a year ago. 

Fittingly enough, I had my interview with President Weed this past week which was great as usual. I would imagine that it was much different from the interview I had in his office a year ago as a brand new missionary. Hair a bit shorter, shirt a bit more yellow, and shoes with a lot less rubber, the interview went very well and if I had to pick a theme for it, it would be "lengthen your stride and try a little harder." 

It's still a bit weird to think of the progress that I have made over the past year. My biggest problem a year ago was obviously the language, but it was also my lack of missionary knowledge and African know-how (i.e. how to cook with only a stove and rice cooker, how to wash clothes by hand, how to deal with the heat, how to eat patte w/o gagging, etc.)  Now, I have more or less gotten used to many of these aspects (even eating patte w/o gagging). 

I think that the biggest problem now is that I need to keep myself from getting into a routine where I start getting into bad habits. Having more or less a grasp on how things should go as a missionary, these are what as known as the "Golden Months" of my mission... you might even call me a fine, well-oiled missionary machine. 

In reflecting on the things that I could do to get the most out of my "Golden Months" on my mission, I've made a list of different aspects in my life that I would like to improve on during these Golden Months: 

  1. Physical fitness: Become a "parcours" master: I feel like you just can't learn French without become a parcours master... I mean, it's a French word after all! (oddly enough, the French call it "jumping"). My goal in becoming a parcours master is to help me get into better shape and become more agile, two traits especially key for missionary work. For those of you who don't know, parcours is where you have to try and find the most creative route from point A to point B, which usually includes a lot of jumping, back/front flips, jumping off of/on to roofs, etc. If you need some examples, just watch the first scene from Casino Royale and you'll catch my drift. It's pretty exciting stuff and I'm not sure if I will be able to do it, but how cool would it be to land into your amis house with a Book of Mormon in hand and then shout in a cool Superman voice amongst the rubble " Halt! I AM HERE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL!" Forget door-to-door, I'm going roof-to-roof!

    I'm not really sure how I will start my parcours training, but Elder Lala being French might be helpful. I'll keep you posted.
  2. Territory awareness: Real Life "Crazy Taxi": As some of you might now, Crazy Taxi was an amazing game from the 90s on Sega Dreamcast where the main objective was to pick up and drop off as many people in a city within the smallest amount of time as possible. My goal with this is to help increase my knowledge of the Cotonou city limits and make a little extra spending money to buy souvenirs. Anyway, I feel like I have an excellent opportunity here, as I have the mission bus at my disposal. The roads are in pretty rough shape here, but I think that will be good off-roading experience and good practice for four-wheeling.

    The only problem is that I don't think taxis here make that much money. Well, actually they do make a lot of money here because there are so few, but at the same time, I will be competing with a lot of moto taxis. However, I think if I did my Crazy Taxi time, I would probably be able to make enough money to buy all the souvenirs I want! I still don't know how I would fit the $40 5ft wooden giraffe in my suitcase, but that's a minor detail.
  3. Scriptural knowledge: Osmosis: This is a little known study trick but highly powerful: learning by sleeping with books under pillows. I'm not sure where this learning trick was invented from, but I believe it came from 1980 Chicago-area high schools (I think it was even a John Hughes movie). Anyway, the basic concept is that when you put books under your pillow at night, your mind will absorb the information contained within the books.

    I only used this method rarely when I was in high school and college with mixed results, but I feel like I'm wasting tons of time at night. I mean, why just sleep when I can learn and sleep with little next to no extra effort? I'm currently in the middle of reading the Book of Mormon again, but I think I can even speed up this process by the power of osmosis. Why learn it when you can absorb it! I feel like I will cross off a lot of my reading list by the time I finish my mission!
  4. Cooking ability: Benin/Togo Cookbook: My newest project, in order to increase my ability to cook, will be to create the very first cookbook to come out of Benin and Togo. Back home, everyone is used to that Chinese place around the block, the Mexican restaurant down the road, and that amazing new Ethiopian joint across town. However, have you ever heard of that cool, new, hip Beninois food bus? Nope didn't think so.

