Monday, May 31, 2010

I am a prisoner of Stress

Stress has taken a hold of me, and my body has finally submitted to its power.

I can't describe how I feel these days. It's a mix of anxiety, excitement and an overwhelming feeling of what ifs. I am trying to keep myself calm, but in the midst of preparing to depart, exchanging addresses, saying "until next time" to friends, flying/driving to see family, and then everything needed to finalize here in Austin - it's all becoming a blur.

And with this blur comes sickness. I am weak. I am not hungry. I am fatigued - both mentally and physically. I am congested. I cannot breath. I have body-aches. I have headaches. I am not well.

But I know this will be better. I also know that I'll have many bouts of this while I'm in Africa. This is just the beginning. This is why I'm trying to stay off meds that we take advantage of here in the States. I am trying to naturally get rid of my headaches and body-aches. I am also just taking it easy this weekend. I know that rest is essential, and the past week has not been very accommodating to that aspect of my life which is greatly needed.

I am already missing my friends and family.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Decided my blog needed to be cheered up a bit. I think all the neutral-earthy colors were a bit too drab, so changed it to fab! haha. Yes, I really did just say that.

Aside from that - I'm still very excited about leaving. Less than a month away...and each day gets heavier and heavier. I'm still very nervous too! Gotta catch up on as much French as I can bare, and need to tie up some loose ends here in the States.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

REI: 1, ME: 0

Today I decided I should start physically looking at things to bring to Africa with me. I got off of work at 5pm today, and wanted to go to REI which is supposed to be about 10 minutes north of my apartment: No! It was built over and turned into a Baptist Church...So that was a great waste of time. Damn. So - I went to get some ice-cream...yes, that totally relates to shopping for outdoor gear at REI, and by totally relates, I really mean it doesn't relate at all, I just wanted some ice-cream because my boss at work got some during her lunch break! :]

After ice-cream time, I went to the other REI in Austin: right smack dab in the middle of downtown. (kinda). So I walk in and am immediately overwhelmed, but play it off quite well. I walk up to the tent area, and I seek help right away. I asked this guy, who's name is Hap, if he works there, and he began to guide me through tents. His friend actually just came back from the Peace Corps - she served in Togo!! I thought that was pretty exciting, but it seemed like he was more like an acquaintance than someone really close, because he didn't seem to know much or want to talk much about her trip. So he walked me through some tents, some, mind you, really expensive tents - that's when I had to remind him that I am a very poor graduate and don't have much money nor room to buy a lot of things to take over with me. Compactness is key. Then we started talking about biking...well - point is, he showed me the higher-end items: two person tent for $267, sleeping pad for $75, footprint for $44 and bike shorts for $55 PLUS an REI membership for $20. So that was a little overwhelming. I tried things on, and was searching for him to help after I thought about a few things. Well, Hap was gone. I thought he had left work - but he was just helping another customer...for shame!!! So I'm wandering around, looking lost...

That's when Dean asked me if I was alright and I said "uhh, no, not at all!" So I talk about tents some more since I knew I couldn't afford the ones Hap was I went through a booklet of ALL the tents REI carries, those that are and aren't offered in the store - and showed Dean my pick. I come to find out that he went lived in Africa for 6 months!! He lived in Ghana and taught art and (I'm assuming) took a butt-load of pictures because he's a Photography major! :] This was and is quite exciting. I am pretty much overjoyed right now, and just ask and joke and get to know his experience overseas. He gave me a lot of good advice and reminded me of a lot of things I need to think about before jumping right onto the plane. So - I ordered the tent I put on my wishlist, and bought a 1.5 sleeping pad, some biking shorts things...they were $15 and it was just padding pretty much...and of course....I'm now an REI member. Joy. But good news is that I'll be able to return anything that malfunctions or if I have any trouble they'll help me out - which is not a sarcastic joy, but a real one! Joy!

I'm so very excited about my soon-to-be adventure, and am still quite nervous, but I'm gaining contacts and friends I can ask all the questions I have...and have the support I need until and while I'm overseas.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Earth: It's Time We Met

One of the things I've been looking forward to is living to live...not to obtain unnecessary materials, not to earn money just to spend it, not to focus on my social standing in this pretentious country we live in...but instead - living to live. I've been one to get swept away by all of the things that don't much matter: things like clothes, electronics, image, social gatherings, money and just materialistic aspects of this world...and I'll tell you one thing - I don't like it. Yet, by saying I don't like it would be somewhat of a lie. Who wouldn't want to live such a lavish life to not care about anyone by yourself, your materials, loved one and what you'll be doing to have fun? But that is an empty life. Such a life would not make me happy - sure, I'd be entertained all the time, and envied by others, and loved by many - but this will not make me happy if I am not living. In my opinion - those who do not yearn to help, those who are selfish to the pure extent of definition: is not living, but is dead.

