Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Best and the Worst

One year ago, if you asked me, "In one year, what do you think you're LEAST favorite thing will be on your mission?" I probably would have said something like, "oh the time is going by too quickly" or "well, the food is kinda lame." 

While both of those things are true... I can promise you that I would have never said "driving school." Yet, lo and behold, this is my least favorite thing on the mission so far. 

*(Note: if you're more interested in what I like MOST on my mission and not interested in tales from the African equivalent of the DMV...then skip down past all the pictures!)

The funny thing is that I'm not even going through driving school! I give that honor to Elder Lala. However, it's still my least favorite because it's soooooooooo boring. And not only that, but this is the SECOND TIME I have had to go through driving school with a companion, because Elder Ouonnebo took lessons when I first got here (though, since Elder Lala already drove a bit back home, I don't feel like my life is in as much danger compared to when Ouonnebo would drive). Anyway, for the first two weeks, he has to do driving one day and then code review the next day and so on and so forth. And since I'm his companion, guess what I get to do?  Ride along.

Glimpse of the rolling heat trap

Let me tell you what: '90 Toyota Corolla Hatchback with no working air conditioning, windows that only crack open a half inch in the back, and you know, being in West African 2 PM heat kinda stinks when you're only going 10 MPH THE WHOLE TIME. Add that to the fact that Africans usually don't wear a whole lot of deodorant (okay, none), never mind anti-perspirant... and it's a fine and dandy time as you can imagine! If you had told me my mission would have been like this before I left, I would have signed up earlier! (*sarcasm*)

So that's what the driving day is like. Then the code days are even more boring because we have to sit in a (again) non-airconditioned room, in West African afternoon heat, for a half hour. The seats they have for us to wait around in aren't very comfortable either... I've tried studying my Book of Mormon and the Bible while I wait but I honestly get a little distracted when one of the driving school instructors has a two year old baby who cries all the time. As you can imagine, it was always Elder Lala begging me to go to driving school every afternoon because I wanted nothing to do with it! (Though I don't blame him because a Driver's License chez lui can cost upwards of 1200 euros whereas here we're paying $150 or something like that).

Anyway, this past week we've been doing early morning driving courses (they do this little course that's similar to what the actual driving test really is). That gave me time to actually read my scriptures because I could actually stay in the car and read comfortably. Plus, I could listen to my music too (thanks MoTab, BYU Men's Chorus, and... Solas!). So that wasn't too bad.

Now, honestly, the real reason I dislike driving school is because of the test. Why? BECAUSE IT'S ACROSS TOWN AT 7 AM. WHAT THE HECK. WHO INVENTED THAT?! But yeah, we had to wake up at 5 AM this morning (Benin is surprisingly quiet at 5 AM... rather peaceful actually) so we could get to the office by 6 AM then drive over across town to pick up Precious (she works for the mission and happens to be doing her driving school with Elder Lala so we picked her up near the place since she didn't know where it was) at 6:30 AM... all of that to finally be that by 7 AM

Elder Lala and I super happy to go to the driving test center at 5am
It was so dark outside at 5 in the morning that I might as well just sent a picture of a black rectangle.
Proof that it was early
Still excited though!

And then, the way they do it is absolutely ridiculous. Just so you know, about 1000 people show up to this thing. Then, they pile everybody up on the side of the building and call everybody who's going to take the test ONE-BY-ONE. Are you kidding me? With Elder Ouonnebo, we waited all the way until 10 AM until he was called and didn't leave until 12:30ish. Goodness that was awful. Thankfully, they called Elder Lala very early this time (only waited about an hour) so we didn't have to wait as long. 

Where they actually take the exam and pile people in.

Where people have to wait for their name to be called (about half of the people had been called by this point).

