Friday, July 8:
Today was a pretty emotional day, but nearly as much so as I had imagined. We all woke up with butterflies in our stomach, knowing that this was the day we had to say goodbye to our kids. I was all of nervous, upset, sad, hopeful and anxious. What if all my boys didn’t even come to school today? What if I didn’t get to say goodbye to some of them? What if they didn’t grasp the point that I’m leaving, and it’s no longer “tu nana mawa”? Will they understand that this is goodbye for good? Will they understand how much of an impact they have made in my life, and that I would do absolutely anything to give them the best futures possible? So many thoughts and emotions were flooding my mind and heart as we pulled up to the school.
Today was the day that the teachers handed back the exams to their students, acknowledging if they passed or failed the standard. Because of this, almost the entire school was present which made us all so happy as we pulled up to the school. As Katie and I walked into our classroom, the standards were combined again and Odina told us that about 64 students had passed standard 5, and 143 had failed. Is that unbelievable or what? Now I understand why standard 5 is the largest grade at most schools in Malawi; it is the first year that the lessons are to be taught in complete English, as are the final exams. As the exams started being handed out, Katie and I noticed how each of the kids looked like they were about to cry, and it was the one time I think that I witnessed the class in almost complete silence. The teachers explained the numbers of those who failed and passed, and the students faces all dropped. All my boys looked so distraught, especially Brighty, Albert and Raphael. The teachers began handing the exams out, first handing out those who passed and then handing out to those who failed. Katie and I looked at each other in disbelief; can you imagine if this was the system of passing out tests, let alone exams, in America? If your name was called to the front and the entire class knew whether you had passed or failed?
By the end of all the finals being returned, Edward, Chisinsi, Mike and Henery were the only ones out of my boys who had passed (I guess according to the statistics that’s a good amount out of nine). Yakobe, Allfu, Albert, Raphael, Brighty and 138 other students were going to repeating standard 5 again next year. My boys who had passed were all so excited and so proud of themselves, as was I. However, my boys who had failed looked so confused and disappointed, so I tried to comfort them as much as possible and let them know it was okay and I still thought they did a great job; standard 5 is the hardest grade, after all.
When the exams were all finished being passed out, the entire school headed outside for the last school assembly before summer break. The headmaster lead the school in their national anthem, and afterwards everyone cheered and screamed and started running around. I started handing out the rest of my shoes, giving a pair of tennis shoes to Chinsinsi, another pair to Grant, and my last pair to Edward and Edwin (even though I gave them a pair yesterday). I handed out the rest of my pens, and also bags of trail mix to Henery, Edward (playing favorites?), Allfu and Albert. Katie and I then quickly realized that the students were heading home, and they didn’t understand that this was the last time they might see us. We went searching for the ones we needed to say goodbye to, but most of them had already left. I was dragging off the goodbyes, and as we headed to MIE I had Albert, Raphael and Edward walk with me to get the teacher bags we had put together. I then walked back to Domasi for the beginning of our “Farewell Ceremony”, and in my mind I knew that those boys would still be waiting for me when the ceremony was over. I didn’t really understand why I hadn’t cried yet. Allfu, Brighty, Yakobe, Chinsinsi, Mike and Henery had all left. They were gone, and I hadn’t really said goodbye. I think the reason I didn’t cry was because I know in my heart that I will be back to Malawi. I know that I am going to do everything in my power to keep in touch with them through Odina; I will write her letters to hand off to them, I will send them money and pictures, I will constantly remind them that I am here for them and will never forget them. I want to stay with them as they grow up. I want to encourage them to stay in school and try their hardest to get into secondary school. If they graduate secondary school, I will do everything possible to get them a visit to the United States. Whether these boys realize it or not, they will be in my life forever, and I want to be in theirs as well. I think they are too young to understand the meaning of “goodbye”, and the true distance, metaphorically and physically, between the United States and Malawi. All of my hopes and aspirations for these boys is what kept me from crying. I think I justified it by the fact that if I cried, I would be accepting that I will not see these children again, and my work for them is through. However, I am not accepting that fact. I will see them again, and my work has only just begun.
As we walked into the classroom for our “Farewell Ceremony”, there were chairs lined up in a semi-circle and the teachers were all seated at one side. There was a table at the front of the room where the headmaster and Dr. Kelly sat, behind them being the chalkboard with a pretty, written drawing saying “Farewell Ceremony: We wish you all the best when going back to America”. They had one of the teachers be a d.j. and we all danced for a little bit with each other and our teachers. Then, we officially began the ceremony in prayer and John Wesley read an opening speech about how thankful they are for us, and everything that we do for them. The teachers then handed out snacks and refreshments, which was so nice of them; it was the usual choice of Fanta’s but we were all pretty excited when they brought out a little tray of shortbread cookies. After there were a few speeches from John Wesley, Dr. Kelly and the headmaster, it was our turn to step up and speak. One by one, the roommates got up and spoke to their teachers, and then handed them the bag of school supplies that we put together for them. Lindsay and Ashley went first, followed by an emotional Bebe and Alison who began the waterworks, then Anna and Kaitlin, Katie and I, and ending with Emily and Devon. When it was Katie and I’s turn to speak, I decided to just read the letter that I had written for Odina. I never get nervous during public speaking, but for some reason my hands were shaking and my body was tense; I’m assuming from all the built up emotion. As I read my letter, Odina put her head in her hands and started crying, and I could no longer hold it together. I was fighting tears as I read the letter, explaining how grateful I was for having this experience and being welcomed with such open hearts and open arms. I told Odina that her positive spirit was uplifting and I couldn’t wait to see everything that she did for these children’s futures. At the end I told her we loved her and would be writing her letters and sending her pictures often, and then we presented her with her bag and school supplies. We all gave big hugs, and the look in her eyes was so genuine as she told us she was going to miss us so much and wished we could stay forever.
