To highlight all of the fabulous adventures of the past year, here are my "Top 12 Moments of Twenty-12":
12. Cape Town, South Africa
I started 2012 out by ringing in the new year in Cape Town. We ate food, saw the sights, went shopping, tasted some amazing wine, and went kayaking with penguins. It was a really fun trip with over a dozen other Peace Corps Volunteers to a place that everyone should visit at least once.
11. Moving to Gabane
In early February 2012, I moved from my quaint little village of Kumakwane to a new site 15km down the road. Gabane became my new home and Gabane Community Home-Based Care became my new primary project. This move marked a significant milestone for me and was one that opened so many doors. I have really flourished in my time here - gaining invaluable experience and helping the NGO grow and expand its reach.
10. Making New Friends
I became closer with those I befriended in my first nine months in Botswana and I made many new friends. These friendships enriched my time here. In my down times, these people lifted me up and brought a smile to my face. In my happy times, they made all the more special by sharing in the successes and joys of service.
9. Kumakwane Community Football and Wellness Event
8. Teddy Bear Day
Teddy Bear Day was a way to honor and show love to 147 orphans and vulnerable children in the Gabane community. In association with the Mother Bear Project, we were able to give teddy bears to each of these children. These bears were more than a simple gift, but rather represented our continued commitment to helping alleviate the pain that they each carry. It is a symbol of the work I have been doing in Botswana. And, in the end, their smiles alone make it one of my top moments of the year.
7. Seeing a Leopard
This highlight goes along with another favorite moment of 2012, but its significance makes it deserving of its own spot in the list. The first moment that I saw a leopard was emotional for me. I hadn't expected it to be - we had just spent an hour sitting six feet from a pair of lions - but that first sighting touched my soul and my heart and made me literally cry because I was so moved and overwhelmed.
I have known how much my boyfriend loves me for quite some time. He makes sure not only to tell me but also to show me he cares in a million different ways. But this holiday season, he went above and beyond to ensure that Hanukkah and Christmas were extra special. It will go down as one of my favorite holidays ever - and the first since my dad died where I have truly enjoyed it.
5. Okavango Delta Trip
The Delta is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been. Having seen it, I now understand why it is one of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die.
4. Presidential Visits (Yes, TWO!)
visited my NGO to help us with our food security project. During his visit, we tripled the size of our garden, enabling us to better feed the orphans and vulnerable children that attend our preschool as well as having enough produce to feed the home-based care patients. Wow.
In July, I hosted an event at my NGO for Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. This event challenged me in ways I could never adequately express and opened my heart and freed my mind in truly remarkable ways. Plus, it was an incredible honor.
3. Cassie's Visit
One of my very best friends boarded a plane and came all the way to visit me. We had the most ridiculous time - full of all the misadventures that I could expect when the two of us get together. We traversed the country (or at least half of it), saw some uniquely African sights, and had a whole lot of fun along the way. Sing-a-longs karaoke style included.
2. Falling in Love
Sometimes you have to travel halfway around the world and risk everything to find the life you have always wanted. That's what happened to me. In coming here and in sticking it out, I fell in love. I fell in love with a new country, I fell in love with development work, I re-fell in love with my home country, and I just plain fell in love with the most amazing man. I never knew I had the capacity to love and be loved like this. No matter what happens, I will forever be grateful for my heart expanding so much.
The number one spot on the "Top 12 of Twenty-12" list...
1. My Family's Visit!!!
In August, my family came to visit me! Nothing could compare to the moment I saw them step off the plane except, maybe, the moment I got to hug them all after so long. And then having them experience my life and share in this crazy Peace Corps adventure was beyond compare. Not to mention all of the new things we got to see and do together. It was a trip of a lifetime - for me, for them, and for everyone they got to meet along the way. There is nothing that could have compared to that time together. (Plus they brought me enough coffee to last me the rest of my service!)