Giving Thanks…

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(Sebasco Harbor Resort)

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future”…perhaps these lyrics from The Steve Miller Band best summarize what happens whenever I attempt to write my blog. Now that I’m traveling nearly 90 percent of the time, I never seem to find the energy to update my online presence. Regardless, I will do my best to provide a quick snapshot of the last eight months before an entire year slips by.

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(Stone Town)

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(Street Scenes in Stone Town)

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(Friends)

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(Painting Tinga Tingas)

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(Tinga Tinga Name Plates – gifts for family)

Work keeps me insanely busy. Since my last update, I’ve been to Tanzania twice, to Malawi on numerous occasions and to Namibia for long stretches of time. And I’ve even been able to sneak in some much needed R&R to the states, complete with a family reunion in Maine, a short jaunt to New York City, global leadership training in DC and to top it off, my 30th high school reunion in Kansas City.

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(Beaches of Stone Town, Zanzibar)

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(Beautiful children)

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(Maasai)

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(Ice Cream)

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But before I dive into all those details, I first want to backtrack to Zanzibar. Now that I’m managing a project in Arusha (ironically, nowhere near Zanzibar but flights are often routed through the island), I try to spend the weekends on this gorgeous island every chance I get – just one of the many bonuses of my job!

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(Maasai Market)

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(Vendor)

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(Laughter)

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(And more laughter)

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Zanzibar holds a special place in my heart. I often stay in Stone Town, a historic trade center with Swahili and Islamic roots, which provides a fascinating backdrop to explore this incredible city. As a photographer, I can spend endless hours just winding through the labyrinth of lanes admiring the minarets, the carved doorways and the beauty of the people!

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(Ladies Weekend @ Blue Zebra Island, Malawi)

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(Living Large)

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(Blue Zebra)

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(Hiking around the island)

I often try to support local artists whenever I return and have stocked up on famed Tinga-Tinga paintings, beaded jewelry and local spices, which always make great gifts. And knowing that I was about to return to the states, I went a little overboard with buying souvenirs! In fact, I had thirty Tinga-Tinga name plates made, purchased at least fifty pairs of earrings, and even picked up some random artwork here and there. The artists were elated with their good fortune, but truly it was a win-win as everyone back home was thrilled with their gifts!

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(Mop vendor at Old Town Market, Lilongwe)

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(Dressmaker)

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(Chitenje Market)

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(Cabbage for sale)

I’ve been returning to Lilongwe, Malawi for the past six months to spearhead an incredibly rewarding project – development of the National Strategy for Adolescent Girls and Young Women (AGYW). AGYW are more likely than their male peers to drop out of school, to marry at an early age, and to bear the brunt of poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Gender norms further limit girls’ mobility, selection of peer groups, and access to important social capital and financial assets, which adversely impacts their quality of life.

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(The Famous Chief Kachindamoto)

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(US Ambassador to Malawi and Chief Kachindamoto)

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(Our AGYW Strategy Workshop)

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(Happy 4th of July)

Evidence also shows the strategic importance for national governments to invest in AGYW to ensure that they can become powerful agents for economic and social empowerment within communities and nations. As the challenges that are faced by AGYW are many, addressing their needs requires a multi-sectoral response and collective action of national stakeholders, guided by a common coordinating mechanism, an agreed strategy and one monitoring and evaluation framework.

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(Mice on a Stick)

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(Gule Wamkulu)

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(My friends at Lake Malawi)

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(Children playing at the Lake)

As such, I’ve been working across four different line ministries (e.g., Health, Education, Gender and Youth) to garner support and buy-in throughout every stage of this process. There’s been a lot of hiccups along the way, especially since the nature of this work becomes more political than technical, but I’m thrilled to report that the Ministry of Youth has now taken the lead on this initiative, the AGYW strategy is close to being finalized, and a strong governance structure has been formed.

