A Story for the Ages

Did I tell you about that time I was robbed in Italy?

This morning my second daughter asked if Olive Oil tasted gross, since it is the only oil I use to cook our fourth daughter’s meals. 

And with reverence I exuded my enduring love for olive oil, ever since visiting my family’s olive tree farm in Calabria, Italy.  

I wish I had words to describe the experience of existing amongst an olive oil tree farm, being in the presence of literal tanks of fresh olive oil.  Olive trees as far as the eye could see.  

When I took my first taste, life, as I knew it, would never be the same. 

Think, eating a fresh tuna off the boat versus tuna fish in the can. 

There is no comparison. 

I was 18 and for my graduation, I had asked my biological father to take me to his homeland. 

I had never lived with him, we had shared a roof only one weekend before but it was important to me to know my roots. 

He was first generation American and I had never known my grandparents. 

So, he agreed. 

Our first hotel in Rome was a closet.  Talk about zero to one hundred.  We had rarely spent a night together, nonetheless nearly touching!

I love yous had never been said, instead, as a child, he would grab my ear lobe and look at me with endearment. Like he loved me so much he couldn’t even believe I was real.  

But there we were.  Father, Daughter. 

We traveled to Naples and Pompeii and then on to the olive tree farms in Calabria, meeting my grandfather’s relatives.  

They, speaking only Italian, welcomed me like they had known me my entire life and served me a lasagna for a table of 15 that I will never forget.  

My cousins threw me on the back of their motorbikes and whipped me around the mountainous roads as I learned to scream, “ay-aya-aya-ay!!!!!”.   

We left in our rented, bright-blue Mercedes for my grandmother’s homeland of Licodia Eubea, Sicily with only a few days of our trip to go. 

I stood in the room my grandmother was born.  

I am 38.  My dad is 90 this year.  My grandmother was born in the 1800s. 

This was major. 

And then we were robbed. 

We were lost in an alley in Sicily when a motorbike blocked our rental car’s way, while a thief on foot opened our back car doors and stole our backpacks containing nothing but nine rolls of film, my journal and a legal pad with the names and contact information of all the relatives we had met along the way. 

In other words, our memories. 

We left Italy with one roll of film. 

And a story for the ages. 

The Ghana Chronicles: Reflection

August 8, 2020

Dear Journal,

It’s been 20 years since I spent a month in Ghana, Africa.

Life has never been the same.

How could it be?

In honor of my time there, I chose to share my reflections but if I may be candid, I cringe.

What a new 17-year-old I was! Naive. Privileged.

But you know what?

What a BRAVE girl. What a KIND girl. You GO, girl.

Enough of this.

Here’s the real story:

When I was three years old, my step-dad moved in. He had lived in Africa for almost 7 years and so, our walls were surrounded with the most beautiful African paintings that captured my heart.

I had to go. There was no choice. My heart spoke.

And I listened.

I longed for Kenya but Ghana was as close as I could get at the time so I took it and ran.

Honestly, when that lady showed up and presented her opportunity to live with a host family in Ghana, I would have left the same day.

Instead, I applied with photos and answered questions of my dedication and good intentions.

I arrived in New York and met 27 other strangers who shared the same random dream.

We learned a few new words and set off on a plane to meet our new families.

The reality of arriving on a separate continent hit me hard, but in time, I learned.

I learned lessons I’m not sure I could ever teach my children without encouraging them to take a similar trip.

STEP, child.

TRY, child.

You, were meant for more.

Look inside.


Recognize and Realize.

Live and Share.

What a BRAVE girl. What a KIND girl. You GO, girl.


Camille Vaughan Photography

The Ghana Chronicles: 15 The Finale

July 29, 2000

Dear Journal,

I’m on the plane right now and it’s 4:30 A.M.  The sun is rising outside my window and the moon is still clear and is hovered over top of the light spectrum.  The sky is red nearest the ground, the mountains, then a blackish cloud layer, then orange, then yellow and green then five different shades of blue- the darkest holding the moon in its place.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen something quite as magnificent and extraordinary as this.

I can’t believe Africa is to our south and that I’m headed home.

Soon I’ll be sitting on my porch swing recalling a dream of one that once became a reality for a small amount of time.

I dunno what I’ll act or be like when I get home and just sit on the couch or hang out with friends.  I think deep inside I’ll always think of Africa- comparing it to my everyday life here in America.

I would’ve done it over and over again if I had the chance.  As hard as the transition was, it was worth all the while.  It was worth learning all about myself.  It was worth learning more about the world, it was worth all the awesome friends I have now made and it was worth all the tears, all the laughter, all the fun times.

Love always,




The Ghana Chronicles: 14

July 27, 2000

Dear Journal,

This is my last night in Africa.

