Category Archives: Team

Christmas in a Cup. [You’ve Got a Friend in Me.]

The holiday cups are out at Starbucks, which can only mean one thing:

It’s time, kids.

Christmas! I’m in love. I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! Starbucks cups herald the commencement of the Christmas season- and if Starbucks says it’s Christmas, then Christmas it shall be. Starbucks does, after all, dictate how I ought to feel and act and think. If Starbucks told me to take up residence with a two eskimos and a yak in an Alaskan igloo, I’d be on a flight to Anchorage within the hour.

I digress.

The entrance of my dearly beloved red holiday cups into a chilly world that could use a little Christmas [right this very minute!] was an auspicious event I’d been anxiously awaiting for two long years. They’re a big deal-my first year in Africa my sweet Mom sent me a package of those cheery Christmas cups, a casual extravagance that I proudly displayed both years.

…I don’t want to talk about how dirty they were by the time I moved. I don’t want to talk about how dirty I was by the time I moved. And while we’re on the subject, let’s all try not to think about how redneck my decorating scheme was.

I’d been longingly waiting for the chance to go get a holiday cup in person-a holiday cup full of fancy-pants coffee, no less! Ben made all of my Christmas cup hopes and dreams come true last week when he surprised me by showing up at my house and taking me to Starbucks. I walked into the world’s most renowned coffee shop, and lit up like Christmas itself.

Ben, on the other hand, doubled over in insuppressible peals of uninhibited laughter at the discovery that the “holiday cups” I’d been gushing over for two years are just that: cups. Not a special drink. Ben is such a man. Bless him. Though Ben and I have had a ball living in the same[ish] place and getting to hang out, we regularly lament the fact that some of our favorite people [read: the dream team] are scattered here, there and everywhere.

I have abandonment issues. I can’t even help it. Thus, it’s time for everybody’s favorite game: “Where are they now?” Given that our team is nowhere to be found, Ben and I decided to settle for the next best thing and take a series of horribly offensive pictures that depict the stereotypes we thrust upon them over the course of our time in Africa.

Christy moved to Oregon for love. We’ve been over this. She’s saving babies, volunteering at a homeless shelter, and going on regular date nights with the boy that stole her far, far away from me.

While Christy is not actually a redneck, we often joke that she is. Mostly because she lives within spitting distance of a Nascar racetrack. I believe we were trying to channel a barn dance here...

Dayton is still working for Cru part time in Kentucky-with [who else?] international students. We text or call each other every time we’re listening to Christmas music, since we’re no-judgement friends. He also directs music at a church part time, and is getting ready to go to grad school.

Dayton was our team piano man and prayer warrior.

Ted is working outside of Charlotte. He volunteers with Big Brother, Big Sister-and just adopted the cuh-UTEST puppy named Charlie.

Playing basketball. Clearly, I knew exactly what I was doing. Ted was our team jock.

Ben is going to seminary, working for Cru part time at Duke, and looking for a wife full-time.

We forgot to take a picture of Ben's stereotype-but it would definitely have been "team nerd".

We forgot to take a picture depicting this, but Ben was definitely the team nerd.

And Michelle. Michelle is still in Senegal-adjusting to life with a new [sob!] team, and patiently answering way too many skype calls from me. Follow her adventures HERE.

...I know, I know. Not okay. Except if you're on our team, it is. :)

What’s that you say? What was MY stereotype?

I’ll never tell. ;)

Team-you are dearly missed.

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Filed under Team

Do You Believe In Magic?

One of the unsung blessings of life in a third world country is that things that are regulated in more developed parts of the world just…well, aren’t. For instance, given that the FDA is nowhere to be found, we get real sugar in our Senegalese coke. We’re under absolutely no obligation to bother with silly trivialities like stop signs whilst driving-simply because that there are none. And jaywalking? It doesn’t exist in a country that has yet to discover sidewalks. The world is your oyster!

But perhaps my personal favorite Senegalese oversight is the fact that the death traps masquerading as rusty bumper cars at Dakar’s ghetto fabulous amusement park [better known to locals as “Magic Land”] are permitted to recklessly barrel along at blazing speeds normally reserved for Nascar racetracks.

