Dear Janine,

It has been exactly 6 months since you left this earthly realm. And what a journey you have sent me on. I am writing you from a little Nepali village on a green hilltop. The pine trees stretch up majestically and the birds and the insects are singing away. A cool breeze tenderly blows on my face, fresh after last night’s storm. This morning, I walked up to the viewpoint, feeling for your spirit on this anniversary of your death. The trees wear a wet dark brown and green, a sweet smell rises up from the recently rained on soil and pine leaves, and the canopy whispers a morning prayer. You would have loved this hike, and I imagine you walking with me soaking it all in. I sense traces of you in the fluttering leaves, the lake’s ripples, the shining tree tops, the mysterious forest shadows.

Tansen hill station
Tansen hill station

You see, Janine, this whole trip is because of you. Not long after your “death,” I received news that I had been accepted to a meditation fellowship in Thailand. I’d been planning to start applying for jobs and get working, but I did still have some savings left, having cut my travels short earlier that year. So I thought of what you would tell me to do. You would have told me “Nari, what are you waiting for? Just go! Do what you love. Travel, live!” And so I applied for Indian and Nepali visas, with no particular plan in mind. I left on Jan 16 (around two weeks after what would have been your 26th birthday), and since then have allowed the wind to blow me where it will, taking each day as it comes and trusting. I never know what I am doing the next day, let alone the next hour, or often, minute. I may appear to have been alone on this 4 month journey, but you have been by my side the whole time. The guiding wind that has taken me to such depths of spiritual learning is probably mostly you.

Stages of My Process

The first few months after you died, I was blinded by grief, like your dear family. Day and night I shook with tears and confusion. I withdrew into myself and hid from the world. I didn’t feel ‘safe’ sharing my grief with anyone, and simultaneously didn’t want to spread my sadness. During this period, my many friends seemed to evaporate. Several offered words of support, which I am deeply grateful for. However, one loss led to another and people I thought would be there for me weren’t. There were 4 souls who, despite not being physically with me, regularly called and sent love through the winds. Alzie, Soraiya, Monaja, Hadas – you were lifesavers, and I treasure your sister/brotherhood deeply. And of course, I was so lucky to have my little family who held me through the pain with understanding and allowed me to process things in my own time and space.

I became a loner, an introvert, a hermit. My confidence and extroversion disappeared. When I was forced to interact with people, I’d put on a face, then run and hide at the earliest opportunity. Upon reaching Thailand for the meditation fellowship, I kept my pain inside as much as possible, as the 30 odd participants from across Africa had come here for a beautiful learning experience. I felt like a zombie, but tenderly put out my tendrils to interact with these souls, fully vulnerable. And these 30 beings of light gently embraced and accepted this broken soul as she was, no judgement. With laughs, love and typical African brother/sisterhood, a little community was formed over these 2 weeks, connections formed that will last a lifetime.

Group photo of the Amani Africa Fellows full of joy and peace, making silly poses and jumps with broomsticks
Group photo of the Amani Africa Fellows full of joy and peace, making silly poses and jumps with broomsticks

After weeks struggling to meditate, I headed to the hippie spiritual village of crystalline island Ko Phangan. And there ensued a period of wild catharsis involving healing cries, shouts, laughs, sobs, visions and the supporting embraces of sisters during sacred circles. I stumbled from day to day, tripping over confusion, sorrow, and flashes of joy and love. A month later I found myself in holy Rishikesh, where I spent the next month in pure meditation under the guidance of sacred nature by the motherly river Ganges, in the mystical Himalayan mountains and caves, under the light of the wise moon.  The moon held me, the caves transported me, the mountains spoke to me, and the river washed me. Then I immersed myself in ashram life for a month of intense study of ancient yogic practices and philosophy.

Every day, every minute is a journey deep into gradual understanding. Little things trigger realisations, whether it be a puja to Ma Ganga, a tiring walk in the hot sun, a simple sentence uttered by a person, or even a piece of watermelon fruit! My teachers have come in all shapes and forms, from dear friends to lovers to acquaintances of a few hours – but most important has been to trust the teacher within myself. Each of us has a speck of the Divine within, and it knows…everything. All the answers are inside ourselves.

Quest Through Mountains of Perception

Since you left, Janine, I have been on a journey for answers. I meditated with and studied under the tutelage of Dhammakaya monks in a Buddhist monastery in remote north-eastern Thailand. I woke up at 4am daily while staying at a Korean monastery to participate in their prayer mantras Homage to the Three Jewels and the Heart Sutra. I was transported to other realms through the deep sonorous chanting of Tibetan monks at the Dalai Lama temple. I have undergone psychedelic breath work sessions (also known as rebirthing) that took me into a past life that we also lived through together and your spirit helped me heal a deep trauma there. I’ve danced with wild magical women under the sacred spell of the cacao plant, laughing, crying and loving together. I went on pilgrimages to Amritsar Golden Temple of the Sikhs, to Lumbini Buddha’s birthplace of the Buddhists, and Ma Ganga (River Ganges) in Rishikesh of the Hindus. I explored bhajan and kirtan gatherings, sound healing through singing bowls and voice, forms of dynamic and dance meditation, pranayama, tantra, women’s circles and cacao ceremonies.

