“Sometimes you just never know…”
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand the kind of impact that you’re having when you’re so close to the action. The things that stand out most are the kids’ faces, the fun that you had sharing life lessons, and the scenery, but when teachers get an opportunity to look back – the images of the past are much more vivid. Let Holly take you on a journey through her WorldTeach Nepal experience from the summer of 2014.
Jumping right into teaching English as a second language in a foreign country to brand new students with brand new co-teachers in very bare classrooms with very limited resources would be a severe understatement if I called it a challenge. But when the native teachers know you are there to help, the students and their well-being are in your best interest, very quickly you become one of them. Very quickly do students expect your presence every day, and when you don’t show up, they are very upset and want to know where you were. Essentially, we became one big family. A school family, if you will, where every morning I could expect a genuine “Namaste”, or “Namaskar”, which is the Nepali word for this humble greeting. The headmaster’s stoic presence, barely giving me eye contact on my first day, might be indicative of fleeting volunteers, incompetent or unreliable help, a distrust for a Western presence. Even he smiled from time to time and asked how I was doing. When you can touch, what appears to be, the hardest of hearts, you know you’re making a difference. You know you’re setting the stage for future partnerships and friendships. You know you finally belong.
I’ll be honest; I did not always know if my presence made a difference in anyone’s life, and just when my spirits would let down, one of my level 2 students would walk me home, another student would draw a beautiful flower for me and tell me how much they love me, a teacher would sit down and tell me about their family and their children, a complete stranger on the street would smile and acknowledge that I was a part of their community. It’s those little signs that say, yes, we are so happy you are with us! Days can go by without that sort of gratification and I guess I wasn’t sure what my last day would look like. I knew, with time, that my teaching experience became more enjoyable, easier, friendlier, with smoother transitions. I knew my students and I had formed bonds that made learning so much fun! But what happened today caught me by surprise and brought uncontrollable tears before my level 12 students. I simply couldn’t stop and some of the girls also began to cry. Here’s how the morning went:
I woke up around 3 am and was awake since then, thinking of everything I had to do to make my last classes perfect with my students and teachers. I printed certificates of appreciation for all of my students’ hard work and amazing energy in the past 6 weeks of my experience at Kitini. I printed letters to my co-teachers and a letter to the headmaster and the staff at Kitini. I still had copies to make and as load shedding can be an unpleasant surprise, the electricity can turn off just when you think you have 20 more minutes. Due to the tragic landslides that have just occurred in Nepal, load shedding has become a little more unpredictable, so at 7:45, I ran to the stationary shop while there was still time. I ran back after about half an hour’s worth of copying, did finishing touches on my lessons, got ready, are too much daal bhat, and off to school I went.
I walked to my level 12 class and I noticed a certain quietude amongst my students. They would stare at me, look down, no attempts to answer any questions, so I asked, “why are we so shy today?” Their response? We are going to miss you so much and today is a very sad day for us. So as I continued to pry thoughts and words from them, I tried to fill the silence with how much they mean to me. One of my students, Baburam, sang a beautiful Nepali song about marriage and the family and the important roles that parents will serve for their children. A stunning and very trained Nepali voice. Then his friend, a bit more shy than his dear friend, was encouraged to sing a Nepali song and it was one of the most beautiful, passionate voices I’ve ever heard. You could feel the words as he closed his eyes and let his voice carry the way. He sang a song about all of the trials Nepal faces and how he wishes for peace and harmony for all of his country. Next, Sharmila pulled a beautiful bouquet of daisies she arranged for me. My host teachers and headmaster soon joined us, but not just to administer the certificates I made for my students, but they brought me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, an honorary scarf, and said many kind words. We then gave each student their certificate, took pictures, and then Saroj had one male and one female stand up to day what the class has meant to them. After they left, Asmita read me a poem she made for me and it was just as she finished, tears ran down my cheeks and I couldn’t stop. One of her lines in the poem said I was always smiling. As I began to cry, she told me I was making her out to be a liar because I wasn’t smiling anymore, to which we busted out laughing.
There’s never really a perfect time to say goodbye. There’s always that moment that you wish you could just hold onto, stop in time, never let go. I felt that at that very moment, but as anything, time must move on and we have to trust that our memories, fond moments, and even keeping in touch, if time allows, will guide us into our future. That guiding light will remind us how much life is worth living. We may cry (a lot!), and, if the culture allows, we may embrace one another, but life is the opportunity to connect and reach out to our brothers and sisters all over the world. We mustn’t forget our own and we mustn’t forget about those that co-exist all around us.