Tears fell like a monsoon rain…
I have cried many tears throughout this year of travel, however they have mainly been tears for me. These tears tend to fall into two categories; tears for my unanswered questions about my future, and tears for joy. However yesterday I shed many, many tears and they weren’t for me at all.
I thought that my last day at my teaching placement at Habitat Learning Center would be difficult for me, but I really didn’t expect it to be emotional. I had run around our local market all morning looking for gifts and treats for the students as today was not going to be about teaching – it was going to be fun. I had planned for us to watch an English movie, Disney’s High School Musical. Even though my students are on average 18 to 20 years old, I felt like this Disney movie would be appropriate – for their culture, their English understanding, and mainly there would be no sex scenes or cursing…you can’t go wrong with Disney in that department! Plus – in my opinion it is similar to a Bollywood movie with an American twist – lots of singing and dancing for no apparent reason. I had purchased the movie along with a large bag of American type movie snacks – Pepsi, Mountain Dew, M&M’s, Snickers, Mars bars, and Twizzlers. In addition to all of the sugar, I also got each of them a notebook to keep their homework and study papers in. Since I’ve been teaching them for the last 4 weeks – I always would hand out many exercises and reading assignments on paper – but they wouldn’t remember to bring them back the next day – or if they did remember, they would be all crumpled up in their bags. I thought this would be a good opportunity to teach them about organization and get them prepared for their next teacher. Inside the folder, I placed my business card with my email address so that they could contact me. Finally, I put all of my extra salwar and kameez outfits into a bag to give to the female students as I would no longer need them. I armed myself with my two cameras, grabbed all of these bags and went to my placement for the last time.
When I arrived there I was surprised to see people there early. In India – there is a term they use called ‘India Time’…which translated means…”Time is irrelevant. I am not tied to any time table, and I will show up generally 15 to 30 minutes late.” I started to get everything set up for the movie and I printed my final report for the NGO. I had spent quite a bit of time on this report writing up my lesson plan I used, what should be studied next with the new teacher, and a paragraph about each student and their knowledge level. I mainly wanted to make sure that the next person to teach, had all the tools possible to make a smooth transition for the kid’s sake.
At ‘intermission’ we had a break and I was going to break out all of the snacks I brought with me, but before I could do that, The NGO coordinator, Nanalie, and one of the teaching assistants, Enoch, came in and presented me with a lovely gift thanking me on behalf of HLC. I had let the kids use my small camera – so they took pictures of us as if they were the paparazzi! However all of a sudden the kids disappeared and I was told to sit down with Nalalie and Enoch. The kids then paraded in cakes, chips, sweets, and a large bouquet of roses. I was stunned and really didn’t know what to do. They had organized this unexpected celebration and I was completely surprised. We had a whole cake cutting ceremony as they explained the various Indian sweets to me. They served Nalalie, Enoch, and myself and continued to shoot a whole bunch of pictures. Me with the cake, me with the roses, me with them…I felt like a star. I was touched by this celebration – but I somehow held it together as I posed for pictures. I knew deep down that I was not going to be able to hold it together very long. I loved these kids – I knew that I had become completely attached to them and I had no idea how I was going to walk out of the office at 5PM.
After the massive amounts of cake and pictures, we got back to the movie and watched the 2nd half of Disney song and dance numbers. After the movie, I knew that I wanted to talk to them all as a group and thank them for their hard work and friendship they had provided me. I wanted them to know how extremely proud I was of each of them, and to motivate them to keep working hard as it would pay off. I had them all stay in the classroom and I began my little speech of thanks and admiration and I peered around the room looking at the faces intently staring at me, the faces that I had come to know so well and I couldn’t even get the words out. I tried to speak, but was overcome with sadness about leaving them. I wanted so much for them – I wanted to make sure that they continue on the road they are going down – as that is the road to a better life for them and their families. I choked the words out and told them to continue to study hard and be nice to the new teacher, and to use the new folders to organize their homework. As I looked up and around the room I had 15 students in tears. I continued to tell them not to be sad and that I would love to come back one day and see how much they have improved. I explained that I expected all of them to continue our relationship via email. I promised to always write them back if they sent me an email.
I handed out the folders one by one and saw each of them crying. It broke my heart to see this. If I could figure out a way to give each of them a better life I would…but they have to figure out how to do that themselves…and I’m positive they are on the road to doing that. I can only hope that I helped them along in their journey. For the first time in 4 weeks, the room was silent. These kids normally crawled in front of each other and practically into your lap to speak – so silence was a new sensation for me. The sadness and crying continued – and it wasn’t just a few tears – there was sobbing. I stood there and thought about the last time that I made a grown man cry.
I first started crying because I had become attached to them and I wasn’t ready to leave there and I knew I would miss them terribly. However, when I saw them crying, I realized that they had become attached to me too. It was a mutual connection. I realized that I had touched their lives in an extraordinary way. It was a true cultural exchange. Earlier in the week Nalalie and Enoch had told me the kids were growing very attached to me and that I had made a strong impact on them, however I sort of dismissed it in my head. Sure, I was sort of aware that I had more and more students attend class every week. I knew that more and more or them were doing their homework. I was aware that during tea break more and more students would come and sit next to me to talk and ask me questions about my life. I was surprised and impressed with the gentlemen who did mock interviews had actually taken what I taught them about business etiquette to heart. Yet, I guess I never really put all of this together and realized that these kids really did enjoy spending time with me and respected me. That may sound stupid – but the whole time I was thinking that I was getting so much from them, yet I didn’t think about what they were getting from me until I looked around the room at their tears and sad faces. All of a sudden my tears were no longer for my sadness, but theirs.
Rohit, who told me the first day of class that he wanted to be a singer (I made him get up that day and sing for me!), got up and sang a song for me on my last day. I actually took video of this moment – to this moment, as I watch it, it puts me in tears. If I can find a way to upload it I will. Next Adidya got up and came to me in the front of the room and bowed/touched my feet. This may sound crazy – but I knew that this was a cultural thing for them – touching someone’s feet is used to show the utmost respect for someone. After he did, each student got up and did the same thing to me. I stood there completely emotional and uncomfortable not knowing what to say – all I could do it thank them.
As we all sat there in a sad silence – I had to finally bring myself to leave the classroom. It was painful for me to pick up my feet and leave the room. I told them one last time to not be sad, but to be happy that we had so much fun and I promised that I would come see them again.
This whole diary entry was about impossible for me to write – as every time I replay the afternoon in my head or through the keyboard – it brings me to tears yet again. I know that this sadness that I feel will diminish, but my memories never will. .
The tears that you shed for others – are the tears which hurt the most.