    I think the main reason is because none of the recipes here are really written down. Many times, I ask for recipes but people don't really know recipes, they really just know how their mother made it! Who knows how long you're actually supposed to let the corn flour/water mix boil before you add the rest before you make a wonderful patte! Who knows how much pima is enough pima to make your eyes burn out! Who knows how to really make delicious fried banana plantains the way everybody's Ivoriane aunt really makes it!

    But now, I think I can make my mission even more successful by creating the world's first Beninois/Togolais cookbook! It will be full of different kinds of pattes, sauces, spaghetti, and tomato paste recipes. Really the possibilities are endless and I'm not sure why I didn't think of this sooner. As I collect these recipes, I will also try to make the recipes myself which will in turn make me a better cook when I get home! And who knows... maybe I will open up that cool, new, hip, Beninois food bus when I get back home! The opportunities are endless!
  5. Money management: Take negotiating classes: One problem that I have had so far on this mission has been managing my money and budgeting. Sometimes I feel like I don't get enough soutien a month, but other times I think I just end up buying way too many charwamas in a month (probably the latter). Anyway, the point is that I need to shape up and get my act together.

    Being that the market here is all based on haggling, I feel like I can cut costs the most by haggling more on my purchases. Imagine: save 50 francs on my spaghetti here and 100 francs on my daily yogurt purchases really adds up! We're talking BIG savings here! My only problem is that I am still white, meaning I already have a big draw back.

    However, in taking negotiating/haggling classes, I think that minor set back will be nothing. If I can learn the art of negotiating taxis from 2000 francs to 1900 francs, the savings are endless and I might even be able to buy myself and extra charwama at the end of the month! The biggest thing holding me back from signing up from negotiating classes is that I don't know where to sign up, nor do I know if they exist here. I know Grandpa Koncurat could teach me if he were here.  Or maybe Dad could send the guys over from Barter Kings? 
Hopefully most of you caught on from the very beginning that most of those were all jokes (most...). I don't really think the mission president would appreciate me taking the van out and being a taxi for hire! Nor would I think he would appreciate the call when I tell him a have a broken leg after falling into somebody's parcel because their tin roof couldn't support me! 

Still, in all seriousness, the areas that I mentioned above are still things that I would like to improve on in my mission life right now. Physical fitness, territory awareness, scriptural knowledge, cooking ability, and money management. As to how I'm going to do all of that? I'm not too sure. I think I have spent more time thinking about the funny ways to improve myself rather than the actual real ways to do so! 

Nevertheless, however I end up trying to improve myself and my mission, the key message here is that there's always something MORE that we can do to lengthen our stride and be a little bit better! Of course, perfection will not come in this life, but as we try to getter better and stronger, the gap between us and perfection will be so much the smaller! And of course, a little prayer never hurt anybody in trying to improve! Remember, we were given weaknesses so that we would humble ourselves before the Lord and then He will help us to become stronger (Ether 12:27). So here's my question to you all, what will YOU do to lengthen YOUR stride this year?  If any of you become a parcours master, I want to be the first to know!

Thanks again to everybody for the love and support... keep sending those emails and those letters, because they are great! I will do my best to always keep everyone back home in my prayers... may the Lord bless you all in your endeavors!


Elder Hawkins


Elder Ouonnebo and Lala prepping the pizzas! (the one I prepped was already in the oven at that point) we had a LEGIT pizza party to celebrate Sur's Birthday last Monday!

Ooooohhhh yeah... FRESH PIZZA! Thanks Fro for sending that pizza crust about a year ago! I knew they would finally come in handy! 

Elder Ouonnebo pulling out that pizza from a REAL OVEN! Well, the Semkens call it a fire-in-a-box because that's really what it is... but thankfully the fire-in-the-box did not burn our pizza! 

Why yes, it was delicious!

 Don't ya wanna Fanta, Fanta....Fanta floats anybody?
Hipsta pic. The problem when you are in air conditioning and you go inside (I recently got out of the car and my glasses completely fogged up but I ran inside to take a picture!)

My amazing chicken bbq sandwhich that Elder Lala and I made! Turns out that, even though both of us are not very good cooks, as a combined effort, we actually do a pretty good job! Food truck worthy, no?
Thanks for putting up that highly visible sign! And thanks for putting the sign like 300 ft in front of the detour road... good thing we have reverse.

Note from the Fro: Well he certainly gets points for creativity, right?  

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