Remembering Things in the Land That Grows Rocks

Amidst all the excitement of the #MeetSouthAfrica trip, I nearly forgot that I was going to Lesotho.

One of my newest Instagram connections, @nuttywheat, recently referred to Lesotho as “the land that grows rocks”. It’s a perfect description so I’ve decided to adopt it.

Anyway, I got home from the #MeetSouthAfrica trip and ran around the house for 36 hours — unpacking, doing laundry, repacking, blogging, and trying (unsuccessfully) to rid myself of a persistent head cold. Then I jumped into my car and drove to Maseru, capital of the Land That Grows Rocks.

I didn’t think much about where I was going or the assignment that I would be working on in Lesotho. I was on autopilot. I didn’t think about the things I’ve forgotten or what I might remember.

I arrived in Maseru and walked into the offices of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The first thing I saw was a large framed photo of a mother and her baby in a health clinic. The photo was shot by Jon, during an assignment that he and I worked on together in Lesotho in September 2010.

The photo startled me. I should have known it would be there but I’d forgotten.

I wandered through the office and found Jon’s photos in every room. One shot in particular, hanging in a cramped office at the end of a dark hallway, stopped me in my tracks.

Jon's pic

Sorry for the reflected fluorescent light. 

Here’s a better look.

Basotho ponies support remote health clinics in Lesotho

Children skipping rope in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. By Jon Hrusa.

When I saw this photo, a tidal wave of images and words and sounds poured into my mind. Leaning against a Landrover, notebook in hand, watching Jon squatting in the dust a few feet away. Camera shutter clicking, children laughing, afternoon light shining, just so. Waiting, waiting, waiting, for the split second when the rope formed a perfect half circle and the child’s feet lifted off the ground.

A moment later, the rope breaking apart and the children melting away into cement-block houses. Jon standing slowly, looking up from his camera screen, seeing me and smiling.

I cried that day, watching Jon squat in the dust with those kids. I cried last week, in that dark cramped office. I’m crying now as I type.

I remembered a lot of things while sitting in that office in the Land That Grows Rocks. In many ways I’ve spent the last two-plus years trying to forget stuff — forget about Jon, forget about our tumultuous relationship, forget about the pain of his addiction and his death. Out of pure self-preservation, I’ve made myself forget how it felt to be with Jon — how it felt to watch him squatting in the dust. In an effort to block out the horrors, I’ve forgotten so much of the beauty.

Fortunately, when the time is right, things happen to make me remember.

The next day I shot a photo that I’m really proud of. When I look at this photo, in addition to seeing a beautiful baby and his mother, I see Jon.

Boitumelo

Boitumelo and his mother, Retsepile. Shot on behalf of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

I’m not just the writer now. I’m the photographer too. I have Jon to thank for that. I need to keep remembering. Thanks to the Land That Grows Rocks for the reminder.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Timmee May 20, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Beautiful piece. I’m sure Jon would be proud of the pictures you make.

    • Reply 2summers May 20, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Thanks Timmee. I think he is.

  • Reply Jonnie Marks May 20, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Heather, I am so sory for the horrors and so happy for the beauty. Loving someone with demons is a hard way to live, but the hope sustains you — until there’s none. At least that’s how it was for me before my husband killed himself. Thankfully, beauty is there for both of us when we can take it in. Take care.

    • Reply 2summers May 20, 2014 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks so much, Jonnie. Sounds like you understand perfectly 🙂

  • Reply chris May 20, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    What a touching piece. It must have been hard to write and I thank you for opening your heart and sharing it with us.

    • Reply 2summers May 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      Thanks Chris. Yes, it was hard to write but I’ve gotten used to it. Writing stuff like this actually helps me.

  • Reply Roger Machin May 20, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Oh gosh – his legacy is that you see the world through his eyes now and that’s just amazing right there

    • Reply 2summers May 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks Roger. Of course you of all people can see that 🙂

  • Reply Sine May 21, 2014 at 12:40 am

    This made me tear up too, Heather. Beautifully written, beautiful pictures (both yours and Jon’s), and thank you so much for sharing this particular moment. It brings back into focus why we do what we do.

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