It is always incredible to me, how I can feel like every day is the end. This is it. The last moment, the last look, the last time I’ll have this piece of my heart.
In a way, it can be a benefit to have your heart and soul constantly moving into each moment like it could be your last.
A couple weeks back, I had emailed a friend about the struggles and the joys here. She emailed me back and a couple paragraphs in, I came across an interesting question.
“Have you tried living in today?”
I laugh now, just to read it. This was the beginning of my striving to live in today. Live right now. Don’t worry about tomorrow. God will take care of you and of it.
Do I really believe it though?
Last week was the first week of summer classes. There are three English teachers here, one of them is me, and we did not know, going in, how many kids would show up Monday morning.
So, I had the spectacular idea of each of us assessing our students and splitting them up according to level, not grade. This was to avoid holding experienced students back and stressing the kids who don’t understand.
And that, my friends, was how I ended up standing in front of a class of 54 students.
I thought this was the downhill part of my time here! It is all easy from this point on!
I looked out into the sweaty faces of each child. I had kids from 2nd grade, all the way to 7th. I saw my dear Seegame, from my normal class, and all of my precious 4th graders that were still here and hadn’t been taken to their villages for the summer. We were in a normal classroom and there was no extra room, even to sit. I had kids crammed back into the airless corners and when I turned the fan on, they all tried to cram themselves into the area it reached.
I threw a ball into the circle and we started introducing ourselves.
That was all we did for the hour that I taught.
When I was finished, I was sweating too.
This week will be awesome, I have a feeling. I thought sarcastically.
I moved them all up to the large assembly area we use for evening devotions the next day. Here, there are musical instruments. As you can imagine, if I didn’t stay on top of them constantly, I would lose 4-5 kids at a time to the magnetic draw of the guitars and the piano.
I needed to up my game. We did hot potato, to see if they knew the sounds of the alphabet and some simple words, but the stress of standing up in front of 53 kids they didn’t know was not something I had counted on. One sensitive 2nd grader ended up sobbing silent tears, then falling asleep on the couch in the back.
I also noticed that I had many kids I’d never met before. Trying to tell one child in a room full of kids to be quiet, especially when you can’t recall their name, has become a huge part of my life lately.
At the end of that particular class, I had a feeling God had given me this stressful string of summer classes to make me ready to go home. I mean, I had prayed that He would give me closure in some way, because as of right now, I am not ready. After that class, I was more ready.
The next day I woke up, planning to be more, well, more-ish in my classes. I went to the kitchen on my way to the school and a little boy called to me from the dirt road.
“Teacher!” he said in his husky voice.
I’d know that voice anywhere. That was the voice of Beyah. He is a little boy of great presence and this knack for cheering me up. He is in my 4th grade class.
I remember the first time he hugged me and every time in-between until this last day. Only because he isn’t a hugger. However, he is a warrior that had chosen me to admire his battle wounds whenever he had any to show. I got used to him limping up and showing me very slight injuries to which I had to respond with incredulity and horror.
“I go today.” he said.
I thought he was teasing me. He told me it would be Wednesday and he had reminded me every time he saw me because my reaction pleased him so. I would get angry sometimes, indignant, and insist he would stay with me forever. Sometimes I would pretend to cry comically. He was not very comforting on any occasion.
Of course he couldn’t know that I was keeping it light because the thought of not seeing his face anymore made my heart ache just a bit.
“No!” I stomped my foot. Ready to respond in the same light manner.
“Yes!” he returned, very insistently. “Seip Mung!”
Ten o’clock. Oh Beyah.
I watched for him up until ten o’clock, feeling very strange. Kind of how I felt whenever a member of my family moved out. When his mother came, the ache gained a touch of panic. I wasn’t ready. Again. Not ready.
I had to teach kinder and I told him that he had to come and say goodbye if I wasn’t out when it was time to go.
In kinder, I forgot. It was nice. In the last five minutes, we started to do the hand-motions to a song. It was a slow and sweet song. I was twirling with the little kids and on the final turn, I saw him standing in the doorway.
I went right to him and kneeled. He wrapped his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder. We stayed like that for so many precious moments.
“Gang mach!” I heard his mother say after a couple moments.
I don’t know if she was telling me good job, or Beyah. All I know was that I had loved teaching her son and helping him and teasing him. He made teaching such a joy.
When he wiped his eyes on my shoulder, I knew it was time to let go. I kissed his ear. I sat back on my heels and looked up into his sad eyes. C’mon buddy, help me keep it together here.
I went out behind the kitchen, where there were several boys fixing a motor. I feigned interest in it, keeping my head down. I don’t remember one thing about that motor.
“Beyah go home.”
I looked up and Bak was pointing to a truck that rumbled up the road, right past where I sat.
Beyah was lunging over the back seat towards the windshield, waving at us. I waved back with all my might, trying to keep the tears inside. As they passed, the truck slowed and he looked out the side window, just in time to see my first tear slip out. I couldn’t hold that one in. He lifted a hand, like he would wave, but just held it up, staring at my face. I wondered if I looked as sad as I felt.
I prefer to think he was memorizing my face like I was memorizing his.
“Teacher cry.” Chai stated, staring at me as I stared at the dust that was settling where the truck had been.
I sighed heavily and laughed, shoving his shoulder and getting up. Time to go. I could feel the dam start to break. I got food which I probably wouldn’t eat and went to the office, as fast as I could without arousing suspicion.
Inside, I hid behind a sofa pillow and let the tears come. I grabbed my laptop and started to write a word document furiously, writing everything I remember about him. Every hug, every time he stood up for me in class, every time he would take a stack of books away from me to carry.
I was ok after that. Even if I couldn’t reconcile the part of me that insists that if you love someone, they will always be a part of your life. I was ok once I wasn’t worried that I’d forget anything.
That day was also my craft day for the summer class. The supplies for my craft were to be purchased the day before and would be waiting for me. So I went to Ma’am Gik to ask for them.
“Oh,” she looked at me with sympathy, “I had no time to go yesterday, so I have no supplies for your craft.” She looked genuinely upset for me, so I consoled her and turned and went up to my classroom.
I sat on the floor beside the supplies I did have. One pair of scissors and two glue sticks for 54 kids. There was also a sheaf of colored paper so all was not a loss. I started to feel a little sorry for myself.
I cannot come up with a lesson plan and a game and worksheets in 30 minutes!
To be honest, I didn’t want to come up with another one. I was so tired. I knew in my heart that my attitude was all wrong but my head felt heavy.
I looked at my supplies and a laugh bubbled up. One scissors and two glue sticks. My five loaves and two fishes.
Lord, I know my attitude is not right. But help me please. I don’t have the energy. Let this be enough. I will give my effort and ask that you work this tiny miracle and make these stretch.
So He did. Someone came and gave me 17 pairs of scissors and two more glue sticks. It worked out perfectly. It was utterly healing to be in the midst of them, quietly working.
At the end, I swept up the paper carnage and realized that it all must go on. My heart wants to stop, right here, and dwell on it all, trying to remember everything, afraid to forget and be forgotten. I want to go back and hug that little boy again.
But life must go on.
Four weeks! As kids slowly leave I realize that I’m glad they are leaving me, despite the slow band-aid rip it’s proving to be, not me leaving all of them.
Some, like Beyah, go to stay with their parents, who cannot afford schooling elsewhere. Others have more tragic stories and stay with relatives for the summer because their parents are in prison or gone. Still others stay here, unable to go home because it is not a safe or a healthy environment.
They’ve learned this lesson early. Too early. I hate to be a part of the refresher course. Yes, I will go, they will miss me, but… life goes on.