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(Celebrating my Dad’s 80th Birthday)

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(Merryland and Koshieland)

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(Darren, Sharon, Sami & Scott)

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(Performing a skit from ‘Uncle Steve’s Magic Barn’)

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(And the audience…)

I also happened to be in Malawi over the 4th of July and had the opportunity and privilege to meet the famous Chief Kachindamoto, known as the ‘marriage terminator’ for breaking up more than 850 child marriages over the course of three years.

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(Friday night celebrations)

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(Maia leading us in song)

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(Deane doing his magic)

In Malawi, child marriage is one of the biggest factors holding girls back (another important aspect to our national AGYW strategy). In fact, more than 50% of girls are married before the age of eighteen. Despite Malawi recently passing a law that makes marriage under the age of 18 illegal, many people in the village violate this law in preference to traditions.

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(Darren and Amy)

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(Markie, Uncle Steve and Deane at Maia’s Bat Mitzvah)

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(Paul, Hannah, Arlene, Marshelle and Darren)

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(Amy, Hannah & Marshelle)

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(Marilyn and Don)

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(Marshelle, Grace and Deane)

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(Scott & Maury)

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(Marcy & Aunt Jody)

Chief Kachindamoto is actively lobbying the government to increase the marriageable age to 21, despite the death threats she receives for trying to overturn tradition. But she hasn’t stopped at just breaking up child marriages. She’s also trying to persuade other chiefs to end sexual initiation rites. Girls as young as 7-years old are sent off to learn how to please their future husbands. Some graduate only by having sex with the teacher. Others return home untouched, only to be preyed on by a local ‘hyena’, men hired by parents to take their girl’s virginity or by prospective husbands to impregnate them.

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(The Fillers)

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(Maia and Jazzy)

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(The ceremony)

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(Sami Amir)

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(Maia)

In a country where one in ten people are infected with HIV, these rites of passage can sentence girls to a lifetime of trauma and to an early death.

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(Sami & Maia)

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(Siblings)

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(Keith, Margo and Maia)

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(Extended Family)

Being in the presence of a living legend was quite humbling to say the least. Her courage, strength and determination were inspirational – proof that one person can make an enormous impact!

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(Family Reunion in Maine)

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(Lobster Bake!!!)

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(The Medweds)

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(Markie and Merryland)

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(Aunt Jody, David and Shelley)

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(Marshelle, Maury, Scott and Deane)

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(Dinner in the barn)

I also try to make positive impacts on people’s lives, but it’s definitely on a smaller scale.
On this last trip, I reconnected with Reuben, the little boy I sponsored over the last ten years from Cape Maclear. I’m so proud of him and what he’s been able to accomplish over the years. He’s gone from a small child roaming the fishing beaches of Lake Malawi (and not speaking a word of English) to a young adult studying Shipping and Logistics at Soche Technical College in Blantyre (and his English vocabulary is impressive). He’s worked so hard to get where he is now; and I wish him continued success as he finishes school and enters the job market. It’s definitely tough finding a decent paying job in Malawi…good luck, Reuben!

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(Maia)

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(Amy & Padre)

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(Tradition)

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(Uncle Steve’s Barn)

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(Hannah and Robie)

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(Ellen and Merryland)

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(Marcy, Aunt Jody, Amy & Darren)

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(The Medweds)

After spending so much time on the road, I couldn’t wait for some quality R&R with Darren! The first stop on our whirlwind journey was Brunswick, Maine for Maia’s Bat Mitzvah. And after living overseas for more than a decade, I cherish every chance I get with family!

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(Popham Beach)
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(Butterfly)

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(Lighthouse)

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(Pier)

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(Amy & Darren)

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Uncle Steve and Arlene hosted one hundred family and friends at their home for a weekend of celebrations. And what a joy it was to reconnect with friends and family for a happy occasion…
My nieces and nephews, Maia, Jazzy, Ben and Sami Amir, are growing up so fast. My biggest regret of my current lifestyle is that I don’t live closer to family, and that I’ve missed soccer matches, piano recitals, birthday celebrations, school plays and other day to day routines over the years that we often take for granted. But we did our best to make up for lost time.

