Jen Baldo, also known as Mousie, was born in Indio, California on August 3, 1979. Mousie is the
Daughter of Denice O’Shane and David Baysinger, and sibling to half-sister Dawn. “Have you
ever heard the song, ‘The Wanderer’,” Mousie asked me. I nodded my head. “I like to consider
that to be like my life song,” she said. Mousie has been on the road nearly her whole life. She has
been all over the United States, living her life with a very practical set of rules in place, “Do not
lie, do not steal, do good, help out when you can, and do not take a handout, but if you do,
swallow your pride.” Mousie lived most of her early childhood in California before she moved in
with her grandparents in Arizona. She loved this time in her life; this was truly a period of
tranquility. Some of her favorite memories were shared with her grandparents. She said with a
smile, “I remember chopping wood with grandpa, and going outside to help grandma in the
garden.” I guess the simpler things in life truly can be enjoyable when we are doing them with
people we love. She stops me as I am writing, “Chopping wood was fun, but the most fun I had
was when I was fishing with family.” She proudly says, “I can bait, hook, throw the line, reel it
in, but not touch the damn fish.” Most of her youth was spent with her grandparents. “Oh man
they would spoil me so much,” she said and soon broke out into a loud laugh. She told me a story
about how her grandma would ask for her grandpa to spank Mousie; Mousie’s grandpa would
take her into a separate room and tell her to fake-cry and would take his belt and hit the wall.
Soon after Mousie moved to Arizona, Denice and Mouise’s stepdad moved out to join Mousie.
While staying with her grandparents, Mousie pursued an education and eventually got a degree
from a trade school in 1994. After very many long conversations with her mom and
grandparents, Mousie found out that her biological dad still lived in California. Mousie had been
lied to her whole life and was told that her stepdad was her biological dad. Feeling betrayed and
desperate, Mousie left Arizona for California in search of her real dad, she had just turned 16.
“It was the worst trip ever,” says Mousie. She had been told that her real dad was not a
very good person, but Mousie said her only goal was to form her own opinion of him. Sadly, her
grandparents and mother were right, he was not a very good person. So, after six months back in
California, she moved back to Arizona to be with her grandparents again. The timing could not
have been worse. When she got back to Arizona she discovered her mother had left, and her
grandparents getting ready to move as well. Being that Mousie had only completed trade school
and still needed to complete high school, her grandparents put her in Homebase Youth Services
before leaving. I asked her to describe her experience at Homebase Youth Services, her response,
“It was hell.” She goes on to say that people were very mean to her and did not treat her kindly.
She was only in the shelter for around a year, before deciding to leave to go and be with her Aunt
Debbie who lived in Buckeye, Arizona. Leaving the Homebase Youth Services was very good
for Mousie, she really felt like she had found a home with her aunt. However, soon the calm
waters of Mousie’s life would be disrupted. While staying with her aunt, Mousie was molested
by her Uncle Les, she was just 17.
What started out as a tranquil, peaceful place for Mousie, soon turned into a world of
darkness. Mousie desperately wanted to leave her aunt’s house, but with nowhere to go, she was
stuck. She told me that this time in her life was very hard for her, she resonated with the song
“Pretty Girl,” she quoted it saying, “There’s more to me then people know.” After staying with
her aunt for half a year, she left to live with her grandparents in Showlow, Arizona and moved in
with them. While living with her grandparents, she mainly worked around the house. Her
grandfather worked as an 18-wheeler driver and was gone for many days on end, and her
grandmother needed help around the house. She lived with her grandparents for about two years
before moving back to California. Following one of her rules for life, she moved back to
California to help her half-sister with her home. She said that her sister was falling on hard times
and needed some help taking care of the kids. She stayed there for one year before moving up to
Chugiak, Alaska in 2002 to help take care of her mother who had recently broken her wrist. I
asked Mousie to describe her stay in Alaska to which she said, “It was cold and boring.” Yet, she
was with her mom which was important to her. She ended up staying in Alaska for 9 years, her
longest time in one place since childhood. It seemed as though she had finally found herself a
home. Yet again, the calm waters would be disrupted, Mousie’s stepdad, Herb, started molesting
her. When I asked how old she was she said, “I have no idea, I do know that Santa Clause 2 had
just come out.”
