In the thick of it.

If you watch Grey's Anatomy you know that Shonda Rhimes (the screenwriter) has become increasingly melodramatic as the seasons roll on. The main characters endure everything from plane crashes to cancer to sudden, unexpected death. I know a lot of people who stopped watching the show when one of the beloved main characters died last season. 

"This is just too ridiculous not that many bad things can happen to someone," has become the running consensus for many of us die hard Grey's fans. We love the drama but we recognize that there is an increasing level of unlikelihood in the events that the characters face. 

Yesterday was the sixth worst day of my life. I'm incredibly conservative about the stories that I share by name on my blog and this instance is no exception. For the sake of the post you only really need to know that I received news that shattered me and people close to me and that I have some difficult, life changing decisions to make in the next few months because of it. 

My life feels like the end of the eleventh season of Grey's Anatomy right now. Thinking the worst is over and then the main character dying pretty much sums up my current life situation. I spent all day yesterday talking to my friends saying, "this is just too ridiculous not this many bad things can happen to someone." 

All of this to say, as of yesterday I'm not in any place to be writing a blog but last week, before any of this, I promised to start writing more. It's hard to start writing more in the middle of such a fragile season but it occurred to me that things are happening that I might enjoy looking back on in ten years. I really love writing the messy because I think people find it more relatable than the perfect lives that so many bloggers seem to be living. So, here's a funny story. 

**

I went to target on the sixth worst day of my life. With tearstained cheeks I grabbed a red cart and tried to navigate the normalcy of the store. I'd just gotten home from a vacation at my family house on Lake Michigan and my apartment had zero anything. Somehow in my mind I thought getting out of my apartment and getting groceries, as I processed what I'd just found out, was a good plan. 

I haven't had a cold or the flu in two years and I never, ever take medicine, aside from my essential oils. That said, I'd been fighting an aggressive sore throat and runny nose for forty-eight hours and I made a beeline for the NyQuil the second I got into the store. I can count on one hand the amount of times that I've taken NyQuil but the overwhelming pressure in my head and pain in my throat had me all up in the medicine isle. I found a DayQuil/NyQuil pack and poured myself liquid DayQuil (like a shot in the middle of target, unpurchased) and took a dose and a half. 

My logic at the time was that I open water bottles in target and buy them later at checkout. In between my aching throat, my running nose and my overwhelming emotions I really didn't think about the fact that popping open unpurchased NyQuil before checkout is a little bit different than popping open an unpurchased water bottle before checkout. 

A Target employee approached me 90 seconds afterwards. His tag read, "SECURITY," in bold white letters and he was ready to secure a situation. "Ma'am I have reason to believe that you have stolen and misused over the counter medicine from our store would you please come with me." 

"Holy shit. I'm going to target jail," I thought as I trailed behind Mr. Security. This is an all time low. I got taken to the back where I was asked if I was stealing over the counter medicine by the most official looking Target employee I have ever seen. I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz when they met Oz. 

I put my game face on and tried to explain. "I'm so sorry this is a misunderstanding I couldn't even shop I'm so sick I really just needed to take the medicine in order to finish my grocery list." 

I think the Target Oz pitied the sound of the soreness/congestion in my voice because he did everything but hug me as he supervised my checkout and walked my cart to the front. People are kind when it counts and that's a huge blessing. I forgot half my mental grocery list and came out with the medicine, a four pack of chicken soup, Kleenex, and soap. 

Post my time in the Target detention center I went to a house party. At my own house. I didn't know I was having one but I got home and the lobby of my apartment was filled with my favorite girlfriends. It was only in the last year and a half that I developed a friend group that knows every unabridged piece of my wild story. For people like this to drop everything for me and show up to sit on my couch because I'm navigating something unimaginably difficult is the biggest gift ever. 

They fed my dog and cried with me. I called two of my international friends -- one in Europe and one in Kenya, and they stayed up until 2-3am their time just talking through things with me. 

Something that has become a theme for my life this year is this: 

"In the heart of the heartache remember the bones of the life that built you and the people that love you." 

What it means is that there are people, places, and stories in my life than mold the foundation of my humanness -- the bones of my identity. I find my reassurance in understanding that the true bones of my identity -- family, true friends, the house I grew up in, always-kind Target employees -- are all completely untouchable by the broken seasons of my life. 

I think knowing that you're not in the mess of life alone is the most powerful thing in the world and I'm so lucky to do life with people that are with me through the thick of it. 

Like that

I got recruited for a Skype interview with a rad up and coming travel blog. An unexpected surprise being that I write a blog post every three months. I used to have blogger game and I guess my name washed up in the distant archives of some "best blogger" lists. Cue the first time in my twenty-year-old life that I've felt outdated. 

Tonight, on vacation at my family house on Lake Michigan, I took my computer down by the pool and took my Skype interview. This is a legit, no bullshit company and the opportunity to work with them ain't no joke. I got hit with questions like, "about how many readers do you have per blog post?" Cheers to my glory days when that answer would have been an upward of 2,000. "Um about 150-200," he excused himself while he took notes that I'm sure read something like, "where did we get this recommendation?" and then politely told me that we'd be in touch later this week. The best part was when the sprinklers by the pool turned on and I had to run for my car -- during the interview. High five, El. 

He told me that they'd read my most recent blog post and that they were looking for raw, tell-it-like-it-is storytellers to write like that about their experiences around the world. He told me that he'd love to see me find a platform where I break out of my shell and write like that again. Now I realize that my most recent blog post is on gun control, a hot, political topic that is split very 50/50, but I'm not talking about the content, I'm talking about the voice. I have a voice that tells it like it is. I used to share my story, in all of its grit and mess, all of the time in the hopes of inspiring someone else to live their life candidly and to use their own voice. 

That's who I am. When did I stop writing like that on a regular basis? The truth is that I've become so hyperaware of what certain people think about the work I do and the life I live that it's hard to come out and write publicly from my heart when I'm so focused on writing pieces that don't offend anyone. Shame on me for behaving exactly how I pray my children never do. 

The reality is that people are always going to be offended by everything you do, especially if its different, and if you're always afraid of walking in the lines you're never going to become the person that represents your heart. So, I'm going to spend the next couple months publishing all of the drafts in my blog queue. Maybe I'll earn a new set of glory days or maybe I'll just have a collection of posts for my babies to read  back on in a decade. Either way this is my informal/formal announcement that I've got a lot of writing coming your way. 

Go out and write like that. Tell your beautiful, messy, unabridged story (or don't) and do your life exactly how you want to. Happy Tuesday, friends. 

let's talk about guns

Yesterday morning I sat at breakfast with a friend and we talked at our corner table about the tragedy of Christina Grimmie's death Friday evening outside of her venue in Orlando, Florida.

Christina Grimmie was brutally murdered. With a gun.  By a 27-year-old Floridian man. 

Let's talk about how uncomfortably easy it is for any 27-year-old Floridian man to obtain a handgun. Do you want a hint? The answer is too easy. It is too easy for him to obtain a handgun. 

As I understand it (although I do not fully understand it) guns are a lifestyle for millions of my American neighbors. 

Once upon a time, before gun violence became a daily, even hourly, norm for the United States, guns were just a lifestyle choice. Your family hunted or your family didn't hunt. Your family owned a gun or your family didn't own a gun. You supported guns or you opposed guns. No biggie. Chicken or beef? Either was fine. 

This is a beautiful thing in American culture. We can agree to disagree. We can raise our babies up in a melting pot of beliefs and ideas and we can all still love and respect one another. For this reason, while guns and talk of guns and toy guns and imaginary guns and any sort of gun in any capacity will never be allowed in any household of mine, I still proudly melt together as friend and neighbor with gun owners and supporters. 

The problem is, the once upon a time is behind us. Gun ownership, contrary to a distorted belief held primarily by current gun owners and supporters, is no longer solely about a person's personal right to bear arms. The gun conversation became much, much larger when people's children stopped coming home from school. 