After Emily and Devon gave their speech, the headmaster gave a final speech about the difference we make in everyone’s lives when we come to Malawi, and then he called up McDonald and Odina to present us with our presents. This began the lighter section of the ceremony, for we all knew what the presents were and were so excited to receive our traditional Malawian custom outfits! They presented the gifts in the same way as was done at the orphanage, by dancing slowly up to the person and then placing the gift in their arms or by their feet. After we all received our presents, the lady teachers took us into another classroom and we all changed into our matching Malawian outfits; what a sight it was, and what an amazing souvenir we now have from this experience. The teachers led us, dancing of course, back into the ceremony where all the other teachers started cheering and we all proceeded to dance. (Standard). After the ceremony was officially ended, we all went outside to take pictures with our teachers in our “chisinsi” and tops, and then took a few group pictures. They are absolutely adorable, and the teachers kept telling us how beautiful we looked.
While we were outside taking pictures, Edward, Edwin, Albert, Raphael and Katie’s little Innocent came over and played with us for a while. We took a lot more pictures with them, and tried explaining to them that we were leaving to go back to America and didn’t know when we would see them again. They kept responding with “okay” but I definitely don’t think they understood what we were saying. I handed them some more food, and Katie gave them her peanut butter, and then we waited for the bus to arrive. As we were loading the bus, the boys all came running over, with the peanut butter jar completely empty- it had been maybe 15 minutes since we gave it to them completely full. All we could do was laugh as their hands were covered in stickiness, and their faces globbed with peanut butter. As the bus was about to leave, I held onto all of their hands and told them that I loved them. I didn’t think they knew the meaning of “I love you” in English, but as we were pulling away then screamed, “I love you Kelsey, I love you!” At this point, I knew that I left on the best note possible. I smiled, and cried, on the way back to Annie’s, just thinking about the next encounter I will have with them, and hoping they also forever hold onto the memories we’ve shared. Peace, love, Malawi.
When we arrived back at Annie’s, most of us took naps, read and just relaxed. The weather has been so gloomy and freezing the past few days, so we haven’t really had the energy to go into town. At about 5:30 pm we all went down for dinner, and most of us were dreading having to get ready for Annie’s party tonight. We were all emotionally drained, and physically tired, and wondering why they always plan the parties on the worst days! A few girls ended up opting out of going, but our group felt bad about bailing after Annie had been planning this, so we sucked it up and got ready. We headed to Black Diamond at about 8 pm, with another bus ride adventure full of random sing-a-longs. Katie and I busted out Grease songs, which was absolutely hysterical and probably the highlight of my night haha! Everyone was cracking up, and wondering how the hell we knew the words for, “We’re one of a kind like dip-da-dip-da-wop, do-wop-a-doobie-do. Chang chang, changity- changy bop, that’s the way it should be. Awooooo ya!” I’m sure our lyrics were not quite so accurate as they thought, but it was entertaining none-the-less.
The first hour at Black Diamond was fun, especially for us who had fuzzy memories from the last party there. A guy named Fitzgerald was the opening act, and his reggae music and backup band were actually very talented. We all danced and took pictures for about an hour and a half, and then two more opening singers performed. Alison, Jameson and I went outside and talked to Fitzgerald for a while, who kept talking about how he was going “to marry a white”. Not a white girl, not a white person, just “a white”. He was so funny though and kept saying how much he wanted to come to America, and how there is a radio station in Florida who plays his music and has interviewed him several times. By this time, it was close to 10:30 pm and I was exhausted. I went inside, and most of the Tech girls were sitting in the back of the club with their eyes closed, just waiting for the signal that it was time to leave. Finally, close to midnight, we all loaded the bus and headed back to Annie’s. It had been a very long day, and I think most of us just wanted to go to bed. Well, that’s all for today. I cannot believe tomorrow is our last day in Zomba. The time has completely flown by, which I expected, but going home is so bittersweet. I am so excited to see my family and friends and tell them all my stories, and show them all my pictures. I’m so excited to have FOOD and get sun and play with my puppy. If I could teleport home for a few days and skip the 24-hour travel period, I would be back here next week. If I could afford to not get a real job and to be able to travel back and forth to Malawi every other month, I would do it in a heartbeat. I would be here as much as I could, just to play with my boys and keep those beautiful smiles on their innocent faces. Well, I bet the sap story is getting kind of old to you, but my stories don’t even give justice to the experiences I have encountered, the people who have entered my heart, and the challenges I have faced. I love these people. Will post again tomorrow, our last day in Zomba! Peace, love, Malawi. Forever.