After being molested by her stepdad, Mousie moved back to California. She moved in
with her Uncle Harvey, to whom she lovingly nicknamed ‘shithead’. She said that she had so
much fun getting to stay with her Uncle Harvey, had two kids named Sunshine and Angel. She
loved them very dearly and would play many games with them throughout the day. She recalled
her favorite game being, ‘monkey,’ which would entail the kids hanging on her arm and being
swung around. But, yet again, Mousie’s life would soon be disrupted. Aunt Debbie got in touch
with Mousie to inform her that she was dying. Mousie soon left her comfortable life in California
to move back to Arizona to take care of her dying aunt, forcing her to face the man who first
molested her. Mousie said that life back in Arizona was hard, Les and Mousie would take turns
every night checking Debbie’s blood pressure. Mousie said, shaking with rage, that just before
her aunt died she remembered Les stopping her and saying that if he stopped giving Debbie
insulin at night that no one would be able to prove it was his fault that she died. Mousie believed
that this was evidence enough to prove that Les killed her aunt by not giving her insulin. Debbie
died on January 5 th , 2015. Mousie soon bounced from place to place in Arizona for a couple
years before meeting Cristal, who is now her girlfriend. Cristal is eventually what led Mousie to
move down to the Bryan/College Station area. She now resides here and is hoping to make this
area her home.
I am so thankful that Mousie would trust me with her life story. She truly is a remarkable
light in the midst of a life surrounded by the darkest of events. Mousie has been through what so
many others already have. Millions of females around the world have been victims of sexual
assault and molestation just like Mousie. Yet, through all the pain, Mousie stands as a pillar of
hope. With a life consumed by desperation and sadness, Mousie pushes on throughout it all. She
truly is the epitome of selflessness, leaving comfortability and security to be there for family.
Constantly she showed love, when love wasn’t shown to her. Endlessly she offered grace, when
forgiveness was anything but easy to offer. Always she emanated happiness, even when
happiness seemed impossible to show. Mousie’s story has given hope to the hopeless, peace to
the peaceless, and joy to the joyless. To the women who are struggling, and to the victims who
are hurting, we hope you can read this story and know that you aren’t alone. But more that, that
you’re going to make it through. Latch onto those around you that make you feel full, and let go
of the pains that bring you to emptiness. Take the words from Mousie to heart, do good for
others and help when you can. But never forget that this life is worth living, and this struggle is
worth the pain. Because through it all, throughout all the brokeness, you can stand as a voice for
love and as a symbol of hope, in the same way that Mousie has done for us, and so many others.
“I’m kind of disorganized. I’m just a guy, like, whatever happens you know? And that’s alright. That’s what I am.” However, he added, “When I plan it usually goes good. I feel like I should work on that, I feel like I should be planning more.”
That’s Daniel Ndoumou who coolly leans so heavily on fate. From Gabon, he now lives in Dallas, Texas, and studies biology at Richland College in northeast Dallas. Aside from school, he plays club soccer and pursues a passion for photography.
Between Daniel’s permanent, energetic, sly grin and dark, somnolent eyes, his demeanor suggests a laissez-faire personality. But his accomplishments suggest otherwise. He speaks two languages fluently. He’s shot hundreds of photos, including innumerable covers, for Richland’s student newspaper, the Richland Chronicle. He’s captured state level awards for the aforementioned photos, and most recently, multiple universities have offered him soccer scholarships.
And all is going according to plan.
Coming to the U.S., Daniel said, “was one of the first decisions I made myself. Because my parents usually decided for [me] the kid. That’s how they are.” Daniel’s father wanted him to study in China or the U.K. But Daniel wanted to study in the U.S. “My plan was to play soccer and then go to school.” And, of course, shoot photos—but for pleasure: “I’ve been doing [photography] since I was a kid, but I wasn’t doing it like ‘oh, yeah, yeah, that’s what I want to pursue.’ I’ve just been doing it for fun.”
I asked Daniel how it was, coming to the U.S. He laughed. “At first I was like, ‘Whoa! I’m really far from my family. What the hell am I going to do about it now? My parents cannot plan everything. Because, you know, before I got here, they already paid for like the taxi and the hotel and everything. So from the airport there’s a guy waiting for me to take me to the hotel. And from the hotel, now it’s my turn to look for another hotel close to Richland so I can do the application and the shots I was supposed to do like meningitis and all those things.”
Within a month of arrival, however, he’d completed his application, suffered the requisite shots and rented a new apartment near Richland. “It’s pretty easy, pretty easy,” he said. He immediately began his studies.
One thing he did not do was miss family. That’s not his thing. He speaks with them by phone sporadically, maybe once every other week. He imitated a conversation for me: “Oh! It has been a long time!” he acted in a deeper, more serious voice. “How are you doing? It’s been two weeks since we spoke. We are just checking if you are alive. Thank you!”