I get it. I mean I don't get it, being the appeal to owning a gun, but I do get it, being that I do understand what it's like to feel entitled to a right. If I was raised in a home where guns were a piece of my culture I'd likely feel robbed if my constitutional right to bear arms became a national conversation.

What I don't get is how any responsible gun owner can sit back and watch the horror -- the slaughtering -- of thousands of people each year and not stand up and say, "things really, really need to change." 

The reality is that America is slow to reform gun control because we have to jump through senate and congressional and countless other hoops to arrive at a place in time when real change can happen. Changing laws is no easy feat and while we fight against each other politically so that you can sleep next to your gun at night, people are dying. Children are dying. 

"But I like guns, I grew up with guns, guns are important to me."

I can think of a dozen things off of the top of my head that I love and value. Things that I was raised up with as a part of my cultural norm. Things that I use to bond with family. Things that bring back beautiful memories of childhood. Things that make me, me. The reality is that if any of these things started to appear in classrooms and movie theaters and churches and nightclubs as murder weapons, I'd reevaluate just how important it felt for me to stand behind these things. 

"People who want a gun will find a gun." 

This is true. Except when it isn't. The reality is that countless mass casualty shootings have been at the hands of mentally ill, every day Americans. These individuals will not "find a gun." If we place a stricter, reformed ban on guns twenty-seven-year-old Floridian boys living out of their mother's basement are not going to call their drug dealers and get hooked up with a handgun. Do you want to know why? Because twenty-seven year old Floridian boys living out of their mother's basement typically don't have drug dealers stashing arsenal in the back of their black Escalades. I know it's fun to think of everything like a James Bond movie but realistically thousands of lives would be saved each year if America took a step forward in screening mentally ill Americans more throughly before selling them guns. 

Will some people still find guns after a reform is put on them? Yes. Will there still be mass casualty shootings? Unfortunately, yes. Is it worth it to put a reform on guns to save one single life? Absolutely, yes. 

"But you can't take it from me."

Are you five years old? Are we talking about apple juice or arsenal? There is nothing on the table, congressionally or otherwise, to suggest that guns will be completely banned from America. Calm down, relax, and start to think logically about how you, as a responsible and concerned gun owner and fellow American, can make our country a little safer by hopping on board the gun control train. 

"Laws don't apply to criminals." 

There are already incredible methods in place to monitor and intervene with illegal weapon trade in the United States and a huge part of a gun reform would be the continued, close monitoring of rings and potential rings that could lead to illegal weapon distribution. 

It is true that some criminals will still have or obtain guns but there are plenty of criminals, actually most criminals, that don't go out in broad daylight and shoot up schools and malls or up and coming celebrities like the beautiful Christina Grimmie. The majority of these individuals are mentally ill. More often than not, mentally ill people don't have the capacity or the means to gain access to an illegal weapon distributor. If one does, there are ten-fifteen that no longer would. A step forward for gun control is not the only step but it is certainly a step forward. Every life matters.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people."

A personal favorite. First of all, technically, the gun kills the person. A person without a gun might kill a single person with their bare hands. A person with a gun can easily kill an entire room of people within seconds in a very impersonal, impulsive way. 

The fact of the matter is that people with guns kill people and you, as a concerned and responsible gun owner, should be concerned about making sure that America takes a step forward in making sure that everyone is safe from guns. All the time. 

"How will we defend ourselves?"

Again with the James Bond movie. No politician has ever made me more angry than Donald Trump did during his press conference the morning after the tragic Paris nightclub shooting in November of last year. According to the Republican front runner, there wouldn't have been nearly as many casualties that night if people were armed to protect themselves. Stupid Paris, banning guns. It's all their fault. Right? Wrong. Super wrong. 

First of all, I don't know about you but when I'm applying my lipstick and deciding which jacket to wear with my favorite little black dress on nights when I go dancing, I don't stand at my closest thinking, "gosh I'm going to need something that goes with my handgun." 

When I send my future Kindergartner to school I'm not going to pack a weapon next to their string cheese. "Here you go baby, just in case you have to defend yourself."

So no Donald, sit down, calm down, and stop saying things that make absolutely no sense at all. 

Second of all, Paris IS a gun free zone. This means that, even with the tragedy in November, 0.6 of every 100K individuals is a victim of a gun-related homicide whereas there are 3.2 (and rising) gun-related homicides per every 100k individuals in the United States. 

I don't know why or how there are still places in America in 2016 where it is okay to take your handgun to Walmart just in case a deranged shooter pops up in isle six BUT the rest of the world does not want to live in fear. The rest of the world does not want to settle for Donald Trump's remedy to a national gun crisis -- giving the good guys more guns does not stop gun violence in America. We know this. We know the statistics. We understand the reality that people cannot go everywhere, all the time, with a gun to "defend" themselves just in case. 

** 

This morning I am crushed. I am crushed for the family of Christina Grimmie and I am crushed for the families of the 50+ victims that lost their lives at an Orlando nightclub yesterday evening.

It is time for change and I will shamelessly, unwaveringly vote and petition for reform (and candidates to reform) that will implement these changes to protect my community and my future children. I encourage you to do the same and to my friends that sit on this issue, I hope that you recognize the seriousness of this conversation.

Differences.

I've been quiet. Not just here but on all social media and at home among friends and family. It's really difficult to admit that some of my encounters during my January and February visit to Uganda shattered my heart. The country and the natives are so incredible and I strongly, strongly encourage that anyone visiting Africa take the time to visit Uganda, however, like any place on the map that is not my own, challenges unique to my own understanding arose. 

So, for the second time, I retreated home from Africa full of the love and light rooted into the souls of its people and empty from the political and religious wars raging within so many of the governments and administrations within the continent. 

This is such a heavy topic and I've gotten my hand slapped for talking about it openly but there are a huge collection of missionaries and documentarians and expats who have given huge pieces of their hearts to Africa who suffer silently from its politics. 

I know so many who I've spoken to in intimate, coffee-sipping sessions that have shared their hurt from their time in Africa with me. Rather it be that they felt that they weren't able to do enough or they weren't permitted to do enough or they weren't heard or seen by the organization that they were doing things alongside or they couldn't bring their baby home or they couldn't change the hearts of administrations or they couldn't renew their traveler's Visa and now their hearts and their bodies are on two different continents or they were treated unfairly or they were silenced by the laws. 

The list goes on and the catch is that despite the trials, every single one of us is in love with Africa's people and fighting the good fight to return to its soil. 

These are heavy burdens to carry. As a documentarian I carry them even more so because I see things in my short time in these places that my heart bleeds to change and I have to walk away from them knowing that I don't have the authority or the means to do anything about it. 

When I got back I spent a lot of time thinking about how I didn't know if I could go back to Africa but then I remembered that there is no excuse for wanting to choose my own comfort zone. Upon this realization I immediately accepted a position as a social media and public relations consultant for an orphanage in Kenya. I leave for Kenya in four days. 

I have to keep telling the stories of the 147 million orphans worldwide. I have to keep documenting and moving from country to country. I have to open my heart again to new organizations and new relationships and trust that I will feel safe and loved in a place so far from my home base in California. I have to understand that my differences with so many of Africa's policies and so many of the things happening behind closed doors there do not make me different from Africa's common person.

I can still love there. I can still love anywhere. 

So my suitcase is out again. It doesn't go on the top shelf anymore. Kenya is a new adventure. I'm four days and thirty-six hours of travel away from hundreds of new stories to be told and dozens of new babies to be held. I'll pack my long skirts and head scarves and make my American bed knowing that I'll be home again soon on the African roots that build me more every time I walk among them. 

Difference in culture and policy and religious morality is not an excuse to divide ourselves from other nations. Our shared humanity is the only excuse we need to walk onward with our neighbors. 

You can.

I wouldn't be Ellie Coburn if my boldness in words and beliefs didn't turn some heads. This post is no exception. 

A lot of people, a lot of goodhearted, good-intentioned people, are showing up in third world nations and making the very bold, naive assumption that by simply showing up in an impoverished setting, they are making the world a better place. 

