Aside

Happy Anniversary!

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Dear Meredyth,

Today is the second anniversary of my arrival in Botswana. It is hard to believe that it was two years ago that I stepped (groggy, stiff, jet-lagged, confused and disoriented by the sun) off a plane in Gaborone International Airport, and was greeted by Peace Corps Staff and Volunteers welcoming us to our “new home”. I can tell you without shame that I actually turned around and thought about getting back on the plane at that point. I am glad I didn’t (or couldn’t actually, the doors to the terminal only open one way, so there was no turning back.)

So I have been in Botswana for two years, and now I have one month left as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I actually cannot believe it. Do you remember when we hugged good-bye in America? We consoled each other by saying that two years would not be so long. Let’s be real, that feels like a really, really long time ago. Things were so different back then. You and Ian were just married; moving to Texas, quitting your jobs, and going to find a new life. I had just graduated from college, turned 24, was moving to Africa, and going to find a totally new life. Now here we are, two years later, we survived!

We did more than just survive; we thrived in these two years. You and Ian just celebrated your two-year wedding anniversary, and two years living in Austin. You both found good jobs and an addition to your family, Penny Pie! I am sitting here in my little cement house, baking congratulatory cookies (for myself for living in Africa for two effing years, and turning 26!). That’s right, my second (and final) birthday in Botswana was last week.

As I recall I made a list of milestones that I would complete in my “milestone year” of 25. Would you like to know how I did on my to do list?

  1. Run a half Marathon. CHECK!
  2. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Done and Done (HIGH FIVES AND HUGS MARY ANN!)
  3. Do my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Almost complete and I’m proud of it.

I did not fully explain number 3 last year, but I feel like I can tell you now. By, “do my job,” I meant not quitting. Honestly, this time last year I did not know if I had it in me to last another year. I was afraid that a day would come when I just had enough and said, “Screw this.”

That day never came and I will tell you why. There’s something that you can do to get you through any rough or painful situation, whether it’s running long distance climbing a mountain, sitting on a combi for 33 hours, getting through the school term or missing your family and friends so, so much. You’re going to laugh it’s so simple: say to yourself, “I can do it. I will do it.” Watch what happens, you will do it. You will get through it and you will form yourself into a stronger person as a result.

Without further ramblings, let me share with you the real secret to happiness:

Smitten Kitchen’s Pink Lady Cake, cause it was my 26th birthday and I’m a lady.

Strawberries are in season right now so I used fresh instead of frozen. Also, I didn’t have a blender to puree the strawberries, but I actually liked that there were delicious chunks in the cake. Most importantly, the cream cheese icing. That’s all, it’s important and delicious. The cake was perfect, it was moist, light and made an excellent breakfast treat too!

My birthday (week) was incredible. I was surrounded by some of the world’s greatest people. Thank you to every one who called me, hugged me, treated me to delicious meals, shared weird stories, listened to me talk about that thing we have to do three days in a row for our close of service medical test (PCVS… you know), and all who sent presents, cards, and love. I would not, could not have done this alone, it was everyone in Africa and at home who encouraged me, supported me, and let me scream and cry, that helped me through this experience. I am who I am today because of you.

Love always,

Julia

Baking Out the Bad

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Dear Meredyth,

What do you call those last days of winter that really should not be winter anymore? The extra days of unexpected cold mornings, the wind lashing at you when you open the door, are the worst. Even though the temperature has risen, the cold that remains feels almost unbearable. The really frustrating part about the season change is that the weather still reaches extremes each day, the mornings and nights are blustery and cold, but by mid day the sun is beating down with no breeze at all. Also, I discovered the only things that make me more vulnerable to sickness than drastic changes in temperature are questionable foods and no clean drinking water. I had an unpleasant combination of those things this week; can you guess what it gave me?

You probably guessed right, the good old stomach flu. Last Friday I ingested something, or some water, that was not agreeable. After displaying the contents of my stomach on my good friend Shannon’s wall on Saturday, I thought I had food poisoning. As crappy as that was I figured that it would be over by the next day.