Adjustment to the U.S., for Daniel, involved realizing that not everything is Jay Z and Beyoncé and Kobe. Also, “There’s more freedom in the U.S.,” he said. Daniel sees U.S. parents as “less worried” about their kids than Gabonese parents. He also discovered three principle ways to interact with Americans: soccer; photography; and geography lessons.
Soccer, he said, “was the easiest way I could speak to other people, to know somebody, or to tell the person where I’m from. Or to make friends.” Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a Gabonese forward for Arsenal, became a “reference.” People who knew of Augameyang usually knew of Gabon.
Daniel’s photography also sparked – and still sparks – numerous interactions. Oftentimes, curious strangers ask Daniel what he’s up to, or why a camera hangs around his neck. Sometimes they give him their phone numbers and ask if they can call him for pictures.
Geography lessons also allow Daniel to connect with people. “I have to teach more people about where I’m from,” he says.
“Yeah, Americans aren’t great at geography,” I offer. “I realize, I realize,” he agrees.
School, soccer, school, soccer was the rhythm of his early life. He’s a talented footballer too: at Galaxy International School in Ghana, where he studied for five years, he played as a junior with the seniors. But, Daniel confessed, “I wasn’t like the best student too. I was usually passing by the limit.”
As for photography? Well, Daniel said, “I started doing it unconsciously with my parents and their camera.” First he found an old-style camera and began playing with focus. Then he discovered “normal Sony cameras, what is normal, Fujifilm cameras.” Thusly, gradually, as he discovered his talent, photography became his passion—a passion he pursues to this day.
Two months after his arrival in the U.S., Daniel purchased a Nikon D80. This, in his words, “was what got me way, way better.” He continued shooting and practicing, for his personal pleasure and benefit. Eventually, he began to shoot for the Chroniclewhere colleagues have dubbed his work “amazing.” Nowadays, Daniel uses a Canon Rebel T5, a Nikon 60 and a Nikon 70 to shoot sports, concerts, outdoor events and portraits. More than anything, however, he shoots sports—especially soccer.
I asked him, “How do soccer and photography connect?”
“I don’t only like to play [soccer],” Daniel replied. “I like to watch too. And then when soccer and pictures come together? What makes it easy for me to get the shots I have for the newspaper, that they say are amazing—it’s not difficult for me because when you watch a game I kind of know what is going to happen. Like, when the ball is this high and this girl’s already here, I know the arc of the ball is going to land here and that is what they’re going to have to do. I can anticipate.”
In other words, because Daniel plays soccer and likes watching it, he has a unique feel for the game that non-player photographers don’t – can’t – have. “It’s a lot of anticipation,” he said.
His photographs corroborate such a bold claim. In an issue of the Chronicle, I found three photos from a soccer match taken at 1) the moment of a header, 2) at the moment of a shot, and 3) a perfectly symmetrical photo of a player dribbling. The talent, to my eyes, is readily apparent.
But what does Daniel plan to do with his soccer and photographic talents?
“First, I need to be done with these classes over here [at Richland],” he said. He wants to study sports medicine and play soccer at a university, but he needs to complete his university applications. After graduating, he wants to return to Gabon and work in either sports medicine or general medicine. Unless something happens like a relationship. Then he’d stay here.
In the meantime, he’ll continue creating art. Why? Does he make money from photography? “No, no, no, no,” he replied. Although he does privates, he does them because he enjoys obliging friends’ photo requests.
And that’s the key: Daniel just likes to take photos. It’s his passion. Taking photos is “an automatic thing that comes just like that,” he said. In the future, he might use photography for extra money. (“If I go to work maybe, like, at a hospital, and then when I’m done, maybe during the night or the weekend I can do a ceremony. Or maybe there’s a wedding. I can take photos for that, I guess, and make some extra money,” he offered.) But whatever happens you know? The joy he finds in photography, his passion for photography, and a desire to improve his skills are sufficient for him.
Before I go into Pete’s life, I want to explain my meeting with Pete. I first met Pete at the Twin City Mission in Bryan, Texas. Pete and I struck up a conversation and I was immediately drawn to his story. When I first addressed Pete with the idea of documenting his life story, he was overjoyed. “Of course I would love to tell my story, people need to see how God has impacted me.” I hope Pete’s story will affect you the same way it has affected me, moving you to appreciate the power of gratitude in our very own lives.