Now, my favorite part is the actual test that these people have to take. They set up this big projector screen and then like 250 people take it at once... here are my favorite questions (all multiple choice, too):

1. What are the colors of a stop light? (a. red, yellow, green b. yellow, red, green c. green, yellow, red). Pretty confusing stuff.
2. If there is a working stop light and a policeman directing traffic, what do you do? (a. just follow the light b. turn around and go back c. follow the officer and the light d. just follow the officer) 
3. What do you do at a stop sign? (a. Go through b. Slow down and let the other cars pass through c. Come to complete stop and let the other vehicles pass before proceeding). 

Now, not only are the questions super easy, but even if you don't get them right, our Auto-School dude has "inside connections" which basically means that we paid a higher price so that way they would be guaranteed to pass. That's basically how all the missionaries get their licenses here (and it's pretty scary to see some of the missionaries that get licensed here I gotta say). Even when Precious was signing up for the auto-ecole, she was worried she wouldn't pass the test because she's an anglophone (from Nigeria) so it's a little hard for her to understand all the road jargon they use in French. M. Okey (the dude) reassured her that as long as she knew how to write her name and the name of her auto-ecole, she would pass. Gotta love West Africa! 

On Wednesday, Elder Lala will be passing the driving part of the exam which is also a joke (the rule is that as long as you don't stall the car when you first start, you pass). That shouldn't take as long, but still, it's annoying because we have to show up at 7 AM. Again. kladlkdafjkldfjklasdfjkl;sdfjkl;sdfajklsdfal;hsdfadjsjkasdadbj (sorry I was just banging my head into my keyboard).

So anyway, yeah, that's one of the things I dislike most about my mission right now. BUT, let's turn things over and talk a little bit about the things I like MOST about my mission right now: reading the Book of Mormon.

A while ago, I picked up a brand new copy of the Book of Mormon and decided that I should really read it front to back in French. To that point, I had studied out of it but I had never read it front to back. So, feeling that I was at a point in my mission where I was rather apt enough to read through the Livre de Mormon without the need of the Book of Mormon or a dictionary, I have given it a whirl. And wow! It really is true when people say that the book changes every time you read it. I don't know why that is, but it is really true. And awesome.

And to be honest, it's still remarkable that I can even read it in French with very little difficulty at all. In fact, I almost have less trouble reading in French than I do in English because the French one seems clearer to me sometimes than the English one does! 

Anyway, I wanted to share with you one verse that I really enjoyed while I was reading this past week. It comes from Jacob 5:75... as some of you might now, this is at the very end of the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees... for those of you who don't know it, it's kind of a complicated section to read (though it is really good) but the gist of it is that it talks a lot about missionary work at the end. Here's the verse: 

And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.

Now, the reason why I love this verse is because the Lord makes a promise based on some conditions: keeping the commandments and laboring diligently. However, I find the last phrase rather interesting because the promise says that we shall have joy "with (him)." I thought that was so cool... one of the greatest joys I have had in my life has been being here on my mission, slowly but surely inviting people to Christ... and I cannot even describe to you the joy that I feel while doing that. In fact, I kind of feel like Enos when he says, "I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it (preaching the gospel) above that of the world." (Enos 1:26). However, I think it's even more cool that the Lord will have that very same joy with me, too! It makes this work even all the more worth it that I can do work that will make my Father in Heaven as happy as I am, if not happier. 

And that's an amazing blessing of being able to serve a mission. Honestly, two years is a pretty small amount of time in the grand scheme of things, so doing this act of service for the Lord is probably the least I can do to show my appreciation for all the blessings I have received: a great family, a great childhood, great friends, great life experiences, just to name a few. 

Honestly, it's the least I could do and I'm more than happy to be doing it. And I thank everyone who has supported me in doing it too! But, lo and behold, I must be going now! 

Have a great week and Love you all,

Elder Hawkins

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mangez-vous, Mangez-vous...

So, can I write another email about how it's okay to not know what to say? Because I really don't know what to say right now! 

