“Oh my god, I’m going home”
This thought crossed my mind as we begin the descent into Bali. And no, I don’t mean that Bali is home. It’s just the fact that it’s here. The day has come. It’s May 23rd. My Fulbright grant is over. I don’t actually head home for another two weeks but the closing of one door and the opening of another is huge. This journey I’ve been on for the last nine months has come to a close. I’m now on a new journey – a journey of traveling and fun adventures with my brother before I go home in 12 days. That’s just wild.
This thought came with a myriad of emotions – I’m so excited to see my family and enjoy the modern conveniences of life in America. I’m about to go on the most incredible two week vacation of my life. But I’m also distraught at the fact that at the end of this trip I’m not going back to my friends and kids in Palangka Raya.
The last week has been one of the most emotional weeks of my life. My leaving seemed to hit me on Wednesday as I said started my class. I said my usual, “good morning. How are you?” and then my voice caught in my throat as I realized that my opportunities to do this were quickly coming to a close. I started to tear up and I couldn’t speak. My students looked lovingly, but sadly at me as we all realized the truth – this was the end. I had to let Spencer take over and introduce himself as I pulled myself together to teach.
Thursday was 10x worse. I teared up again saying goodbye to my morning class. While I waited for my next class in the teacher’s lounge I noticed so much scurrying and whispers. Sure enough, Tisia told me to “go to class” but all the teachers followed me and instead of walking toward my class we walked toward the Aula (auditorium), where I realized they were surprising me with a farewell party. I walked in to the room of 250 kids singing my favorite Indonesian pop song and I burst into tears. I stood at the front as they sang and I cried. I sang with them, walked up the aisle to better see them all, and sobbed my eyes out. My sweet, sweet kids… This was it. This was the end.
My farewell party was beautiful. My kids sang, my headmaster, Tisia and several of my kids gave speeches. I gave an impromptu speech. I was given so many gifts and cards. I salaamed (shook hands/high fived/hugged/hand to forehead) all 300 students. I took a bazillion selfies. I went through my whole pack of tissues. It was so, so special and I couldn’t believe that this whole thing was for me. I truly sobbed through the whole thing.
Afterwards, all of the teachers in the school took me out to lunch. All 25+ of us piled into the back room of a restaurant and took over two huge tables as we shared one last meal all together. It was so special.
Friday morning was incredibly hard. I took Spencer to the airport and then went home to begin packing. I ran to the photocopy store for some last minute printing and got teary saying goodbye to them. Then driving back home I really cried. This was it.
I met Tisia for breakfast at Mama Ina’s – the tiny warung across the street from my school where I have eaten breakfast at least 5 days a week for the last nine months. We were both quiet as we ate, holding back tears. I gave Mama Ina a photo of the two of us in her shack and she stuck it on the wall – and then I actually cried. That was the end.
I picked up my bag and began walking to class. As I walked down the hallway one last time I couldn’t hold back the tears. My sweet, sweet kids were hanging out everywhere and this was the last time I’d walk this hall and talk to them. That broke my heart.
I made it through most of my one and only Friday class. Tisia was conspicuously absent and I kept texting her asking where she was… she told me later she was hiding in the teacher’s lounge because she couldn’t bear to see my cry teaching my last class. So instead, after I finished teaching we both sat outside the teachers lounge and cried. I was done. I’d taught my last class.
Tisia, bu Yuyun, and bu Cristin took me out for lunch and batik shopping. The teachers all pitched in to buy me traditional Dayak batik but they wanted me to choose it – we wandered the store for at least an hour choosing our favorites and picking what I wanted. I finally settled on two beautiful fabrics – I can’t wait to get them tailored when I come back in August. Lunch was hard. I was so happy to be with them but so sad at the reality that this was our last lunch together. Tisia couldn’t even look at me. The few times we made eye contact, we would both become teary eyed.
