Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Not So Straight and Narrow Path

Semkens, less than 12 hours away from leaving! Miss them!

Not really feeling too many creative juices today. To be honest, I am feeling wiped out at the moment. That’s because, yesterday, I drove to and from the Togolese border. In theory, a little drive of 42 miles really shouldn’t be a problem. Back home, that might only be a forty minute drive! You know, just hop on the interstate, and boom… you’re there! Maybe you’ll run into a little traffic due to construction, but even that only lasts a few minutes.

Except this is not home. Actually, this is far from it. You see, between the Togolese border and Cotonou, there are no interstates. In fact, there aren’t even roads. Well, that is, I wouldn’t call them roads.

You see, there used to be a road that connected the two countries. But, that road has been destroyed by the Benin government and ECOWAS (the European Union of West Africa) in hopes that they can actually build a road that slightly resembles a highway. Their hopes are that this will help increase economic growth, help ease traffic, and modernize the country a bit. In reality, this new highway will be a real benefit for Benin and everybody that has to drive through Benin.

Until then, we’re stuck with construction. Now, this isn’t the construction that Americans are privileged with back home: merging into one paved lane, warning signs, and actual construction. Like I said before, they have ripped out almost all the pavement and are slowly (maybe surely?) making progress on this new highway. Sometimes, drivers are forced to take little side paths that are barely big enough for one car, but are used as a two lane road. In other parts, drivers zigzag between paved segments which are never on one continuous side, but rather on both sides but kilometers apart.

However, my “favorite part” is the detours that must be taken through little villages. For example, on one part of the road we have to take a detour through Ouidah (see: Voodoo capital of Benin, snake temple). While the dirt road we had to take wasn’t too bad, it was really bad for the huge semi-trucks and the cars loaded (imagine a car carrying twice its size of goods on top of its roof) who had to make the same trek I was taking. Why? Because it had rained the night before, thus making huge puddles of what resembled chocolate milk (spoiler: it wasn’t). I actually pitied the poor truck drivers who were stuck in the mud trying to find their way out. The worst was when we passed a semi-truck full of coconuts tipped over on the side of the road (no regulations here mean people pack semi-trucks and regular cars as much as possible… so combine being too top heavy and bad roads and you get tipped over semis).

The gate of no return

Okay, really my “favorite part” of the trip was the little detour Elder Lala and I made in Ouidah when we visited the “Gate of No Return.” When we both went to Ouidah last December, we didn’t visit it for some odd reason so we decided to take this opportunity to go and visit the site! We actually had no idea where the gate was, but when we were in the city center, we decided to find the biggest road and follow it towards the beach. And, what do you know, we found it! Some guy did try to give us a tour, but he knew that the missionaries come all the time to Ouidah so he left us alone to wander around (for free!). Being that we were the only tourists, all that we could hear were the crashing waves of the ocean. It kind of left me with an uneasy feeling however, thinking back to about 300 years ago where one would most likely be hearing chains clinking and clacking, whips cracking, and the moans of the people walking towards the huge ships of the Europeans. Thankfully, I didn’t hear any of that while I was there but it really made me think about what the Dahomey Empire (what is now Benin) was really known for a few centuries ago. Nevertheless, it was nice to make a visit to the spot that I thought I might never get a chance to see while here in Benin.  

Me at the gate of no return 

Beach after the gate.

Statues on the side of the gate

Anyway, back to the roads, I don’t want to rag on this country for trying to advance itself… in fact I think it’s going to be a great day when the whole highway is finished! But honestly driving through the construction really just wiped me out. You have to stay constantly vigilant of potholes, passing drivers, poorly marked detours, etc. Then, you’re just constantly bouncing around in the truck because of the awful dirt road detours that you have to take. Sister Weed (who has to make this trip probably about twice a month) put it well when she said that all you want to do after driving it is sleep… even though you really only drove the equivalent between Philadelphia and Baltimore!

However, today I can’t go to sleep. In fact, I’m gearing up for a spectacular night of pancakes. Our “Soiree de Pancakes” for the young adults, young men, and young women is finally going to happen tonight (after being pushed back by the Branch presidency) and we are going to P-A-R-T-Y! After a poorly thrown activity thrown by the Relief Society last week (due partially to the power outages), the youth are super excited for our missionary activity. We’ve been making flyers, visiting inactives and amis, and telling everybody to tell everybody and their dogs to come! (Actually, dogs can’t come).