This place would have been shut down years ago back in the Home of the Brave.

It’s important to note that there is very little concern given to ensuring that things like bumpers are on said cars. Which might have a little something to do with why I can’t walk today. The whiplash from thoughtlessly smashing into other metal cars at the speed of sound is wreaking havoc on my back.

However, the hours of quality time that I intend to spend with my chiropractor after I get home are entirely worth the hysterical evening I spent with my team and our friends Laura and Karen at Magic Land last night.

…but while he’s rearranging my back, I probably ought to mention the mechanical bull, too.

Try getting thrown from that sucker thirty eight times.  [I am nothing, if not persistent.] Maintaining your balance on a mechanical bull is a delicate art form that I have yet to perfect. [I refuse to call it a science until they reinstate Pluto as a planet.]

 My Grandmother says it’s trashy to ride a mechanical bull in public.

…personally, I think that the real cause for concern here ought to be if I start doing it alone.

Now, have you ever seen the oversized pirate ships at State Fairs that swing wildly from front to back, making your stomach feel like it’s somewhere in the general vicinity of your eyeballs? Well, I rode one yesterday-and Christy managed to photo document the entire, excruciating experience. Note my happy, pre-ride expression:

Ignorance is bliss.

Here’s our first indication that there’s a problem. Christy captured the precise moment that I looped both of my arms around Dayton’s and started hollering like a banshee. It coincided with the terror that overwhelmed me as the machine began to violently lurch and creak, and I realized that there was a distinct possibility that I would either fly out of my seat, or the ship would snap and send me plumetting to my death.

Either outcome would have been terribly unfortunate. I am, after all, just 32 days away from that caramel latte in DC!

Let’s zoom in, shall we?

Ahoy, demure Muslim culture! I fit right in.

Alas, it only got worse. Terror is not a good look for me. Throw in an unhealthy dose of nausea, and this is what you get:

I’ll take the stop signs and give back my sugar cane Coke-just let me live!

This was how I spent the duration of the ride. Screaming for dear life, my face miserably buried in Dayton’s shoulder, peeved beyond belief that after everything I’ve survived in Dakar, a ghetto amusement park ride was going to be what finally killed me. Insultingly, I’d like the record to show that I have never, in two years of living with him, seen Dayton laugh as hard as he did last night.

“Guffawed” might be more appropriate. And I have yet to use that word today.

Let’s zoom again. A face that pitiful ought to be remembered.

Miraculously, all eight of us walked away in one piece. Which really, might be the only magical part of the whole experience.

Well, except for the bumper cars.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to hobble off to bed.

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Filed under My ghetto-fab life, Team, Then I found $5.00

Ashley Elizabeth and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday.

Unspoken rules that govern interactions in polite society dictate the appropriate responses to commonly asked questions. How are you doing? Fine, and you? How do you like my new haircut? It’s simply lovely. Aren’t these scones divine? Heavenly, dear-simply heavenly.

In a world of mimosas and crystal chandeliers, lobster forks and aperitifs, black ties and white gloves, one is expected to smile brightly and offer the appropriate, cheery response to each question posed.

Go ahead. Ask me how my birthday was.

Because the white gloves are off, and I’m here to blow the LID off of polite society. So put your pinkies down and grab a beer-…I’ll even let you drink it out of the bottle this time.

You’ll pardon me if I don’t join you, though. You see, I have salmonella.

Salmonella. And as I’ve learned over the past week, the beast that is salmonella prevents you from eating, drinking, or doing much of anything but writhing in pain on the floor.

It all started last Friday, when I decided to eat lunch on campus. Christy, Michelle and I were in the midst of a busy day of meeting with students, and around one o’clock the insistent rumbling in my stomach forced me to reconcile myself to the unhappy reality that I wasn’t going to make it until dinner time. I needed to find something to eat.

Stage lights fade to black.

But you see, I’d eaten on campus before. We all have-the boys [with their iron stomachs] do it all the time! Without thinking much of it, Christy and I made our way to the nearest [and coincidentally, nicest] campus restaurant, and ordered the exact same chicken dish for lunch.

