Monday, September 29, 2014

That Time I Stayed at a Hospital in Benin

Thanks Elder Mejean for shining my shoes.

Remember that one week when I scared everybody about going to a hospital during the Ebola outbreak? Thankfully that time I really was kidding about going to hospitals.

But this week, I actually got to stay overnight in a hospital! Cool, huh? No worries, I wasn't the one who was sick... and no, it wasn't Ebola this time either.  Elder Mejean, who leaves in about 12 days, got super, super sick this past Saturday. When we got home he was throwing up everything he was eating/drinking, had body numbness, and was getting weak to the point where he couldn't open up his hands anymore...

So, late on Saturday night, President and Sister Morin told Elder Mejean to go to the hospital. The Office Elders picked him up and originally his companion was going to go with him, but I was the only one who ended up knowing where the hospital was (thanks to nine months in the Office!). 

Now, before this hospital experience, I had already had a few different experiences with African medical care. The mission tries its best to find the best medical care here in Cotonou, but even with the best, it's a bit dismal here. For example, earlier this year I had a filling fall out of one of my teeth. The first time I went, the dentist filled the wrong cavity. The second time I went, she actually filled in the right tooth... but 6 months later it fell out again. And I can feel the same filling cracking again... As you can imagine, my confidence in African health care, no matter how good it looks, isn't really great. 

Anyway, we got to the hospital and they started taking care of Elder Mejean. Then they took us to our room and... it looked promising! It had a TV, an air conditioner, hot water tank, and two beds... but like I said before, no matter how good it looks, it really isn't that great. 

They gave Elder Mejean some IV meds which helped him out a bit. Thankfully, by this point he was doing much better. But, we quickly found out that there are a few simple commodities offered in western hospitals that just don't seem to be necessary in our little African hospital. 

For example, water. When we asked them to send up water to the room, they told us that they weren't able to because they don't have water... ummm... okay. Thankfully, the Office Elders were able to send up some water they had in their car... otherwise we were out of luck. 

Another thing you would think they would offer us would be sheets. Nope! I know this place wasn't supposed to be the Sheraton hotel, but come on. They did give us a bed sheet to place over the mattress but nothing to cover myself with. Thankfully, in my haste in packing my bag to stay overnight at the hospital, I brought an extra t-shirt and underwear which was the only thing I had to put over me while I slept. 

Surprisingly, there's a reason why underwear isn't sold as a bed linen. By the next morning, I thought the nurses had come into the room and given me an extra blanket because I was all wrapped up in a sheet... when I opened my eyes, I found out that I had used the one bed sheet they gave me and wrapped myself in it. It was actually quite comfortable but I really hope they sanitize regularly the beds that we slept on. I hope nobody who had leprosy or any other strange skin disease slept on that bed, too. 

Anyway, that morning happened to be Sunday morning. Elder Mejean was still feeling a bit sick, but the couple stopped by in the morning to give us some breakfast and lunch (which was delicious!). President also gave Elder Mejean and I permission to bless the sacrament in our hospital room, which was a special experience. It was weird being a missionary and not going to Church! But, I was very glad that I was still able to take the sacrament. 

After that, I decided that I would go check out our hot water status for a nice long shower... Well, upon further inspection I saw that the hot water tank was turned off (so there wasn't any hot water) and I also saw that the lines were looking pretty rusty and it looked like it hadn't been used for a very long time... oooohhhh well... no hot shower this time. Thankfully the air conditioner was in perfect condition. 

The couple had also dropped off some Liahonas (magazines) that I was able to read to pass the time. I also read random Old Testament stories to Elder Mejean, but that got old really quick. We ended up talking a ton to pass the time.

Thankfully we got a few visits throughout the day. The Office Elders in my sector brought over Rebecca, the mom of Sara (who was my last convert while I was at the Bureau), who made us some couscous and tomato sauce which was really nice of her! Since we were in Elder Kunz's sector, he and his companion came and visited us for a bit as well! 

