I had just sat down on the bus, which was unusually quiet and subdued, with none of the normal laughter and singing. Sitting there I was being forced to contemplate the fact that we were leaving Bukinda, we were leaving these precious, resilient children, and that our day to day lives of Shanghai was what soon awaited us. Seeing so many of these normally such happy and bubbly kids with wet tearful eyes was just too much for me. As the bus pulled away, the dam burst and my own tears began to fall. I wiped them away, but they continued to stream down my face. No amount of wiping could dry my cheeks. We'd only spent two weeks together. What had happened in that short time that turned us all into such emotional wrecks at goodbye time. Being a team of expats, living thousands of miles from home nations and friends and family, you'd have thought we'd be accustomed to this.
Was it because of that night we all spent dancing singing? It was a night without moonlight but the sky was covered by millions of stars. A power cut hit us after dinner and suddenly everyone disappeared into the dark. I started to dig for a torch in my bag when one of TPC kids started to sing. I'm not sure who it was, although my guess would be Promise, she lives to sing! “There is something today..." Suddenly more and more voices joined in. I found my torch and turned it on. With just the light of a single torch, we danced and sang. Our kids joined in too, and our teachers. One song after another our singing and dancing carried on well into the night, under the light of a single torch and millions of stars.
Or was it because of that “Goodnight”? There is a girl called Joan, she is one of the littlest ones. Every afternoon when she got home from school she would come and sit beside me and we'd read or weave bags together. Once time weaving she got a cut and came to me show me to ask for help, using the local language. I didn't understand at first, but then I saw thr small wound and her Bambi eyes said everything. I gently cleaned her cut and put a plaster on. I felt that if I was too strong, her tiny arm would easily snap. After we finished cleaning the cut, she gave me a huge thank you smile and it warmed my heart. Later that night, I was standing on the balcony when I looked down towards her room and saw her lying on the bed through the window. I met her eyes and quietly whispered, “Goodnight”. She responded with that warm smile and closed her eyes and fell asleep. She looked so happy, peaceful, and safe.
Going back to that final bus journey, we all tried to say goodbye with smiles and hold back the tears, but our resolve lasted all of thirty seconds. It is so hard to say goodbye after all those fun times; it is so hard to say goodbye after you've developed such close bonds; it is so hard to say goodbye to children who've already said goodbye forever to their own parents.
But as I said before, as hard as it is, we have to say goodbye. Why? Because we need to return to our community and tell this story, we want the world to hear about the strength of these kids and their inspirational success stories. We need to continue to drum up support to keep The Peace Centre in funds. We need to return to our studies so that we can get jobs and continue to look to the future. Life goes on.
So we have to say goodbye. Just like parents have to leave teary children at kindergarten, or on their first day or school, or even their first day of University (but then it's the teary parents), saying hard goodbyes is a part of life. But we prefer to think of it not as goodbye, but au revoir, see you later.
Because we will return. And in the mean time, we will miss you, wish the best for and think of you often, safe in the knowledge that you are safe under Peace and Golden's tender care. Look after each other kids, through the good times and the bad. We'll see you next year for more smiles, laughter and no doubt, more tears.