I don’t think anyone really enjoys goodbyes. Especially not when the experience and the relationships had a large, or even a small, positive impact on our lives. Nobody gets excited to leave a place they’ve called home for an extended period of time, a community that has embraced them, taught them, and loved them, or a network of like-minded and supportive friends. But, if I had to repeat my goodbye with Honduras, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
I said goodbye to the majority of my students and their families on the last day of classes. Since we still had two more weeks of cleaning and organizing ahead of us in the school, it didn’t feel completely real yet. Many of my students seemed to feel the same way, having known for a while that I wasn’t returning for second grade but always thinking that our last day together was far off in the future. However, when I handed out end-of-the-year gifts and gave my little “Thank you/I love you” speech, several of my boys started crying, and one was inconsolable for the better part of an hour. It was certainly hard for me to hold back the tears in front of everyone, with my 24 little goofballs telling me not to go and that they would miss me, and many parents expressing their sincere appreciation for the work I’d done over the past two years.
Fortunately, I was able to see several students one more time before leaving Honduras. The following Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in my bed Skyping with my parents when a student of mine burst through the door excitedly yelling, “Vámonos! Vamos al cine!” (Only in Honduras). And so I spontaneously went off with his family to see Jurassic World at CityMall, which was ten times more enjoyable with a seven-year-old reaching out trying to catch the 3D objects seemingly jumping out of the screen. An added bonus of that trip was that while in the food court, we fortuitously ran into one of my favorite little first-graders who had left the school in January. I also went to another student’s house that week, where she was ecstatic about showing me her dog, and her mother gifted me a homemade necklace made from shoelaces. On one of our last days at the school, another student and his mom came in to say goodbye and brought me, among other things, a Gemini mug because my student remembered exactly when my birthday was.
In my last few days in Cofradía, I shared a really fun dinner with the family of the girl I had been tutoring for two years. The visit culminated in a photo shoot, the kids refusing to stop hugging me, and then a family chant of “La extrañaremos! La extrañaremos!” (We’ll miss you.) I also spent four hours at another family’s house, just chatting with the mom and aunt of two SJBS students (and watching them try to save one of their new little puppies from an attack by their other dog). The man who makes all of the copies for the school and his sister sent us off with tears and a group photo superimposed over a background of Cofradía, so it looks like we are sitting on our couch in the middle of the boulevard. On the night before my departure, I checked my phone after finishing a movie with my roommates to find several missed calls and an extremely long text message from one of my student’s mothers. She said that my student was hoping to say goodbye to me on the phone, thanked me, and told me to continue in my life with that “gran corazón.” I was able to return her call right around bedtime and say a choppy goodbye to my student before flying out. That was probably the most special moment for me at the end of this year.
And, of course, in addition to the students and families, there were the incredible BECA volunteers and Hondurans I was lucky enough to work with for a year or two. Our director brought us delicious flan and beautiful notes and would not stay at the apartment more than five minutes because we all knew we’d start crying. The tears did come when I hugged many of the teachers who have supported me personally and professionally and become some of my closest friends. The nuns sent us off with typical Honduran shirts and homemade picture frames, and, I was happily surprised to see all of them show up at the airport in the morning to make sure I had no problems getting through immigration. As I walked out of security on the second floor, I looked down below me through the window and saw them all in a line, smiling and waving to me.
So, the goodbyes were definitely far from easy, but when almost everyone tells you that you’re always welcome and that they’ll be awaiting your visit, you always know you the special place you are leaving will be ready for your return.