So what I'm really looking forward to is living to live. I want to feel the Earth move, and I want to dance with it. I want to shed myself of the things that should not be of sole importance, and I want to really see what it means to live with the bare necessities. I want to work for what I get. I want to harvest the crops with the villagers. I want to have my clothing made, and then learn to make my own. I want to use my legs as my engine to get me from here to there. I want to see what life is like when all you do is live.

So I found this journal entry by John Dessereau's blog (which I got from one of New York's photographers: Brock Fetch's blog. - Yes, I'm sneaky. And am trying to follow lots of artists). This journal entry made my heart glow. I love it. I love that someone else has realized that the earth, and nature are missing ingredients in peoples' everyday mixture of life, love and business.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Au Reviour

My best friend Ashley, graduated from Texas State University this morning with a Bachelors of Art: History major with a minor in philosophy. Her immediate family and most of her extended family traveled to San Marcos to watch the ceremony and then celebrate in San Antonio. Elyse, another one of my good friends, is graduating tomorrow morning from the same University with a Bachelors of Science: Business Major (I think). Chris is leaving Saturday to travel to his home state, Washington, and then off to China for a summer internship. Beak is moving to either Waco or Austin after the summer has come and gone. And my mom and dad will really, truly, have their nest to themselves...with all three pigeons moved out, and are spread across the world - this made me think of how everyone is coming to the end of yet another milestone in their life - turning pages and beginning new chapters in this ever-revolving novel.

I'm getting quite anxious about seeing everyone who is dear to me and holds a special place in my heart or soul... people who have impacted my life in a positive way, those who have stuck by me through thick and thin, and those whom I've known only for a short period... I'm nervous that I won't get to see everyone - not that I have a long list, it's more that I want to see my old friends, new friends and my best friends: this can get tricky when they're all over Texas and beyond.

Yet - it breaks my heart that some of these people don't acknowledge the importance they hold. Some of these people don't understand that they are positive influences, and have helped greatly to grow and to learn things both about myself and those around me. These people don't know that I may not see them again - so this is why it's so important for me to see them once more before our lives shift and change beyond knowing who each of us are anymore.

I hope, oh I hope, this comes through to some of you - I want you to know I care for you and am deeply committed to the friendship we have: through the good times, the boring times, the times where we may think we hate each other, and those times when we are inseparable. I love you all so much.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Austin, Baby, We Need to Talk

I know, these four words always mean something bad. They are always heartbreaking - it's like running into a wall face-first. It's never something good. It's never going to be a soft blow, never.

So yes - our relationship is coming to an end. We have but a month left together, and then I'll be on my way - to bigger and better things. I can't focus on you right now. I need to focus on Africa, the next step. What I'm saying is: there are better things to think about, and you are no longer a priority.

Wow - does this sound familiar or what!

Thanks for throwing it in my face yet again... I'm glad I'm moving on. Just needed a little re-cap to make sure I'm still truly alive, because if it doesn't hurt, then there was nothing there to begin with.

But for real Austin, we are parting ways in June...June 11th. I hope you understand I need to be selfish right now.

ha. no. really. These words are much too sharp for me at the moment.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Checkin' it Twice

It's exactly one month until I move out of my apartment here in Austin. I'm moving back home the week before I leave for Philadelphia and then off to Africa. I'm getting more and more nervous, but also more focused on the now instead of what's happening in the future. And by that - I mean, I'm trying to focus on work, my apartment, my camera equipment, editing software and making sure everything is set HERE before I let my mind wander into the homeland.

I'm considering putting my camera up on Ebay or Amazon or even Craig's List for about $500 (at least). Yet - when I took it into Precision Camera here in town, they said there was nothing wrong with it, and I probably would only get about $475. Well - my camera is in great shape, I just hate it because I've been working with "higher-end" Canons since one of my good friends bought a Rebel T1i and I've been assisting Melanie with a Mark II (oh the love...I really want a MII) But, of course - instead of spending about $400 bucks (plus the money I'd get for my camera) I could buy a wide angle lens!! So I've got some options to consider and not a lot of time to do so.

Alas - What I really need to do is get someone to either sub-lease my apartment until July 31st for $550 (can move in anytime after June 11th) or get someone to sign at least a 6 month lease with Woodchase Apartments for $570 moving in July 1st -> that way, I'd get refunded my $550 I'll have to pay even though I'd be out of the country. DANG.

