Saying goodbye to someone you love is never easy. Even harder when it’s an entire country. Today I experienced a bit of what that goodbye is going to feel like. And I am dreading it.
Today was my last day teaching my level 3 monks at Puok Buddhism Secondary School. Next week is their final test and then they have a break for 3 months. Things get pretty busy for them during Khmer New Year in April and it is also their time to go back to their homes and see their families. My level 2 students will come back as level 3 students so I will be lucky to teach them for another 2 months. But my level 3 students will go on to Buddhism high school in Siem Reap to continue their education. Most of them will move there. I hate saying goodbye.
It was a hard day. I teared up a bit at the beginning of class but fought my way through it and continued teaching as normal. Our lesson was on robberies. The beginning of the second hour was spent answering the questions from the previous reading. Finished pretty quickly. My monks are so smart. So I decided to do open discussion and say a goodbye. I told them they could ask me any last minute questions about anything: English, America, university, and myself. The first question was of course, what will I do after I stop teaching. Will I stay in Cambodia? Will I go home? Will I ever come back?
My future is still uncertain. But I do know that I will go back to the US after I COS. I have to. I want to. I’ve got a wedding to plan and attend for an amazing sister who I miss so much it hurts. I have friends who I haven’t seen in 2 years. I have food to eat that is calling my name! (Don’t worry breakfast tacos….I hear you.) I have family to visit, jobs to apply for, and perhaps even school to get into. But I still don’t know anything for certain.
My co-teacher Samnang kept insisting I would work in Siem Reap. Even if I went home, I would come back and work. Right? I shook my head, “I don’t know.”
One student, Bon, asked me how I feel when I am in Cambodia. And that’s when I started to cry. Yes, I stood there and cried in front of my class full of monks. I was red and embarrassed. I laughed as some of the monks covered their faces with their books or looked away. Some smiled. Some told me not to cry. Showing emotion is not something you see much of in this culture.
But I cried. Because that question has so many answers. I thought of the first time I ever came to Puok pagoda and stepped into the classroom. These monks were my first students. I met them on my second day at site. And they changed my life.
How do I feel? I feel happy. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel exhausted. I feel insecure. I feel content. I feel hot. I feel dirty. I feel indifferent. I feel misunderstood. I feel loved. I feel that a part of me will always yearn for this place. These moments in time.
I tried my best to explain that I was happy. I was crying because I AM happy. They made me happy. I was so lucky because I got to teach them. Not many other volunteers get to do that. I was so blessed. I told them I would miss them so much because I loved them so much. All of them. My first students. They helped make my service what it was. What it still is.
Then I asked them about their future. Told them to stay in school. Go to university. And always feel free to contact me.
Then it was picture time.
My bond with these boys is something I never expected when I joined the Peace Corps. I respect them, and they respect me. But we laugh and play and joke and have fun. I know the lines not to cross, but most of the other ones are blurred. I’m lucky that way. They let me into their world. Showed me that some of them are just like most other adolescent boys. They just know discipline a bit better and have less freedoms. But we treated one another as a person, not a title. I wasn’t seen as a threat to a way of living, but a hope for a brighter future.
Saying goodbye was hard. I hate goodbyes. Which is why I am dreading what’s coming in the next 6 months. Word of warning: I will be an emotional wreck.