I sat in the Jozi Fashion District yesterday, watching a group of kids perform a traditional Tswana song and dance to celebrate Africa Day.

dancers

I took dozens of pictures of the dancers with my big camera. But the best shot of all was taken with my iPhone. (I’ll write more about my adventures yesterday in a future post.)

As I watched the dancers I started to cry. Not just a tear or two. Serious crying with tears rolling down my cheeks. It’s been a while since that happened.

I want to try to explain — to the people reading this and to myself — why I was crying.

My life has been so busy lately. I run from one meeting/tour/boxing-workout/rooftop-walk/book-researching-mission to the next, having an unbelievable amount of fun and marveling at the extraordinary nature of my life. Wondering how any of it could be real — how I could have accidentally stumbled into a life so well-suited for myself. Also feeling vaguely anxious about all the tasks I should be accomplishing that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Five years ago I was living in a townhouse in suburban Virginia, married to a nice guy, commuting to a 9-5 job in a cubicle in Washington D.C., and trying really hard to convince myself that I was happy. On the outside I looked and acted “normal” — like I had it all. On the inside I was struggling against a nagging fear that I had it all wrong.

Now I’m here.

Sunset from Lister

I don’t really know how to explain where I am or how I feel. So I’ll just show you this picture. (I shot this at the top of the Lister Building, in the centre of Jozi. Learn more about the Lister Building here.)

People often ask me why I came to Jozi and what I’m doing here. I have a difficult time answering. But lately, I’ve managed to boil my response down to three simple sentences, which I elaborate upon in various ways depending on who asked the question. The sentences are:

1) I came to be with my South African boyfriend.

2) He died.

3) I stayed.

Last weekend, when I spent two days in the city with a bunch of journalists, I gave my three-sentence spiel over and over again. I began to think about it and realized that each of the three sentences represents a specific phase of my life over the last few years:

1) I came to be with my South African boyfriend.

I moved here in August 2010, because of Jon. I left my husband, sold my house, quit my job, and ran away across the world to be with a man who I passionately loved. It was romantic and cruel and brave and crazy. Looking back, I can hardly believe I did it. I have no regrets but I’m also not proud of what I did. I hurt a lot of people, including myself, in all that chaos. I’m still trying to forgive myself for it.

I arrived in South Africa and everything was wonderful. I was in love and I thought that was all that mattered. Jon was the center of my universe and I was the center of his. I started discovering — by accident — that the country and city I had moved to were really awesome. I started discovering that I was good at blogging and photography. But those discoveries were on the periphery of my consciousness. The biggest sections of my brain, of my heart, of my entire being, were reserved for Jon.

2) He died.

This phase began long before Jon’s actual death. In fact it began long before I came here, long before Jon and I ever even met. But from my perspective it started a few months after I moved, when I began to realize that as much as Jon loved me, he loved alcohol more. Painful, but true. This is the nature of addiction.

There was a long period of insanity, when I tried desperately to turn the tide of Jon’s illness. No matter what I did, it got worse. Then I realized Jon’s addiction wasn’t about me and I couldn’t do anything about it. So I let go, to the best of my ability, and hoped Jon would get better on his own. He died in December 2011.

Then there were months of agony, grief, denial, blaming, self-hatred, and — above all — fear. The slow realization that I was alone, without a man, for the first time in my adult life. Not knowing what to do with myself when I didn’t have a relationship to lose myself in. Trying, way too soon, to get into another relationship, because that was the only way I knew to keep the fears at bay. Realizing that even though Jon’s addiction was gone from my life, I had my own demons to deal with. Then finally getting myself some help.

Amidst all of this, I kept exploring Joburg and enmeshing myself more deeply into the fabric of the city. I kept blogging and taking photos. I never considered leaving, but I also didn’t make a firm decision to stay.

3) I stayed.

It’s been a year and a half since Jon died and close to three years since I moved to Joburg. Up until recently I was feeling pretty lost. To be honest, I still feel lost a lot of the time.

But a few months ago, I woke up one morning and realized what I want to do with my life. I want to live in Joburg and tell the world about it. I want to make a living out of living here. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Looking back on everything that’s happened, it seems obvious. Everyone who reads my blog probably knew what I wanted before I did. But here’s the thing: For my whole life, I couldn’t see what I wanted or needed because I was so focused on the wants and needs of others. Now that I’ve been forced to look inside myself, I’ve seen it.

I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone but me. But at least I understand now why I was crying yesterday. I was crying because I love this city, this country, this continent. And I love my life because it’s mine.

Boy dancing

Happy Africa Day.

I don’t know how many more posts I’ll write about Jon after this. I still think of him and miss him every day. Jon is why I came here. But this blog, and my life, are about me now. And that’s why I’m staying.

Night sky Lister

Thanks Jon. And thanks Jozi.

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