We finally went back to my house and then it was just me and Tisia. She had told me earlier that morning that she was going to Banjarmasin that night. She couldn’t take me to the airport. It would be too hard. I gave her her gifts – a wooden sign with the quote “good friends are like stars, you can’t always see them but you know they’re always there” and a framed picture of the two of us. She gave me mine but wouldn’t let me open it – it’s in my America-bound suitcase to be opened there.
I started really crying as the moment finally arrived. She was leaving and we had to say goodbye. She was so strong and held it together – I absolutely did not. Even now, three days later, I’m tearing up remembering this moment. She finally left and as she walked from my house, through the asrama, and to school – I sobbed, my shoulders heaving, as she walked away. It took everything in me to not go running after her, to not beg her to stay, to not beg her to let me stay, to not have to say goodbye. Once she had gone around the corner I sat on my bed and absolutely wept.
Once I was a little more composed, I hopped back on my motorcycle and drove to the last few places/people that I wanted to say goodbye to. I gave my mechanic a USA t-shirt – he always wears a Dayak t-shirt and I thought it would be a fun memory of me to have a USA t-shirt. Plus, he’s saved me so many times with my motorcycle. I owe him so much.
I stopped at my other favorite warung. I’ve only been there maybe 10 times but the family is so incredibly sweet and the daughter is the most outgoing little girl I’ve ever met. I love them. I brought them candy, pennies, and a big USA beach ball. They absolutely loved it all and we spent an hour catching up and saying goodbye.
Finally, I stopped at my favorite little cafe but instead of going inside, or saying something to the people who work there – I stopped because I wanted to say thank you and goodbye to the parkir (parking) guy. He was shocked – but I loved it. I thanked him for always having a smile through the rain and the heat. He’s always someone I can count on to make me feel a little less alone. I teared up saying goodbye to him. To the parkir guy!! You know you’ve found a community when you cry over your parkir and photocopy people.
A few of my girls helped me pack that evening. We ate one final dinner together in the dorm. I held it together as best as I could. A lot of girls came over that night to make s’mores and hang out. It was a night of memories that I’ll keep with me for a long time. Saying goodbye to them ripped my heart out. My sweet girls have made all the difference for me. We sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
By 11pm I had sent all the girls home. I needed to finish packing, to write up a report for AMINEF, finish my letter for Tisia, and try and squeeze some sleep in there somewhere. I slept about three hours that night on top of only three the night before – so on top of my emotions I was just an exhausted mess.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early. I finished packing and brought all my stuff to the porch. At 6:15 my kids all lined up to march to school. Knowing this was my last chance to see them, I ran to the front of the gate and then waved goodbye to them all as they marched through. I took a video of it as they marched but it’s incredibly shaky because I’m sobbing through the whole thing.
Finally, with the kids off to school I got in the bus and headed to the airpot. Six of my sweet girls accompanied me to the airport and I sat in a daze, doing my best to hold back my tears, as we drove away from school one last time. The airport was so hard. All these strangers watched me sob through my goodbyes. I was a beautiful mess. After a lot of hugs, photos, and tears I let them go and headed inside. I was sitting at the gate when my phone rings. It’s two of my 12th grade students and they had driven all the way from the village to surprise me at the airport and say goodbye (they graduated two weeks ago). I ran sprinting back through the (tiny) airport to the front where I swept them both into a huge hug. These girls are two of the best English speaking students in the school and I had tutored them twice a week for several months. It meant so much to me to see them again.
Finally, I made my way back through the airport and onto my plane. I tried to call my mom but could only say two sentences before I broke into tears and had to hang up. I climbed up the stairs and onto the plane and realized with dismay that I was in a middle seat. I squeezed in between two older men and promptly continued to weep, at the sheer panic of the men on either side of me. Gosh, I’d love to be able to read their minds.
By the time I got to Jakarta I was drained. It had happened, it was done, I was on my way to the next journey. I miss them all terribly but I think having a fun couple of weeks traveling before heading home is just what I need to cure my downcast spirit. And hey, night one in this villa ain’t too shabby a way to start.