Oh, sweetie. You have no idea, do you? In honesty, I think it's best we keep it that way. You wouldn't have got on the plane otherwise.
Life's all just one big adventure now, six months out of academia and tumbling head-first into a moment they've begun to call adulthood. Here comes the next part of the ride, the first real right of passage. Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique are still vague and exotic, your optimism knows no bounds, and your politics is painfully askew.
That's ok. You're going to recognise your own ignorance very soon. And you'll start to recognise other parts of yourself, too. Where did this hard, brave thing come from? Out of books? Out of heartbreak? She can commute via kombi and greet warmly in siSwati and - my god - cook dinner for sixteen. Since when has this been what you wanted? But, yes, there is something electric in it, something deep-rooted and right.
Hold tight to Jess; you'll need one another in the hills of Mlindazwe. Look out for chelsea buns at Pick n Pay, to lift your spirits. Don't cry in the children's ward, and don't choke on guilt. Explore yourself here with awareness, gently. Take a moment on top of Sheba's mountain, and on Inhambane island, to wonder at natural beauty. Go on the walking trail at Kruger National Park: breathe carefully when you find the hippo. Learn the roughness of the Indian Ocean. Ask Psychology to tell his stories again. Write. And photograph. You are only beginning here.
Ok, you need some hard truths. You aren't nearly as smart about this as you think, and that gnawing in your stomach right now? It's well-placed. Here's tip #1 you'll learn on this trip: trust your gut instinct.
The next two months will push you somewhere beyond ok, past tolerable, to the very edge of your personal reserve of endurance. I won't tell you to embrace the fear, because it is your knowledge of your limits which will keep you safe this time. Be steadfast in this. Hold on to your courage. You will be hungry, and frightened, and disillusioned with the work of your organisation; you will be exhausted. And you will persevere.
You will live in a dusty truck stop in the desert during ramadan. It's going to start to feel like home. Be less wary of those you meet here; you will make friends quicker, and this sense of community will be precious. Rise above the daily grind. Water, electricity, security, sanitation, and plentiful food are luxuries - see them as such, soon. Look for the little moments that rescue your days. Be critical of the work you are doing, but keep grasping for the belief that it is not entirely in vain.
When fear sets in, hold your nerve. Keep it steady, keep it straight. Yes, there are going to be sudden changes of plan. There are going to be night terrors, and hospitals, and midnight hitch-hiking, over the mountains, in the back of a pick-up truck.
And in the middle of that storm, you are going to reach for your camera.
You will prove yourself, ten times over, in Tanzania. You will come home and say, "I learnt how not to do it". And, in spite of it all, the fiery kernel lodged somewhere in your breast will continue to grow. Take me back. This is what you want to do.
"I have been thinking about those pinprick journalists a lot recently, stubs in a great world map, and trying on their persona as I walk around Singida and sit cramped in daladalas racing through the desert. How do they feel? I have slid my feet into the imaginary boots of a woman who treads the streets of Johannesburg and Cairo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Gaza, Moscow, Washington, Rio, Sydney, Paris. When I put on my own boots this morning and walked through the market to the bus station with Linden over my shoulder I thought at last I knew they could carry me to those pinholes, too."
I am proud of you. And you were right.
I will be in Malawi, reporting on the work of the Norwich-Dedza Partnership, until May 30th.