Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Final Day in Vava'u

Saying goodbye is so hard. It seems that with every passing year it gets harder.

When I woke up yesterday my first thought was "Wow. This is the last time you'll be sleeping here, Mandy." And as I slowly made my way out of bed I started thinking about this little house that I've made my home the last two years. I walked quietly through every room (all two of them) and thought about the memories that I had there and what this space has meant to me throughout this journey.

I got dressed, threw a few final things in my luggage and was ready to start the day. Not only was yesterday my last day in Vava'u, but it was also the first day of the Class 6 exam. The Class 6 students soon showed up and I was met with many comments about how it was my last day, that the students would miss me and how they wanted to make sure I would come back to visit.

Then it was time to line the kids up to start the examination and I went down the line, giving them huge hugs and high fives and wishing them good luck. When they started the examination, breakfast was brought by some local people for all of the teachers who were not proctoring. We sat and drank tea and ate fresh coconut and pie.

During this time Winne, a local woman that I have had the honor of getting to know the last two years, brought me a few gifts and said goodbye. She handed me a hand-made fan with "Vava'u Lahi" (the island's name) painted on it and added "so you will always remember your time here".

And then it was time for Salesi to take me to the airport. He packed my bags in the back of his car (he's the only teacher with a car) and I hugged Winnie.

This whole "going away" thing has not felt real - it feels much like I'm going on vacation and that I will be coming back shortly. But when I moved to hug Ane I fell apart. I realized that I may never be back in Tonga, I may never see these kids again, and that everything is again about to change. Ane, who is a very put-together lady, started sobbing and then I fell apart too. I got into the car and she walked to the gate waving and crying while I stuck my head out of the window and waved and cried too.

It was hard. So so hard.

Salesi and I drove to Katie's house (a Peace Corps friend who still has a year left in Vava'u) and she came with us to the airport. Salesi and I talked about the last two years while we drove, he thanked me for everything I taught him and I thanked him for sharing his stories, his ideas and his family with me. We drove across the island - under the coconut trees and through the bush. We drove around cows and through taro root plantations until we made it to the Vava'u Airport. One of the men from my village works there so there was no need to show identification. We joked about how the Tongan people had made me fat with all their me'akai 'ifo (delicious food) and they reminded me to continue to eat like a Tongan (ok, sure). It was about this time that my favorite cab driver drove up. Vava jumped out of the cab wearing a Florida t-shirt, saw me and gave me a hug. With tears in his eyes he said "Mandy, remember what I told you?" and I responded "Yes, Vava. When I come back to Tonga I am suppose to ask for Vava's cab and if you are dead then I am supposed to ask for your grandson." We both laughed. He hugged me again and left in his big white van.

It came time to board - I knew it was time because Alatini (the man from my village who works there) gave me and the other 6 passengers a thumbs up. I turned and hugged Salesi and then Katie. And was off.

As we were taxing out to the runway (about 20 ft) I frantically tried to find a good song on my iPod to listen to while we were taking off. "Wild Child" by Enya was the perfect choice and as we took off I looked down at the perfect moment. You see, every time I had taken the airplane before we always flew directly over Toula (my village) so I never got to see it from the air, but this time the pilot was taking a slightly different route. So as I looked out the window I saw my school, my little house and the kids playing outside. It was in that moment, with Enya playing in the background, that I let a lot of emotions I'd been holding in, escape. Enya was playing so loud that I didn't realize how vocal I was being (Guys, I may have been waling). I sobbed - I cried hard because this place and people had filled holes in my heart that I didn't even know I had. I cried because I'm not sure if I'll ever be back here. I cried because I made it the full two years. I cried because I was really overcome by how much love I've been shown here and by people back home who haven't forgotten about me.

And while looking out that window I noticed a rainbow which the plane ended up flying right over (I can hear Judy Garland singing it right now). As we passed the rainbow (I promise you I'm not making this up), two whales breached and I smiled.

What a wonderful farewell. In that moment, it was like the island had one more special gift for me.

The next few days will include language and medical tests, logistical paperwork to sign, a training session with the incoming Peace Corps group, and some time with friends here on the main island. I'll write more in my next post.

There are so many emotions involved in a transition like this, but right now only one word comes to mind: grateful.