Towards the end of the day, we started wondering when we would be able to leave because Elder Mejean was feeling fine. At the hospital there is no way to call the nurses/doctors, so I was the one who always had to go down and get them if there was a problem. I kept having to go down and kept wondering when they would come up to the room, but they were taking forever. Finally they told us that he would have to spend another night at the hospital so that it would be a full 24 hours. However, Elder Mejean's comp came and took over my spot and I was able to leave that little room for once! I was quite happy to return to my bed back at the apartment! Never thought I'd say that. 

Elder Mejean did end up getting out of there at around noon today. He's doing fine and the final word was that he had a stomach infection due to some bad sweet potatoes that he had eaten. Thankfully, I had a mangez-vous the night he had eaten them. If I hadn't, I would probably have had the same fate as Elder Mejean! It was sad throwing away the rest of the 3-5 pounds of sweet potatoes that we had left (that cost us two dollars) but you know... I now know that avoiding a hospital stay here is for the best! 

Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos because Elder Mejean kept telling me that my camera would get stolen if I had taken it out... so no photos for the monumental hospital stay. And nothing did actually get stolen so that was a bonus! 

Other than that, this week was pretty average. We had a conference this week about obedience which was really good. We had learned a lot about things we can do to lengthen our stride and make this mission an even greater mission. 

To leave you on a good note, we had another ami get baptized this week! Her name is Betty and you might recognize her from the wedding pictures from about a month ago! She is actually Ismael's wife and she has finally gotten baptized as well. She wasn't able to be baptized with her husband because she was traveling but we were happy to finally be able to do it. 

Me, Ismael, Betty, Ismael's sister and mom (members of the Gbedjromede Branch), and Elder Semeha.

Betty is a really great person and she happens to be the first non-Beninois/Togolais that I have baptized. She is from Nigeria (so as you can imagine, I did most of the teaching!). She is a real sweetheart and tries her best to understand French and participate in Church. Now, we hope to start to prepare them for an eternal marriage in a years time! 

I hope that everybody has a great week. It's pretty crazy to think that October is right on our doorstep, but here it is. Keep up the prayers and the good thoughts and I'll do the same.

Love you guys,

Elder Hawkins

Very colorful bush that I found. (yes that would be our neighbors hanging laundry on the bushes to dry). 

Scenes of Cotonou

Scenes of Cotonou

Scenes of Cotonou

Wildlife of Cotonou...a crab... 

....and a pig crossing the water drainage.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Got Faith?

Elie, Elder Semeha, and I at the baptism Saturday.

Third time's a charm? This will be the third time that I am rewriting my weekly letter for this past week! Goodness... if there's one thing that I won't miss, it will be power outages and internet outages. I'm not sure if people back home realize how lucky they are! 

This past week went a lot better than the week before... this week, my companion and I worked really hard so that I could keep myself distracted and lost in the work.

After the Cyber last week, I was thinking of ways to get distracted and not think about going home. The next day, my companion and I were doing companionship study when my companion talked to me about how he wanted me to start helping him learn English during language study...I was actually quite surprised because nobody has ever asked me to help them with their language study before! So, my companion and I have started to do that... surprisingly, his English is actually pretty good right now. Our focus has been in pronunciation and vocabulary. We've also been setting aside certain parts of the day where we only speak English to each other (aside from lessons). It has helped
solve the problem where we usually don't speak to each other in the sector because I basically talk to him a lot about things in English so that he can spruce up his vocabulary.

In exchange for my help with English, my companion has been helping me brush up on my Ewe, because really, he thinks it's so funny, as does everyone here, when a white person speaks Ewe! Let me tell you, these languages here are difficult because they use so many sounds that don't exist in English. For example "gb" is a really big deal here...I remember one day back in Togo when I was trying to remember this sauce that I really liked with patte called, what I thought "bomun". However, in reality it's "gbomun" and the g sound comes from the back of your throat and can be really hard to hear if you don't pay attention... everyone made fun of me that day because I thought bomun started with a b... but no, it's a g... but whether it starts with a b or g, it's still a good sauce!