I’ll be sure to talk more about it next week after it happens because I think it would be a lot cooler to actually show you the pictures and the fun that we had! In the past 24 hours though, we have been getting everything together to have a mega-pancake party. To combat the power outages, we’re going to bring these battery things that we have at the bureau to power our computers when the power goes out… that way, the music won’t go out in the middle of the party! We’re trying to not make this thing a flop… and to be honest, the way I feel about it is that it’s all just so crazy, that it might just work!

Yesterday was pretty crazy and now today is going to be even crazier in trying to make over 100 pancakes for the branch. This will be the first time people will be eating pancakes, so we don’t want them to have a bad first experience with such a fine American delicacy. However, Elder Gray and I are confident in our craziness that we will be able to get this done! We won’t be giving them the total authentic pancake (no maple syrup) but we bought pineapples, mangoes, and limes in hopes that maybe we can make some good fruit syrups to put on the pancakes.

Now that I think about it, this week has been pretty crazy because we also had to say goodbye to the Semken's, who finished their missions this past Wednesday here in Benin. It was really sad to say goodbye to them because they did a great job here in the Office, but that’s the mission! We were happy to welcome in the Christensen's (who were working in Togo) and I’m sure they’ll do a great job. I don’t know if we and the Christensen's will be able to fill the void that the Semken's have left, but we really don’t have a choice, so onward we go!

Just another crazy week here in the Bureau and in Benin in general! Thanks to everybody for the prayers and the thoughts.

‘Till next week!

Elder Hawkins

Year 2000 commemorative statue. I think it was made by the Catholics (hence the cross). I'm not sure why it's there but I'm sure it has to do with Benin being a "Christian nation" and not a voodoo nation (Catholics are super anti-Voodoo) which is why I'm sure they put it at Ouidah (Voodoo capital). 

Note from the Fro:  Can't wait to hear how the pancake party went last night! He and Elder Gray have been planning it for WEEKS!  He had me send him a pancake recipe and I asked if he tried it out first before trying it for the masses.  He said that, thankfully he had, because that's when he and Elder Lala realized that baking powder and YEAST are NOT the same thing.  Oh dear. 

And I can tell he was super tired while writing this because usually, with his description of the road, he would have made a comparison like the one that came to MY mind.  So I will add my thoughts here, though it won't be half as good as what he would have come up with!  As he was describing this road I was thinking how it was just exactly the opposite of the "strait and narrow" path in Lehi's dream (1 Nephi 8:20). And how easy it is in this life to get side-tracked (or detoured!) from that straight and narrow path. Which ends up riddled with potholes that slow our progress, or people who have fallen by the wayside (overturned trucks), even shiny temptations (side trips, haha!) that take you further from the track. Just the mere struggle to get back to that straight path (zigzagging all the obstacles), can leave you extremely tired. Zapped of energy. Even wondering if you can ever make it back. Cue the mists of darkness descending. 

How grateful I am, not only that we have lovely roads (actually, ours are riddled with potholes at the moment as well...), but that we know that there is always a way back to that straight and narrow path.  Christ is the way, and I am forever grateful for His atoning sacrifice for us. But oh, how much easier would life be, if we just stayed on that path in the first place? 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Adventures of Elder Lala and Elder Hawkins

Legend has it that, before the Portuguese left Porto Novo, they left a treasure behind. There have been many theories as to what they left behind, but some have believed that they left mountains of gold in the hilly landscape of the area. Others have said they left bottles filled with the sweet nectar from the Fountain of Youth, found in the New World. Despite all of the legends that have been swirling for centuries through this tiny country, none have been more intriguing to Elder Lala and I than the legendary “Meal of the Gods.” According to the rumors, this meal has been preserved using the dark Voodoo magic that reigns over Benin. The Portuguese, unable to bring the meal back to Portugal, left it in Porto Novo, hiding it from the new French colonizers.

Of course, Elder Lala and I could not pass up the opportunity to go on this little treasure hunt. Having rarely eaten a good meal in almost two years, we were very desperate to fill our hunger. Having heard that many have died trying to find the Meal of the Gods, we were not deterred. Armed with knowledge, good looks, and a bag of Church pamphlets, we knew we had the proper tools to get us our meal. Still, the stakes were pretty high. Finding a century old meal or… death.