Pete Ybarra III was born on August 18, 1966, in Navasota, Texas. His father, Pete Ybarra Jr., soon moved Pete’s mother, Guadalupe James Ybarra, and Pete’s 6 sisters and 4 brothers to Jacksonville, Texas. Pete grew up in Jacksonville. He lived the majority of his life much like any other kid who grows up in a small town: attracted to mischief. He soon was skipping school and getting in trouble with his parents. Pete noted that throughout his youth that he suffered from unbearable headaches, which incidentally would be a foreshadowing of a greater evil. Due to these headaches, he had to focus harder than most in school. He was unable to hold his attention in class and found himself skipping class to avoid the pain. When Pete was a teenager, his uncle committed suicide, leaving devastating effects on his young self. After high school, Pete moved to Bryan where he started working for Cives Steel with his father. He worked there for many years and loved getting to work with and grow closer to his father. While working at Cives Steel, his family was shattered again with the news of two cousins taking their own lives. Yet, they were able to support one another to work past this.
While working for Cives Steel, Pete started dating a girl named Christina and they soon had a son named James Arthur Jones. Pete loved his son very much and tried to take as best care of him as he could. Due to legal restraints, he was unable to see his son often, but made the most of his meetings when he could. During this period, he bounced around jobs and girlfriends; it was conspicuous that life was hard for him. Yet, it was evident that he was a tough soul that could make the most out of such difficult situations. After many years, Pete moved out of his apartment in Bryan to a plot of land his parents owned on the outskirts of town. While outside of Bryan, Pete stopped working for Cives Steel and soon took a job at Sanderson Farms driving a forklift in the freezer. While there, he started dating a woman named Karina and helped her raise her kids. He dated Karina for 8 years before she walked out on him. Afterward, he began working for Knife River, a truck driving company based out of Bryan, Texas. He loved this job, as it offered him the chance to visit some amazing places. During his training, Pete visited New York and Maine. His driving was something that allowed a small-town kid to get out and see the big world. While working at Knife River he started dating Anna, and during this period of tranquility, his life would soon take a major downturn. Pete’s headaches were getting worse and soon he came to the realization that something had to be done about it. Reluctantly, he went to the hospital and was given a CAT scan. Immediately following the scan, Pete was rushed into emergency surgery. The doctors told Pete that without the surgery, he would have had three days to live. After the surgery, he woke up extremely lost and stood up immediately, ripping the tubes out of his head and leaving Pete in an even more vulnerable state. After being stabilized in the hospital, he was sent home. Pete said that he should have been sent to a nursing home, but he was unable to pay for it because he had no insurance. Due to his state of need, Anna ended up walking out on him, leaving him in the care of his nephew and sister. He said multiple times that he would not be talking to me today if it were not for his nephew who nursed him back to life.
Without the ability to work, Pete’s water and electricity were soon cut off, so he had to run an extension cord and haul water to his house from his parents who thankfully lived close by. He soon followed this up with a smile and said, “Hard life man, thankfully I am not there anymore”. He lived in this condition for multiple years, until the pain crept back, forcing him in and out of the state hospital. His periods in the hospital were vital for him. Pete had no money and no way to survive, so he relied on the state hospital for food, medicine, and a place to stay. During this period, Pete said he, “Got used to being broke, I lived my day by the hands of God”. After multiple years of being a regular resident in the state hospital, he was starting to see the finish line to his road toward recovery. However, his life would soon be rocked yet again, receiving news that his son had taken his own life . Pete, who now has had many years to recover from this, explains this time in his life calmly. Yet, it was very plain to see that this event still devastated him to this day. With the struggle of recovery from surgery and the pains of living in poverty, the added emotional trauma of a son passing brought Pete to his knees. Yet, Pete, a man with a heart set on the Lord, now takes this pain in stride. He knows that the Lord has a plan for his life and is prepared for whatever comes next.
When I first met Pete, his openness and positivity around the passing of his son is what drew me to his story. How could one man suffer through so much pain, and yet still have such a beautiful outlook on life? Pete’s journey forces one to reevaluate the struggles that exist within our very own lives. Without a doubt, Pete’s battle against continuous adversity allows one to view themselves with a different perspective. Pete’s life is one of hardship, struggle, and suffering; yet despite these conditions, he surges onward. Pete views life as a prize, not a penalty. He sees every waking day as an opportunity to be grateful, thankful for the opportunity of another breath. Regardless of the devastation Pete has endured throughout his being, he views life to be miraculous and beautiful in design. Pete is a spark of optimism in a moment we need it most. He truly is the epitome of gratitude, showing us how deep hope runs in the face of calamity. Pete’s story resonates deeply within me, not because I can relate to his life, but because his story puts mine in perspective. If Pete can live through death, poverty, and desperation, and to still approach life with a luminous, radiant, and joyous smile on his face, why can’t we?