I will be the first to tell you that working in the third world, in all of its Instagramed glory, is followed by a seemingly never ending round of applause for my mere audacity to grace an impoverished world with my presence. 

Wait, what? 

What I'm suggesting is as bad as it sounds. In western perspective, by and large, an American stepping onto "lesser" soil, gets an incredible amount of praise based solely on the fact that they are an American on lesser soil. 

There is this broken ideology that the people of impoverished nations -- fully functioning, intelligent, inspirational people, will fall over and die without an American hand to feed them. This ideology kills me. This ideology is why we as a species, united on one earth, have manifested the bizarre and sick concept of two worlds - the first and the third. 

The more we manifest these concepts -- the more we divide "us" and "them" -- the further we move away from any possibility of a world free of poverty. When the western world continually hoards resources, education, and materials from other nations, these other nations are forced to live with nothing as a byproduct of other parts of the world demanding everything. 

I am not amazing -- I am not selfless -- I am not inspiring and if you've ever called me any of those things, thank you, but you'll have to come somewhere like Africa to meet truly amazing, selfless, inspiring people. 

I gain more each day from the humble, perseverant, compassionate, giving spirits that I work to support and educate than I will give in a lifetime of work in these misunderstood pieces of the world. 

Passing through the slums on a motorbike with my Mac laptop, my professional camera, my iPhone, and my tablet I look like nothing more than a westerner on third world soil and in so, so many ways -- that's all I'll ever be. 

Still though, I tell my motorbike driver, "can you stop up here, I need to see my friends," he slows the bike next to the slum houses and furrows his brows, "here? You want here?" He asks with confusion and concern. "Yes, here please," I say, stepping off the bike handing him a crumpled bill from one of my many pockets. He doesn't drive off, instead he watches with amusement as the slum children and their mamas come out to greet me with hugs and dancing, he watches and he laughs and other motorbike drivers stop to watch too because these are the friends I am referencing. 

I don't take baby girl 3 of 7 down to the river on my hip to clean her infected toe because I am serving her, I take her down to the river on my hip to clean her infected toe because her mama, my friend, is working in the field and her baby girl 3 of 7 has an infected toe. 

I don't bring their family rice and beans to feed them because they are less than me, I bring them rice and beans the same way I would drop a casserole off for a friend who needed an extra set of hands. I feed them rice and beans because that's what's for dinner. 

I don't pull out my pop up elementary school on my tablet, phone and computer because I am more, I pull up my pop up school because my friend's children have a capacity and drive to learn with no funds for school. 

I live in a town with over 1000 missionaries here serving in organizations or working in some capacity to better this community, still though, natives pull their small Nokia flip cell phone cameras on me when I get on my knees to kiss and hug the slum children and their mamas because apparently, that's too much. Apparently, my love for these people in this form, not as an organization or a service worker or a missionary but just as a person who loves people, is unique enough to document. 

This is a crisis. This is a problem. This is a testimony to issues large enough to cripple humanity in its entirety. This is a divide between man and man that needs to stop. 

You can help. You can help at home in your own neighborhood -- you can help around the world -- you can help instill new, fresh principles into the little people sleeping in the room right next to yours (if you have them). 

You can do anything I am doing, and many of you might even have the resources, education, and capacity to do it better -- but you have to break free of the ideology that you can't. You have to understand that the third world is a place in our minds not on the map. You have to break away from the ideology that people with less are to be feared. Above everything else though, you have to be willing to extend your resources, education, and capacity to communities and circles other than your own. 

The only two things that happened when I stepped foot on third world soil is my shoes became dirty and my heart became full because there is no "us" and there is no "them," there are no real boarders or lines or division between nations, and if you look closely enough, you can see yourself in the eyes of every person.  

Moments.

The marketplace is full of the sound of barter and the smell of fish. I run my hand over a fresh pineapple, "this one please," I say, adding it to my overflowing bag, handing over 3,500 Ugandan Shillings (50 cents) to the breastfeeding mother at her fruit stand. 

Thunder and lightening crash around me as my boda (a moterbike used for transport in Uganda) driver flies over potholes and bumpy, red dirt roads -- racing the storm home from the marketplace to my little apartment on the outside of town. 

I watch the sky open up from the comfort of my living room for an hour, snacking on the freshest pineapple I've ever had. 

When the storm breaks I head outside to deliver rice, beans, and sugar to the kindhearted, beautiful family living in a small hut no larger than a garden shed just outside and around the corner from my front door. 

We dance all afternoon. It's happy. I'm happy. When I'm done rocking and cuddling each of their nine littles, I walk back home and strategize for The Lucy Project. I spend hours and hours preparing my soul project, an international documentary on the global orphan crisis. 

My whole body hurts from the hustle of the day when I fall into my single, five-inch thick mattress. I pull the thin blanket up to my chin and smile a raw, authentic smile that I'm cozy in a bed, unlike so many around me. 

The entire neighborhood of wild dogs decide to have a howl-off at 1:26am. I pull the window open and listen to the brawl until all is silent and the crickets commence in their nightly song. 

The rain starts again at 3:12am. Light rain turns into a storm and the storm turns into thirty-eight minutes of the sky opening up to pour truckloads and truckloads of water over the fertile, green Ugandan land. 

At 4:09am I am mopping rain water up off of my bedroom floor -- that window leak surely has a mind of its own. 

I sleep until 6:30am when I wake with the sound of the rooster crow, the neighborhood children, and my next door neighbor who likes to play the newest Justin Bieber album on repeat at bizarre hours of the day.  

This is my happy. These daily moments are so special to me. Working in the village conditions of Africa is easily one of the most challenging experiences I've ever had, but my day to day life here is everything I've ever wanted and nothing I'd ever replace. I am at peace here with things that I would never be at peace with in the first world. I am amused by howling dogs and raging storms. I am laughing as I try to shoo mosquitos and wasps out the door. I am content with our home being open for sweet babies without present mamas to come and rest on our sofa. I am happy to rock little one's night terrors away at all hours of the night. 

Uganda is full of tragedy, full of trial and struggle that line the streets of poverty, but it is alive with joy and love. It is alive with the kindness and compassion of the common people. Uganda has my heart because Uganda is a part of Africa and Africa stole my heart before I ever set foot on its soil. 

I beg these days to slow down. These two-years of world travel as I capture the heart of the orphan crisis with my camera -- I will them to move slowly, though they have proven to blink by. I know that my day to day life is setting the stage for some of my fondest memories. 

I don't want to forget these moments. I don't want the ugly side of the job I do to collapse all of this beauty and I never, ever want to forget that the constant exposure of the ugly, tragic, heavy tasks that I'm faced with set the stage for my newfound appreciation for a five-inch thick mattress and a floor to mop. 

I'm so lucky I could cry. I'm so lucky I do cry.  

There's so much to be said and I have a heavier, darker post in the works but tonight I am grateful and I needed to let that gratitude overflow into words that I can frame in my mind forever. 

Jinja, Uganda -- Week One.

Two years. Five Continents. Seven of the most impoverished nations in the world. In. My. Face. 

I am globe trotting to some of the roughest and toughest places to capture the photos for The Lucy Project photo documentary to be released in late 2017. During each tour through the various nations I come alongside one or two native organizations and invest my love and heart in their projects to integrate myself into the culture and serve their mission. 

Uganda is nation three in part with The Lucy Project tour and I decided to step away from partnering with orphanages and step into community and women outreach while still being close enough to the orphan crisis to capture raw footage for the documentary, because in places like this you can meet orphans is the marketplace or street-side with little to no government regulation or intervention. 

V80A5562.jpg

Hope for Women in Crisis, the organization that I've partnered with while on the ground in Uganda, does it all. The organization's home currently houses young, expectant mothers and mothers with children up to six-months-old (often older).

These girls are 13, 14, and 15-year-old rape victims, trafficked victims, and victims of opportunistic sex that have been shamed and banished from their home labeled dirty and a disgrace. 