Anyway, this week wasn't too exciting. The mission has been preparing for this past week for a while now because pretty much everything fell on these past three days! We have 7 missionaries going home this week (including 5-6 today), then we also had our Zone Conferences this past week, and then it was transfers, so it was a mess! Still is a mess but it will all be worked out by tomorrow

This week was full of more driving insanity... with all the Zone Conferences, I was driving missionaries around like crazy these past few days. The good news is that my internal GPS map of Cotonou is getting pretty good now. Sienna, Keegan, and Adele can all testify of my internal map so you know when I say that my internal map has finally getting a hang of Cotonou, that means I'm becoming a pro! 

The big news this week is that Elder Ouonnebo is being transferred to Calavi for the last 4 weeks of his mission... the reason is because a new French missionary was unable to obtain his visa in time for the mission so he has started his mission in Paris and will arrive in April for the time being. So, he had to go and fill in a gap that was left out in the field... so for now, it will be just me and Elder Lala!

That being said, because Elder Ouonnebo is leaving... we have been getting tons and tons of mangez-vous! The first mangez-vous we went to was kinda a bust... it was with the former police chief and his wife. They're really nice but we kinda just at around for 2 hours waiting for some food... but it never turned up... at least they bought us sodas. 

Me, Sister Retired Police Chief, Brother Retired Police Chief, and Elder Lala. I completely forgot what their real names are, but they're really nice people! The retired police chief has been a huge help for the mission though. He's helped missionaries get carte de sejours and even helped a Seventy get into Benin when he had problems at the border.

However, remember that ami that I talked about last week? Well, she invited us for lunch this past Thursday and it was some pretty good stuff! She made us rice with this sauce made from Cassava leaves. I'm not surprised she fed us that as she is Congolais (that's pretty much they're favorite food ever... all my Congolais comps always tried hunting for that stuff because it's pretty hard to find here. The few times I ate it before, it was pretty dang gross). But! What she made us was very delicious! And the good news is at the end, she told us that she would be getting ready to meet with us regularly again, so you know... progress!

We also had dinner with Precious... she is part of the office staff here (okay, she IS the office staff, since everyone else is a missionary!). We had some pretty dang good djenkoumen (red patte) with a nice sauce too... but we also had beesap (flower/sugar drink... pretty sweet stuff). She's super awesome... I always joke around with her in the office and it was nice to finally meet her family too (since I only ever see her in the office). 

So yeah... we're pretty mangez-vous'd out here. I mean it's not like Sister SieHawk who gets four course meals every night at a member's house dripping in butter and fried chicken, but you know... you take what you can get! Even if that does mean eating cornflower and water with your hands! I have made myself a promise to only make patte for any missionary that I invite over to eat when I get home. I wouldn't say it's to torture them but more like a "cultural learning experience." Sorry to all future missionaries who are invited to eat with Brother Hawkins. 

But in all reality, I am really thankful that people invite us over to eat at all! With as little money people make here, people are still really generous when it comes to feeding the missionaries and making sure we're doing alright! Just found out that minimum wage here in Benin is $120 a month... which, if my calculations are correct, people are living on about $4 a day... and I was told that a lot of people get paid lower than that. 

Anyway, I don't have too much to write about this week... my creative juices/spiritual insights are not really flowing right now... all these crazy kids going home today have been making it really hard to concentrate on writing a good letter this week... but, like every time I have a tough time writing a letter, I will be sure to include several pictures! Because pictures are worth 1000 words, so that will make up for my lack of creative energy this week, right? 

Oh wait, before I sign off... I wanted to give everybody my advice for sending packages to Benin. I know that Elder Semken often advises people on what to do, but as the person who actually goes to the post office/customs and picks up packages, let me give you all some advice on sending packages to your missionaries.