Also, as my companion has been helping me with Ewe, he was teaching me how a lot of words in Ewe have multiple meanings... like mountain and ear are the same word. I also learned that Ewe also means "difficult" which I believe comes from the fact that it's a difficult language to learn!

We've also been trying to work really close with the Branch president in order to help the branch. In our district meeting last week, we decided that having a meeting with him would be imperative to helping us fulfill our job in helping out the Branch... so, I set up the meeting with him... and got really mad at him because he was two hours late! Okay, well I wasn't really mad, pretty used to it by now, but goodness... two hours, seriously?

Nevertheless, we went on with the meeting and it went great.... it was actually one of the better moments on my mission because I could really feel the Branch president coming out to us and telling us what his branch needed from us. From that meeting, we're going to start a new Sunday school class to help new converts learn how to integrate
into the Church and apply the Gospel in their lives (like using the priesthood, creating good gospel habits such as family home evening, how give talks, how to fulfill callings, etc)... it's basically a class on how to be a good member of the Church.

In another meeting we had with the Branch president, we outlined everything we would be teaching and who would be teaching the was actually pretty tough for us to pick somebody to teach the class, but after a few suggestions, the Branch president said, "Well, what about Elie?"

Elie just happens to be the newest convert to the Menontin branch, baptized just last Saturday and confirmed a member of the Church this past Sunday. He is a really intelligent and bright guy who was given to us as a contact from the Gbedjromede sisters. He just sucked up all the lessons that we taught to him, but really the key to his conversion was from his friend, who is already a member of the Church. It might sound bizarre to say that she was key to his conversion because she (1) never helped us teach a lesson to him and (2) never has gone to church with him since she's in a different branch. But, to be honest, she was key because she helped respond to a lot of the questions he had and outside of our lessons, they would talk about what was taught in the lessons, what he learned at Church, etc.

Now, back to the class we were setting up with the Branch president, at first I thought it was kinda crazy to call somebody who was just baptized as a teacher to this class... but one of our goals with this class was to call somebody how would not only teach it but learn from the material he would be teaching. I'm still a little bit nervous about him and his new calling, but more often than not, you just got to trust the Lord!

Speaking of trusting the Lord, I'll leave you with a cool little story that happened to us last night. This past week, we have been ravaged with power outages, much like we were having at the beginning of this year. The power would cut for at least 3 hours and this past week was terrible. Multiple days this week, we've had the power cut on us for
over 6 hours (sometimes at night, which is obviously the worst since I can't sleep without a fan). Frankly, they can be unbearable and it hasn't helped that this week has been very hot.

And last night, it cut again right as I was typing my last letter to you guys. We then went to a family home evening (held by candle light) which went well (really because we got to eat a pineapple, the charwama of the fruit family). As we were dodging the huge puddles and mud on our way home (which were only visible thanks to the tiny flashlight on our circa-90s cellphone), my companion says to me "Okay, I KNOW we will have power when we get home." I'm just thinking okay man... you can say that but, he knew as well as I that when the power cuts around 7pm, that usually means it will be off until at least midnight, if not the next morning.

As we were walking up our street, I noticed that the power was still off. I thought to myself, well if the Lord is gonna bring back the power for my companion, it's gonna be now or never! Still a little bit discouraged, I said a little silent prayer saying something along the lines of "I know my faith is small, but I know my companion has faith that the
power will come back. If my faith is too small, at least remember the faith of my companion."

We get to the gate of our apartment... still no power.

We unlock and get through the gate... still no power.

We take off our shoes... still no power.

Discouraged, yet still hopeful, I pull out the keys to open up the apartment door and as I get the key ready to put in the door...

BOOM. The power is back.

I can't really tell you why... I've prayed for the Lord to bring back the power many times on my mission and sometimes the power would come back and sometimes it wouldn't. But this time, something was different. Maybe the Lord knew that I couldn't go another sleepless night without power. Maybe the Lord knew that my companion really did
believe that He would bring back the power that night. Maybe the Lord is finally helping Benin solve it's power problem. Or maybe it was the simple act of praying on behalf of my companion and not myself.  Honestly, I don't really know why the Lord brought the power back, but what I do know is that He really helped me regain hope in a night where I was so filled with disappointment because of the fact that I couldn't send my letter. I also learned that even "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed (...) nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt 17:20).