Anyone that does this work knows that you cannot have a bleeding heart and see the world of poverty first hand. I have worked tirelessly to hardened my soft heart so that I can serve and capture these nations in a way that I would not be able to if I was overly invested in saving everyone -- which simply cannot be done. 

Tour three and six months into the project, I thought I had successfully managed to regulate my emotions and serve without being blinded by my emotions. 24 hours into my partnership with this organization and my heart shattered. 

I can handle the orphan crisis. I can take my mama hands and cuddle and counsel and hush. I can make a fort out of a single blanket and escape the world of poverty into a world of imaginative play. I can sing and dance and make silly faces until sundown for the rest of my days. I can reach into my own purse and fund meals for the hungry little ones in my care. I can. I can. I can. 

I can make happy when, even for a moment, they are mine to make happy. 

But when I must face reality, when I must humble myself and realize that this is not the season for orphan care, when I acknowledge that I must put the mother's of these little ones first and my overwhelming need to love on children second -- my heart bleeds. 

The thing of it is, I am prepared for this. After owning an American-based organization for women empowerment for an upward of two years my heart has been unknowingly prepared for this season. With open counsel, honest love, education, and guidance I must teach mamas how to mama. 

Regardless of what I want, after being so closely touched by the orphan and orphanage culture I can say with confidence that babies belong with their mothers (and not in orphanages), regardless of how much work it takes to create a healthy and safe mother-child dynamic. 

V80A5384.jpg

Because as much as I want to do it all, light-skinned hands holding babies in impoverished nations on a temporary visa's timeline does not end poverty. Equipping mothers to be mothers ends poverty. 

So I am here, on the ground in this new season of life serving as a cheerleader and counselor for these fierce, resilient girls and I am rocking that piece of my responsibility, however, there is an entirely different level of pain and hurt happening that the organization is responsible for managing and all I know to do is document, share and hope that those of you reading might be able to support. 

The hospital labor and delivery ward and the village of Busia. 

Hope for Women in Crisis does community outreach for a collection of girls whom come through the hospital as expectant mothers. The hospital will call the organization if the girls come alone to deliver without food or any of the required medical supplies and blankets (women must come to hospital with their own food, supplies, and blankets or they will not be admitted -- even if they are in active labor). 

The hospital is a dark, dark place. Women are given a single metal-wired bed with a plastic, green, torn mattress when they are admitted. Anything else needed for delivery they must provide themselves, including any medicine. Often, the beds overflow and women are forced to birth on the filthy ground with no assistance. 

Babies are often born malnourished or premature and they are admitted to a room that is labeled the "intensive care ward" but really they just place these struggling infants on out dated oxygen machines and it is up to them to survive. 

The entire hospital is overflowing with hundreds of patients on a daily basis and 40+ women delivering babies at any one time with only 5-8 doctors on staff. The hospital smells of urine, blood and body odor and is flooded with mosquitos and flies. Women and babies are dying daily without their medicine, a birth kit, (which can easily be created with basic, affordable supplies) and support. 

I have absolutely no idea how anyone, anywhere with a dollar to spare could allow this sort of poverty to reign on at the expense of the lives of innocent mothers and babies. To save a life would cost five dollars. Click here to donate to the hospital and the village of Busia which I will cover in a later post -- but imagine everything I've just described with conditions 1000x more critical. 

I'm going to stop here at this point and let this resonate with those following from afar. More will be posted, along with a visual tour of the hospital but I ask that you lift these women and their babies up in prayer and good vibrations. I ask that you consider donating what you can so that I can help make the biggest impact while I am here on the ground to distribute and oversee the funds, and I ask that you please continue to follow my story because having you alongside me on this journey is incredibly humbling. 

Oh also, these are the twins! The twins were orphaned by their young, young mother some time ago. They were left at the women's home and my gal pal, Hannah (who I am here living and serving alongside) and I care for them routinely as our own. I've been crowned "auntie Ellie," and I get to snuggle and love and parent them all hours of everyday. You'll see them in lots of posts so I wanted you to know who they were. 

Uganda -- Village Outreach

For those of you that know what this is about and are looking to donate -- click here. For those of you curious to learn more, read on: 

In three days I travel to Uganda, Africa for my second working experience on African soil. This time I have been gifted the opportunity to work alongside my beautiful friend, Hannah Hems, the administrator with an organization called Hope for Women in Crisis. The organization is designed to prepare expectant mothers for successful motherhood in a nation where orphaning your child for so many issues beyond westernized comprehension is incredibly common. 

There are so many duties, both pre and post delivery to aide the expectant mothers that are seen and cared for through Hope for Women in Crisis so Hannah has called upon the help of others willing to serve with her. (Raises hand) 

As Hannah and I corresponded about my trip to Uganda I expressed my overwhelming desire to spread education and support within not only the organization that she oversees but also the surrounding community. 

When Hannah suggested a Village Outreach three Day Conference I was overjoyed. If you know me you know that I love togetherness for the purpose of education and this conference would be an opportunity to educate expectant mothers on parenting rather than leaving them to feel the overwhelming need to orphan or abort their child.

Be still my heart. 

A Village outreach conference is an opportunity for Hannah and I to open up our hearts to women throughout the surrounding village communities. Hope for Women in Crisis can only sustain so many expectant mothers but a village outreach conference is an opportunity to education and aide women who may not otherwise have the opportunity. 

The village outreach conference will serve as a pop up prenatal clinic, an education-based curriculum for women directly addressing sex and pregnancy, skills training to provide women with skills to work, and three days of meals for all attendees. 

It is a dream of mine to educate women worldwide about sex, pregnancy and HIV as these are such massive conversations that are neglected in these third world areas. Moreover, I would love to host an event that is used as a platform for women to come and feel loved and cared for by a community of people who want to see them thrive. 

I am humbly asking for donations for the three day conference to become a reality during my short month in Uganda. You can donate here and the proceeds will be used to fund the conference. 

I want to be incredibly transparent about the overwhelming need for financial support during my trip to Uganda because while I have come to serve there is only so much that can be done without help and support from my community.

Please follow the link to consider a small donation here.

Photos from June-August 2015 Zimbabwe, Africa trip. 

No, actually, I'm not.

I accidentally stopped blogging again. I'm a full-time psychology undergrad, a full-time photographer and a full-time Netflix binging, puppy mama, vegan recipe making extraordinaire who spends a lot of nights loving in an off the record relationship at the moment. Basically,  I'm terribly suited to be a writer in this season of my life even though I'm okay at it sometimes and time management is a huge reason why I stopped. 

Sweet Baby girl at the Mexico orphanage I serve just because. 

Sweet Baby girl at the Mexico orphanage I serve just because. 

More than anything though, I stopped writing because what I do in the world somehow boxes me into very narrow, stereotypical categories that make me feel kind of scared to share my world views because apparently when you love orphaned babies and Jesus you start getting social media followers who expect you to love guns and hate gays and talk about 'Merica like it's something to be proud of right now. 

I hate to stereotype the stereotype but I've been afraid to write because I will get inevitable side eye for coming out as a non-conservative, Jesus-lover and that's just the way it goes. Cue boos because how dare I make a generalized blow to Americanized Christianity and then call myself a Jesus lover.

I know I'm walking a narrow line voicing what I'm about to voice but the thing of it is, I don't like coloring books and I'm not about to let my life become one. Maybe for a couple months post Zimbabwe I lost myself trying not to upset a lot of people in my personal life/on my social media handles but I don't like lines and I'm not going to stay in them anymore because no change has come from the one size fits all persona that "people like me," are supposed to fit.

And another because I cannot get enough. 

And another because I cannot get enough. 

What am I even talking about anyways? What's the backstory to this rant? 

Backstory one - a glass of chardonnay. 

Backstory two - I'm feeling liberated because I took my last final of the semester today and I'm officially not a college student until spring semester which means that I have more time to write rants on the internet for my mom to read and my old bible study teacher to choke on her green tea over. 