After the treacherous 45 minute car ride to Porto Novo, we decided we would first look at the Old King’s Palace of Porto Novo. Our thinking was that the Portuguese might have left it with the King, seeing that he would have the means to protect the meal. Also, seeing that he believed in the natural voodoo powers that preserved the meal, he would be the only one who could protect it without receiving its curse.

Upon arriving at the “Versailles of Benin,” we noticed that the doors were covered with strange symbols that seemed to have no meaning. Elder Lala and I tried to decipher the codes on the doors, filled with symbols of lizards and weird voodoo doll looking people… however, neither my knowledge of the English language nor Elder Lala’s knowledge of Malegesh slang could help us decipher the code.  No worries… en avant!

All of sudden, BOOM. We came face-to-face with the God of Thunder! At first, Elder Lala and I were taken aback because of his high stature and hammer in hand, however, we calmly collected ourselves and went over to talk to him. Unfortunately, as we tried conversing with him, he refused to help us find our meal. Instead, he just stood there showing off his amazingly crazy arm pit hair. Since we found that he was of no help to us, we decided to move on through the palace, hoping that maybe somebody else could help us uncover the secret location of this meal.

Upon entering the palace, our “tour guide” as he called himself, showed us the tomb of the last King to die in the palace (which was apparently in the 70s). Curious, I asked how he died. He said it was due to suicide, caused by pressures coming from the Beninois government and other royal families trying to force him to cede his thrown. Because his kingdom was collapsing, the King finally took his life, thus ending the royal line at Porto Novo.

Slightly disappointed by the fact that there was no King left to tell us where to find our meal, not to mention the depressing stories of suicide, we decided to keep going through the palace and hope to find some clues as to where the Portuguese might have hidden it. Going through the small door (built so that those who walked through would have to crouch to go in, thus “bowing”)...

We came across the baths of the Queen. Then our tour guide asked us to stop documenting our hunt with photos, out of respect for the sacredness of the palace. As nobody can stop the dynamic duo of Lala/Hawkins, we took one last secret picture in the palace.

During the tour, nothing seemed to speak to us as to where this meal might be. We even asked the tour guide if he had heard about the “Meal of the Gods” but he said it was just a myth. Determined, we continued to search for clues when suddenly, I stumbled upon a cannon. Apparently, it was one of the last cannons to be sold to the King of Porto Novo before the Portuguese left… engraved on it was the word “macaco.” Having no idea what that might even mean, we continued on our merry way. Looking at the scale model of the palace, we noticed that we had covered almost every single part that we were allowed into (save for the “Chambre Noir” which was where the disgraced kings would go and commit suicide. Neither Elder Lala nor I had any desire to go in there).

Then, right before leaving, our tour guide talked to us about the King’s garden, which hid many of the King’s secrets. Instantly intrigued, we booked it over to the gardens… probably the fastest that I had ever wanted to go see a garden.

Not having a tour guide at the garden, we were free to wander, looking for any possible clues. First, we came across a ginormous tree, probably the tallest in Porto Novo. Though Elder Lala wanted to climb the tree and see if there were any clues, I decided against that as we could see the dried blood from the local tribes that would make their sacrifices there.

As we were wandering the gardens, I heard a strange bustle in the trees. Thinking it was just the wind, Elder Lala and I continued our conversation on the superiority of Wawa hoagies to French baguette sandwiches. But, once again we heard a bustling in the trees and then HOLY COW THERE’S A MONKEY IN OUR FACES. Completely not expecting monkey’s, Elder Lala and I jumped and ran away like little girls.

Then, as we collected ourselves once again, we went back over to the monkeys, where Elder Lala tried to converse with them (apparently monkeys speak a language similar to that of Malegesh). However, the monkey decided to run away and wouldn’t speak to us. Although, I did manage to get a pretty good picture with a monkey in the background.

Still, we did not come on this mission to scare monkeys away! Using some quick thinking, I we found a lady selling bananas, knowing that all monkeys love bananas. I mean really, have you ever heard of a monkey not liking a banana. Elder Lala slowly but surely stretched out his hand to the monkey, hoping to give it to him as a sort of peace offering. The monkey, though cautious, did finally take the banana and devoured it (note: I have never seen a banana eaten so masterfully).

Finally, after finishing the banana, the monkey apparently understood what Elder Lala tried to tell him earlier. Yet, the only word we heard come out of his mouth was “Songhai.” Having not a clue what that meant, we kept trying to communicate with him, but to no avail. All he kept saying was “Songhai, Songhai, Songhai.” Goodness, what could this little monkey be trying to say to us!?!?!