Elder Hawkins' 5 Tips for Getting Packages to Benin
  1. It's not a bad idea to put something in there for the Customs agents: That really can range from anything, but I would really leave it to only edible items. They always, always, ask us for chocolate so even a cheap candy bar would work (just hope that it doesn't melt!). It doesn't have to be big or anything, but just make it something. Put it on the top so that way we know it's for them... also, to make it even easier for me to tell that it's for the Customs agents, write "D" in permanent marker on the treat so I know to give it to the "douaniers" (custom agents).

    You might be wondering why this helps... well, usually if we give them something, they are a lot less likely to just take whatever they want from the package since we already gave them a gift. Plus this makes them a lot more willing to let us go without any problems
  2. Pictures of Christ, labels with the name of the Church don't do anything: Kinda sad, but yeah... they really don't care if there are pictures of Christ on the package. You can continue to put them on because they don't hurt, but unlike some South American countries that won't open them if they have pictures of Christ/Mary on it, that doesn't work here.

    In the past I have thought about putting Voodoo symbols on it to make them scared, but yeah don't do that either. If anything, they will just think we are voodoo worshipers... which is actually a pretty bad thing to be when you call yourself Christian, believe it or not. 
  3. Make Sure You Claim EVERYTHING that's in the Package: One time, somebody sent their missionary an electronic item that was not listed on the box. We got fined over $80 for that and ever since then, it's been hard for us to regain the trust of the Customs agents because they think we're trying to sneak stuff in now. Please, list everything that you put in the package and put an accurate price on the customs form. Sometimes, they try to give us a hard time in saying that we undervalue all of our packages (the reality is that they don't know how to read English and look at the price the package was sent rather than the value of the package). I don't think it's a bad idea to hide stuff in pancake mix/peanut butter, but please, please, please list it. It makes our lives so much easier. 
  1. Don't send packs of stuff where somebody could easily take an item without it being noticed: Okay, let me explain. One missionary received a bunch of razors rubber banded together from his parents. Because there were a bunch of razors and nobody would have really noticed if one went missing, the Custom agent took a couple of razors because they were super easy to take. My suggestion, instead, is to make it harder for them to take one by taping them all together with clear wrapping tape. I'm not sure if it will really work, but it would be harder to take stuff out if they are all taped together rather than rubber banded. So, I guess my suggestion really is just wrap clear tape around everything.
  2. Include Stuff For Elder Hawkins. That should go without saying. I mean come on, I can't be giving out these nuggets of gold for free! ;)
Alright, I think that's it as far as my tips go, but I think that should help everybody with getting packages out here. Another tip would be to NOT use USPS  if at all possible, as it is very slow and iffy. I wouldn't use UPS either. Fedex and DHL seem to be the best options, although I know they're expensive.   

Hope everyone has a great week! Love you all! Keep warm under all that snow! 


Elder Hawkins


This past Monday, we had a huge missionary beach activity. Elder Edwards, official chef of the mission (on the right), brought 4 kilos of chicken and his grill for us! Needless to say, all the Americans and some of the Frenchys ate very well. Elder Edwards' mom sent some "Kickin' Chicken seasoning" and it was super awesome.

Didn't have plates so we ended up using pamphlets.

Elder Merritt really, really enjoyed that chicken... maybe a little too much.

However, at the end of the activity, 4 kilos of chicken wasn't enough to fill 15 American missionaries so we ended up going to Steers (which is, from what I heard, a South African fast food chain... most expensive fast food I've ever eaten though!)

What do you do when one guy is pushing a car into traffic? Go out and help him! At least, that's what Elder Lala and Ouonnebo did!

Note from the Fro: For those of you who don't know....Sister Sienna Hawkins (SieHawk!) is Elder Hawkins' sister who is currently serving in the Atlanta, Georgia mission while waiting for her visa to Brazil.  So yes, she gets fed a lot of good food Elder Hawkins' gets a tad, well, jealous about.  Haha!  He also thanked me for the "hug" he got from me sent to him via Sister Kimzey who went to pick up her son this week.  Thanks Kim!!!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

And That's Okay

"Sometimes, you just don't know what to say."
- Elder Trevor Hawkins

I think this phrase applies to many, many aspects in my life as a missionary. As I was trying to come up with something to write home about this week, this phrase just kept running through my mind and I realized that I think that is kinda the perfect way to sum up my week... here are some situations throughout my week that explain that:

"Hey, Elder Hawkins can you take us home?" 