Backstory three - I don't like molds and I don't fit one so feeling like people looking in on my life, even if it is just a handful, have this overwhelmingly false understanding of who I am or what I do/believe really frustrates me. 

Backstory four - I don't get to reach the people that I want to reach because I'm stuck in an assumed mold. People know I'm beginning a documentary on the global orphan crisis, they assume I'm a missionary and suddenly I've been placed in a lane -- not even a car lane, more like a bike lane, of ideas and ideologies that I'm assumed to follow and believe. I get questions like, "what church are you with?" 

"So are you spreading the Christian gospel?" 

"Why don't you talk about your faith more on your social media handles?" 

"Have you talked to God about your Uganda trip yet? How is your pray preparation?" 

....My what preparation? Do I need to go to the doctor for that? 

You guys, I'm not coming out as an anti-Christian. I love Jesus hard and my relationship with him blows my mind -- this guy works crazy, unexplainable miracles over and over again. I literally cannot even explain how crazy/amazing/insane the things that happen in my life are when I call up my homeboy. I'm not talking about a fuzzy feeling in my chest, I'm talking about hardcore cosmic miracles that leave me shaking in my skin because I've let myself go there -- I've let myself be used by him. I'm coming out as someone who puts hands on love before the Christian dialect. 

Here's what happens when I write that paragraph ^ in a blog post combined with the paragraphs before that ^^^^^ -- crickets happen. Crickets are literally born out of my audacity to put these things together. I don't appeal to the conservative Americanized Christians who are still trying to figure out why I have a computer in my kitchen and I don't appeal to the agnostic/atheists/open-minded individuals who aren't ready to accept the validity of anyone who calls Jesus a miracle-worker. 

So yea, I stopped writing. I pay my bills by taking adorable pictures of children on the beach and I bite my inner lip when someone tells me how amazing it is that I'm educating people in Africa about Jesus and for a couple months I found myself okay with that version of myself. A version of myself okay with fitting the mold of what everyone is most comfortable seeing me as. 

I stopped writing because the truth is I love to be liked, I thrive on being liked, I bend over backwards and forwards and put my head up my butt to be liked -- and I've lost myself trying to be liked. I don't know if it's daddy issues or because I was basically excommunicated by some of my peers in high school for being just a little too unconventional in years 13-17, but I literally cannot say or write anything that I feel like people will shut me down for so I just stopped -- and it's terribly sad. 

On the way out of my last English class of the semester today my teacher stopped me at the door and said, "I hope you write in the world the way you write in my class," and I looked at her, said what she probably wanted me to say and left with the realization that I don't write at all anymore and then I cried. 

So what do I believe? What do I want to write about? Why am I all up in Africa's business if I'm not there to convert every last orphan and farm worker and grasshopper to Americanized Christianity? 

I believe in everybody. I believe in second chances and fifteenth chances and thirty-eight thousand billion versions of forgiveness. I believe that when historical Jesus -- the figure in the context of history -- devoted his life to loving everyone, especially the broken and the "lesser," that he didn't make an ideological error.

I believe that the focus in third world nations and on "mission trips," needs to be on getting down and dirty with the issues of the nation. I know plenty of missionaries who are doing exactly this. I love them -- I praise them -- I relate to them and work with them and keep them in close company so no, I am not saying that I am doing things better I am just addressing a very large -- like scary large -- percentage of missionaries who go to third world nations to hold a book and talk about a book and scare people that don't know any better with a book and then say "Jesus loves you," at the end. 

I'm talking about the stereotype that I've been given -- about the looks I get when I tell people that I financially adopted children at nineteen -- about the way people try and tell me that it's not safe for women of God to be alone in the third world -- about how so many before me (and to come) have let an entire religion based in love divide itself from humanity and morality to protect verses in a text written in a time beyond their comprehension.  

I'm talking about the way I won't even call myself a Christian anymore because I'm lucky to know, love and be loved by the Muslims, Gays, Atheists, and every other suppressed minority in my life. How HOW am I supposed to justify my heart of love with a religion fueling the hatred and uneducated bias in so much of my home country right now? 

How am I supposed to speak louder than the men in the streets with signs screaming about Hell and condemnation? How am I supposed to talk over a presidential contender who is being broadcast on every news station in America as he condemns entire cultures and religions and nations for being different than him? How am I supposed to write in a world where Evangelical "Christians" erupt in joy and praise as Muslims and sweet, displaced babies are condemned for being born into their circumstances? 

I begin to wonder how historical Jesus was even a Christian. I begin to wonder how far we have to wander before the universe just kind of falls over and says that it's done sustaining such assholes.

All of this on my mind and Instagram users with words like "bible" and "Christian" in their username or their bio box keep following me and I'm like no, no, no -- you can't be here because I'm not what you think I am. I know that you see me holding babies in other nations and I know that I write with a bleeding heart for humanity so you assume that I meet your standards but I don't -- I don't meet your standards because I put loving people before politics and loving people before my fear of others unlike me and loving people before I push my agenda. Actually, my agenda is loving people. 

I don't have to know exactly what I believe right now. I'm nineteen and I will pull that card for every day until it's not in play anymore but I do know who I am not and what I do not stand for and what I cringe when I am associated with. I do know that we are falling apart, America. We are falling apart and cultures far and wide are watching us with wide eyes and shocked expressions using our attitudes and our closed-mindedness as lessons to be learned for their own children.

I do know that in a time of such fundamental brokenness that I don't want to be a blogger afraid to outstretch the mold that she's been placed into. I do know that the best damn things that I can do are to love people, be myself, educate myself and stand up when massive groups of people that my actions and work might immediately associate me with start to get loud about things like banning and restricting rights to everyone that isn't the color Christian. 

If I really upset you with this post -- please remember that we are coexisting on a rock in space with 7 billion other people right now. If you need a list of world issues to get hyped about that don't involve my world views, please shoot me your email. Also, please keep in mind that I have so much love and admiration for so many in the Christian community but I am not addressing them tonight, tonight I am addressing the people giving Americanized Christianity an inexcusable reputation.  

Have a rad Christmas for those of you that celebrate and enjoy your families and the universal love that we all have in our lives for those of you that do not celebrate. 

Portland.

So I visited my best friend in Portland....

E_and_M_web-269.jpg

When I moved to Los Angeles in January I met Mackenzie. Mackenzie was everything my new season of life needed. She is the most undeserved, incredible best friend and I love her to the moon. We are radically different but so much the same. When her life called her to Portland in August I was so, so sad but also so, so excited that I now had an excuse to wander a place my soul has always loved.

We collaborated with Chris of 27 Wonders Photography and she captured our weekend beautifully. As a storyteller and a photographer myself, lifestyle photos are so incredibly important to me. Getting to experience Portland with Mackenzie and having Chris capture it was such a special experience for me. I am so blown away by Chris and the collection of photos she captured for us. 

Kenze, I'm so grateful for you. Thank you for driving to Washington with me because I much prefer scary movies and the only one playing was in Vancouver. Thank you for introducing me to the Portland food culture - and for giving me a tummy ache for the next week because of all the deliciousness. Thank you for being one of the few people who know my story - start to finish - and for loving me anyways. Thank you for listening to my heart into the early morning hours while the Oregon rain fell outside your fairytale-like attic bedroom. I love you tons. 

Chris, we can't thank you enough for giving us these memories forever.

Portland, I'll see you very, very soon. 

Concerned.

I recently watched a YouTube video by a semi-well known YouTuber. The less than charming video, Dear Fat People, is an incredibly uncomfortable six minutes and nine seconds where  beautiful (and thin) YouTuber/comedian, Nicole Arbour, openly shames fat people. 

She goes on, and on, and on. About fat people in airports. About fat people not fitting through doorways. About fat people having no reason to be fat. About fat children inconveniencing her daily life. An entire six minutes that I will never get back that documents her apparent authority over fat people, their health, and the way that crisco seeps from their fat pores - no I did not make that line up, she did. 

I'm sitting at my computer with my mouth half open kind of hoping that she has a point - or at least an excuse for her words when she suddenly changes her entire persona and says it:

"I'm saying this to you so that we can enjoy you as human beings longer on this planet."

