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....


  1. I am so very proud of Elder Hawkins. His letters are delightful to read. He has a flair for writing, and should consider a career in which he will be able to use his creativity. I just received a post card from him which had a lot of meaningful comments on it. May God bless him on his Mission. He is a special person who will go far with his winning personality and sincerity. Love, Uncle Jack

  2. So true. Elder Hawkins is a great writer. Love these wonderful accounts of his life there. Treasures to be sure. Love, the Davenports