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New Beginnings…

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(Amy and Darren at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana)

Wow, where to begin…so much has happened since I’ve last updated my blog. As such, I’ll try to provide a brief overview of the last four months.

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(The ladies)

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(Boulders Beach)

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(Swimming with penguins)

For Christmas, I flew back to Cape Town (my favorite city in this whole wide world) for a quick holiday with the ladies. We did the usual…wine tours, fine dining, spa days and the like. But the highlight was swimming at Boulders Beach with the Jackass Penguins.

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(Look how close they are!)

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(Fabulous birds)

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(So close…)

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(beautiful)

Boulders Beach is simply stunning, comprised of small inlets nestled in between enormous granite boulders, hence the name. But the real beauty of the area is the proximity in which you can observe the African Penguin colony, wandering freely and swimming alongside of you in the water. In the past, I’ve only gone to Foxy Beach where you can stroll along the wooden boardwalk to view these lovely creatures – but physically swimming with large colonies of fast swimming, deep-diving and braying penguins is a whole new delight. I highly recommend it…

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(Boulders Beach)

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(Kirstenbosch Garden’s Summer Concert Series)

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(Picking strawberries in Stellenbosch)

And no trip to Cape Town would be complete without the obligatory trip to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for their summer concert series. On this particular evening, we were graced with the lovely and talented Oliver Mtukudzi, the “Grand Master of Zimbabwean Traditional Pop”. For those of you not familiar with his music, please do yourself a favor and look him up! He has become the most recognized voice to emerge from Zimbabwe onto the international musical scene and has a loyal following across the African continent.

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(Celebrating my 45th birthday!)

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(And celebrating the Chinese New Year)

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(Fireworks)

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(Dragons)

Sadly, on New Year’s Eve, Russell and I decided to call it quits after eighteen months of dating. Breaking up is always difficult and painful, yet it also paves the way to make real changes in your life. As such, I embraced the New Year with gusto…and focused on all of the positive aspects of my life while nurturing areas that had been neglected. I hired a personal trainer, spent quality time with friends, and traveled as much as possible. In fact, several of us went to the Drakensberg Mountains for a weekend of fresh air, hiking, and gorgeous scenery.

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(On our way to the Drakensberg Mountains)

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(Stunning scenery along the way)

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(Hiking…my absolute favorite)

The Drakensberg Mountains span 200-kilometers and is considered a world heritage site. I couldn’t get over their awe-inspiring basalt cliffs overlooking rolling hills, lush yellowwood forests and cascading waterfalls. The park itself has been well preserved, and it’s still possible to see the ancient paintings depicting the San people, or bushmen’s, daily life in caves and on rock shelters. Truly fascinating.

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(Truly at peace…)

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(Hiking with Jenissa)

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(And with Sinu)

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(So much fun…)

We spent the weekend in a luxurious and tranquil mountain lodge, Montusi Mountain Lodge to be exact. Being in nature, hiking every day, and just sitting in such peaceful surroundings rejuvenated my soul and made me insanely happy! And it also reminded me how important it is for me to get outdoors and to be physically active…with my suburban lifestyle and long work hours it’s very easy to lose sight of these things.

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(Saying good-bye to one of my dearest friends, Smita)

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(Bye Smita!!!)

Following my lovely weekend in paradise, I was nominated by representatives at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) to attend the Consolidated HIV Strategic Information Guide for the Health Sector at WHO Headquarters in Geneva. What an honor! In fact, I was one of only two USAID representatives from the field! I was beyond delighted, plus it allowed me to spend time with my family, Sami, Scott, Maia and Ben.

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(Happy Birthday, Sami! Snow shoeing in the Jura Mountains)

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(Winter wonderland)

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(Sisters)

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And as an added bonus, I just happened to be in Geneva in time for Sami’s birthday. We went snow shoeing at Col de la Faucille in the Jura Mountains of France, followed by a weekend of skiing in Courmayeur, Italy! I must say, I’m completely envious of Sami and Scott’s lifestyle…Geneva may be outrageously expensive, but the quality of life seems unparalleled. The accessibility to endless ski resorts, quaint little towns, and ease of travel throughout Europe amazes me. Perhaps one day I will explore job opportunities in Switzerland. But for now, I’m perfectly content in South Africa.

