Monday, June 16, 2014

Ca Va? Ca va bien!

Panorama of around the mission home

To greet people here in Benin or in Togo, or really any Francophone country, one of the most common ways to ask how they are doing is simply by saying "Ça va?" Of course, when I was in French class back in Middle School, we were taught five different ways to respond to this questions (from I'm doing great to I'm doing very bad):
  • Ca va tres bien (it's going great!)
  • Ca va bien (it's going good)
  • Comme-ci, comme-ca (doing okay, just alright)
  • Ca va mal (not great)
  • Ca va tres mal (not at all great)
When I first arrived on my mission, I had expected to hear one of these five phrases in response to this extremely common question. However, what I found surprised me. Usually, whether somebody was doing laundry, watching over their kids, working, doing nothing, or had just woken up, their response was 65% of the time "ca va bien." No matter what they were doing. 25% of the time, they would say "ca va tres bien" and that meant they were actually really happy. The other 10% was actually never the other responses I mentioned but something like "ca peut aller" (like "eh, I've been better") or "ca ne va pas" (it's not going good). As you can see, very rarely did people respond negatively to a greeting.

When I first got on my mission, I had an ami (who I later baptized) that had told my companion and I something very interesting. He talked about how, in Togo, that even if somebody just died in their family, a Togolais will always respond "ca va bien" He told me that despite the miserable situation that many Togolais (and Beninois) find themselves in, they will still always respond to you with a smile and try not to make you worry. 

That always stuck with me through my mission... walking into rooms the size of small walk-in closets, eating food that costs about as much as a box of paper clips, seeing people wash only a few articles of clothing to last an entire week, sometimes I wonder how people could always respond "ca va bien." 

Because, quite frankly, when I had to do those things like washing clothes, eating patte, or sitting in a hot cement room at over 100 degrees, my life was not going very "ca va bien!" Actually it was more like "GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE" (not an exaggeration). 

Of course, I also think that many people fall under the category that they do not know what they are missing... if only they knew the majesty of a washing machine! If only they knew the savory goodness of an italian hoagie! If only they knew what a 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath house with air conditioning and CARPET was really like! 

And yet, weirdly, I started to reply the same way these people reply to ca va... soon enough, I was even tres bien too! Even when my days were just downright awful, when the heat was just a tad over too much, when the sweat stinging my eyes was making me blind, I couldn't help but say ca va bien! 

One of the things I have learned in doing missionary work is that sometimes you just gotta slap on a smile and go. Don't we all have to do that sometime or another? Even if you don't feel like smiling. Even if you don't feel like going into the heat. Even if you do feel like smacking that kid following you trying to touch your skin because you're white and won't leave you alone until you make a sudden movement and scare him/her/them away. 

This might be one of the shorter weekly emails that I will have written home, but I think that this is something to think about this week: just saying "ca va bien" despite the circumstances and the trials surrounding our lives. Saying ca va bien is not forcing somebody to change their despair into hope in a blink of an eye, but saying ca va bien can ease the mind so easily and it can help you keep a good perspective on how your life really is (and it's not just about the negative you're focusing on!) Think about it, life really IS ca va bien!

The next time somebody asks you, "Ca va?" remember to always answer "Ca va bien", no matter how you feel, because chances are, somebody here in Cotonou or in Lome just responded "ca va bien" even though their lives might be, what we consider as "ca va tres mal!" 

Thanks for all your prayers and good thoughts coming my way. Miss you all and wish you a great week!

With love,

Elder Hawkins

From behind the mission home... the junkyard as I call it... this is the shock that all missionaries see when they first get into Cotonou and West Africa (for some). It is quite the shell shock. I don't remember if I sent the picture I took from when I first got here but it's a goody

Also, note all the ducks!

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