I can’t believe a month has gone by and it’s time for me to return home.

British Airways just had a crash over France- I’m so nervous about the plane ride over.  I can just see it now.  We finally get finished and we crash on our way back home.

How much would that suck?

Well, at least if I died, I would’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of going to Africa.

That in itself is just awesome.

Megan and I went back to the orphanage today to make one last visit with the kids.  It was awesome.  I can see all their faces so clearly right now- I hope I never forget them.

I hope I never ever forget this trip.  It has been the most rewarding experience ever.  The most challenging thing but it taught me more about myself than I would’ve ever dreamed of!  I feel so much happier and confident to do anything.




The Ghana Chronicles: 13

July 20, 2000

Dear Journal,

Well, well, well, the days just keep getting better and better!  I wish they would’ve been this great from the get-go.  I think it will still be nice to go back home.  Before, I was doubtful that I would cry when I had to leave here, but now I can easily see myself balling.

I have been to Africa.  I have travelled across the Great Atlantic, swam its seas and lived some form of their life . . . and how good it felt that I am able to say that!

I’m so glad that I’ve had this last week to kind of process all that I have been through this past month.  Now I can look back and truly appreciate it all.

It’s amazing how much I have learned and how I can laugh at how petrified I was of dying at the very beginning of my trip.

One of the students is leaving the team to go home.  It doesn’t make any sense . . . she’s leaving eight days or less before we’re scheduled to leave and she’s leaving right before the best part of our trip!

I feel sorry for her.  She doesn’t seem to know who she is.  She’s trying to figure it out but it’s taking her a lot of pain and tears to get there.  I have faith that maybe one day she’ll know who she is, what she truly at heart stands for and she’ll be proud of who she is.

As for now, as right as it may feel to leave, I think she may, not regret, but wonder whether the remainder of the trip was worth the wait or not.  Bummer.

It’s funny.  Now that my spirits are up, truly, I am able to see the better sides of Ghana.

Before, I focused on the poverty and pollution and while I acknowledged the fun cultural things like religion and the people, I didn’t/haven’t appreciated it, until now . . . starting now.

It’s amazing to me. . . how happy and nice Ghanaians are- poverty stricken or not, they LOVE JESUS!! While it is fun to watch them in action at a charismatic church and even funnier to act out, I definitely have gained a certain amount of respect for these people.

Their life relies on their faith.  In my host father’s sermon, he talked about not relying on any people- no matter who they are, somehow they will betray you, so you shouldn’t rely on them.

You should only rely on Jesus.  He alone is enough to get you through life.  Giving is better than receiving.  This is another point that was made.  It should feel better to give than to receive.

Overall, Ghanians are friendly people who put their trust, their life into the hands of God. . . and in their eyes, some get lucky and some don’t.  But God has a plan for each one of us.

I can’t wait to write up my presentation.  I can’t wait to tell everyone about this awesome trip.

They’ll never understand fully, unless they make this journey and even for them it may be a completely different experience.

Now. . . if only I could fall asleep. . .



Me and my host parents July 2000

The Ghana Chronicles: 12

July 19, 2000

Dear Journal,

I was just thinking about the time I won the gold medal for Girl’s Oratory Speech in fifth grade and I was so excited that I cried until I saw my mom across the room.  She was crying too, but she was motioning me to take deep breaths and then start my speech.  It makes my eyes water now, thinking about how much I love her and how much she means to me.  Sigh.

Anyhow, today was pretty relaxed.  I got to play basketball with some guys in the neighborhood.  That was definitely a high point.

As I was walking back from my taxi stop, I was breathing in deeply (it stunk) and I looked around and I felt so good.  Just being here.  Just knowing that my dream has finally come true.  I’m here.  I’m in Africa.  I’m not in some hotel visiting, I’m living with Africans, eating their food and living, for the most part, their life.  I just can’t imagine truly living here.  Of course I can’t.  America has spoiled me!  MY LIFE and the way I have chosen to live it has spoiled me.

But my heart is still in the right place.

I’ll write tomorrow!

With love always,




The Ghana Chronicles: 11

July 18, 2000

Dear Journal,

Today we went to Oso and ate at this American restaurant called “Frankies”.  This group of Americans came over and one of them told us a poem with God in it.

Then, I went to the bathroom and one of the women, when I told her I’d experienced some culture shock said, “Yea, well you know you’re in a different place and then you see a black. . . ” And I was like, “WHAT?! WHAT FUCKING CONTINENT ARE WE ON?!  THIS IS AFRICA! OF COURSE I’M GONNA SEE “A BLACK”.

It was so aggravating- why the hell is she over here spreading the word of God when she’s gonna be all racist like that?  Ugh!  It pissed me off SO much.