Disappointed and discouraged, Elder Lala and I hopped back into our square bus thinking that all hope was lost in finding that one good meal on our two year missions. Driving back through the hilly city of Porto Novo, we were almost out of the city until we saw the gate that said “Songhai”! Using the emergency break, we do a power slide into the complex hoping to find the hidden treasure we were searching so long for.

Inside, we found ourselves stopped by a tall, dark man. With a James Earl Jones-like voice, he asked us for the password. Having no idea what it was, we explained what had happened and what we were looking for. Not believing a word we were saying, he said that we needed proof that we were directed here by the proper deities. I remembered that I had taken a picture of Elder Lala’s badge and my own in front of the monkey sign. Holding up my camera to the guard, he sneered at first but then could not deny the fact that we went through the almighty King’s monkeys. Slightly angry, he let us into the courtyard where we sat down.

And then, our doubts, fears, and despairs turned into hope and joy as we saw two dishes heading towards us. We had done it: we received a portion of the legendary “Meal of the Gods.” With the purest rice I had ever tasted, the sweetest banana plantains that I have ever put in my mouth, and the meatiest chicken found in all of West Africa, Elder Lala and I finally dined like kings, or better put, gods. Finally, after months of suffering with the patte, the pima, the hot dogs delicious, we had received the greatest thing a missionary in Benin could hope for: a good meal.


Elder Hawkins

One more Pic:

This is the Congress building that was under construction. Now, it is just sitting in rubble as they found out that the foundation wasn’t stable enough to support the actual construction (because it’s actually on swamp land). Reminds me of the foolish man who built his house upon the sand…

Note from the Fro:  Loved the adventure of Porto Novo!  A couple of other things I learned from Elder Hawkins this week.  I asked why there were SO many power outages in Benin and not in Togo.  They are constant in Benin, and because of it, his internet connection was impossibly slow.  I didn't even receive his email with pictures until today!  This is what he said:  

Elder Hawkins: It wasn't like this at first but I don't know... we've heard so many different things. First off Benin doesn't make it's own power: it buys it from Ghana and Nigeria. Apparently, they got in a disagreement with the Nigerians so they don't supply Benin that much power. Now, Ghana is running into power problems because it's the end of the dry season and they get all their power through Hydroelectric plants... so when there's not a lot of water to power the plants, there's not power! I love these place!
And yeah... Togo has some of its own power plants. I would say we have like 8 hours of power throughout the day on a good day. It's usually less.  

I cringe to think of how we complain when our power goes out every once in awhile during a storm!

He also received the package we sent him, once again using FedEx as it is the fastest option we've tried so far.  This time, I thought since he might get it within the week, I'd bake him some homemade cookies!  When asked if he'd received the package, this was his reply:

Elder Hawkins: Froizzle I didzle. Holy modizzle... those cookies... unimaginably awesome and amazing. I don't know why you haven't been sending me those the whole time. It's amazing how your cookies are still the best I've eaten here and they were a week old!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sois plus intelligent que l'objet

My awesome booboo thing (forgot what it's called) but it looks pretty cool!

You know, there are a few things that my parents taught me while I was growing up. Of course, Fro, always being "creative" taught me to think outside of the box... going off the beaten path, looking to solve problems a little differently than others might have thought. 

My Dad also taught me this lesson through this timeless and valuable phrase "be smarter than the object." Dad always pounded that advice into my head as a kid (especially when building Ikea furniture), which means that now I say it a lot too! Many missionaries have come to know that phrase through me... I've even translated it into French (Sois plus intelligent que la machine/l'objet).

In any case, I have found this training that I received as a child very valuable in being in Africa. Why? Because everything that you see here just doesn't work the way that you think it should. I mean really, this whole country is built on jerry rigging and McGyver rubber bands and paper clips. 

Let me give you a few examples of this "be creative/be smarter than the object" principle that I have had to employ in my time in Africa. 

1. Gotta love Duct Tape: Okay... just so you all know, everything that comes to Africa is either already broken or is so cheaply made that it's about to break. If you thought products from China were bad back home, just imagine what it's like out here where it is the absolute cheapest rip offs of anything you can imagine. Like ironing boards. Ever since I've come on my mission, the ironing boards here are just lame (which is usually why I don't iron my shirts!). When I got to the bureau, our ironing board could barely stand on its on, so I went ahead and got duct tape and got it able to stand! (thanks Elder Christensen for leaving all of that duct tape behind!) 