I didn’t feel very good afterwards-but let’s be honest. I never feel good after I eat food in this country that I didn’t personally cook. [A shocker, given the high standards of cleanliness and food preparation that I’m  certain restaurants in Senegal hold themselves to.]

Ten hours later, however, life had taken a violent turn for the worse. In fact, life had swerved off the road and wrapped itself around a telephone pole-ten hours later found me on my couch in the living room, vomiting profusely into the bucket that Michelle [smart thing that she is] had thought to place beside me. In the dark. Because of course the electricity was off-why wouldn’t it have been?

The next hours were marked by uncontrollable shaking as my body went into shock, vomiting, fever spikes, and several rather panicked calls from Christy to SOS and my Mother. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Except, we couldn’t have lathered a thing if our lives had depended on it. Have I mentioned that the water was off too?

My sweet roommates held my hair, did everything they could to try to keep me hydrated, and woke me up to check my fever every hour on the hour that night. And the next day, and the next night. Concern for my condition escalated as I remained locked in the fetal position on the aforementioned couch, unable to move, barely able to speak, and rapidly starting to resemble one of the Olsen twins more with each passing hour.

The thing about salmonella is, you just have to wait it out. [And what an excellent waiter I am.] My twenty fourth birthday found me miserable, lying on the floor, swearing that I was “finally going to let Africa have me!” and moaning over each new, sweet, well-intentioned Facebook birthday message that urged me to “drink a lot of coffee on your birthday!”

I’d have settled for water.

I am, however, slowly re-introducing the concept of food back into my life. Michelle and Ted had snuck away to a friend’s house to bake chocolate cake and cinnamon rolls [oh, you remember the cinnamon rolls!] for my birthday, and so yesterday in my first display of wise decision making as a twenty four year old, I ate half a cinnamon roll.

I couldn’t help it. I was hungry. I was pitiful. I was…an idiot.

The water was finally turned back on today, so life is looking up in Dakar and it appears that I’ll survive to see another…well, disease, probably. Africa is out to kill me-of this, I am now entirely convinced. But it’s moments like these when a healthy dose of perspective is good and necessary. Because let’s face it-Africa has kicked me when I’m down enough times to teach me that things could always be worse. They could be better. But they could be worse.

And now that I think about it, there’s a rather excellent chance I’ll be able to milk this one for a while…

I think we just found our bright side, kids.

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Filed under My ghetto-fab life, Senegal, Team

The Girl On The Left. [Just One More?]

People slip so easily into an endless sea of faceless humanity. Their names and stories are quickly forgotten as they are reduced to mere statistics-numbers overheard on the five o’clock news and forgotten by dinner time.

That girl you see on the left? She’s a statistic.

You see, she’s just one more. One more Senegalese girl whose boyfriend was hitting her and cheating on her when I met her.

One more Senegalese girl who was convinced that she deserved it. That she wasn’t worth any more than that.

One more Senegalese girl who is trying to earn her way into heaven-and who lives her life with a gnawing, ever-growing dread that she is not good enough.

The problem with statistics is that they are comprised of individual stories. And this is Fatou’s.

Christy and I met Fatou last year, and were instantaneously struck by her soft, brown eyes and hesitant smile. She was haltingly open-speaking with surprising candor about her abusive relationship with her boyfriend, fears of one day marrying a man that she would have to share with three other wives, and an ever-growing certainty that she was going to hell. I remember a long, sun-soaked afternoon about a year ago spent sitting at my kitchen table with Miriam [whom you’ve met before] and Fatou. Miriam is a devout Muslim, and is always covered from the top of her head to her feet. Sitting beside her in stark contrast,  Fatou was wearing a tank top that April day. I’m sure you’re intimately familiar with the fact that Muslim women are expected to be covered at all times-and clearly, Fatou was not. Gently, I asked her why she and Miriam were dressed so differently.

In a moment of mind-numbing, blunt honestly, that sweet girl looked at me and shrugged her frail shoulders sadly. “If there really is a heaven and there really is a hell, I know I’m going to hell. I can’t be good enough-why would I try?”