  • Apartment
  • Camera
  • Insurance
  • Pack
  • Editing Software
  • Travel Arrangements
  • Credit Card
yup - I've still got a pretty full plate.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Houston: The New Africa

I was on a editorial shoot this past Friday with Melanie Grizzel in Houston, TX. It was just about a three hour drive from Austin, TX - and I opted to follow her because I wanted to surprise my mom in Huffman that night. Boy, oh boy, does that woman drive fast - she doesn't drive down the road, she flies!! And her excuse - "you've got a red sports car! You should be able to keep up!" haa - then I had to explain to her that my little red sports car eats gas like a panda eats bamboo!

Well - to get to the point of this blog - it was HOT! One of the clients was sweating like he'd never been in the heat before, and Mel was pretty vocal on how hot it was! ha. I was hot, yes, but it wasn't unbearable. We looked at the thermometer and it read 99F at around 3:30pm... then around 5:30pm it jumped up to 102F - Yes, maybe this was the temp of the hot car, but it was pretty warm to say the least. So in the midst of all the complaining, sweating and heat - I started talking about how blistering hot it will be in Africa - "I'm gonna have to endure 104F weather!!" and then Mel pointed out the reading on her thermometer - "Baby, you're in Africa!!" hah.

I guess I can start letting my body acclimate to the heat now.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oh God...

Since high school, I've been relatively apprehensive on the topic of God. I have had many discussions about His being and His reality...and these discussions are typically those which involve someone telling me He's real and that I should accept Him. Well, I don't like this cramming someone's religion down my throat. Yet - I have no problem with people talking about their religion with me or in front of me. I think it's interesting to see how much faith they put into this higher-spirit whom is supposedly all knowing, all seeing and all doing.

Well - I would have to say I don't believe in him. I don't want to do good for "him." I'd rather do good because I want to and I want to impact people's lives and the world (eventually) in a positive manner - and I have a hard time with the fact that *in my opinion* people need something to look forward to or to tell them it is good, for them to do it and feel good about it. Maybe I don't know enough - YES - I know I don't know enough to make judgements, and I don't like to, but it's human nature. I know there are good people in the world, and I would like to believe it is all because they want to be good, not because God told them to, or because it will get them brownie points with this being who'll let them through these "pearly gates" once their time here on Earth has passed...No! I want to think they want to do good, for good.

Anywho - the reason I am blogging about this higher-being is because on two seperate occasions, maybe more (in recent times) I've noticed that people are relating my good spirit with having a religion. One lady (who is so nice, and open-minded) asked if I have accepted the Lord Jesus into my heart as my Savior...and you know what - I said...well, no - I was raised to choose my own, and as of this time - I haven't found that I need a religion. But it's so uncomfortable when a stranger asks you that - someone you just met. That's such a touchy topic for many people... On another occasion, a really nice girl asked me what my religion was when we were talking about the Peace Corps - I said, stupidly, non-denominational. That is my politically correct answer. I don't want to stir things up, but I also don't want to talk about it at the time when I give these answers.

I just wish people could understand that the goodness in my heart and soul come from me... I am not doing this for something I can't see, touch or believe in...I am doing this to help people because it feels good to help - it feels great to be able to change a person's life in a positive way for no reason - seeing their face sparkle and shine because they are overwhelmed by joy because of what you're doing for them. Religion doesn't make you good, you make yourself good - and you don't need a religion to do good. Why isn't that more common?

Monday, May 3, 2010

First bout of Stress

Since I got invited, I've been more than ready to leave the country and be on my way...yet, for some reason, today I just broke down and cried. I have a lot on my plate right now: two jobs, two volunteer obligations, two cats now (I'm cat-sitting, and Lily hates me and her new but temporary home), and on top of that too much debt.

I'm trying to be a waitress at the Flying Saucer - a really neat bar in Austin, but seemed to have lost my mind and all of my material to study for this five page cumulative test which is required to move on to a "skill out" - an oral test over the phone which is usually given by corporate - which is required to begin picking up shifts and actually making your own money. This training is intense but they say it all comes back to you when you start working. I have no doubt in my mind it would - but because I'm only going to be working there for about a month - I'm having second doubts.

Point is - I'm stressed, and didn't think the process of getting myself completely ready to depart would be so mentally exhausting. I'm being torn in so many directions, it's difficult to set my priorities straight. Money. Time. Friends. Family. Work. Apartment. Volunteer. It's all beginning to be too much and I think I just need to stop thinking about all of it so much.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


This timeline will help all of you out there who are thinking about applying to join the Peace Corps - or for those of you who are curious to know how the process of applying works.

September 15, 2009: Turned in my completed application. A complete application includes a good few pages of background information, experience (work, volunteer & life), monetary obligations, legalities, and two essays, three letters of recommendation and an updated resume.