Also, my watch band broke within 6 months of my mission. So, what do you do? Duct tape a new one! I have to replace it every few months but that's no big deal... better than buying a whole new watch! 

The miracle of Duct Tape

However, it's not like all of my duct taping ideas work. I tried duct taping one of our laundry tubs that errr... broke (not because I tried to stomp wash my laundry clean of course! That would just be silly!) and turns out duct tape doesn't do a great job holding back the great waters of laundry. I don't know if I didn't use enough or what, but yeah... duct tape doesn't work well in fixing plastic laundry tubs. 

2. I'll Just Make My Own Desk: So, back to that ironing board... turns out, my duct tape did a great job but the ironing board itself was just awful and the metal was all bent, basically rendering ironing impossible. However, rather than throwing away the old ironing board when we got a new one, I decided I could do better with it: make a desk out of it! So that's what I did. I used two of our big backup water jugs, two small plastic trash cans and then my ironing board as the desk. It looks pretty "West Virginia" as Sûr might say, but hey... it works! I can't press too hard though when I write/read because it risks from tipping over... but like I said... it works. I'll send a picture of it!

3. Just Make Awful Food Instead of Paying the Rent!: Okay, this one probably needs to be explained a bit... so, last week an ami texted us saying that she was short $140 in her rent for the year... being that us missionaries only receive that in a month. Elder Lala and I could have just ignored the text, but I don't know... we both really like this ami and we wanted to help her out.

Knowing that paying the rent was out of the question (we just don't have the money!), we decided that we would try to help her some other way. I don't remember who got the idea, but we both decided that maybe we could help out in making her dinner! Being that it was already a Sunday, we couldn't go out and buy things to give her so we had to use our heads and make something presentable. Thankfully, we had some rice, tomatoes, onions, eggs, and just enough ground beef to whip up a nice little meal. Elder Lala even sacrificed his delicious Chinese BBQ Sauce that his mom sent him all the way from France (it really is good). 

We got it all wrapped up and walked to her house (it's really far from our apartment! We're used to walking to her house from the Bureau). It turned out she wasn't there (what we feared) so we walked back to the Bureau and just waited for like 1.5 to 2 hours for her to come home. Finally, she called us and told us she was home.

So, we go to her house and she's wondering why we came (we don't usually see her on Sundays and it was kinda late)... so we explained to her the situation and she was pretty touched that we would go out of our way to do something like that for her. She said she sent us the text message because she was just venting about it and didn't expect us to do anything really (she told us she did solve the money problem thankfully). We told her that it was really our little way of showing her that we love her and that we do care about her. Even though we couldn't pay her rent, this was the little that we could do. 

Later this week she told us that she really enjoyed the food (but she told us she could tell that it was men who prepared the meat... I don't know what that means, but errrr... I don't think it's a compliment). Nevertheless, she was very thankful. 

At the end of the day, I think this is an important lesson in life to understand: sometimes, the answer is not what you would have thought. Sure, we could have just done nothing because we didn't have the means to solve her problem directly. However, we decided to take another route, do what we could do instead of what we couldn't, and it turned out to be really uplifting for both us and for her. 

Anyway, that's my little spiritual thought for the week... let's all try to think outside the box, be a little bit smarter than the object and be a little bit more creative. I can guarantee you that the results are well worth the effort... however, it all starts with you and you're willingness to try! 

Thanks again everybody for your prayers and thoughts. I hope you all have a good week! 


Elder Hawkins

Close up of the embroidery. Fro says she was impressed I knew what embroidery was.
Duh. I grew up with a Fro!

Cows on a roundabout in the middle of the city. Not weird at all.

Note from the Fro: If you're wondering where the pic is of his ironing board desk, don't worry, it's coming!  He thought he had the picture on his camera, but he didn't.  So he said he'd take another and send it to me sometime this week!  I know we're all dying to see it.  Actually, I would have liked a video of him "stomping" on his laundry.  Ah well! In the letter I received from him this week through the mail he sighted another example of "being creative and smarter than the object".  While he was writing he lost power, which happens quite frequently in Benin.  So he was using the light from their cell phone to write.  At first he had it propped between his chin and shoulder but said it was giving him a cramp.  So he found an empty cereal box, cut a slit in it and stuck the phone in the slit face down creating a hands-free light!  Crazy kid.  And yes, I was impressed he knew what embroidery was....

