Yesterday turned out better than I ever expected. I had planned a field day for my students and though their attendance to class had been rather sparse of late, many of them came out to frolic. We started at the town square and after waiting a healthy 30 minutes for everyone to trickle in, we paraded to the river. There they had their first encounter with water balloons starting with a gentle tossing game which, much to my delight, turned into a full-blown war. We played the squeeliest game of soccer I have ever witnessed, a Mongolian numbers game and arm-link tag. There were cupcakes and apples, soda and juice. We sang songs, took pictures and giggled until it hurt. Though the day had been brutally windy earlier, the weather decided to behave itself I believe in reverence to the laughing children. We were all shocked to find it 6:30 when the girls tired and the games finally wound down.
Our shadows lengthened as we walked back into town and the girls flanked me affectionately on either side. I knew I had to try really hard to explain to them that I was leaving soon and was not coming back. Earlier three girls had left the river and when I tried to hint at the fact that this was goodbye forever, they just smiled, waved and skipped off towards home. They didn't understand.
Mongolia is a nomadic culture; one based around journeys. People are used to their family and friends coming and going on missions and excursions, especially in such a remote town. But in all the journeys here I've seen, the wayfarer always returns. This very well might be the first time that a loved one does not come back to these teenagers.
Soon, when a few others started to peel off down a dust-packed road, I made a more concerted effort at expressing what this parting meant. This time it sank in. One girl looked at me like I was crazy and belted 'why?!'. A sad recognition crept over the faces of others. They asked me when I was coming back; 'never' seemed too cruel so I just shrugged and told them 'maybe someday'. They all hugged me and professed their love; some even walked with me to my house, as if they were trying to squeeze out every last minute together. I was glad they came with me although one of the girls started to cried.
I have held off tears until now. Thursday we had a grand graduation for my older class, the class I am closest with. Midway though the ceremony, as I was joyfully watching one of my students give a speech, my counterpart leaned over and whispered 'ok, now you must give speech'- a news flash to me. So I marched up there and squared off with my favorite class. I had written them a letter before with all my thoughts and love for them so this public affair seemed unimportant; they all knew how I felt. But it was still a struggle not to cry; I had to take a few deep breaths soaking in the knowledge that I'd probably never see my wonderful, and sometimes deviant, angels ever again.
I guess it all boils down to trust now. I must trust that they won't forget our time together, that they will continue to work hard and dream big, that they will value themselves with confidence and that I did my best during our time together. I know my absence will be like plucking the soccer ball out of the river we played next to, barely a splash will ruffle the surface. But I do hope that these amazing little people I have enjoyed so much time with will hold the memory of me at least for a little while. I know I will keep them with me forever.