We’ve been saying different goodbyes every week. By the end of our eight weeks here, we will only have worked at eight schools and have led four teacher workshops in five cities.
This is great because it means we’ve been able to reinforce the LTP methodology in places other than Arusha. Selfishly, I’ve also loved exploring different, more remote, parts Tanzania by car and because of this I’ve learned more about the culture as a whole.
However, this means that every single week we’ve been working with a new group of kids and saying goodbye only three or four days after meeting them.Because I go into the week knowing the schedule and the end date, saying goodbye is bearable. It’s always something that I knew was coming. Subconsciously, I probably don’t let myself get as attached as I usually would. For the kids, though, it’s different. The hardest part of every Friday when we’re about to leave after having worked an entire week somewhere is when someone inevitably asks, “Teachers, will you come tomorrow?” One of us usually answers something along the lines of, “You don’t have school tomorrow!” in an attempt to avoid the question: “What about Monday?”
Seeing the way their faces fall when they learn that our time teaching them has ended is one of the things I dread the most. I don’t want to make it sound like we are coming in and changing their lives through one simple workshop. Their lives probably won’t be split into two: before the Duke students and after the Duke students. However, our time with them at the very least means they take a break from seeing a teacher in front of a blackboard and can have more agency in their own education by thinking creatively through pictures and play. Through LTP, they can link their least favorite subject with a fun game that might change the way they view it. They’re given a chance to answer questions open-endedly and there is no pressure to reach a pre-determined correct response.
The goodbye I’m dreading the most, though, happens tomorrow when we will visit our after school students at Arusha School for the last time. Every single day that we’ve been in Arusha I’ve spent my afternoons with a small group of students (15 regularly come and there are another 10 or so drifters) who I’ve grown to love. They call me “Ciñorita Natalia” and they wait for me by the school’s gate at 4:30 and as soon as they see me they run as fast as they can to give me the first hug. They take my backpack and anything I may be holding from me and, holding hands, we walk to our favorite patch of grass to begin our lesson. This is easily the highlight of my day and is the best cure for any sleepiness or any bad mood. No matter how tired I am, after spending ten minutes with my “chiquitos” I am renewed. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so much consistent, limitless love in my life, and this is not a failure on my family and friends’ part, but rather a reflection of how affectionate the kids are. They’re a boundless source of energy. Saying that I’m going to miss them is a huge understatement and now, on this Friday morning, it’s my turn to ask, “What about Monday?”
I’m not 100% sure why I love this photo so much, but I think it has to do with how candid it is and how easily I can imagine the conversation taking place here. It reminds me of how well I’ve gotten to know the students in my afterschool art class at Arusha School. I can’t believe that it’s already been two months, and in just a few days we will be leaving the continent featured behind my girls.
The photo also displays the personality of these four perfectly – Dorcas (top right), forever distracted; Lilian (top left), always looking out for others (here I imagine she’s observing what the other girls are doing); Dora (bottom left), ever curious; Florence (bottom right), always chatty. As soon I notice myself noticing these details, I feel immensely grateful for the privilege of getting to know these kids well enough to be able to recognize these qualities. Having a small group—around 16 students—has allowed me to truly share in their lives.
This particular photo was taken after our second-to-last art class by students who had already finished early. I was somewhere between frustrated and endeared and amused—as always, attempting to keep my still-working students in the cafeteria on task and the ones giggling and taking photos outside careful and gentle with the camera. I remember being tired, but in a content way, after spending over an hour flitting from student to student, hoping to offer some guidance or advice. This photo brings to mind a tired-lovely sort of feeling that makes me want to roll my eyes and laugh at the same time. I think memories of teaching in Arusha will always conjure this feeling, which is why this imperfect, awkwardly framed photo feels important and valuable to me.
Normally we are so busy teaching and attempting to assess results that a photo like this might pass by unnoticed. As I searched my students’ photos in order to choose one to write about in this reflection, I caught myself trying to find some other more ‘professional’ photos–maybe one with more even lighting, with subjects doing something recognizable, with a sharp focus, a photo that revealed clever symbolism or the creativity of the photographer. It was as if I were looking for proof that we DukeEngage students had really done something with our time here. But then I realized I don’t need that sort of reassurance. Somehow I keep coming back to this photo, with its cropped version of Africa and four girls in their uniforms dusted in afternoon light and who knows what else. None of them paying attention, some of them moving, all of them in middle of being their lovely selves. It makes me smile.
I have always had trouble with saying goodbye to people. I think this stems from losing both of my grandfathers, to whom I was very close, during high school. Something about knowing that I may never see someone again tears me apart, especially that person is integrated into my daily life. When I spend two hours every weekday for two months with kids that have so much affection, of course I am going to get really attached to them. The boys in my afterschool group at Arusha School are always either smiling or laughing or playing or saying “Teacha can I have the ball?” But on my last day with them, all I saw were frowns and tears ready to roll down their cheeks. That feeling can only be described as heartbreaking.
And of course I am thankful for them. But I wish I wasn’t so loyal to them whenever we worked at other schools. I wish I could have given and received as much love when working with kids at Meru Primary and Swifts and Shalom and everywhere else we went. Sure, it would be much more difficult to say goodbye to this country if I had gotten as attached to every kid at every school that I worked with, but maybe I could have given them something more. Maybe I could have given more hugs and high fives and asked a few more questions.
Of course there will always be “Maybe…” and “What if?”, but as I sit and reflect six hours before my flight back to the States, I am filled with so many different emotions. Sadness—because I miss my boys. Regret for not missing the other kids as much. I get to see my parents soon, but I am leaving my kids behind. I may be going home, but I am also leaving home. Amidst all the emotions I feel, hope is a surprisingly strong one. Hope that I will always remember what my Arusha kids have given me. Hope that they will remember what I have given them. Hope that I can make up for not loving the other kids as much. Hope that I will maintain all the connections that I have made here. Hope that I will be able to find the same kind of happiness I have found here again. But most of all, hope that I will one day be able to come back to this beautiful country I have called home for two months. For now, kwaheri Tanzania.