Saturday, March 8, 2014

To-Do or Not To-Do...?

So these pictures are of a statue in front of the French Institute of Benin. It's made out of bags of pure water (the main way of drinking water here) which are usually littered all over the streets here. Rather than just letting them waste away on the side of the streets, some dude decided make them into a cool statue! 

Lists. I'm not sure why, but people sure do love lists. To-do lists, Top 10 lists, grocery lists, Wawa screen after screen of fresh toppings lists... really the lists that people make could go on forever and ever. 

As a missionary, I find this to be especially true. We tend to keep a lot of lists as well. For example, every week, we have to go through our list of amis. What I mean by that is that we have to plan on when to see them, what to teach them, and how to help them. Even on a daily basis we have to list out everything that we are going to do and accomplish during the next day. Even President, during every Zone Conference, writes a list of things we are going to talk about. Do people even realize how many lists there are in the world?!?! We could even make a list of all the lists out there. Scary stuff.

On a personal level, I have been keeping some lists for myself as well. At the MTC, I bought a cheap little paper notebook that I write notes in. At the end, I have lists that I keep, which I can add to throughout the day if I think of something. 

So here are some of the lists I keep: 

The "To Listen" List: That's a pretty self-explanatory list. Often times, when we go to amis or members' houses, they listen to tons of crazy music. Most of the time, it's pretty awful (wait for the chorus and crank the volume to 11). However, my list mostly includes a lot of cool French music that I've heard since being here... plus, the actual French missionaries help out in knowing what music to check out once we get back home. 

Although, one song that is not French and is African (Ghanaian more precisely) is Azonto. I'm not sure why but it's super catchy and was really big when I first got here. Everyone would always ask if I knew how to dance Azonto (of course not) and I would just deflect that in saying that my companion was Ghanaian (I was with Elder Owusu at the time) so they would all be like oohhhh so he would definitely know how to dance it since the song comes from Ghana! Little did they know that it came out while he was on his mission too so he had no idea either (but they would always force him to bust out a move or two). Here it is, since everyone should know how to Azonto: 

The "To Watch" List: This is, by far, the biggest list in my notebook. All the movies I think about I pretty much write them down as needing to watch them when I get back home. My favs include:
  • Cool Runnings
  • Three Amigos
  • Top Gear series (previously mentioned in last week's message)
  • A League of Their Own
  • Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
There are still about 50 other films on the list, but from this little sampling that I gave you all, you can see that these hallmark films are quintessential to the history of filmography and cinematography. Makes sense as to why I need to re-watch them!

The "Stupid Things I Miss" List: Okay, this one might take a little explaining... maybe it would help if I listed out some of the things on this list.
  • Building Codes: Evenly-leveled steps. Hand rails. Pulling doors to enter/pushing doors to exit. Cabinets that close. Lack of roofs with rusty nails sticking out which could potentially stab your brain. Everything that I can guarantee every person reading this email takes for granted. 
  • Non-foam furniture: I don't know what it is, either the humidity or the foam that they use, but oh my goodness. I didn't even know you could sweat just sitting around on African foam furniture. 
  • Costco: Really, buying in bulk, free test tastes, and everything that one could ever need in life... all under one roof. At least I still have Dad's Costco card in my wallet in case I ever find a Costco here. 
Anyway, I think you guys get the idea on what's on this list. Other items include: American manners, sliding desk drawers, kitchen appliances (oh dishwashers, ovens, and microwaves, how I miss you) and fast-food drive-thru's. 

"The List": Okay, this was the very first list of things that I started to make. This list consists of everything that I want to do when I get home. I guess you could say it's kind of a bucket list of things I need to do once I get back. Again, here's a little sample as to what's there:
  • Watch All Toy Stories with Fro: I mean really, who wouldn't want to do that?!?
  • Kiss American Soil: Self-explanatory
  • Attend a Sixers/Flyers/Eagles came upon return home: I would have included the Phillies but they are not in season when I return this fall. Unless they make it to the World Series and I ask to go home in late October. Good reason to go home early, right? 
There are a few other more personal things in there that I would like to do, but I think that should give people an idea of what "The List" is all about. I haven't added a lot to it as of late, but maybe I'll think of more things to do right when I get home. 