This one I usually do have something to say, but the answer is usually no because (1) Elder Semken told me not to, (2) it's just way too far out of the way or (3) there's no more space in the car (however, as you have seen from past photos, that's not usually a problem for most missionaries). 

However, this past Monday, we had to pull out 7 different missionaries from their P-days to get Carte de Sejours taken care of (i.e. visa stuff). I already felt bad that we were wasting pretty valuable missionaries' time since it was P-day, and I also knew that if it was me, I wouldn't want to go because it would be prime cyber time (they had to come in at 3 PM)! Well, it ended at around 5 and P-day ends at 6 PM so I pretty much knew that these guys were really already bummed. 

Elder Semken told me the plan was that I would take the bus and take the Sisters in Aibatan first, then cross town to Tokpa so the missionaries in Fignanon could take a taxi there all the way to Fignanon. Then, I was going to go to Calavi to drop of the rest of the crew. In any case, the point was it was already going to be a long trip... but then the Elders of Figanon asked me if we could drop them off all the way over in Fignanon which is a pain to get too... but because I was feeling kinda bad for them (and I was hungry and there is an amazing restaurant over there that sells a big mac type sauce on all their sandwiches/charwamas). At that point I really didn't know what to say because, I didn't want to go because it was far but I did want to go because I wanted to help them out, and yeah, there were charwamas involved. You can see how I was at a loss for words for a moment, but eventually the charwamas (err, feeling bad for the missionaries) won me over. 

This is what my final trip looked like: 

Green first, then red (at first, I was only supposed to take them to the river that splits the city, so you can see how it is a bit of a burden taking them out all the way across town), then purple, then orange... to give you an idea of how long it is, the purple part alone is about 30 km.

I ended up really regretting that the next day because I was so sooooore from doing 4 hours of driving the day before. The next day I could barely even walk around without feeling pain from may back, arms, and legs... I cannot even begin to describe how driving here really does take a lot of energy out of you. So much traffic, and so many potholes! But you know, I was happy to help out... and just gives me more driving experience! And it also made me appreciate pothole-less highways in America, street lights, traffic lights, pedestrian walkways, and road shoulders.  

"What did he just say?"

This is a question I often get from Elder Semken as I do a lot of translating for him throughout the week. As I have talked about before, a lot of times translating things to English just doesn't make sense because of the way people talk here... there are just phrases that are used that do not have the same meaning as they do in French, so it can be tough to translate. 

For example, our real estate agent who helps us deal with our apartment problems is named Paul... he's a really awesome guy and this mission would not run as smoothly as it does without him. The only problem is that he speaks really fast and in a way that I do not understand a lot of times... and because he's dealing with vocabulary that I don't know in French (but I am slowly becoming more and more familiar with) sometimes I just get completely lost. 

But another tough thing about translating here is that people can say about 1,000 sentences that mean the same thing. So, a lot of times they'll just say the same thing in 10 different ways. Sometimes, Elder Semken probably hears Paul rambling for a good 3 minutes and then I sum up everything he says in 10 seconds. Why? Because well... people are repetitive here! 

And not only that, but Paul likes to joke around and let me tell you, jokes die when they have to go through a translator. The joke is always funnier to the guy telling the joke than the one who's going to hear it translated. So, a lot of times, I really just don't know what to say to Elder Semken when he asks me!

"I don't know if God has really ever been on my side"

This one is a little bit deeper than the other ones. Let me explain.

