A Letter to My 8 Months Ago Self

Dear Emily,
Go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes right now. Eat everything. You really don’t understand how spoiled you are. Soon you’ll have to bike an hour just to buy bread or fruit or pasta. And those stores won’t have a prepared food section. Eat all the cheese and ice cream. Soon refrigeration will be out of the question except for special occasions.

Listen to Spotify as much as possible, maybe even when you’re sleeping. And Netflix. Even if you think you’ve watched too many Gilmore Girls reruns, you haven’t.

Enjoy your shower. Cherish it, actually. Appreciate how there isn’t always some sort of visible dirt on you. And you have a dishwasher. Lucky b*tch.

When you’re packing, stop stressing about what clothes to bring. Take out half the clothes and fill that space with more granola bars, grated parmesan, and tampons.

When you’re on the 15 hour plane ride, that’s probably not the best time to rewatch My Sister’s Keeper. You might have a meltdown in the tiny bathroom.

And when you have your first meal in Zambia, don’t embarrass yourself and eat the nshima with silverware. That’s absurd.

Don’t freak out when the men come to fit you for a bike. In no time you’ll go from an anxious, only-on-vacation-if-you-have-to biker to a full on, mountain biker. The dirt roads at home that were “too rough” are main roads compared to the bush paths you’ll frequent every day in the village.

Don’t worry that every minor irregularity in your body is undoubtedly malaria and will kill you. That being said, if you feel like you have to go to the bathroom immediately and your stomach is making noises, run. Even if you have to use a stranger’s toilet or the bushes behind a police checkpoint.

Before you leave, wear all of your short dresses and skirts. Every day. In Zambia, any thighs or knees showing will make you feel scandalous, naked, and like your host family is going to rush into your house with a Bible.

Phone anxiety is going to be a big part of your life. These are some questions that will occupy your mind- How much battery is left? How long will it last? What’s the best plan for solar charging today? Will there even be sun? Will the cows trample over my solar charger?

You’re going to experience more moods in one day, sometimes in one hour, than you thought possible. You’ll push through though and be a relatively stable human.

The first time you see corporal punishment it’ll shock you and make you want to run away. But months later when it happens at your school, to your kids, you’ll know that the only thing you can do in that moment is walk in after it’s over, break the stick in half, throw it outside, and say, “I don’t like sticks in my classroom,” then start teaching about multiplying integers.

Washing pots with dirt is going to sound crazy and counterintuitive, but the village women and girls know what’s up. Trust them. Let them laugh at you and your flimsy sponge.

Get a cat right away because not only will she be a necessary companion, but the longer you wait, the more mice will terrorize your sleep. And when she gets pregnant and starts delivering her 6 kittens in your bed in the middle of the night when your solar light is dying, a frantic Wiki-How search will explain everything.

You’re going to be the muzungu (white person) of the village. You’ll always be the muzungu, even if you get a gold star in integration, even if they call you Emily. Keep in mind that the term is far from insulting and often it’s just a means of identification. And when it does carry weight, those implications are overwhelmingly positive. Girl, you’re a privileged other.

Lastly, take a good look around at what your life is like, what you’re like. Because once you get to Zambia you’ll have moments every day when you’re astonished, seriously blown away, by how drastically all that has changed, how much you’ve changed, and how, for the most part, you’ve grown very accustomed to that immeasurable change.