Five years ago today, I came to Africa for the first time.

Over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about this impending anniversary, pondering what to say about it on my blog. I have many thoughts on the subject, but one thought keeps recurring: I can’t believe this all started just five years ago. That day — March 6, 2007 — feels like five lifetimes ago.

I considered trying to recount what happened that day, and summarizing how it brought me to where I am now. But that would be the longest blog post ever written. Instead, I’m going to talk about Jon.

Jon at the Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, 2008. The photo was taken by Katrine, a good friend of Jon’s who I hope to meet in person someday. I’m grateful to her for this photo. It says so much about Jon. 

March 6, 2007, was not only my first day in Africa; it was also the day I met Jon. Jon was the first person I met when I arrived in Africa, unless you count the Tanzanian immigration officer who stamped my passport.

I’ve said this before, but today I want to say it again. I feel unbelievably fortunate that I came to Africa and found Jon. The last five years have been the most difficult, painful five years of my life. They’ve also been the most exhilarating, beautiful five years of my life. I’ve learned more about the world, and myself, in the last five years than in the previous 32. I owe much of that learning to Jon.

The first-ever photo of Jon and me — a self-portrait taken in Tanzania in March 2007. Please excuse my disheveled appearance. I’d spent the day running around the hot, dusty Tanzanian countryside, and my face was covered in a weird rash. (Jon said they were bed bug bites but I will never believe that.) 

Sometimes I think back on the many events that led me to that moment five years ago. I think of all the forks in the road — the choices I made, the people I met — things that could easily have gone differently and led me down a different path. But for whatever reason, life brought me to Kilimanjaro Airport on March 6, 2007.

If I could travel back in time to that day, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

I’m sorry Jon isn’t here to celebrate with me. I miss him so much. Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and think, “Jon’s dead? What the fu@&?” I really wish he didn’t have to die. But I’m grateful he stayed around long enough to bring me here.

In honor of Jon, here’s a photo of his favorite subject: clouds. I took it from our deck at sunrise yesterday.

Happy anniversary, Jon.

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