This past week, we stopped by an ami who has now been meeting with the missionaries for over a year now. She really likes the missionary lessons but has problems coming to Church and respecting some other commandments. As of late, it's been hard to see her because she's never home and is usually working on stuff. Whenever we set up appointments, it's ratez-vous after ratez-vous. 

This week, we just decided to go and take our chances and hope she was there. She did just happen to be there... at that point, she really just let out all her stresses onto us. She's been a refugee from Congo for about 20 years now. She has a couple of kids, but we only know the daughter who is about 20 years old. Her other kid is in a psychiatric clinic for reasons I don't know. She has had a troubled married life and divorced her husband because he was cheating on her (or something like that). She doesn't get much income support and all her business ventures seem to fall through. 

And basically, she just has been telling us how she is tired of God, tired of not knowing if she's doing the right thing, and tired of never succeeding in life. Wondering if God is ever on her side. We kept trying to comfort her... and even trying to share scriptures with her but she even told us flat out that she was tired of the scriptures... it was a pretty rough lesson.

The whole time, I just kept seeing how she kept rejecting all the help we were trying to give to her. Even Elder Lala bore a beautiful testimony about how the Gospel has really helped protect his family throughout his whole life and how it has benefited him and comforted him. But still... it did nothing to help.

The whole time, I just kept praying that the Lord would give me something to say... but nothing was happening... no amazing one-liners, no amazing scriptures came to mind, nothing came to mind. At the end of the nearly two hour appointment, I had gone through the whole thing saying only a few sentences.

At the end, I felt like a failure. I kept thinking about what was I doing wrong... what limited me from saying something great, something that would fix all of her problems. I also felt bad because I left it up to my companions to talk to her and get rejected by her. I really felt like I didn't do much to help out. 

However, at the end of the lesson as we were all walking out of her home, she looked at us and thanked us for listening to all her worries, thanked us for letting her unload her concerns. I can't remember what exactly she said before parting our ways, but she said something along the lines of sorry for wasting so much time/why do you guys listen to a 50 year old women for 2 hours.

To that, I finally gave the only reply I could think of... "Because it's our job to listen" and then we all said "Because we love you!" To that, she was a bit speechless but I recognized her gratitude nevertheless, her little smile of appreciation. She was a bit surprised that we had endured what we had just endured with her and didn't even complain, and we continued on our separate ways. 

I don't know how things will finally shake out with our ami Deborah... hopefully she will recognize that the answer to all she is looking for is found in the Gospel of Christ... until that point, we are determined to help... in not having anything to say to her during that lesson, I realized that maybe the way to help her is not through words but through action! That's something I can do pretty easily! 

My point is, sometimes you just don't know what to say. Sometimes there is nothing to say... and that's okay. Life would be a sitcom if we always knew what to say, always had a script to go off of and always knew how to crack a good joke that sets a laugh track off. And maybe it would be cool to live a Seinfeld sitcom life....but it would only last for 9 seasons!  

I've learned that sometimes it's okay to not know what to say. It's okay to be confused, be at a loss for words, and to be helpless. Many times, the Lord needs people to listen more often than talk. Many times, the Lord needs people to act more often than just talk! It depends on the situation but nevertheless, don't be afraid, don't feel like a failure if you don't always know what to say.  I've found that you really just have to trust yourself and trust that the Lord will work everything out in the end! 

Thanks for all the prayers, support, and love! Keep on going strong. Stay warm in the snow... I'll be sure to send some heat your way! However, it might take about two-three months for it to get there.

Love you all!

Elder Hawkins


So, Elder Ouonnebo wanted to go shopping for stuff in Tokpa with another Ivorian... we ended up getting lost in Tokpa finding the place they want to buy from, but we ended up in the middle of the pigne/fabric section! 

The colors are super cool when you see everything up close... thought Fro might like some pictures of all the fabrics hanging out.

Lunch of champions! Fried enyam, banana plantaines, and pima sauce... with a banana and pineapple juice! All for 80 cents! 