Maybe you won't get what you want when you want it, or even get what you want at all... but if the Lord can restore power to a country as small and unknown as Benin at the very moment I needed it, the Lord can do so much more and so much greater.

But... that all depends on you and your grain of faith.

Thanks again to everyone for the encouragement and the prayers... they were much appreciated and I hope you have seen that they were answered!

With love,

Elder Hawkins

Chrawamas all around! After the baptism.

Praying mantus... in french it's "une mante religieuse" or
"Religious mantus"

Monday, September 15, 2014

To Be or Not To Be....

Funnily enough, ever since I have been getting towards the end of my mission, sometimes it's been fun to count how many times I would still be doing things for the rest of my mission. Example: I have 6 more sessions of Church to go to, 6 more times to do my laundry, etc. Well, I suppose that after this email, I will only have 6 more emails to do! 

Well let's just hope I don't have 6 more times to repeat THIS one thing that did happen today....COCKROACH WARS.  Aka, Elder Hawkins vs the African Cockroaches. I enlisted the help of my companion to combat the cockroaches that were surely but slowly taking over our living room and kitchen. Thankfully, the ones at this apartment are not too big like I've seen in all of my other apartments, but there are a lot of them. 

Cockroach zone #1
My first target was the pantry. I knew that that would probably be a "hot spot." So, with the help of my companion, we emptied out all of the cupboards and sprayed the crap out of it... errr... the cockroaches out of it! There weren't as many as I was expecting but a good amount of cockroaches went to cockroach heaven... or hell. I'm actually surprised that nobody has ever asked me during a lesson: where cockroaches go after this life. I don't really care as long as they leave me alone in this life and in the lives to come!

Contents of a pantry in a missionary apartment. 

Anyway, after clearing out all the food and spraying insecticide like crazy, my companion started cleaning the living room while I put the food back all nice and neat. To me, I had thought that the cockroach wars were finished.

Behold, the cockroach nest!

Unfortunately, they had just begun. 

My comp started taking off all of the couch couchens.... couchins... kutchens? Well, apparently I forgot how to spell cushions. Ah-ha! Finally I spelled it close enough for spell check to give me the correct spelling. So, as he was doing that he started taking off the wood supports that support the cushions.... first for the chairs, then for the love seat. I wasn't surprised that he found a few but then I walked over to see the couch and...

BOOM! FOUND THE COCKROACH NEST! There were at least 20 or 30 cockroaches just all up in the couch going like crazy. Cue in Elder Hawkins with the bug spray. You can bet that I emptied out that insecticide can as much as possible. Then they just started droppin' like flies, wigglin' around on the ground gasping for air... but that's when my second round of insecticide hit for the final death sweep! It was gross.... some tried to get away but my comp and I played some wack-a-cockroach and it worked pretty well. 

Death by insecticide. 

Cockroaches 0, Elder Hawkins 1

I might have won the battle, but I'm not yet sure if I have won this war. I suspect a retaliation on the part of the cockroaches, but in the meantime I will buy more insecticide to prepare for the next attack.

Other than that, nothing too big happened this week. Got a cavity filled for the fourth time here... not saying that I had four cavities but that I've had the same cavity filled four times because the filling keeps falling out! Gotta love African dentistry. This time she used what seemed like less Novocaine so I really got to know what a drill to my tooth feels like. She used two shots, but I don't know where she put the stuff because sadly, it did not work. Pain does not begin to describe what I felt.

Thankfully, she finished it and I can drink and eat for the last 6 weeks of my mission until I see an American dentist, in America. Lesson learned: Avoid West African dentists.

The week actually passed by really, really slow. I'm not really sure why either. In my apartment, three of us are going home within the next six weeks... Elder Mbala is going home on Wednesday and to say that he is trunky would not do the word justice... he is super trunky! Unfortunately, that has rubbed off big time on his companion and a bit on me too! 

