Huhui was not acting normal. He lowered his head, sitting with both knees crossed and not making any noise. It was my last day with Arusha school students, a Friday afternoon, as dry and burning as ever. The next day, I will be on my trip back to the U.S, marking the end of the two months in Tanzania.
Farewell is always a hard part wherever I go. Saying farewell to those people whose life path once crosses over with me and might not ever cross again after. Xu Zhimo, one of the greatest Chinese poets in the 20th century, shared some of my thoughts during his farewell to Cambridge. “Very quietly I take my leave, as quietly as I came here; gently I flick my sleeves not even a wisp of cloud will I bring away.” Now that I am sitting in the public library of Seattle, the first day being outside Tanzania, the past two months’ memory just seems like a long and exceptionally detailed dream. The easiness of transition into a city life brings an unsettled feeling to me. Different from Xu Zhimo, I go to Tanzania actively longing for bringing something away. What have I brought away from Tanzania? Also, is there something I have left there?
One of the most important reasons that I chose this DukeEngage program is the one-hour session spent with elementary school kids every day. I didn’t want to spend too much time with children, as two months are short and long, and I was afraid the end might be something unbearable for the children. At the same time, I believed that if I want to leave or learn something from someone, daily interaction would be most helpful.
The first day of my after school class each student got a Chinese name according to their Tanzanian name, and on the last day, I prepared a “Kong Fu Kid” card for each student in my class. In each card, I attached a photo of the student holding his/her first try at Chinese calligraphy writing. This is a Chinese class, but because most of my students are small boys and misunderstood learning Chinese as learning Kong Fu, I have incorporated Kong Fu into my curriculum. Over the two months’ time, my group of students has learnt some basic Chinese expressions, songs and poems.
For a long time, I wasn’t sure if my students have enjoyed being my students as much as I enjoyed being their teachers. My class wasn’t particularly entertaining compared to others offered by my Duke peers—if I was a child, I wouldn’t prefer spending an hour learning about language to building things in a workshop or acting the part of a queen in a theatre class. Therefore, my students’ reaction to the end of the program made me feel particularly guilty.
Along with Huhui, 6 of the girls wrote me letters telling me how much they love me and will miss me. These students, even if they might not have had as much fun with me, still love me and will have a hard time after I leave. What it is about me that made them so attached to me? It’s probably not my language lessons or teaching style. If it is the two months’ time we spent together, is it really worthy and ethical for me to be in their life for the short two months for my own enrichment and force them to go through the feeling of being left behind? Is it responsible for me to come and learn, and leave the suffering of leaving to them? Since they are boarding school students, these children only go back home every three months, and our spending one hour accompanying them every day is a lot for them. I was thinking, how much they have to bear each year from their farewell to foreigners like us. And for them, how much did this experience really help them in their life? Does this compensate for their sadness? (I am aware that feeling abandoned can hurt children’s development.)
Things on my side are totally different. Surely I was sad to leave as well. I love them, but because right now there are so many people and things in my life, saying goodbye to them wasn’t as hard. I was teaching them, but as an unexperienced teacher, I learnt by teaching them more than I could offer them, as each day was a new undertaking.
If Duke Engage involves give and take, I was surely taking more from these children than I could give. In the end, they were all waving their hands to the car and all screamed, “Laoshi, Zaijian.”(“Teacher, good bye” in Chinese) We all know that this is the last Zaijian.