Fatou had simply surrendered in a hopeless fight she somehow knew she could only lose. Somehow she understood that one day when she stands before God, she won’t be “good” enough for Him to accept her.

Christy and I shared the gospel with Fatou countless times last year-coming at it from every angle we could think of. I remember the evening that she turned to me and said, “You have such a good heart. I want Jesus to clean my heart too, so it can be like yours.”

Here’s the thing about Fatou. She believes the gospel-all of it. She believes that the Bible is true-that she can never be good enough for God to accept her, but that He loves her so intensely that He sent Jesus to be good on her behalf, and to absorb the punishment for her sins so that she could be reconciled to God.

So what gives?

Fatou was raised by her grandmother-a Muslim woman who vehemently threatens that should Fatou ever decide to follow Jesus, she will curse her and expel her from the family. She is afraid that even after her grandmother is dead, if she chooses Jesus, “her spirit will curse her”. Something in Fatou’s broken heart has resonated with the irrational love of Jesus-but right now, that longing is not enough to cause her to walk away from her family.

Thus, Fatou is crippled by the paralyzing terror that comes with knowing that she stands to lose everything that is familiar to her if she chooses Jesus, and a certainty that there is no hope if she does not.

A thinly veiled ache emanates from her soft, hopeless eyes that seem desperate for more. Several weeks ago, Fatou commented to Michelle “I just want to follow someone that will give me something to believe in!” And given that she feels like she cannot follow Jesus, she’s been looking to different cult leaders [known as Marabouts] within Islam in Senegal.

She visited the house of one such man last week to participate in a dark ritual making her one of his followers. After eating dinner, followers are asked to verbally give the Marabout their soul, and then to physically bow down to him.

Fatou later commented that immediately after she repeated the ritual vow, she felt sick. Somehow, she knew that she could not give a mere man her soul-“because God created it”. And when asked to bow down to the Marabout, that sweet, feisty Muslim girl snapped, “my heart refused”.

Fatou’s mom died three weeks ago. In an animistic twist to the folk-Islam Fatou follows, she believes that her mother’s spirit wanders the earth for forty days after her death-and even feels the unspeakable pain of her own body slowly decaying in the ground. Feeling the weight of her dead mother’s soul on her painfully inadequate shoulders, Fatou has spent hours every day tearfully begging Allah to accept her Mother into Paradise.

Fatou is torn between what she knows to be true-and the demands of her family. Her search for something-anything that might replace Jesus within Islam is proving absolutely futile-the other day in a bout of frustration, she exclaimed “I don’t understand! Why don’t all Muslims follow the teachings of Jesus!?”

Christy didn’t have a good answer for that one. :)

Fatou is studying the Bible with us every Tuesday morning, and has determined to ask her Grandmother why she doesn’t follow Jesus.

 To the Western mind, this might sound simple. You believe-just follow Jesus. But consider for a moment the simple fact you and I probably don’t understand what the gospel costs the way that Fatou does. Jesus demands every piece of our lives from each of us-Fatou understands this in a painfully tangible way. The gospel has not been cheapened for her the way it can be for those of us in the Western world that will only ever experience a shadow of the “cost” to following Jesus that Fatou will. And Fatou has yet to understand that the cost is worth the reward.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… -Phil 3: 7-9a

If you would, pray with me that this becomes her story. That she would indeed consider every other piece of her life insignificant next to knowing Jesus-and that she would find herself in Him. To Jesus, she is not “just one more”. Fatou is treasured by God Himself.

And He knows her name and story.

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Filed under Islamic theology, Ministry moments, Team

Live From [Dakar], It’s [Friday] Night!

Packing an obscene amount of American food. Merci, Target.

Both the bowl of sunset-orange mango slices sitting next to my laptop and the Friday call to prayer echoing through my apartment would suggest that I am finally back in Senegal. :)

In some ways, it feels like I was never really gone. Dakar is just as I left it. The glaring lack of distinct seasons makes it difficult to mark the passing of time-and a very slow, relaxed culture translates into little change over the course of mere months. It will, however, be interesting to attempt to catch up to speed with ministry and the lives of my team.