I have spent months deep in meditation, searching for answers, trying to understand. What is this thing called Death? How is it that they say you have have left us, yet I feel your presence so strongly? Is it possible to love without attachment? What does life look like without a best friend? Can I handle the solitude? Who am I, who are you, why was our connection so strong? Will I see you again?

I Walk Alone

Truth is, we all do. And I have been learning to embrace solitude. When the pangs come, I watch them until they go away. And then I am left with myself, and I have been learning about this self. I’m ok with her, at peace, even enjoying being alone. After all, the only person guaranteed to be with you till you die is yourself.

I now do not have a best friend. Things happen and I want to tell you, but you’re not there. When I desperately need advice from you, you’re not there. Sometimes I wonder how you’re doing, what you’re doing, but you’re not there to ask. At least, not in the earthly sense. And honestly, you will never be replaced. Nobody else is going to grow up with me, I’m already an adult! It was my worst fear, losing to Death someone I deeply loved. I did not expect you to be the first. You were the one person in my life who never expected anything of me to earn your approval, or your support, or your friendship, or your love. No matter what I felt or did, you accepted with no judgement. Vice versa too. That was the beauty of our relationship. And then, with all the care in the world, we’d figure out what to do next in this big life adventure. There is now no single person who knows everything about me, having been glued to my side knowing my every thought and witnessing every embarrassing secret. No single person who will give me zero judgement if I make a mistake or do something they don’t agree with. None who will support no matter what crazy thing I decide to do next. So now, I must do it alone, fuelled by the knowledge that there was once that person, that best friend. And I believe that your spirit is still by my side cheering me on.

Wearing strange twin smiles

Sometimes I feel like there is a big gaping hole in my life. An essential part of me and everything I ever knew is gone. But I am slowly learning that yes, the girl I grew up with is gone, but the elements of nature you embodied in one being are still there, always will be – the unconditional love, the sisterhood, the safe space, the understanding, the trust, the wholehearted sharing, the joy of being. The essence of who you were will never die.

And in these 6 months, I have met you several times in unexpected ways. Sometimes you walk with me, chatting and laughing. Sometimes you watch over me as a guardian angel in risky situations. Sometimes you encourage me to follow my crazy dreams. Sometimes you remind me not to be so serious about life, to let go and enjoy.

I picked this Tibetan trinket up in McLeod Ganj, with you in mind. The skulls symbolise mortality and impermanence, and the pretty turtles are you and your love of swimming.

Some Lessons from You

When you were diagnosed with cancer, I immediately applied for an expedited visa to come and see you. But you kept telling me to wait, and wait, and wait until the treatments started working and you were feeling better so we could fully enjoy our time together. But the treatments didn’t work. By the time I decided to just come and see you, you were in a bad state state, pumped with 30 daily medicines and screaming in pain. This was 5 months before you finally let go. I don’t know how you did it, those final months. If you could stay so positive and so selfless through this ordeal, through months of excruciating pain, none of us has any excuse but to be always smiling through whatever life throws our way.

I remember that last barbecue in Nairobi with you and your ‘Juma clan’ the day before you left to England, my last day with you. Alisha was singing Despacito and we were all dancing in a circle. I remember feeling a mixture of joy, love and pain, holding back tears as I realised this might be the last time. And so I grabbed your hands and gently guided you in our last dance. You smiled and laughed with a glint of re-living times of youthful revelry without a care in the world.

I fondly remember that it was you who taught me how to dance, back in our awkward teenage years, showing me that “figure 8” movement. Full circle. And now, we must remember to let our spirits free always, to dance with joy and without restraint, like you did.

I was looking through our Facebook conversations and came across this quote you had sent me the year before you went:

The truth in that statement…

Speaking of family, seeing the support your family gave you through every second of your ordeal has shown me the unparalleled value of family.

Juma fam, crazy people, love you as my own.

Janine, you have taught me the meaning of unconditional love. You have taught me to appreciate, to live fully in the moment, and to let go. You have taught me to trust, to flow. You have shown me what resilience means, what selflessness is, and the essence of optimism. You have taught me to live, to laugh, to dance.

About those questions…

Death is an illusion.

We are all one cosmic soul.

The purest love has no conditions, no expectations and no attachments.

I am you, you are me.

My best friend is everywhere there is love.

Solitude is the truth of every individual.

You are an old friend from before this life.

Though time is also an illusion, yes we will meet again.

In fact, we are not actually apart right now.

Philosophical musings aside, JJ the Jetplane of “vallina” ice-cream and giraffe kisses. Lion lover and eternal dancer. Hashmi chicken monster. Simple beautiful wise happy non-judgemental soul. I do deeply miss you. Every day. And your family has really struggled to comprehend the reality of your unexpected departure. But we are learning. Learning to breathe, to walk, to smell the flowers whose scent holds your smile, to stare down the sun that is your laughing face, to toast to you dear Janine who brought us so much joy, and now guides us gently to spiritual understanding.

With eternal love,

Nari

My favourite pic of you (credits to whoever took it)

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