Throughout my mission, I have "killed" many of my companions. I remember that when I was training my first trainee, all of my previous companions were home and I hadn't even hit a year yet. That's to say that all of my companions from the beginning of my mission were "tired" and "trunky". During my time with them, I really, really, REALLY tried my best not to get tired and trunky with them. When they didn't want to do companionship study, I just did an extra hour of personal study. When they didn't want to go out on time, I just got ready and waited for them. When they didn't want to schedule rendez-vous all through the day, I went ahead and tried my best to do so. 

But now... I just feel how all of those companions felt who were finishing their missions. The tiredness. The grogginess. The helplessness (in not being able to speed up time!). Honestly, there are so many moments where I just think about home and I can't get my mind off of it. People keep telling me to work hard... well, we do work hard but in working hard that means you have to walk a lot in my sector, which seems to be when I think about all these things the most!! Of course, I also think about what I'll miss in Africa too.  All in all, walking and thinking are not my best friends right now.

I suppose this week, I'm going to try and combat these thoughts the best that I can. I'm not sure how that will be, but I could sure use a lot of help from you guys in prayer! I understand that these feelings are normal to have, but I really fear that they distract me from the final few weeks I have left here in Africa.

In any case, I'm doing well otherwise! Thanks for all the prayers that you guys have said for me before! I hope that you all have a wonderful week. 


Elder Hawkins

Monday, September 8, 2014

Visit from a General Authority

Typical Africa-getting-to-a-RV picture. You would think that
after two weeks, the puddles would dry up but you forget that Cotonou
is built on a swamp!

So, I think that the biggest news this week, ok maybe not THE biggest news, is that my back was killing me all of this past week. Why? Well, one of the great things about foam mattresses is that they are not that comfortable to sleep on...can't say I recommend them. Well, at least when you are sleeping on two of them. When I first got to
Menontin, I had my choice of beds. One of them happened to have two mattresses so I thought, well, two is definitely better than one!

But, as I often come to find out here in Benin, what seems to be a comfortable choice is not always the best choice. It was fine for about the first month, but this past week I guess my back just couldn't take it anymore because I had terrible lower back pains. Even
walking or breathing hard would hurt. Nevertheless, it didn't stop me from going out and teaching but goodness it was a pain in the butt...err... back.

Using the ol' noggin, I took out one of the mattresses (which had stains that came from who knows where and who knows what) and just started sleeping on one mattress. At first, I was pretty sad because when I laid on my bed with one mattress, it was super hard! I thought I could feel the boards underneath the mattress! But, after a few days
I realized that though not as comfortable at first, I have experienced much less back problems!

Why share this story? Well, throughout my mission, I have always seemed to learn this principle time and time again: that what seems to be a comfortable choice is not
always the best choice. I think this principle ties in really well with a Zone conference that we just had with Elder Curtis, the president of the Africa West Area (and part of the Quorum of the Seventy).

Whenever a Seventy comes, there is some sort of spirit that comes with them that cannot be matched by just anyone. It's crazy to see how inspired they are and how tuned in they are to the Spirit! Actually, all the talks that were given during our conference were very good and very inspiring.

One of the things that Elder Curtis talked about was how we need to work with the Spirit in order to be successful. If we are not able to tune into the Spirit of the Lord, our work is in vain! We then talked about ways we could keep the spirit in our lives and the best way, of course, is to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord. I really
enjoyed one of his comments where he said that sometimes, the devil will tempt us to not keep a commandment by making us believe that we will have more fun in disobeying a commandment. 

To tie this back to my mattress story, I thought it was going to be awesome to have two mattresses to sleep on, but... noooope! In the long run, it destroyed my back! It's kind of the same thing with not respecting the commandments... we might get some "happiness" in not obeying one of the commandments for a time, but after a while it will end up doing more damage than good! And we learn that what seemed to be a good choice at the time, was not the best choice after all.