While leaving was difficult [more on goodbyes later], seeing my team again was glorious. After the unexpected mayhem that has been the past several months of my life, tackle hugging the five people that feel like family was a relaxing, calming elixir. After creating a scene at the airport [the fact that not one of us got arrested left me both surprised and disappointed], we crammed six STINTers, one taxi driver, and two oversized suitcases full of American goodies into a Smurf-sized clown car taxi. It was a feat of gargantuan proportions-if all else fails, we each have promising futures in the magic business! Or we will, as soon as we perfect the whole rabbit out of a hat thing…

In a cloud of exhaust and heat, we slowly sputtered through the city and before I knew what had happened, we were in my living room unpacking an absolutely embarrassing amount of macaroni and cheese. And while thirteen boxes may sound rather excessive to you, that’s nothing next to the endless stacks of granola bars I managed to stuff into my carry-on. [If my chiropractor is reading: I’m sorry.] Then my team left for work, and one very exhausted, caffeine-deprived brunette stumbled to her mat on the floor and slept for the better part of seven hours. My mat which, by the way, Christy and Michelle had washed for me. Clean

Yes. I did this right before boarding my seven hour flight to Dakar. Yes. I'm a little bit embarassed.

sheets in Dakar are like cigarettes in prison.

The power has been cut off four times in the past 36 hours-an unfortunate reality that apparently has been the norm as of late. Professors are on strike at the University [more on that later], and the students are staging protests. Political demonstrations planned in the city tomorrow by two opposing parties mean that we’ll spend the better part of day inside to ensure that everyone stays alive. [Because that’s how our Mamas like us.]

Clearly, we’re back with our regular programming. Stay tuned!

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Filed under My ghetto-fab life, Senegal, Team, The daily grind

Besotted. [Jesus Trumps Dryer Sheets.]

There are only six days left until I leave free refills and dryer sheets behind, and hop onto that Dakar-bound flight in DC.

I intend to one day write an epic poem about how much I love free refills and dryer sheets. But really, I don’t think any of us can handle that kind of emotion today.

The beauty of this blog is I get to talk about whatever happens to pop into my head at any given moment. Everything from what’s going on in Muslim Africa to how much I like cake is fair game.

Oh goodness, do I ever like cake.

But today isn’t about cake. Today’s story starts with Ben.

Cutting Ben's hair for the first time last year.

 

If you’re new, Ben and I have co-led the team in Dakar for the past year and a half, and over the course of that time he’s become a sort of adopted brother. I tell him when he’s dressing like a homeschooler and offer him extensive lectures concerning his love life, while he, in turn, critiques my taste in sunglasses [he says mine make me look like a bug] and tells me to stop whining.

We’re a match made in heaven. Or Bellevue. But at the end of every day, he’s one of my favorite people and I have an incredible amount of respect for him.

Shoot. I really do look like a bug. I hate it when he's right.

Back in January, the fact that I was leaving Dakar didn’t have time to sink in between finding out I needed to fly back to North Carolina, and actually boarding my flight. The day before I left, Ben handed me an envelope that said “For the plane”. [After living with me for a year and a half, he’s caught on to the fact that letters are the surest and quickest way to my heart. Well, letters and coffee.  And cake. And dryer sheets.] I was re-reading that letter this morning, and decided to let you see a piece of it. It made me tear up on the plane ride home [something that’s almost impossible to do]-and it’s packed full of things I have the tendency to forget. Maybe you do, too-regardless, this one’s worth a read.