The last list I have is probably the most serious of them all and are things that I would like to talk about during my homecoming talk when I get back. I don't know why, but for some reason I think of a lot of things in the context of things I want to say when I get back home. I mean, really, how do I describe all the things I learned from two years in Togo/Benin in 10-20 minutes!?! It's impossible I tell you! I would share the things on this list, but I will not... guess you'll just have to mark your calendars for this fall in order to hear the stuff that I am going to talk about! 

But anyway... those are my crazy lists and I think that gives you an idea of the things that randomly pop into my mind when I'm out walking around (and trust me, there's a lot of that). 

However, as much as I miss the stuff that I do list down, or as much as I want to do the things that I have listed, I'm not in too big of a rush to get them done anytime soon. Something I learned while I've been here on my mission is that we can get pretty easily distracted by things back home... though I might be depriving myself of the things that I miss back home, I am very much indulging myself in the things that I can do while I'm here: reading scriptures, feeling closer to the Savior, meeting new people, helping different people, and really immersing myself in an experience that I will never quite be able to match for the rest of my life.

Trust me, I got all the time in the world to watch Three Amigos, appreciate evenly measured steps, and go to a Philly sports game. I only have eight more months to really appreciate and complete this so-far amazing experience that I have gone through. Who knows, maybe before I leave here I'll make a list of things to do before I leave! And maybe even, things I'll miss? Stranger things have happened.

Anyway, I hope everyone is doing well. As always, the days and the weeks are going by as quick as ever. And honestly, the months are going quick too! I mean, didn't 2014 just start? #crazles

Thanks to everyone for their prayers and thoughts coming my way. If there's anything I would like you guys to pray for me for, it would be that I take advantage of every moment I have left here. 

Until next week! 

With love,

Elder Hawkins 

 Close-up of bags on the bag man!

Note from the Fro: Awwww, watching Toy Story with his mom is number one on his list. Sniff!  It's true, I can't watch any of the Toy Story's while he's gone, I haven't even tried. I get very teary just thinking about it.  He is my "Andy" after all. :)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Portus Lunettesus and the Slack-Jawed Kid

This week, on "The Weekly Letter of Elder Hawkins," find out how Elder Hawkins:
  • Magically got his contacts to work again
  • Masterfully negotiated his way into buying 23 yards of fabric
  • Suddenly got chosen to be interviewed by a Seventy
All on this week's edition of "The Weekly Letter of Elder Hawkins."

*cue Top Gear music guitar intro*

One morning, I woke up. I know, nothing too exciting about that as have been doing that for a good 21 years now, however... this time, it was different.

For the past year now, I have been suffering from a truly awful, nasty disease that has plagued me: Portus lunettesus. In case you don't know what that means, in English it is roughly translated as "wearing glasses". It is quite an awful disease to have out here in the heat of Africa. Basically, what happens is you need to wear this device in order to be able to see. Without it, you are basically blind. Thus, they are essential. However, the worst part is that this "seeing device" was not designed for regular wear and tear in Africa. First, because of the sweat, they fall all the time. Second, because of the sweat and the dust combined, they get dirty quite often and are hard to clean. Third, they just always get in the way. It is truly awful.

That is why, that one morning was so inspirational. I decided to try on my contacts that Fro sent me from last year. The reason I didn't wear them before was because I thought Africa had already screwed up my eyes and the one time I tried them a year ago, they didn't work. 

But, I ventured into the unknown. I opened another box, put them in and BOOM like that my vision was corrected! I could see again! I could see all over the world! I could even see the next door neighbor making patte! Oh the joys of vision are so wonderful! I tried to convince Elder Lala I was turning into Spider Man by trying to put on my glasses and then saying that my vision was clearer without them on. When I closed the door, I put my hand on the door and pretended that it was stuck to it... he almost believed me, but then he asked me to spin a web and fly down the stair case, which I could have if I wanted to but decided not to just because I didn't want to scare him. And it was broad daylight.

Anyway, having these contacts are pretty glorious! No more glasses is really nice. Though, to protect my eyes I gotta be pretty careful and I don't plan on wearing them every day as to protect them. Still, that made me really happy! 