Note from the Fro: Aside from hoping the crazy kid doesn't get himself into trouble driving all over creation, for let's face it, a charwama with Big Mac sauce....I love his little weekly words of wisdom!  He's right, sometimes it's just the right time to listen, and that's okay.  And also, life should most definitely last longer than "9 seasons".  :)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Inside The Mind From an American in Cotonou

Watch beeps. Presses all 3 buttons before finally hitting the snooze button. 

Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? It's still night time?!? I think it's illegal to wake up before sunrise in Benin... yeah, that's a law I'm sure. If it's legal to dump trash on the side of the road, it's definitely illegal to wake up before sunrise.

Power cuts.

Gosh dangit! Okay, either that was a sign from God telling me to get out of bed and go work out, or it's just another power cut from the good folks at La Societé Beninoise d'Energie Electrique cutting out the power because Nigeria refuses to fuel Benin any power. Probably the latter. 

Keeps trying to find energy to get out of bed. Fails. Alarm clock goes off. Snooze. Alarm clock. Snooze. Alarm clock. Snooze.

Okay, I should really get up now. But uuhhhh... I didn't get any sleep last night after sleeping on the table... gaahlasdflh;asdfhasl;dhaf

Yeah, there has been so many power outages in the past week (and they are always at night for at least 6 hours). My bed gets pretty hot without a fan (who woulda thunk!?!?) so, well next best bet is getting a little carpet and laying it on the table in the living room because it gets the best breeze!

Stumbles to the shower. Finds flip flops. Showers. Brushes teeth. Flosses. Throws floss out the window as there is no trash can. Shaves. Gets dressed. 

Don't feel too hungry, so I guess I'll skip breakfast again. Oh what I would do for a nice cold bowl of cereal, with real milk. Well, I'll just have to wait for the beginning of the month so I can actually buy some cereal! 

Sits at study desk made out of backup water jugs, waste bins, and an old ironing board. Studies. Wonders when the power will come back on. Finishes studying. Gets shoes on. Prays with companions. Heads out. 

Ah... another new day in paradise... 


Haha... that's a good joke. At least I've still got my sense of humor!

Talks with Elder Lala. Debates on how BMWs are better than Mercedes-Benz. Makes fun of Elder Lala for being French. However, both realize that as they were busy debating they finally got to the "Stench of Death" section of their daily way to the Bureau. 

Oh gosh, why does it have to smell so bad!?!?! A mix of so many awful smells combined into one horrendous smell?!? What is going on? Why is my nose going through this. 

Passes through.

Oh goodness, finally. 

Gets to the end of the street to a busy main road. Sees pedestrian bridge 50 meters away. Crosses street anyway. Gets to median. Crosses street again, almost clips a moto. Makes it to the end.

Oh if only Fa-ro knew!

Makes it to the Bureau. 

Ah. AIR CONDITIONING! That's probably the best part about the bureau... air conditioning. Plus, with the generator we always have AC! What a miraculous blessing, to be able to work in the Bureau! 

Says hi to Sister Semken as usual. Puts bag next to desk, but just before sitting down, Elder Semken comes down and asks for help with translating for one of the missionary apartment's landlords. 

Oh great, here we go again. Having somebody who barely speaks French translate somebody who barely speaks French too. This can only go so well!

Hears the landlord say he has to support his 60 kids.

WHOA. HOLD ON. Did that guy really just say he has 60 kids?!?!?! Oh right... this guy has multiple wives, forgot about that! Still 60 kids is pretty ridiculous! I can see why he needs the missionary's rent! Too bad he's not a good landlord. 

Landlord storms off. Sees Elder Lala with a big grin on his face and tells me that he told me this would happen. Then tells me that Elder Ouonnebo got in a car accident and knocked a moto driver off his moto. 

Mass chaos erupts in office as it goes into operation over drive crises mode. Sirens come out of the walls indicating crisis mode red alert. Pulls out rifle from desk and puts on grenade belt. Goes to the mission safe, blows it open, and takes out all the cash like a mad man. Kicks down doors for no reason. Rips off white shirt in hulk-like fashion, yelling war cries at the same time. The apocalypse has commenced. 

