Saying Good-bye

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February 27th 2014
Published: June 10th 2017
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Most evenings before meditation at Wat Opot the kids watch some really terrible Khmer television, but they love it. I don't understand a word of it, but the visuals pretty much tell the sad story of teenage love and loss and the trauma of loving somebody when that someone loves someone else. Many evenings I stay outside until meditation starts, and interact with kids who aren't watching TV, ones who want to just talk, or be held, or who want to play clapping games, or have me watch them and count while they jump rope; I like to make myself available for them. But since last night was my last night at the orphanage, I sat down to watch TV, as that was where most of the kids were. Suddenly there were four children trying to sit on my lap, and not all of them were little. On the ads they'd ask, "You go Phnom Penh tomorrow? Why you go? You come back? When?" I didn't want to lie and say I'd be back next year because I don't know what I'll be doing next year, or where my life will take me. It's very freeing to be in this situation, but difficult to make promises, especially to a child who does not understand why you are leaving; they just know you will go.

"I come to Phnom Penh with you." said one enterprising soul. "School tomorrow at 3 o'clock?" said another. No, I told them both. And three of some of my favorite preteen boys appeared in the volunteer living room last night, just sitting on the couch for no good reason I could figure out except that it was their way of saying good-bye. (Of course Wayne was also in the room, so maybe they just wanted to be near him; no matter where Wayne goes the kids all want to hang all over him. So maybe that was the reason they were there, but I wonder since he's there other nights but they are not.) I can understand why many volunteers return year after year after year; once a bond has been made between child and adult it seems wrong somehow to interrupt or break it by leaving, but, except for the very littlest children, this was known from the beginning. But, as we probably all have experienced, what the brain knows the heart sometimes does not understand, or accept. This is especially difficult to reconcile when one is very young, or has found some comfort in a certain situation or in a certain person.

So I packed up my things this morning, and returned all the items I used this month to teach the children English and math and music. My room suddenly looked very empty! But my heart was full, full of the beautiful faces of these children, full of the memories of working and playing with them, remembering walking the younger ones to school in the morning and meeting them at the school gate when they were dismissed. One little girl made sure her classmates saw me holding her hand and hugging her as they walked or bicycled home. Other memories also surface, such as the boys poking me in the back near my ribs knowing I'll jump and try to catch them; visual memories of the kids swimming in the ponds (no clothing needed), splashing in their "boat", or, as I saw today, riding a bicycle through the fairly deep water. I have memories of a large tree outside the café full of children who climbed to the top branches, living decorations of the very best kind. Leaving is bittersweet, as I know they will be fine when volunteers leave, and they know it too. They have the love and connections with Wayne and Melinda and understand that those two people will never leave them, ever, no matter how many volunteers come and go.

So here I am in Phnom Penh again, with another month of volunteering at the orphanage behind me. I won't hear the frogs and insects sing tonight, and tomorrow is a very long travel day as I head to India. But there's a big, comfortable bed here at the Spring Guest House, and no resident cat to interrupt my sleep, plus there is a good internet connection so I won't have to wake up at 4AM to get my work done. And if I'm lucky tonight I'll have sweet dreams about the good times I had at Wat Opot. Then it will be time for me to head off on another adventure.


28th February 2014

Hi Laura,I know from when I left my village in Samoa after two years there how heart wrenching leaving can be. As you know, your memories will stay with you forever and the experience has made your life richer even as you brought joy to tho
se lovely children. You a a lovely person. Thank you for sharing your blog with me. Peace,Ken
28th February 2014

Thanks for including me in the receipt of your blog postings. I have really enjoyed being in Cambodia vicariously through you. Your writing is so descriptive that I felt like I was really there. Please continue them as you travel through In
28th February 2014

Pure love of young and innocent kids is so refreshing. Laura, I am happy for you that you get to taste some of it.

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