Oh. No. 

Ms. Nicole Arbour went too far with her attempt at satire - or in her humble opinion - at concern. 

My generation has this concerning thing they do where they openly shame someone (or a group of someones) and then turn around and justify it as having been "out of concern." 

If this is you, please sit down. Mean girls - down. Fat shamers - off. People who openly judge others for their beliefs or their world views or their physical appearance - here, let me get you a chair - in the back of every room you ever walk into. Nicole Arbour, I'm talking to you and to the entire generation of individuals who you influence to be bad people who think they're just concerned. 

Everybody has their thing. The thing that hurt them - that challenged them - that changed them. My thing is personal and complicated and raw. For some people though, it's something as straightforward as being overweight or misunderstood and where there is someone with a thing, there is always a parade of people there to remind them that they are lesser for it. 

"Concerned for them," this crusade of naysayers and mean girls take it upon themselves to make videos dubbed "Dear Fat People," or to say horrible things about people within the walls of closed group texts, or to indirectly ostracize and shame people for being different or inferior.

****

Now I'm all for freedom of speech. If you want to sit in front of a computer and spend six minutes bitching at your camera about fat people, I'm not going to stop you anymore than I'm going to stop the people behind mean words and empty opinions that have funneled into text messages or social media postings. You do you, homie. BUT for those of you that think that you're concerned, I can assure you that you're not. AND if you are concerned, I can assure you that it doesn't give you a right to say horrible things about other people. 

Fat people can change. They can lose weight or they can gain weight or they can do whatever the heck they want with their bodies. Lots of people with lots of different kinds of conditions or beliefs or issues can change or evolve. Mean girls though, mean girls typically don't change. So Nicole Arbour, I hope you're concerned for you too. 

Essentially.

It's no secret that I love, love Young Living Essential Oils. Or maybe it is because I guess I never really talk about it BUT I thought I'd share a few things I love about them because I know a lot of people hear about essential oils but they never really see them in action. 

For me, moving to Los Angeles at the beginning of this year was an opportunity to adopt a chemical free lifestyle. I don't do chemicals in my apartment - I just don't. I'm incredibly sensitive to chemicals and aromas so it was a pretty easy switch not to bring bleach or any harsh cleaning products into my home. I lean on Young Living Essential Oils for everything from sleep to clear skin to a clean home because they are natural, wholesome, and safe for myself and my newest addition, Willa. 

Willa is three pounds of curious, wild puppy which means that if she can put her mouth around it she's going to eat it. I love that I don't have anything in the house that could hurt her the way that unnatural products could. I use that as a rule of thumb when investing in any products that I put in my body, on my body, or within my home - if I don't want the dog around it, I'm probably going to use it sparingly or not at all. Not because I'm an overly attentive dog mama, which let's be honest - I kind of am, but because why would you want anything that unnatural in your living environment? 

So how do you go from picking up a bottle of Lavender essential oil in Whole Foods to someone who uses essential oils for everything from bug bites to a clean home? First and foremost, I don't use any essential oil that isn't Young Living. I spent a lot of time using alternative essential oil brands both from supermarkets and other alternative oil companies and I cannot tell you how big of a difference in quality, authenticity, and overall value Young Living is in comparison.

I genuinely didn't believe that essential oils did anything except for make a bath smell good before I started using Young Living oils regularly.

  • I didn't know that a roll-on oil (Stressaway or RutaVaLa) could manage anxiety/emotional issues.
     
  •  I didn't know that an oil (Panaway) could have the same affects as Icy Hot does on sore muscles.
     
  • I didn't know that I could wake up in the morning and add oils (Lemon, Thieves, Peppermint) to my water that help me stay focused and curve my hunger during long classes.
     
  • I didn't know that a combination of two oils (Lavender and Cedarwood) could be diffused at bed time for all night sleep when I was getting up two or three times a night before I became a Young Living household. Not to mention the fact that the oils have the same affects on animals too which is why my Willa girl has slept through the night every night since she was ten weeks old. 
     
  • I didn't know that Young Living has an all-natural household cleaner that is significantly better at cleaning than harsh cleaners without the horrible smell and headache that follows cleaning.
     
  • I didn't know that Young Living offers everything from hand soap to toothpaste or that by using these additional products by the same company that gives me rad oils that I would be well within my chemical-free home agenda. 
     
  • I didn't know that I could put a single drop of an oil (Lavender) on an open scratch or bug bite and that it would heal 5x faster than a scratch or bug bite treated with Neosporin or any other over the counter ointment -- and I certainly couldn't believe it when I tested it out on my own body. 

Okay, so I am now remembering why I don't share about oils as often as I'd like to - I can't stop talking about the way they've impacted my life.

I do want to open up a conversation to anyone interested in Young Living Essential Oils because I believe in them more than I have any other product. Moreover, I believe in the way that the essential oils have connected me to a community of people who are willing to hold my hand through all of the exciting ways that these products can be used. 

Message me on Facebook or email me at elliecoburnphoto@gmail.com if you'd like to talk oils. I'm over and out because I am making a dog flea collar spray with a combination of some of my favorite oils tonight (and I'm embarrassingly excited about it). 

Thanks for hanging, guys. Happy Sunday. 

Thanks Tim Sarrell of Tim Sarrell Photography for hanging out and snapping some pictures of me in my natural habitat. 

The Suicide Talk.

I'm about to mic drop on a big issue that you've heard discussed again and again because it's suicide prevention awareness day and I'll cry if I want to. So here we go. 

I have a presence in the suicide prevention community. I'm formerly a non-profit owner for a women empowerment organization that urged hundreds of girls out of suicide, I'm a crisis counselor for a suicide hotline, I'm an active member within online suicide prevention forums and community boards, and a coordinator for suicide prevention groups in the southern California region. 

I can't stop. I won't stop. Today though, I need to slow down because I have something to say to those who aren't a part of the community.  

I'm going to talk about bullying which means that I'm going to talk to the bullies. Gosh darn you guys, we've been going to the fricken bullying assembly since the third grade. WHY is this still the number one call that comes into the hotline? Why is it the number one email we got when I was managing an online advice column? Why is it the number one reason for suicide in the United States of America?

Mental health shaming and bullying are one of the same. We have to keep in mind that suicidal depression doesn't just happen. Suicidal depression derives from an alternative mental or physical illness. People don't just wake up wanting to die - they are triggered to that state because of hopelessness. They feel hopelessly anxious or hopelessly fat or hopelessly lonely. Late stages of these conditions generally result in extreme irritability and insecurity and then somebody, somewhere goes and calls the victim fat or ugly or gay or weird or stupid. 

Sometimes a single comment like that makes the phone at the hotline ring and sometimes a single comment like that costs a life.

Today, on suicide prevention awareness day, I could talk about so much. There's so much to be said about this issue and so much to be done to help the 220 million people worldwide affected by the illnesses that could potentially lead to suicide. That said, I choose to talk about bullying because I know that another person's attitude towards the victim of an illness could save a life. 

Before you're standing in black at their memorial service - somebody, somewhere called them crazy or attention seeking. Somebody, somewhere disregarded their illness as weird or stupid. Somebody, somewhere sent a text message about the victim that ultimately got back around to the victim. Somebody, somewhere hurt an already hurting heart. 

So today, on suicide prevention awareness day take a moment to consider all of the people who are still battling the illnesses that could ultimately lead to suicide. Take a moment to consider your words and actions and how you could do your part to save a life. Take a moment to recognize that you don't know what you don't know about a person which means that you don't get to be anything other than kind. 

Stop sending text messages. Stop uninviting people to your parties. Stop side-glancing that girl in the hallway. Stop passing judgements. Stop saying words that you can't take back. Stop being mean. This is not a day of the year. This is not a gentle reminder. These are lives. You know better, now do better.

Hallelujah.

