Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Farewell to Remember

The rest of my time in Mekelle was wonderful. I soon settled into a routine of teaching at the school every day, playing with the kids a bit before and after, tagging along with my favorite Dr. Schmoll to town to run errands, and reading.

The kids continue to be wonderful. The two boys Senai and Fekadu are both great. Senai, the oldest of the group, is great at sports and we had a really fun time playing soccer and volleyball. The girls Brhan and Embaba are also great. Brhan definitely retained the place she won in my heart from that initial moment I witnessed between her and her sister, but it was Embaba who continually won me over day after day. Monday after the kids arrived they were taken to the hospital for check-ups. We received word that all were relatively healthy besides a few fungal issues and malnourishment, except Embaba. She has AIDS.

That brought up a whole new issue for me: coming in contact with HIV/AIDS on a daily basis. I’ve never before even known a person who has HIV/AIDS and suddenly now I was living with one. Went to the internet and did some research just so that I would be more aware of the situation. I didn’t want to feel worried that if she was sitting on my lap or a drop of saliva got on me that I would transmit the virus. That was very helpful in reassuring me and allowing me to treat her as I did the other kids. I think I even ended up giving her special treatment. Playing with the kids included anything from soccer and volleyball to them braiding my hair to my pointing at things and saying the English words. By the end, the language barrier was barely a problem in the sense that they just spoke to me in Tigrinya as if I would be able to understand. Most of the time I couldn’t but I would nod or they would point until I finally got the idea. I absolutely loved how they would start showing off when I was around, having me count while they dribbled the ball or jumped rope. It was an absolute pleasure being with them, and they will set a wonderful example for the kids to come.

The school was a welcome part of my day. I would walk to and from the school every day with a parade of kids following me. It often took me longer than the 25 minutes as I would stop and chat with almost everyone along the way. Most of the kids work in the field in the afternoon or morning when they are not in school so there were constant calls of “Molly” and “Teacher” which I delighted in responding to. I also got over my pre-class nervousness and just enjoyed it. There were days I didn’t even have to prepare something as I would just get them talking and then they would either ask a question or say something incorrectly and that would start a topic on its own. I also began to see their English improving and kids becoming more confident with speaking which was more rewarding than I could have imagined.

My farewell from the school will remain I’m sure as one of the highlights of my life. Of the $2500 of your donations, I used $200 to buy books for the school library. I was able to buy over 50 books, mostly English grammar books for all ages. Gabe and I went to the school yesterday, a few hours before my departure, to present the books and for me to say goodbye. When we arrived, all the 8th grade students were having class outside in a huge circle. I was ushered into the center of the circle (they parted to make way for me) with Gabe behind me and one of the students carrying the box of books. As I walked in, they started clapping and stood up. It was just unbelievable. By the time I started speaking, there were tons more kids and teachers who had joined the circle. Gabe made a little introduction and then I said a few words, with Gabe translating for the younger kids. The English teacher then presented me with a gift “for remembrance.” The gift consisted of a traditional Ethiopian dress and white cloth for the head (of which there must be some name but I have no idea what it is). Then, while they were preparing the traditional coffee ceremony in the teacher’s room, they had me open it and showed me how to put the clothes on and wear them. Of course all this time, there are kids fighting for space in the door opening to see all this occurring. I, soaking up every moment, ran outside into the crowd of kids so they could all see it. There were lots of laughs and smiles all around a few calls of “Beautiful” which I greatly appreciated as I definitely felt a wee bit silly. Then after coffee and fruit and bread it was time to leave. It was honestly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so appreciated or respected for anything I’ve done. And to think, I enjoyed it as much as they did! It felt like a mutual parting of can’t wait to see you again. And that was how it was left and I absolutely can’t wait to go back. Not that my 8th graders will still be there, but the entire atmosphere of the school and the respect I was shown by each and every person there was just unbelievable.

Goodbye to Gabe, Connie, and the kids was much more subdued. Gabe and the kids drove me to the airport and waited while I checked in for my flight. It was a bit tough saying goodbye. The kids each gave me a hug, and I definitely teared when saying goodbye to Embaba. I will forever feel connected to the orphanage and the kids and everything Gabe and Connie are doing as a result of the time I spent there. And I absolutely can’t wait to follow from home until I can go back and see for myself.

That’s all for now as I need to leave in 10 minutes to head to the airport and I still need to upload this. So, Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas, and if I may say one thing, it’s enjoy your families because you don’t get it much better than we’ve all got.

Hope is life.

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