The overall gist of the conference was that we need to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord as well as the rules of the mission if we want to be guided in this heavenly work. Another point that I had never really understood was when he talked about how we are the like empty vessels of the Lord (or vases in more plain terms). If our vessels are unclean or dirty, the Lord is more hesitant to use us and to fill our vessels with His spirit!

Overall, it was really cool. It is probably the last time that I hear from a general authority on my mission... and to be honest, I think that this conference we had with him was probably the best one from my whole mission because I was able to learn something and actively listened in each and every one of the talks.

I also really enjoyed President Morin's talk because it really touched home for me. He talked a lot about his own mission, which strangely enough, is very similar to my own in that he worked in his first two sectors for five months each, then went to the office. He said that after he was transferred from the Office, he felt a fatigue that he had never felt in his whole entire life (he said that even until today, he had never felt so tired in his life).

I don't think I feel that tired right now on my mission, but there are some days where I feel super tired and worn out. I think the thing that makes me more tired right now is that I don't have time to feel tired or worn out because there's so many people to see, so many places to go! Though, I think that is a blessing!

In any case, President gave us some good counsel as to how we can continue to work hard despite the fatigue of the mission. I have a couple of goals planned out for right now and we'll see how it all works out! Oh, and he announced a new church building that will be built in Benin next year!

Other than the conference with Elder Curtis, this week was pretty average... nothing too new nor special happened! Although, those little neighbor rascals got us good again this week! One day, we got home and when we were going to leave again, the key to our apartment was missing! Before, the other equipe had a few keys go missing but because they weren't important, we didn't really think anything of it. But this time, it was pretty important since we couldn't lock our door! We didn't look too hard because I had used the key to open up the door earlier that morning and then left the keys in the door. Somebody had to have taken the key out of the door and removed it from the ring!

We asked the kids' mom if they had taken it. She said no. Knowing that they definitely did take the keys, we asked her to ask the kids. They, of course, denied it. Ooooohhhh... the little liars! So, having no other option, my comp and I took the key to one of the other doors to the apartment.

Nevertheless, the missing key was still a problem once we got home. Hearing all of the horror stories of missionaries' apartments being robbed and having to buy all new clothes, cameras, shoes, etc on their own dime, we did not want the same thing to happen for us! We looked all over the apartment for keys to lock our rooms but we found nothing! So, we took some brooms and we blocked the hallway door so that nobody could get in... we felt pretty dang safe after that!

Missionary security system.

The next day, we magically find a key right underneath the door...hmmmmm... where did that come from?!? As we found the key, one of the kids walks by and says oh did you find your key?! We're like yup...thanks a lot. Then a few days later, another key showed up in the exact same place. THE LITTLE RASCALS! But no worries, the father promised us that he would spank his kids. Justice, the African way.

Alright, well, best be going now! Hope that everyone has a great week!


Elder Hawkins

Stadium by the house. Not quite the Linc

La charite ne perisse jamais! Go Société de Secours!

Our Church building. It's huge, but echoes way too much.

Monday, September 1, 2014

An African Wedding

Usually when I start to write these weekly letters, I can never remember anything to write home about because I feel like absolutely nothing happened in the week... but, well this week was completely different... and it all started this past Tuesday.

TuesdayMy companion and I were in the middle of teaching a member at her small restaurant right behind the Stadium, when all of a sudden I get a call from who else but Brother John from Kodjoviakope! He had told me in previous weeks that he wanted to come and visit me to say hi! Being a missionary, I told him that was fine but that the visit couldn't last too long because we still have missionary work to do. Honestly, I didn't know if he would actually find the time to come or not.

Me and Brother John! Same as always!

But, he did! We walked across the stadium to go and find him! It was really great to see him and we were both really happy to see each other. All in all, we went back to my apartment to drop off all the stuff that he brought to me... he gave me carrots, oranges, apples, a 24 pack of Sprit/Fanta cans, and a couple of other gifts. Frankly I was so surprised and I really didn't know what I did to deserve all that stuff but, I was really humbled by it. John said it was just a way of showing his appreciation for the work I do as a missionary and the help that I gave him while serving in the Kodjoviakope group. We talked for a little bit but then we walked back to the stadium so he could get back to Togo! Thank you Brother John! 

