A resident tourist – 2Summers (Heather Mason)

Not many people get Joburg, but 2Summers does. I was first drawn to the photos on her blog, which capture the beauty of the city. It takes a certain kind of eye to see the sublime; even more so in a place like this. Joburg isn’t Cape Town: the beauty here lies in the mundane, not in the mountain.

2Summers isn’t afraid to experience Jozi – and that’s what I admire about her. Despite Joburg being my place of birth, I was scared of this city for a long time. Travel, however, taught me openness and gave me a sense of adventure, a willingness to explore. After a four-year absence, I’m finally – and wholeheartedly – embracing Johannesburg. Like 2Summers, I try to approach this city – and my life – with the eyes of a tourist, with an eagerness to both discover, and rediscover.

Wilde implores us to “choose!” when we find ourselves torn between “living one’s own life fully, entirely, and completely – or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands”.

2Summers made the choice for the former – although she easily could’ve chosen the latter.

Back in Washington DC, she didn’t know who she was. According to her, she was a completely different person: she was married and living the suburban two-car garage dream.

At the time, she was working for an NGO that does pediatric HIV/AIDS work in Africa. A fundraiser in Tanzania brought her to this continent for the first time. And that’s where she met Jon.

“That changed everything.”

Africa blew her mind, and Jon – who was a passionate photojournalist – had the same effect.

She returned to her stable, “really normal and nice” husband, but, for the first time, she realised she was unhappy. “In my mind, I started living another life,” she says.

Her job took her to Swaziland. She admitted to herself that she couldn’t get rid of the feelings she had for Jon, or Africa.

She says, looking back, that although his passion and creativity drew her in, she was also attracted to his unpredictability, his instability. They had an intense connection, and she was completely lost in him.

“I was always looking for affirmation from men; always an over-achiever, not looking at what I wanted out of life at all. Even though I told myself I was coming to Africa for me – it was really for him.”

Jon would call her in America, fuck-drunk in the morning – South African time. For another year-and-a-half, he would beg her, over distant telephone wires, to come back, while her husband had no idea.

She decided to return to Africa, and face her feelings. Jon had stopped drinking by then, and she saw a “legitimate chance” that they could be together. Back in the States, she sat her husband down, and told him she was leaving.

“I felt I had no choice. Looking back I don’t know what I could’ve done differently. I quit my job, sold all my possessions, and got divorced. I moved to South Africa, and started a blog.”

Prior to the move in 2010, she had already started writing, as she thought that it was “a pretty remarkable thing” she was doing. She didn’t have a specific plan, just a vague notion of writing a book. She also read about Joburg on ex-pat websites, but most were horror stories: “People said I was crazy, that I was going to die – but I thought, it can’t be as bad as people say?”

Her blog’s success was “totally by accident”.  She wrote a post about urban regeneration in Arts on Main, which went viral. She began to get more local traffic, and her blog started to spread around the city.

However, things “went to shit”. By May 2011, Jon was back in rehab. The blog kept growing in popularity, but she kept her posts “happy-go-lucky”: she didn’t want to bore people with her personal life. Gradually, she started to share small pieces of herself – and she found that, paradoxically, her blog gained even more interest.  In October of that year, Jon relapsed again.

She left the house.

She vaguely alluded to this implosion in posts.

Then Jon died.

In a post entitled, ‘Last Goodbye’, she wrote that “Jon was Africa to me, and Africa was Jon”.  It wasn’t until a while after he died that she started to understand that she had to “dig deeper”. She saw a therapist and attended Al-Anon meetings. She realised that she had a “love addiction”, and, ironically, ended up attending the same rehab programme Jon had been to. She realised that she’s capable of being her own person. To paraphrase Wilde: she chose to live her life, “fully, entirely, and completely”.

The blog helped her on that journey: for the first time, people started to call her a photographer, an artist in her own right. She never saw herself as a photographer, but Jon eventually convinced her to buy a DSLR. What attracted her most to Jon, she now realises, was that he saw something in her that she was totally unaware of, or, as she puts it, “He saw a passionate, creative person that I never knew I was.”

She tells me that she feels fortunate; she can’t make any sense of what she’s been through or the choices she’s made, as it’s “so remarkable”. One thing she does know is that she had to meet Jon and come here. She has no regrets, and a few months ago, she decided that she wants to “make a living out of living here”. She’s made a firm decision to stay in – and explore – this city.

We talk about what makes Joburg so special, and decide that the clichés do apply – there really is no city quite like it.

“It’s not an easy place. That’s what I was craving in my old life, which was predictable and not challenging. Here, you really have to work hard to discover how amazing it is – but it’s so worth it.”

Visit 2Summers’ blog here; featured image Julia Giddy

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20 comments Add yours
  1. Thanks so much for your insights, Sine.

    I think it’s a bit of both (blogging and Jozi) that facilitates self-finding – at least, that’s what I’m starting to realise. Or maybe it’s just a case of having an open mind (I suppose you can ‘find yourself’ wherever you are in the world; it just depends on how open you are to it – because true self-reflection is always a little scary).

    And writing is glamourous … I think 😉

  2. Oh gosh – you can probably learn more about me through my blog than I can put into words about myself. Maybe it’s blogging, and not Jozi itself, that helps you find yourself. But what I have definitely learned, over the course of three years in Africa (we returned to the US this year) is this: It can almost always wait another day (my personal interpretation of “just now”, which drove me crazy for about 3 months until I came to love it), relax, smile, laugh (especially when things go wrong), and call yourself a writer instead of a housewife (they made us write down our profession in the daily log when we were climbing Kili, and within the space of a week I realized that I should see myself in a slightly more glamorous light; if writing can be called glamorous).

  3. Thanks Sine – I had only met 2Summers once, prior to interviewing her (I had followed her blog too, but I didn’t know about Jon, etc.). I had no idea that she had such an inspiring story – people are full of surprises! Could you share how you’ve found yourself more in Jhb? Would love to hear about it …

  4. Thanks Mzansigirl! Great to know that Heather inspired you to get writing. There are so few blogs about the positive aspects of Jozi, so I have big respect for the bloggers who focus on that (you being one of them).

  5. Thanks for loving the post, Darren. By the way, Chinatown (in Cyrildene) is one of my favourite places in Jozi – one of my upcoming posts will be about the people who live there

  6. I enjoyed reading this. Well written, and bits and pieces to the “2Summers story” I didn’t know:-). Thanks for sharing, to both of you. I also feel that I’ve found myself a bit more while living in Joburg – funny how that city does that to you.

  7. Whoa. This was insightful. You think you “know” people, what they’ve been through, who they are. Love you Hettie! Cannot wait for the book.

  8. Lovely post Ang. Heather’s story is inspirational. Reading her blog and her stories has inspired me to blog. I appreciate her honesty and that her love for Jozi shines through her writing.

  9. Loved this post! And agree, Heather … much of what you’ve shared over the years is brought into sharp focus in this post. You may not recall, but the first time I met you, and Jon … was at a photowalk we all did in Jozi’s downtown Chinatown. Lunch downstairs. Tourists in our own city.

  10. I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to do so. Really appreciate your honesty – and yes, you definitely have a book in you, you have an amazing story.

  11. Reading this was so surreal. It’s interesting how I was so much more honest with you than I have ever been so far in my own blog. This makes me realize that I really need to start digging into these issues myself, on the blog and (eventually) in the book. So, thanks. I guess I better get to work…

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