The contacts turned out to be really helpful too as I was going around Tokpa today and buying fabrics... like the pictures I sent a couple of weeks ago, there are just tons and tons of choices. Too many choices. Thankfully, we only spent about 1-1.5 picking out the fabrics and negotiating prices but I feel pretty satisfied with what I got. I know the Fro was pretty jealous when I sent the pictures over. I'll be sure to send the final results of my fabric too: meaning the clothes I make out of them! 

this one is called "bazin" tissu.

Famous African "pigne" tissu.

Side note: the one bad thing about all the fabric I bought was that they all have stickers saying "Do not machine wash, Do not dry clean. HAND WASH ONLY." Yeah, don't know what world these fabric makers are living in but ummm... yeah right. After my mission, I will never wash my clothes by hand again. Never, ever, ever, ever. Never. If worse comes to worse, at least Adele will wash them for me by hand.

So the real highlight of the week was the visit we got from Elder Vinson, who is the first counselor in the Africa West Area. He just got called as a Seventy pretty recently but it was pretty cool to have him come to the mission and visit. 

In his meeting with the missionaries, he made a ton of interesting points that I really liked. First of all, he talked a lot about how missionary work in West Africa is going at a rate that no other place in the world can compare to. He also talked about how our mission is the best mission to be in because, of all the other West African missions, it is the least cultivated of them all, meaning there's a lot of work to be done. 

An interesting statistic that he pulled out was that 80% of the baptisms that happen in the whole Africa West Area come from a member contact. I thought that was a huge, huge number! He really encouraged us to spend as much time with the members as possible (when there aren't amis to teach) in order to gain their trust, respect and friendship because they really are the key to effective missionary work. 

However, if there's any one thing that I will pull from the whole discussion we had with him, it has to be the Spirit that was felt as he was teaching. I felt the same kind of way when Elder Dickson came and talked to us last May... there is just a wonderful Spirit that comes as they teach and open your eyes to the Gospel. The whole time, I just felt like a little kid with his jaw down, and looking up at him as he was teaching. I think it really testified to the magnitude of his calling. In any case, it was a really special experience and when it was all said and done, I had a good four pages of my journal filled from the experience! 

Remember how I said I felt like a little kid with his jaw down, gazing in awe and wonder? Well, you can imagine how scared that little kid got as Elder Vinson put a microphone in his face and asked him to respond to a question, to which he didn't know the answer (he was asking for a really specific answer and my mind went totally blank the whole time). It was pretty embarrassing (for the slack-jawed kid anyways, nobody else cared). 

What was even crazier was afterwards, after the meeting was over and everyone started to stand up, Elder Vinson started pointing over in my general direction... and I was like, hmmm... that's weird. So then I turned around and started talking to some other missionaries when all of I sudden I get a tap on my arm from President Weed, telling me I have been chosen to be interviewed by Elder Vinson. 

All I could think was: no! Why did I answer that question wrong?!?! Please don't chastise me for not knowing the right answer! I'm just a random missionary from Philadelphia! I know I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, or the brightest crayon in the box, but I'm an alright missionary! Oh gosh...

And then, he interviewed the first guy and then he came to me and I sit down, on this tiny bench made for Primary children, sitting across a man called into the Quorum of the Seventy. Add his Australian accent on top of all of that, and it's pretty scary stuff! 

But in all honesty, he is a really, really nice man. He asked me some questions on my family, how my French was, what I've learned on my mission so far... nothing too unusual. To be honest, I was really comfortable in the interview and it probably only lasted 5-7 minutes but it was still really cool! The one piece of advice he gave to me was always look for the good in this eye-opening experience I am getting because it will be a real blessing for all of those around me when I get back. He said that because very, very few people will ever get the opportunity that I have while I am here on my mission, so I will be able to bless the lives of others when I get back home. 

So that was the highlight of my week... being interviewed by a Seventy! I think that might only be a once in a lifetime experience so it is definitely really cool to say that I have done that! My only regret is that....I didn't take a picture! AH! 

Anyway, thank you all for the support you have been giving me! Thanks to the Lowes for sending an awesome care package, too! That was another highlight of my week to be honest! 

Love and miss you all! 

Elder Hawkins

Note from the FroThe fact that he went fabric shopping was music to my ears! However, this particular fabric is not for ME, WHAT? Sigh.  He told me not to worry though, he will definitely go shopping for the Fro before he leaves.  Although, he also just realized how HEAVY fabric is.  Hahaha.  After all the hauling of my fabric in and out of my studio, I'm surprised he's just figuring this out.  :)

Talk by Elder Vinson from Oct 2013 General Conference