Wednesday: A day that started out pretty normal... had a nice lesson in the morning, rendez-vous planned all through the day... ahhh what not to like?! And then, as we went to our second-to-last RV of the day, we find out that a marriage that I didn't even know was going to happen between our amis Ismael and Betty was going to go down... this SATURDAY. Apparently, Ismael had been working with our branch president to figure out all of the details for the wedding arrangements and the proper documents needed in order to be legally wed. And apparently, Ismael wanted to get baptized the same day as the marriage so that his wife could attend before going to Nigeria for a month. 

So, after getting all of that straightened out, I told him that we needed to see each other pretty much every day until the marriage/baptism... there were so many logistics that had to go into getting this to work and as I go through the rest of the week, you will see what I mean. 

Thursday: Now feeling the pressure from the upcoming baptism there were so many things I had to do: (1) call the first counselor to President Morin to interview Ismael for his baptism (2) figure out when the baptism would be and where it would be (3) teach/brush up on all the lessons with Ismael so that he would be ready for the interview. Frankly I just wanted this week to end so badly because I just couldn't help but think of all the things that could possibly end up not working out... but I didn't give up and I endured to the end! 

I ended up going on a split with Elder Mejean (from France) so that we could teach Ismael and his wife at the same time... let me explain that last phrase... Ismael comes from Benin, so he obviously speaks French but his wife Betty comes from Nigeria, and she only speaks English. And there was just way too much material to cover so I had to bring Elder Mejean so that he could teach Ismael in French (my comp isn't experienced enough to know what to teach and what not) and then I would teach Betty in English. At first we wanted her to get baptized too but because she would be traveling to Nigeria early Sunday morning, she would not be able to make the confirmation so we decided to hold off on that until she gets back in October. 

I was really happy with the lesson though because I was able to see that Ismael really remembered very well everything that we taught him and he was really prepared to be baptized! However, I think a lot of the credit goes to the fact that his family are members in a different branch and they have been encouraging him to get baptized and that helped him to be really familiar with the beliefs of the Church. Meaning, everything we taught him was stuff that he was already willing to follow! 

Friday: Friday morning I went down to Fidjrosse to attend my very last Zone Conference of my mission... it was a little bit surreal to be honest, but the lessons were really great and I had a great time. My companion testified for the first time at his first Zone Conference... and then I testified for the last time at my last Zone Conference (yeah, those kinds of things have been popping up a lot with him... his firsts, my lasts). I'm a bit sad that that was the only Zone Conference I would have with President Morin as he has some great plans to advance the work in this mission.

Cool picture of the storm that came after Zone Conference

Afterwards, we headed back to the Branch in Menontin because the Zone Leaders had three baptismal candidates that needed to be interviewed... also, we had to be there because I had managed to set up the interview with President Morin's first counselor and Ismael, which went very well! The three that I did were the very first interviews that I had done as a District Leader and they went well. Despite the fact that one of the couples I interviewed spoke French at a very basic level, I could really tell that they had the desire to be baptized and be in this Church... they had been attending for so long, but with all the marriage stuff, they hadn't been able to be baptized and they had been amis for almost a year. 

Anyway, those interviews weren't supposed to last too long but because everybody was late to their interviews (surprise, surprise Africa!). But, all went well.

Saturday: This was the day we had all been waiting for. We woke up early (before 6) so that we could get ready and meet people at the branch in order to take them to the marriage in Calavi. My couple getting married was going to go there themselves so they didn't need a ride but Elder Mbala and Mejean's couple did need a ride so the Office was nice enough to give us a ride to the wedding.

The view from Calavi branch.

The marriage was supposed to start at 8 but it actually started at 8:20, which I was really mad about because I thought it was actually going to start at 9 (because usually they tell people to come an hour earlier than you're supposed to, for African Standard Time). The reason why I was mad was because my couple hadn't gotten there yet! ARGH! Africa time strikes again! 