Dear Ashley,

As I write this, you are downstairs packing for an emergency flight out of Senegal via SOS. The next couple days or weeks could be filled with a lot of fear and uncertainty. ….Don’t worry about a thing in Dakar. Your illness is outside your control. I’ll run the show here [well, Jesus will run the show] and you concentrate on getting healthy. And do me a favor. Don’t waste your illness. Consider John 11:4 and Lazarus, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” I don’t want to play fast and loose with sacred writing, but I think this text gives a general understanding about illness. Christ uses illness for God’s glory, that His Son may be glorified. Although unexpected by us, I rest in God’s sovereign provision for your life. Nothing in all the world shall separate you from His love in Christ; not sickness, demons, powers, principalities, or death. The next couple weeks shall be sanctification on fast-forward for you. Imagine! You can, by faith, be a positively different person, for eternity, by cause of this “light and momentary affliction.” The Lord can produce “eternal glory” in you. You have a rare chance to fall in love with God in a deep, passionate, soul-satisfying way all over again. The Ashley we all see when you return can be so God-besotted that the world looks on and says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” [Phil 3:8-9] Ashley, I have a lot of confidence in God’s desire to work in and through you over this season of your life. Go make Christ look really valuable to your family and friends. Cause your team to marvel at the all-surpassing value of Christ. Stun the nurses and medical staff with your abounding joy in Christ. He has saved you and He shall keep you in, “the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” [Titus 2:13-14] ….Get well soon, because I’ll skin you alive if you make me do Dakar without you…

 

I love Ben’s challenge to use my life for God’s glory. To understand that next to Jesus, everything else pales. To be so

Ben and Christy under our spin on mistletoe at Christmastime this year.

 “God-besotted” that in comparison, everything else simply looks cheap and temporary. You and I-we’ve both been loved with an everlasting, entirely irrational love. And I think if we really understood that, we’d be able to say “you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.” Say it, and mean it.

Because Jesus really is infinitely more valuable than the things I tend to cling to. He’s better than being healthy-or even being able to walk. Better than being comfortable, or married, or that perfect job, or retiring, or cake and dryer sheets and free refills. And the way I live my life ought to reflect that.

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Filed under Musings, My favorite people, Team

Please Excuse This Interruption.

I know. It’s been a while.  But life as of late has been fraught with the busy ambiguities that drive me absolutely mad and don’t make good stories anyways.

But here it is: I’m back in Raleigh. Three mildly panicked SOS doctors, two plane rides, and one giant caramel latte later-I’m home. The saga of the Little Legs that Wouldn’t, while both riveting and wildly entertaining, got to be a bit too much and the powers that be mandated that I leave Senegal immediately for medical care. Before I really had slightest clue as to what was happening, I was pressed against the side of my JFK-bound window seat trying to avoid a positively massive Senegalese lady that struggled to grasp the subtle concept of personal space. She spent eight excruciating hours attempting to teach me Wolof, while I masqueraded as a viciously intimidating member of the Russian mafia that hadn’t the foggiest idea of what was happening.

[Just kidding. I used all four of my Wolof phrases.]

And before I knew it, there was snow [SNOW!] on the ground, and a very sweet custom’s agent was listening to my life story and offering her medical [in]expertise.

After which Kellan accomplished the seemingly impossible, and successfully rendered me entirely speechless when he surprised me at JFK with that aforementioned giant caramel latte to fly the rest of the way home with me. I kid you not- all ability to form coherant sentances was hopelessly lost for a solid two minutes.

I’ve spent the last week making friends with the head of Infectious Diseases at Duke Hospital. My condition has been diagnosed-but the cause remains to be determined. I’m going to be just fine-and hope to be back in Senegal soon. Stay tuned on that one.

Thus far, the most delightfully astonishing things about life back home are as follows:

  1. Sleeping on a bed.
  2. Being able to drink tap water.
  3. Not blowing the electricity when I plug something in.
  4. Not waking up to bugs crawling all over me.

But goodness, do I ever miss my team. And as crazy as this is going to sound to most of you, part of me misses sleeping on the floor and waging genocide on the roaches in my kitchen. [Okay fine-watching Michelle wage genocide on the roaches in my kitchen.] That’s my world right now. It’s my world until July 6th. And I need to get back.

More stories to come soon-I simply thought it was high time to clue you in to the chaos. North Carolina friends-I would love to see you, but I’m just not up to much. Though come to think of it, drinking caramel lattes doesn’t have a thing to do with my legs, now does it…

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Filed under Home, My favorite people, My ghetto-fab life, Team, The daily grind