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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