So, I took Elder Merrill and stood on the side of the main street to help people find the building (people can't miss two white guys in missionary attire). Thankfully I did that because my couple finally did arrive and were finally able to make it to their wedding. 

To give you an idea of how weddings work, you need to know that it's very hard for people to get married here because of the immense amount of paperwork required by the government as well as the dote (dowry) that has to be paid (which is usually expensive). Thankfully, through the negotiating of some Church members, we have been able to find a guy who can marry people for cheap and with little paperwork! So, we had about 10 couples from around Cotonou come to the wedding ceremony to get married. 

The upstairs pavilion... by the time everybody got there, the place was packed.

So, you might be wondering, what does a Beninois marriage consist of? Well, let me tell you... nothing very special. The mayor comes and basically gives weird council to the couples. My favorite was this: "Even if you are going to the marche to go and buy eggs to make omelettes and your husband is in bed, you need to go and tell your husband that you are going out." Other than that, I did not listen because this guy ended up talking for almost 2 hours about things that quite frankly were pretty dumb. At one point, he even talked about making tea or something and everybody got a little chuckle out of that as we don't drink tea! 

Betty and Ismael exchaning vows

After that, all of the couples went up to exchange vows... some of the couples chose to do it in Fon, others in French... it was funny to see Betty go up and exchange vows because she's Nigerian and doesn't speak very much French. However, the funniest part of it was whenever the couple had to "prove to the mayor that they loved each other" (ie KISS!). It's funny because people here do not kiss... "public display of affection" does not exist out here in the slightest sooooo all the kisses were super funny. However, I'll give it to Ismael and Betty because I'm pretty sure that they had the best kiss out of everybody as it looked natural and loving... and not like two 7 year olds kissing each other from peer pressure (that's the best way I can describe the other kisses).

After that, they had to sign the big book of weddings, as I call it. I think that's to legally record that they were married. The couple signs it as well as the witnesses. It was romantic.

Signing the book!

Afterwards, everybody took pictures with the mayor and then pictures of all the families. I was thankful that it was at Calavi because it's a beautiful building with a great view of the lake! It made for some great pictures. 

Us with the Newlyweds!

After all of that, we hopped in the back of the assistant's truck to go back to the apartment to get ready for the Baptism at 3 PM. Once we did get to the Aibatan branch for the baptisms, we found that nobody was there to unlock the building (oh the Sisters were late... surprise, surprise and it's their branch building!). Thankfully, they came right on time at 3 PM, but forgot the fact that we had to prepare for the baptism by getting people in baptismal clothes and setting up chairs (thankfully Elder Jenkins and his comp had filled the font a few days before). All in all, it went pretty well. I gave a talk and my comp did the baptism and everything went nice and smoothly. Though, it did end up taking like 2 hours to do everything.

At the baptism!

(Elder) Semeha the Baptist (he ended up baptizing like 4-5 people so he got plenty of practice).

But, with all that running around, we were WIPED OUT at the end of all of that. I don't think I had ever slept so well on my mission. 

SundayThankfully, Ismael came to Church on time and I was able to confirm him as a member of the Church! And then to cap everything off, we went to Jericho later in the afternoon to celebrate Elder Hank's birthday at a member's house who promised to prepare "American food". It wasn't really American food, but hey it was salad with cucumbers, radish, chicken, balsamic dressing, etc. I'll give them credit, it was the most American salad I've ever had here! Then for the second course we even got spaghetti and fried potatoes with balsamic vinegar, my favorite traditional American dish! It was good nevertheless! 

Party at Jericho! Oddly enough, Elder Hanks (the birthday man is not pictured). 

So yeah... that was my week in a nutshell for you guys! It was crazy and I'm glad to be everything turned out well.  My hopes are that this week is a little less hectic, but as I've come to learn in Africa, you've gotta be just about ready for anything and everything!

Thanks for all the prayers everybody! Hope you all have a great week and a great Labor day! Elder Mejean says that he loves you guys too! Oh that little Frenchy.


Elder Hawkins

Family picture of the yovos.

Elder Silvas and I... had to take a picture of my man in his sharp suit.