I was wrong. I developed a fever, body aches, cramps, sweats, the whole lot, over the next four days. All I wanted was to stay in bed, drink tea, maybe eat a saltine or two, and have Mom there to pour sympathy over me. Somehow I managed to survive those days, making my own tea, and just pitying myself (but I’m still accepting it if you want to throw some pity this way.)

I know this story is getting fearfully sad, but do not worry, I beat that flu! By Friday morning I woke up, stretched myself out after many days in the fetal position, and best of all, enjoyed a bowl of my favorite breakfast oatmeal.

I was happily recovered and ready to make up for days of no real appetite, but then I found the produce I bought earlier that week was on its last leg. If there’s one thing I cannot stand it is letting food go bad; I refuse to do this. So I baked this problem into a tasty solution

Carrot & Zucchini Spice Bread

¼ c. dark brown sugar

¼ c. honey or agave or molasses

¼ c. OLIVE oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 c. Whole wheat flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. sea salt

2 t. cinnamon

1 c. zucchini, peeled and grated

1 c. carrots, peeled and grated

Cream the sugar, honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl mix dry ingredients, add wet ingredients and beat well Add zucchini and carrots. Bake for 1 hour at 350.

Olive oil makes the difference. It brings really nice sweet and savory flavors but it also makes a more moist loaf. I had to freeze the loaf (in order to not eat it all in one day), but it reheated without drying out.

Enjoy your last days of summer warmth!

Love always,

Julia

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Meetings with Liz

Dear Meredyth,

Have I told you about my lovely neighbor Liz? Well, she’s just great. Her village, Mokatako (it’s fun to day), is 9k down the road from me. In Peace Corps terms, we are practically next door to each other. Our communities are really connected because the health and community services for our region are located in my village, so Liz and I have lots of opportunities to work together. Liz comes over to my village some weeks to give lessons at the clinic with me on the day that HIV patients come in for their ARVs. We are pretty much tag team super star volunteers.

Working together on projects is just one of the many reasons why I love Liz and I love that she is my neighbor. Another perk of this arrangement is that we have weekly “meetings”, usually at my house. These “meetings” start on Wednesday mornings; Liz will arrive in my village on the early (only) combi at 6:30 am, right in time for me finishing my morning run. I make us breakfast and coffee while we catch up on all the things we’ve been doing so far that week (insert sarcasm). After breakfast we go to the clinic for our ARV adherence lesson, followed by a fun condom demonstration, then back to my place.

This where the important stuff begins, I make popcorn snacks, and we watch Sherlock or some other amazing television. We do this for a while. After lunch we pull ourselves out of this stupor and go to the library where I make the children stop playing computer games and read a book for a while. Thus goes the weekly meetings, some weeks are more productive, some less (if you can believe it), but all are spent in great company.

This particular week we decided to spice things up, or sweeten thing up, with cookies. I asked Liz what is her favorite cookie, and told her I’ll make it! The answer is one of her Dad’s famous, family recipe cookies. Since Liz’s parents are coming to Africa next week, this was a great way to prepare for their arrival.

Mr. Sundin’s Sour Cream Cookies

(Makes 5 dozen)
1/2 cup of Butter or Margarine
1 1/2 cups of Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
2 eggs
4 1/2 cups of Sifted Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup of Sour Cream (or plain yogurt)

ImageDirections:

Thoroughly cream butter and sugar; add vanilla and eggs, mix well. Add sour cream and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients and mix thoroughly with other mixture. Drop dough by teaspoon on cookie sheet. Dip a glass in water, then in additional sugar and press the cookie.

Dip in sugar again and lightly pat cookie. Bake at 425 degrees, approximately 8 minutes.

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Liz is a novice cook/baker, but she’s an excellent kitchen assistant. She also provides wonderful entertainment.

We had to substitute yogurt for sour cream, due to scarce resources, but it actually turned out really delicious.

These cookies were sweet, creamy and perfect when dipped in coffee.

Thanks Mr. Sundin, this recipe is a keeper. I’ll make them for you one day too!

All my love,

Julia