Okay, I made that last part up.

Calls member from Gbegamey branch who happens to be the retired Police Chief of Cotonou. Goes with Elder Semken to pick him up and go to the police station. Then goes to the hospital to check on the accident victim. He's fine. Goes back to the office to pick up Elder Ouonnebo and other witnesses. Goes back to police station. Then goes to African Assurance, the mission car insurance company. Then goes back to police station, who refuses to give back our vehicle papers even though the assistants need them in order to drive the car over to Togo the next day. Former police chief pulls some strings and we get the papers (of course, with a little bribe to sweeten the deal). And just like that, it's 7 PM.

Oh my goodness, I am so tired. Who would have thought that driving around Cotonou solving a little car crash would be so complicated and time consuming. People always ask me if the Bureau is easy because it's not the regular grind of the mission and I would have to say yes and no, but no because I always feel like I have to be ready for whatever happens. 

Gets back to the bureau. Feels absolutely tired, drained. Just wants to go back to the apartment and sleep. Has no idea what to cook for dinner but is starving nevertheless. Then is reminded that we have one last 7 o'clock appointment with a Nigerian investigator. 

All I want to do is sleep! Okay, I'll call him and find out if he's actually coming.

Calls and finds out he is actually coming.

Ughhhhhh... I know I'm an awful missionary for not wanting to teach another lesson today but feel so worn out after all the running around. Garralkjl;asjelkadfjl;asdkldfkldfa.

Slaps a smile on. Ami gets here. Welcomes him. Starts lesson with a prayer. The lesson plan was to talk about the law of tithing, but the ami had other plans. As it happens, he has been weighed down by his new job, which limits him from coming to Church on Sundays as he has to work. He knows he needs to go to Church, but at the same time, he needs the money and has been looking for work for months. All of a sudden, the little "Elder Hawkins" problems seem so small by comparison to the needs of the ami. 

Heavenly Father, please, help me! What do I say! Please, please, please!

Continues to listen to his amis problems and even starts feeling the stress of his problems. All of a sudden, the words "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart..." comes to mind. Of course, it's Fro's favorite scripture: Proverbs 3:5-7. "...lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths." Then testifies of the power of faith and tells him to trust in the Lord and not himself, for the Lord would guide him better than he could guide himself. The ami, silent but focused on what was said. Companions testify powerfully in the English that they know, which is just enough. Ends lesson with the ami saying the prayer. Sets another appointment. Says goodbye. Locks up the bureau. Walks on the way home. 

Those lessons always get to me... sometimes my problems seem absolutely ridiculous compared to these people, who are literally fighting for their well being. I complain about not being able to find cheep cheese, whereas these people don't even have the means to buy water. I complain about the electricity cutting out every night whereas these people can't even pay their monthly electricity bills. I complain about being in Benin/Togo for two years whereas these people know no other way of life. 

Looks up at the stars and realizes that home is still a long ways away. 

Yet at the same time, I know there's a higher purpose, a higher reason as to being in the "armpit of Africa." It might not be to clean up all the streets. It might not be to fix all of the corruption problems. It might not even be to feed the millions going without food in this country. At the end of the day, it's not about feeding millions fish for a day... but about teaching that one man to fish, that one man to believe that he has a higher purpose, that one man to believe that God has a plan for him. 

Gets home. Heats up charwama that was bought three days ago. Writes in journal. Wonders what the next day will hold. Knows that there will be more problems to deal with, more souls to comfort, and more stress to relieve. It all seems a little overwhelming, but then again...

Is it ever not worth it?


Love you all!

Elder Hawkins 

Pics from the roof

The dinosaurs in the distance....or cranes.  Whatever.

The one with the two cranes is where the new American Embassy is going up!