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(Family hike at Morse Mountain)

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(Lookout point)

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(Beach time)

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Over the course of a few days, we celebrated my dad’s 80th birthday; the kids performed a skit from my mom’s delightful masterpiece, ‘Uncle Stevie’s Magic Barn’; and Maia became an adult 🙂

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(The Twins)

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(The Pier)

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(Shelley and David)

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(Jazzy and Maia taking in the sunset)

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(Merryland and the Mermaid)

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(Sami’s Family)

In all honesty, I couldn’t get over how adult-like Maia has become. Despite her teenage youth, she is wise and mature beyond her years. Her confidence, her poise and her ability to handle complex situations in stride filled me with such awe. I was an insecure mess at thirteen…and was more concerned with finding that perfect acne remedy than focusing on world politics!

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(Exploring the High-Line in NYC)

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(David, Siham and Jazzy along the high-line)

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(View from the high line)

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In July, we started our US journey in Brunswick, Maine at the home of my Aunt and Uncle, who happen to live down the street from L.L. Bean. Within hours of being back in the states, we were eating lobster and shopping at the outlet stores in Freeport! Not a bad beginning to this journey!

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(Group shot at the Met)

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(Times Square)

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(Amy and Maia on Broadway!)

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(Siham in Central Park)

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(Group shot in Central Park)

But the absolute highlight was just hanging out with family! After living overseas for more than a decade, I cherish every waking moment with my family, and this gathering was truly the ‘motherlode’ of reunions, with my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and other distant relatives where one needs to break out the family tree to understand the connections! And what makes our reunions even more special is that we all genuinely love one another and enjoy spending time together!

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(My nieces and nephews)

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(The MET)

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(Sami and Hannah)

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(Rei Kawakubo)

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(Subway Station)

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(Dinner with Robbe and Fred)

Our first night was spent celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday, followed by a fully-packed weekend of Bat Mitzvah activities. Friday night was an informal Shabbat dinner at Uncle Steve and Arlene’s house. Their home is truly remarkable, with fine art, antiques and interesting artifacts everywhere you look.

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(Brooklyn Bridge)

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(Brooklyn Bridge – David’s Photo)

Saturday morning was the main event, which took place at a small temple in Bath, Maine. I’m so proud of Maia for having her Bat Mitzvah…our immediate family is not religious in the least, but Maia wanted to stay true to the Jewish tradition. And since she and her family live in Geneva, it was also an opportunity to bring the family together for a happy occasion.

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(Intrepid)

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(9/11 Memorial)

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(In memory of Berry Berenson)

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(Buildings of NY)

for Maia Little Italy
(Little Italy)

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(Times Square)

That night, Uncle Steve and Arlene hosted a lobster bake in their barn, which was transformed into a makeshift diner for 100 guests complete with a dancefloor! We feasted on lobsters, clams, beef, chicken, corn-on-the-cob and endless sides while a family slideshow projected onto an improvised screen.

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(Christopher Bailey!!!)

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(View of NYC from Brooklyn)

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(Coney Island)

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(Coney Island)

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(Crazy beaches)

We danced the night away (although my knee is STILL injured…going on one year and counting…perhaps I need to make an appointment for a MRI as it’s just not healing).

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(Graffiti Walls)

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(Coney Island)

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(Cyclone)

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(Thunderbolt)

The next morning, we continued the theme of feasting and loaded up on fresh bagels, cream cheese and lox before heading to Sebasco Harbor Resort where we could just relax and chill with the family. Sami and Scott got married at Sebasco twenty years ago, so it was nostalgic to return to such a lovely venue!

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(Amy and Darrel Studna – my old neighbor)

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(30th High School Reunion Weekend – Friday night happy hour)

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(Jennifer, Christy and Julie)

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(Chris, Sherry and Kristen)

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(Still looking good 30 years later…)

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(Darren was a huge hit…)

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(Some of my oldest and dearest friends, Tavish and Camille)

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(Craig!!!)

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(Kristi and Darren)

Our days were spent lazing by the pool, exploring the surrounding environs, and eating lobster every chance we could get.