Where has the time gone? In eight weeks I managed to fall in love with seventy-three little lives that have changed the course of my life forever. This place - these children - they're a piece of me now. You don't fall in love the way I've fallen and stay away. I'm already preparing for my next trip to see the babies. That said, this morning wasn't goodbye, it was see you later. Still, it stings. 

They trust me, the babies. They trust me to be there for them every morning, every day after school and every night to help with homework. A huge piece of me feels like I'm breaking that trust by leaving them. I'm terrified that they'll forget me. I'm terrified that they won't be properly cared for in my absence.

The community brought me in to change some of the dynamics on the orphanage campus. The children needed more structure, more help with their studies, more compassion - on top of a basic caregiver. I radically changed the environmental dynamic of the facility during my stay - implementing a new "gentle parenting" method into their daily life and redeveloping things like the children's critical hygiene conditions and placing a zero tolerance policy on their aggression towards one another. I think I'm most terrified that these new lifestyle changes won't be cultivated now that I'm gone. We were doing really, really well. My family. My babies. Now I have to rely on the native house mothers to carry out these new standards using the minimal training that I provided them. I'm a wreck. I really am. 

**

My baby, who will remain nameless for his own protection, became my shadow person throughout my stay. We didn't go anywhere without one another for eight weeks. I fell in love, I really did. He will forever be the first child to call me mama. He is mine - he has my heart. 

I adopted him this week. Taking on all financial investments until his eighteenth birthday (and certainly beyond, if need be.) I'm devastated that Zimbabwe has a zero-tolerance policy on removing orphaned children from their native country. I would have been the crazy lady who brought a child home from Africa at nineteen. 

He was standing at my door this morning as I zipped up my suitcase. I didn't know he was there - sucking his thumb. (My gosh, I could just eat him when he sucks his thumb. I don't want him to outgrow it. I'm so scared that he won't suck his thumb by the time that I come home.) He looked okay and I thought, "I'm going to do this. I'm going to say goodbye to the babies without any tears. I'm going to be strong," then his eyebrows knit together as I rolled my suitcase towards the door and in two long strides he was in my arms - his little heart slamming into his chest, hitting mine - his tears on my neck. I was done. I couldn't gather myself for the rest of the morning. Goodbyes to the children came and went with blurred vision from wet eyes.

They looked disappointed. They wouldn't sing to me. They wouldn't stop looking at the ground. I hate myself for leaving them. This is the part where my rad community comes together and tells me how incredible I am and how they don't hate me and how I need to pray about it ect. ect. ect. - please, just let me miss my babies. Let me be sad about it.

** 

I got in the car to go. I got in the car against my will and against the will of my somber children and they started singing. They started singing the song they'd refused to sing to me fifteen minutes earlier. Chasing the car and singing as if to say, "we'll sing mama, we'll sing." We kept driving. 

"MAMA COME BACK!" 

"ABIGAIL HIT ME. MAMA SHE HIT ME. COME BACK SHE NEEDS TO BE TIMEOUTED." 

"MAMA TOOTHBRUSH. PLEASE SEND ME TOOTHBRUSH." 

Through gritted teeth I turned to the driver and said, "stop the car, please." 

I got out of the car - motioning for Abigail to apologize to her sister and looking down at the little voice screaming about a toothbrush. "What happened to the toothbrush I just got you baby?" 

"I hadded to use it to polish my shoes"

You know, I've been really mild about expressing my experiences in Zimbabwe to the public. I was a mama at an off the grid orphanage in third world Africa and I don't think I'll ever be able to talk about some of the brutalities that entailed because they're wordless and nameless and entirely too tragic for discussion. This toothbrush situation is mild compared to some of the things the babies go without. 

I promised toothbrushes for everyone, got in the car and we drove. I couldn't look back. I would have thrown away my photography career and my education, unpacked my things and made them dinner. I would have stayed forever. 

** 

We drove for two hours and I got placed on the doorstep of an incredible hotel in a developed African city two hours from the land of huts that has become a piece of me.

I was supposed to work for two months and then go on an African vacation. That was the plan. According to the plan, I am on vacation. To see one of the seven wonders of the world, to go on safaris, to bungie jump and ride elephants. That's what I get to do all week. Still though, I walked into my perfectly manicured room and mouthed the words "What the heck" (quite possibly something more explicit that rhymes with duck) because I feel like I just woke up from a dream.

I cannot describe the "woah" moment that happens when you get removed from third world Africa and placed back into westernized culture. I cannot describe the silence after 1,500 hours of being needed by 73 children. 

I turned on the television to nothing in particular and got into the hottest bath I've ever taken. My first real bath or shower in two months. Somewhere between creating a mental budget for  getting all of the children toothbrushes and toothpaste (the shipping cost is going to be killer with Zimbabwe's postal system) and thinking about how ridiculous life is - the sound of a song shook me from my thoughts.

I know this song, I thought. I love this song. I turned off the bath water and Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah echoed from some random channel on the television. My soul. I taught this to the children and we sang it almost every night of my first month. I exhaled. 

There is a silver lining in everything. Everything will be okay. Hallelujah.

Radically, no.

There is this wild misconception that Africa and America are radically different. Different, yes. Radically, no. The orphanage is in a small rural town called Mutoko. We coexist with hundreds of neighbors in Africa's version of small town suburbia.

On Saturday afternoons my babes go to soccer. I sit on the sidelines with other mothers from the community and watch my children play soccer barefoot underneath the blazing African sun. At the end of the game, their team rallies together and I pass out an orange to everyone from a sack that I pick up at the market the afternoon before.

Afterwards, I rally my players and my toddlers - who spend the afternoon making muddies (mud-pies) waiting for the older kids to be done and we walk the half a mile home to our little house where I make dinner while they play outside. 

Different, yes. Radically, no.

For eight weeks, I've been their's and they've been mine. The only difference is, I'm not their forever mama - they don't get forever mamas - and that's enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and never get up. 

I work tirelessly to ensure that they feel so loved and celebrated each day.  We play and create and craft and explore. I've brought the Pinterest mom mentality to third world Africa and I'm not ashamed. I spend every waking minute making their minutes perfect and sometime between all of that washing and cooking and dancing and playing - I've fallen in love. 

I have no idea when it happened. Between the sheer speed of this season and being in a permanent state of tired, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when I became too attached to imagine leaving.

I don't know when the little bare feet running down the dirt road screaming "MAMA SCHOOL'S OVER," became a necessary piece of my afternoon. I don't know when Juliet getting the stuffed turtle at bedtime became essential to my peace of mind. I don't know when this community started feeling exactly like home. I do know though, that I am four days away from massive heartbreak. I am four days away from leaving. 

I hung report cards on the fridge today and they beamed with pride - One of my boys promptly said, "you helped me make top ten, mama," and my heart melted into a puddle of emotion. 

Different, yes. Radically, no. 

The children wrote me letters tonight while I was cooking. They brought then to me at dinner and I cried. I've cried every day of August thinking about leaving them. Goodbye letters didn't help. Neither did the little crying smiley faces sketched next to the words "goodbye mama." 

Different from every orphan around the world in a constant state of goodbye? Maybe. Radically? not at all. 

I've gotten a lot of inquiries from sweet souls who want to do what I do. I make it look fun, I'll admit. My Instagram pictures are filtered and I highlight the good because that's what you do in these tragic circumstances. You highlight the good. You hold onto it. You fight with it. You focus on it.

The thing of it is, the off the record moments are the ones that have changed me. The frustration that I don't have enough dinner for the little ones. The end of the day when my clothes are so covered in baby snot and African dirt that I think I might just fall over into the same bathtub that is producing zero water until the end of the week. The constant challenges and improvising. The electricity outages when everyone has the flu. The way your exhausted crying paves way to delusional laughter as you mop child vomit off of your only sweatshirt while sitting silently in dim lantern light in the middle of the night.  The goodbye letters. Oh, the goodbye letters. 

Part of me is scared to talk about these things. I'm scared that people will mistake my honesty for complaining. Another part of me knows that people want to know the truth. People want me to be authentic - it may very well have become my trademark as a writer and as a person. 

