I didn’t get to say goodbye to my favorite bakeshop. When I arrived, neglectful of the fact that my last trip to my town was on All Saints Day, it was shuttered up tight. I missed out on the promise of a free chocolate-oat bar.
I managed to bid goodbye to nearly everyone and everything else important, and many people had two or three separate farewells. My center sent me off with exorbitant thanks, and I can only hope they recognize how much more they deserve my appreciation than vice-versa. Twenty-five children and coworkers (chosen to match up numerically with my age) gave their wishes for me; we ate cake and took pictures; I gave my last speech, a fumbling mix of Ilonggo and English; and I received gifts, trinkets and hugs. Rain poured down my last night in Iloilo and kids splashed in puddles and kicked up mud.
The next day my supervisor, counterpart and a number of the youth picked me up in the city and took me to the airport. We reminisced, we joked, we said our ongoing goodbyes and we sang Bon Jovi.
It’s a sad thing to leave the place after two years, and a ridiculous thing to have planned it that way from the beginning. Maybe the countdown trivializes the time I spent in the Philippines. Literally speaking, I was never anything more than a transient. But I can say with conviction that on many, many occasions, it didn’t feel that way.
I’ve been very careful not to identify my town, my center, and especially my kids on this blog. I wish I could list the last here, post their photos and thank them each for what they gave me. I can’t. I trust that my coworkers know how thankful I am for their kindness and helpfulness, for their patient explanations of things I didn’t understand and for their willingness to work with me. For my kids, I hope they understand the impact they had on my service and the fact that they made my stay what it was – that talking with them, working with them and being part of their family was the core of my two years in their country, and that I probably learned much more from them than they did from me.
I fly out today for Japan, and for now I’ll avoid any mushiness about the Philippines staying in my heart, being my home away from home, et cetera. Platitudes cheapen.
But I’ll be on a bus tonight to Tokyo, and in my head I’ll be singing Bon Jovi.