Letters to Our Younger Selves: Dear Jenie
So, you're feeling stuck in your hometown of Last Chance, Idaho, where cows outnumber people, and you're forced to share a tiny room with your sister Amy, who won't let you touch her porcelain doll or her new rock tumbler.
People from all over the world pass through your town to get to Yellowstone National Park to hang out with bears and buffalos and see Old Faithful erupt. You're curious about their peculiar accents and the way they dress.
You want to be a world traveler just like them.
Mostly you've been dreaming of going to Africa ever since mom brought home that stack of National Geographic magazines -- the ones your brothers loved to flip through because they had pictures of naked women.
You've told your brother Jim about your plans to live in a mud hut with villagers, and he has a brilliant idea: why not help him dig to China, because once you get there, you can just cut across and go to Africa? So you grab a shovel and go to work in the backyard.
You're not digging for gold, but for adventures on the other side of the world. The images in National Geographic are where you'll make your bed tomorrow.
When you grow up, you do make it to Africa, to Tanzania on 11/11/11, tripling your lucky number. The plane lands at night not far from Mount Kilimanjaro, where the air is warm, thick and spicy, like milky chai.
A taxi drops you and a friend off at a club outside Moshi, and you dance under the stars with a mountain guide named Deo. Later you hike to his family's coffee plantation in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, bursting with ferns, bananas, purple flowering trees and screaming monkeys. Instead of reading about the origin of coffee at Starbucks, you'll kneel on a burlap blanket dappled with white beans drying in the sun, each touched by the hands of Deo's father, then sent to a roaster.
Right now I know you're feeling self-conscious at school, worried about your hair and comparing your clothes with everyone else's. Someday you'll live in a remote village in Tanzania with the Maasai tribe, who've been herding cows there for centuries. The villagers won't care how you dress. They live in homes built with mud and sticks, like nests. The children play soccer with balls of knotted rags and when you give them a pencil they act deliriously "furaha" ("happy" in Swahili), as if it were made from gold.
The girls own only a few outfits: bolts of red or purple fabric they tie around themselves. They don't wear make-up or bras. They shave their heads and dance shamelessly, giggling and shaking their shoulders -- jumping into the sky as their necklaces jingle and sparkle in the sun, unconcerned that Americans might think they are too thin or too whatever.
So when you feel stuck in Last Chance, Idaho, keep dreaming of exotic places. Get a passport. Save your money. When you grow up, you will go there.
There's a town on the eastern coast of Tanzania called Pangani, which in Swahili means "heaven winds." The ocean is bathwater warm, and the wind smells like honey. You'll sit in a wooden boat beside a village chief while he unfurls an ivory sail. Using a rusty nail as a weight, squid as bait and no fishing rod, just a handful of line, you'll pull in one golden fish after another. They turn pink when they're out of water. You'll fill the boat, then fry one up, whole, and eat it for dinner.
You'll find those golden adventures you once dug for. They'll be in the bottom of that boat, heavy with fish, and in a thousand other things half a world away; things too rich and wonderful to describe in words.
With love from your older self,
In sharing this story, and others, we hope you are inspired to Raise Your Hand for girls' education, helping us spread the word on this crucial effort.
Jenie Skoy is an independent travel writer based in Oregon. When she's not tapping away at her laptop, you can find her inventing knock-knock jokes with her 21 nephews and nieces, writing music, fly-fishing in the mountains or getting slapped around by waves while learning to surf.
She's written for Sunset, USA Today, Fodor's travel guides and Dining Out, among many others.