While applying, I got in touch with a recruiter in Dallas, her name is Samantha Garvin, and was such a help! After applying, a recruiter will get in touch with you to tell you if you need to fill out specific addendums to focus in on your skills that relate to certain programs.

November 2, 2009: Due to my lack of volunteerism, my recruiter suggested I temporarily withdraw my application so I don't have to re-apply when I have adequate volunteer service. After a couple of months of inactivity, Peace Corps may drop your application (of course they will contact you beforehand) because they have such a large percentage of applicants.

January 15, 2010: I received a call from Samantha earlier this week to set up an interview and reactivate my application due to an influx of money and the probability of opening up new programs for this year. On the 15th of January I had an interview with Samantha Garvin in Dallas, TX.

January 25, 2010: I was recruited for a Community Development program with a Health emphasis in French-Speaking Sub-Saharaan Africa departing either this summer (June - August 2010) or sometime early next year (January - March 2011).

Between my nomination and invitation I was volunteering at Doug's House on a consistent basis, keeping in touch with my recruiter and filling out / updating addendums, and finding different not-for-profits to volunteer at that would benefit me in accordance with the Peace Corps. Also, you will receive an in-depth medical packet that you need to finish as soon as possible. This includes eye-care, dental records, and a complete medical record and immunization history. For some volunteers, this is the most stressful part of applying...and it may take the longest. For me, I completed all paperwork in a weekend, and mailed it back within a week and a half.

February 17, 2010: I mailed my complete medical packet.

February 26, 2010: My dental record was passed & complete within the Peace Corps.

March 7, 2010: My medical packet is complete and passed onto the Placement Office in Washington DC.

My communication with the Peace Corps was now with the Placement Office in DC instead of with my recruiter in Dallas. I was contacted and asked to update a few addendums and my resume for further consideration.

March 20, 2010: I received a call from a placement officer who asked me about my application, my preferences, my availability and then told me that I'm invited to serve in a French-Speaking country in West Africa! He said he would mail my invitation the next day and I should receive it in about 3 days (Friday, or Monday).

March 26, 2010: Invitation in the mail!! A big packet full of little folders (domestic contact, finances and insurance, passport and visa, etc.) You must accept or decline the invitation within 10 days of receiving the packet. Passport & visa paperwork needs to be completed and mailed immediately. Within 10 days of accepting your invitation, you need to submit a word document of your updated resume and a statement of aspiration to your country of service.

June 21, 2010: Orientation date in Philadelphia, PA

June 23, 2010 - August 24, 2010: Pre-service training in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

August 25, 2010 - August 25, 2012: Dates of Service!

Again, I just want to point out this is how MY application process was. This doesn't mean this is average, or how yours will flow if you decide to apply or if you're currently in the process of applying...each person has a different application process that relies on their own experience, their volunteerism, degree, etc.

When I find out more information about the last three bolded dates, I'll update y'all. Until then... au revoir et bon nuit.

Hello, I'm Lauren. Nice to Meet you!

Let's see...what do you need to know about me?

I'm a recent graduate from Texas State University, and earned a degree in Advertising with a minor in Photography. And you ask why on earth am I in Africa?

Well - since my sophomore year in college at Midwestern State University, the year I realized I wasn't going into the medical field, I've been looking into the Peace Corps to fill that void of needing to help those who, well, are in need. It took me about a year to start filling out my application - and another year or so to turn it in - at this point I had transferred to Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. It was a long process - but well worth it. I ended up needing to temporarily suspend my application just as soon as I turned it in due to the fact that I didn't have much volunteer experience. I started volunteering at a hospice in Austin, TX called Doug's House which directly cares for people who are living with HIV/AIDS. As soon as I started volunteering, I graduated from Texas State and then took a quick one month vacation home and to Centralia, WA. Since I came back, I've been living in Austin, TX volunteering as a caregiver at Doug's House, a tutor of ESL to 7 adults and working two jobs - The American Red Cross of Central Texas and a second photographer/assistant for She-N-He Photography & Design. My Peace Corps recruiter from Dallas called shortly after I came back from "vacation" and said I needed to reactivate my application and come up to Dallas as soon as possible for an interview due to an influx of money!

Since my interview - the timeline between having my interview to getting invited has been relatively short. I had an interview on the 15th of January, and was invited to serve in Africa on the 20th of March (when normally it could take anywhere between 6 to 9 months between nomination and invitation).

So where am I now? Still in the States - but preparing for my departure on the 21st of June. I've received my invitation packet, have put my paperwork into getting both my passport and visa through PC, emailed an updated resume and a letter of aspiration to my country of service (Burkina Faso) and am patiently waiting for my staging kit from SATO Travel.

oh my - I just want to go!