Love always,



The Ghana Chronicles: 10

July 17, 2000

Dear Journal,

Mommy wrote me! It was the sweetest letter ever- at the end she said, “Keep your courage darling, embrace this adventure and return to me soon.”

I miss her more than anyone- she’s my comfort zone.  I know her better than anyone.  What is it with mother/daughter relationships that make them so close?  It’s fascinating to me.  Maybe I’ll study that in college.  I can’t believe one year from now I’ll be preparing for college.  I’m growing up too fast.

We were driving in the bus today and it all hit me again like 1000 bricks.  As badly as I long to go home, I’ve realized these people who really live in poverty never get to go home.  They don’t leave in 11 days like me to the comfort of carpet, expensive food and freedom. . . money.  These people live everyday here.  Some never make it out of the country. Everyday they are out on the streets at 5, 6, 7 AM until night time selling cough drops through the window of your moving car as they run to catch up and get the money.  Everyday they sit in front of that electrical appliance store and some days they get lucky and sell a TV- other days, most days, 9 hours are wasted, sitting in the same seat until they lock up, only to return tomorrow, and everyday following.

So how can I wish to escape this poverty? I’m spoiled.  I know what I’ve got waiting for me on the other side of the Great Atlantic.  These people only dream and pray to God for a miracle.

Religion is so huge here.  That’s all they’ve got.  When things are down, pray to God and he’ll help you.

I want to escape because I don’t know, I don’t want to have to live surrounded by poverty anymore.  I want to be able tog home to AC, Good American Cable TV, washing machines, freeze pops, a nice car without exhaust gas blowing straight up my nose from in front of me.  I want to slip on that new blue or hot pink dress, show up at a party and knock ’em dead!

I don’t want to be asked to help people get a Visa everyday or to be asked for my address or my hand in marriage when I don’t even know my taxi driver.  As much as I know I should, I don’t want to feel guilty for my wealth.

But this is why it is a learning experience. . . because I am forced to live in this foreign situation- I am surrounded by and living in poverty whether I like it or not.  For now, I can’t runaway- that is the truth.

Love always,



The Ghana Chronicles: 9

July 14, 2000

Dear Journal,

The days are starting to go by faster now and each day is getting better and better.  Today was our last day at the CCCF Orphanage- it was hard to say goodbye, especially since I started to really get attached to these children.

The lights finally came back on.  Electricity flashes on and off whenever the city decides they want to conserve energy.  It’s worth it, but inconvenient.

July 16, 2000

Dear Journal,

This is crazy.  I’m actually gonna be able to say, “Yah, I’ve been to Africa.”  What do I say when they ask, “What’s it like?”

It’s unexplainable.  There’s absolutely NO WAY to prepare yourself for what you are about to get into.  It’s extremely nice people living in extreme poverty.  It’s naked children with smiles on their faces when you wave to them.  It’s open sewers, it’s green (outside the city).  It’s traffic and the sound of horns (inside the city) and it’s different than anything you’ve ever seen or imagined before.

It’s culture shock in full blown action.  It’s undescribable- there’s no definition that can capture the culture, no category to fit the people under, no way to understand until you’ve experienced it.

So I don’t know how to explain what it’s “like”.  This adventure has taught me so much about myself.

Don’t be so sure of yourself Lauren.  Because as much as you think you do, you don’t know-it-all.  If you think you do then you are no longer open minded.  Being opened minded doesn’t just meant that you only respect other’s ideas.  You can’t just say, “Well, I know what she’s trying to say, but…..”.  You have to respect people from where they are coming from and as hard as you try to put yourself in their shoes, you’ll never fully be able to understand their frame of mind. You’ll never be able to “know how they’re feeling”.  You can get a sense- but you aren’t them.

So stop trying to think you know how it is.  Face the fact that you don’t.

And when you aren’t happy with a situation or your job or your status, then get your lazy ass up and do something about it.  Don’t say, “I have no control over it.  I can’t do anything about it.”  Well you sure as hell are ineffective if you keep that mindframe.  If you’ve got a problem with something then at least give some effort and try to change it or effect it.  Something is usually better than nothing in terms of reform.




The Ghana Chronicles: 8

July 13, 2000

Dear Journal,

I got two letters from my mom today.  It takes exactly two weeks to get a letter.  It made me even more homesick but her encouragement is enough to keep me going.

Did I tell you I got another marriage proposal?  From a taxi driver this time.  The grossest part was that the whole time he was talking he was also picking his nose!  I had to hold myself in from laughing out loud hysterically!

Two weeks left tomorrow.  Hopefully they’ll go by quickly.  I know I’ll probably regret even writing that when I leave.  How can I think about home when I’m here in Africa!  I thought I knew what I was getting into.  I was naive. I learned so much about myself- not to judge or decide without proof.