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(Cold, blustery day on the mountain)

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(Skiing with Sami and Maia)

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(Sami, Scott, Maia and Ben)

In fact, I’ve recently met a wonderful South African man, Darren that I absolutely adore. I can honestly say that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!

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(The entire crew in Courmayeur, Italy)

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(Gorgeous…)

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(stopping for lunch)

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(Nothing like fresh Italian pasta and wine on the slopes!)

I had a two-week training in Ghana, and Darren made the effort to fly there just to meet me for the weekend. And that is no easy feat. He had to obtain an expedited Visa, get his yellow fever vaccination, and purchase a plane ticket in a few days’ time. Super stressful to say the least, as working with the Ghanaian consulate was quite the ordeal. At one stage, we weren’t sure if it was going to happen, but alas the odds were in our favor.

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(Cape Coast Castle)

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(Stunningly beautiful place with a horrific past)

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(Cape Coast in Ghana)

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(Cape Coast Castle)

So I picked him up at the airport in Accra and we set out to explore the Cape Coast of Ghana. Our first stop, Cape Coast castle, one of the biggest forts and slave trade castles on the coastline of Ghana. Its history is haunting…slaves were kept at Cape Coast Castle in dungeons while awaiting transport to the new world (Americas).

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(Beach in Cape Coast)

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(fishing beach)

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(Darren enjoying the water)

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(Pigs on the beach)

While standing in these very same dungeons, I couldn’t even fathom the horror, the heat, the filth, the smells, and the lack of humanity of over a thousand men cramped in this small, dark, and stifling hot room with little to no fresh air with only one tiny window for 6 – 12 weeks – only to be put on a slave ship to reach some unknown destination! The emotional anguish and physical torture is beyond apprehension. I had a difficult time with my emotions while touring the Cape Coast Castle. Aesthetically, it’s simply stunning. How can something so beautiful have such a tortured past?

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(Chilling out on the beach)

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(beautiful faces)

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(hanging in the shade)

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(Drying fish)

My heart just sank thinking about the torturous conditions that these men and women were subjected to…and I became disgusted with man’s ability to inflict such harm, pain, and suffering. The more I thought about it, the more sickened and outraged I became. And to think that modern day slavery still exists…when will we ever learn?!?

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(Elmina Bay)

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(Fishing nets)

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(Fishing boats)

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(Fishing town)

Cape Coast itself is a thriving fishing town. We strolled up and down the beach taking in the scenes, the sunshine and the overall ambiance of the coastline. We also ventured to Elmina Castle approximately 45 kilometers away, but didn’t have the heart to do another slave trade tour. But we did hunker down in Elmina Bay at a lovely little resort. Ghana’s coastline is absolutely gorgeous!

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(Elmina Bay Resort)

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(Relaxing by the pool…)

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(Sunset stroll on the beach)

The following day, we went to Kakum National Park, located in the coastal environs of the Central Region of Ghana, comprised primarily of undisturbed virgin rainforest. The highlight was the canopy walk, a series of canopy walkways suspended 40meters high between trees. The views were stunning, although it would’ve been more impressive with an abundance of wildlife. One of the drawbacks of arriving at the park mid-day. But I suspect if you go early in the morning there would be more birds and sounds of nature all around…

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(Lizards running around)

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(Canopy walk in Kakum National Park)

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(Lush vegetation and dense forests)

By and large, we loved our time in Ghana. Plus, I was able to meet up with my relatives, Danny Morse and Annie Dix! How random to have relatives living in Accra. I loved going to their home, walking their dog, eating dinner at their local restaurants, and experiencing some of their day-to-day life in Ghana.

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(My dear friend from high school, Shawn Donnelly, came for a visit…so nice to catch up with long lost friends)

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(At the comedy club in Sandton)

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(playing with baby lions)

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(With Darren’s son, Joshua)

And I was also able to catch up with my dear friend, Brian, who worked with me in Vietnam but is now stationed in the Accra mission. It’s always nice to have friends in various posts…
I’m now back in Pretoria, patiently awaiting the arrival of Sami and her family as well as my dad! I’m taking two weeks off and will show them some of my favorite highlights in South Africa.

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Looking forward to spending quality time with family.

Much love,
Amy