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(The main event – 30th High School Reunion)

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(Derek, Robin and Alex)

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(Debbie, Paul and Darren)

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(Deborah, Tavish and Robin)

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We also entertained ourselves with day trips to Morse Mountain, a 3.5 mile trail that led to a secluded beach; and to Popham Beach State Park, which borders the south side of the mouth of the Kennebec River. Maine’s beauty never ceases to amaze me.

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(Amy & Sydney)

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(Trevor and Tavish)

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We couldn’t remain in the New England area without returning to the Big Apple. So just the three siblings, David, Sami and I, along with our families, headed to New York for the big city life! We must’ve walked ten miles a day, checking out the high-line, central park, Times Square, Brooklyn, and endless neighborhoods in between.

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(Smithsonian)

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(Friends in DC)

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(Peace Corps Jamaica Reunion)

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(Our old neighbors from Pretoria)

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(Capitol)

Darren and I even took a trip to Coney Island…which I absolutely loved for all its cheesy glory! What a great place to people watch. And Darren loved the roller coasters, especially Thunderbolt and the famous Cyclone Roller Coaster.

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(Tina met me in Maine)

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(Love the old candy stores)

I loved walking up and down the boardwalk and checking out the art fair! I was truly pleasantly surprised by how much fund we had on our Coney Island outing.

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(Amy and Darren @ Lighthouse)

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(Amy & Tina)

We were also able to break up our holiday with official work in DC. I enrolled in Global Leadership training, which was phenomenal. The course combined emotional intelligence with leadership skills. What really resonated about the course was its applicability to every-day aspects of your life. The class even included one-on-one coaching sessions…ultimately, to be good at your job you need to start by being aware of your own emotions, and recognizing trigger points that may set off behaviors that aren’t helpful in the workplace. It’s definitely a skill to keep your emotions in check, especially when dealing with passionate subjects where budgets and big personalities come to play.

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(Tina)

And while I was busy delving deep into my own feelings and thought processes, Darren was busy becoming a US citizen! I’m so proud of my husband, who studied so hard for the exam (over studied as a matter of fact)…and jumped through endless hoops to get his citizenship.

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(Joshua playing with the dogs in Pretoria)

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(Joshua at a Transformers Exhibition)

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(Family Portrait)

Granted, we didn’t know that we also had to apply for his social security card while we were in the states, and one can only apply in person! So he may be making a special solo appearance in the states before too long in order to complete this last step to make him completely legit.

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(Amy and Darren)

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(A day in the life)

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(Celebrating Darren’s Birthday)

Our final stop on our US tour was Kansas City where we attended my 30th high school reunion…talk about surreal…in my mind, I was envisioning the 18-year old versions of the people in front of me, yet their almost 50-year old bodies did not compute. How has three decades gone by so quickly?!?

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(Alonzo and Kathia)

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(Kerry, Amanda and Anita – friends from USAID)

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(Amy & Virginia)

Truth be told, with Facebook and other social media, I had virtually seen almost everyone that was in attendance, but what struck me the most was how much I truly loved being with everyone again.
After undergraduate school (I attended the University of Kansas with many colleagues from high school), I struck out on a different path that led me to a life overseas, starting with my backpacking adventures around the world, to my Peace Corps days in Jamaica, to earning my graduate degrees in International Community Development and Knowledge Management, to my career in global health. Yet, despite the diversity of my experiences, my humble roots and upbringing in Kansas City, with its down-to-earth charm and friendly nature, provided the foundation of who I am today.

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(Back in Malawi’s Market in Lilongwe)

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(A far cry from the shopping in the states)

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(Onions for sale)

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(Friends in the village)

I loved our time in the states, catching up with friends and family. Darren and I are already discussing our move back to the states (after this current contract). Although we prefer to wait and see what happens in the political realm before we make any decisions. And now that Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching, I am reminded how much we have to be thankful for…friends, family, health, happiness, employment and our dogs!

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sending much love to all,
Amy