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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

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