Tomorrow it will be two years since I moved to Joburg.

It’s 7:41 on a Sunday morning. Even though it is technically still winter, I’m sitting on the deck in my pajamas, feeling not at all cold, sipping coffee in the sun and watching a pair of black collared barbets nibble the blooms on a cabbage tree. The Melville Cat is prowling the garden.

Barbets in the cabbage tree.

I’m really happy.

I’ve been trying to write this post since yesterday. There are so many things that I want to say but it all keeps coming out wrong. I reread the post that I wrote on the one-year anniversary of my move, 365 Days in Jozi, hoping for inspiration. That post seems so melodramatic to me now. I had no clue about anything back then.

I’ve concluded that summing up the last two years of my life in a coherent way — at least within the confines of a blog post — is impossible. And anyway, if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time here, it’s that life is best lived in the present. So instead of digging into the past or trying to speculate on the future, I’ll explain why I’m happy right now.

I’m happy to be in this lovely house in Melville, the coolest neighborhood I’ve ever lived in, with a view of the Melville Koppies in my backyard. I’m happy to be living with Lucky, who feels almost like a brother to me, and Horst, an amazing landlord and friend. I’m happy that I wake up in the morning to the sound of doves singing on my roof. That sound means Africa for me.

I’m happy to have so many wonderful friends. Before moving to Joburg, I struggled to develop close friendships. But making friends here is easy. Friends come and go, and sometimes friendships change or fade away. But there are always new friendships around the corner. I feel really fortunate to have made lots of expat friends here, but also lots of South African friends. These friendships make me a better person.

Living overseas has made me appreciate my friends and family back home in a new way. Even though I don’t talk to them often, being far away from my family and best friends makes me feel closer to them than I did before. In a way, I feel more emotionally connected to my mother, father, and sister now than I did when I lived in the States. I’m grateful for that.

My sister posted this old photo of us on Facebook today. Her caption reads:  “Even at a very young age she was on safari…riding lions. And apparently I didn’t really want her to go…” (Photo: Tenney Mason)

I’m happy to be part of the Hillbrow Boxing Club — a place that couldn’t exist anywhere but in Joburg. Even on days like yesterday, when I left the boxing club with a fat lip and blood streaming out of my nose, I feel grateful to have discovered that place. George Khosi and his crew have shown me a side of Joburg that few outsiders get to see, and they accept me as one of them.

Padwork with George at the Hillbrow Boxing Club. (Photo: Denis Smit)

I’m happy to have found photography here. This never would have happened if I hadn’t come to Joburg. It’s kind of shocking that I lived the first 35 years of my life without realizing that there was a photographer inside of me. When I moved here, that photographer came out of hiding.

Green aloe flowers in Indaka Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been traveling around the country on a photography assignment. Two years ago, I never would have believed you if you told me I’d be doing that.

I’m happy to be discovering who I really am. Over the last two years, I’ve experienced some truly horrendous things. I lost someone who I really loved. It was horrible to watch him die, and that experience changed me forever.

But thanks to a few caring people and a lot of luck, I found help. I joined some amazing support groups. Those groups helped save my life, and now they are helping me to figure out a lot of things about myself.

It’s sad that I had to lose Jon to discover who I am. But I’m glad it’s happening, anyway.

I’m happy that the Melville Cat chose me for a friend. He is a truly great cat. And he helped save my life too.

The Melville Cat in one of his favorite spots, under my chair on the deck.

These are just a few of the things that are making me happy at the moment. There are many others. Of course my life is far from perfect and I still have a lot to figure out. But in a strange, unfathomable kind of way, I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

Early this year at a Chinese New Year celebration, I wrote a wish onto a ribbon and hung it on a plastic wishing tree. My wish was: “Before the end of 2012, I wish to feel truly happy again.”

I really didn’t believe that wish would come true. In fact, deep down I didn’t want it to. I didn’t want to be happy, because I thought that being happy would mean letting go of Jon.  When you’re living inside a cloud of grief, even the barest hint of happiness feels like a betrayal.

But over the last couple of months, I’ve realized something incredible. Two years ago, Jon gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received: He brought me to Joburg. Jon is gone now, at least from this life, but I’m still here. I’ve lost Jon, but I’ve gained so many other things.

Jon left me with a box full of Jozi miracles. I owe it to him to take those miracles and use them to make myself happy. Hopefully I’ll contribute to the world while I’m at it.

Jozi and me. I think we go together rather well. (Photo: Ruth Hopkins)

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