The reality is that these trials and triumphs have become a piece of me. I coexist with them. I don't want to leave them. I especially don't want to leave the babies that make them worth it. 

**

At this point, I'm writing to write and I'm going to stop because I know that I'm making quite a few grammatical errors. I guess I just don't know how to end a post this heavy - just like I don't know how I'm going to leave the children on Tuesday. I will tell you this though, this is only the beginning of many, many more Saturday's to come caravanning my little one's back and fourth between the soccer field and our home. I will absolutely be back to Zimbabwe. My soul won't be leaving. 

The Not-So-Glamorous Side of Living in Zimbabwe

For those of you that know me personally, you know that I am so incredibly happy to be working as a mama at an orphanage in Zimbabwe. This is my dream and I am forever changed. My babies are perfect, these experiences are timeless and my mama heart is swooning over everything I get to do here. That said, I've been asked a few times about the less glamorous aspects of living in third world Africa and decided to share. 

On Mosquitos

Yes, there are mosquitos. Typically they only bite at night. 

Every night I get ready for bed by putting on sweats, a sweatshirt, a beanie and socks just to make sure that no part of me is going to get bitten by a mosquito. I proceed to scope out the inside of my mosquito net for anything suspicious and I practically need a gas mask for the amount of bug spray that I use to spray down my bed. 

I should go to sleep peacefully after this excursion of preventative measures but there's always that one Houdini Mosquito who shows up next to your ear as you're falling asleep. As pissed as I am, part of me wants to interview them Ellen Degeneres style and be like, "how did you get into the net? How were you not suffocating on the fumes of the bug spray? Why were you being so loud?" Just take the blood and go, Houdini, I have to milk the cows in five hours. 

On Spiders 

We don't talk about the spiders. 

On Bathing 

Once a week I get a bucket of lukewarm water. Yes, only once a week. Lotion, baby wipes and hand sanitizer have become my best friends. I'm trying to pretend that I'm not in a permeant state of dirty and I often dream of the thirty-three hour shower that awaits me upon my return. 

On the Food 

Would you like some rice with that rice? 

On Getting Sick 

On my first week in Africa I got sneezed on/coughed on more than I ever have in my life. It wasn't a matter of if I was going to get the flu, it was when. It came and went and I felt like I had survived getting sick in Africa.

Then right after my celebration of survival - I got bit by a big bad spider ON THE EAR. Homeboy climbed right up onto my lobe like an employee at Claire's with an earring-gun and bit me. I was sick as heck and on antibiotics for a week after that but despite some pretty awful scabbing, I survived. 

My joy of survival was short lived because my dentist was right, I should have gotten my wisdom teeth out before my trip. They were in fact getting ready to break the gums and "worst pain of my young adult life" was a gentle way to describe the experience. It sure is a good thing that I didn't have any pain meds left after the spider bite. (Hi Dr. M, I know you read this)

I haven't fully survived the inflamed gum ordeal because I'm still in the middle of it all but I'm building a great tolerance for pain. Let's hope that's all that happens with sicknesses this trip. That's really all the excitement I can manage. 

On Internet Connection 

I just let my page load for twenty minutes or so and then come back to it. As long as I leave it loaded, it's really not that terrible. Unless you want to watch a video. No videos for you, Glen Coco. 

On Controlling Dozens of Children by Myself 

Wait, what control? 

On week one I was trying to be with the finger like, don't do that. By week three I slept it off. Week four I don't know if I'm lecturing or rapping. Week six and it's all just bliss. Let them run wild. Pick your battles. 

On Farm Life 

After playing with the bunnies all afternoon on my first day, I was served dinner: 

"So they're not pets?" 

Six weeks later and I'm still a vegetarian. 

**

There are a lot of other "not so glamorous" things that I could say about surviving here but they're all in good spirits because I absolutely knew that signing up for this experience would be a challenge. I wouldn't trade it for anything and I'd start the whole trip over in a second if I could. If you want to hear me rave about Africa for real, follow me on Instagram

Gotta go bug spray the bed, goodnight friends! 

Not Here as a Photographer - Zimbabwe Update.

International blogger tip: it's not that the website to edit your blog doesn't load due to your internet connection, you just need to give it time. Like an hour - by the window and perched on a chair - not this window, that one over there. Obviously. 

All that to say, I am live from Zimbabwe on day 23 of 60. Just a little late for a blogging update, I know. 

For those of you that follow my story here or on Instagram - you know that when I set out to work in Africa it was with the intention of beginning the first part of my international photo series on the global orphan crisis. It was with the intention of photographing an unphotographed nation. 

I took a position as an English teacher at the Mother of Peace Orphanage in Mutoko, Zimbabwe to have access to the surrounding areas and begin my photo documentary. In 23 days, everything has changed. I should have known better. I should never have assumed that the documentary would take center stage - I should have known that a documentary so heartbreakingly authentic would unfold without being here as a photographer. 

I am not here as a photographer.

I am here as "mama" to 73 orphans who have eaten my heart. I am here as the community clinic technician and the 8:00am voice screaming "GO TO SCHOOL" to my chickadees from the top of the hillside. 

I am here to wipe snotty noses and instigate dance parties. I am here to negotiate with toddlers about bedtime and the morality of eating bugs. I am here to make mud pies and play dress up with my littlest crew. 

I am here to rock babies to sleep underneath the most ridiculous view of the Milky Way galaxy that you've ever seen. I am here to take the thermometer first so that feverish little eyes can repeat after me. I am here to teach forgiveness and the definition of an adverb. 

I am here to understand the difference between the phrase, "some kids go to bed hungry," and the reality - some kids go to bed hungry. I am here because Juliet needs the pink blanket to sleep and Peter needs someone to open the orange popsicle, "rightttt NoWW pease!!" 

I am here because for a half a decade after my father's death - I was not okay. I am here because I fought for this season and won. I fought to be well enough to do what I love and to share my own heart around the world. 

The images that I capture here are designed to give voice to a voiceless nation - but I am not here as a photographer. Here, I'm just me. 

Love from Zim, 
Ellie 

If you want to donate to my babes or read more about what I do at Mother of Peace, click here. 

Tonight.

I leave for Africa tonight. 

My luggage is packed and I'm scurrying to edit and return last minute photography sessions to clients. I still need to go to Target to buy socks and one other thing that has currently escaped my mind - even though I made a very important mental note not to forget last night. 

I know for certain that there is a lot that I'm going to forget. I'm going to get on the plane and realize that I didn't do something that I needed to do or get something that I needed to get and I'm going to momentarily lose my composure, but then I'm going to take a deep breath and remember - I'm leaving for Africa. 

A small, off the grid orphanage in a third world doesn't care if I forgot to email a client, grab my favorite dress from the dryer, or return my math textbook (sorry mom). Africa doesn't care if I need to check my email or wash my clothes or take a warm shower. These are first world problems and where I'm going, they don't matter. 

I'm running in circles so focused on my first world problems because it is impossible for me to imagine days without electricity. It is impossible for me to imagine pumping my own water and doing my laundry by hand in a bucket of dam water. It is impossible for me to imagine fifteen little ones screaming my name at  3am when I can't just flip on a nightlight and turn on some music to calm them down.

People keep asking me if I'm ready. I don't think anyone is ever truly ready for this kind of culture shock. I don't think anyone can prepare themselves for this shift in lifestyle by packing a bag or boarding a plane. I'm ready to be challenged. I'm ready to go and serve and to be presented with situations where I have to rise up, ready or not. 

***

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I didn't simply arrive at a decision to serve in a place where there is so much challenge, poverty and heartache. A collection of not so beautiful life experiences built me into someone willing to go and serve in nations completely foreign to my own. Going on this adventure and getting to apply some of what I've learned through my own loss and tragedy is the most empowering thing I've ever done for myself. I am free to change a small piece of the world with kindness, authenticity and raw love. I've waited a lifetime for this season. 

I'll check in when/if there's wifi!

xoxox
Ellie