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 .
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.
However, remember that ami that I talked about last week? Well, she invited us for lunch this past 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
|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!|