“When you’re this tall”

The sun had just set and the sky had that kind of glow that made everything seem cinematic.  It was Saturday evening and families were sitting outside.  One group at the corner salon asked me to join them for a “Cambodia,” but I declined.   The dogs, which turn vicious at night and force us to take the long way home, were not quite ready to attack in this light.  I passed three that had tried to take me out the previous night, and they just watched me walk by with confused looks on their faces.  They wanted to attack, but they knew it wasn’t time.
I turned a corner and looked up to see an orange glow bouncing from the clouds to the corner store.  Even the water buffalo were radiant, calmly chewing on the grass as I walked down the dirt road towards the hotel.  There were more families here and more friendly hellos.  People were outside taking their evening bucket shower, something I’ve grown used to seeing.  The air smelled clean, free of the usual smoke and dust.
The swamp, the one I nearly fell in two nights earlier while foolishly riding by on my bike after a storm, was on fire with the reflection of the pink clouds.  It never looked so beautiful.  Not even the infection that was still bothering both eyes could prevent me from experiencing this magical moment.
It was so peaceful and amazing that I didn’t bother to take my camera out of my backpack.  I knew the pictures could not capture the moment.
I had just said goodbye to the eight or so “regulars” who hang around the school and volunteer house where I had been living.  In the end, I didn’t spend much time as their teacher since I was working at another location for most of my three weeks here.  I did, however, spend most of my free time with these kids while I was living at the school.
We spent the entire afternoon playing all the things we’d done since I arrived:  Uno, Legos, computer games and taking pictures.  They are so creative and very appreciative of anyone spending time with them.
It doesn’t get easier to say goodbye, and I still question if, from the kids’ point of view, my time here was really worth it.  Is it really beneficial for them to have volunteers coming and going every few weeks?  There certainly are things they gain from the experience, but do those benefits outweigh the negatives?
In the end, I always feel like maybe I’m the one who becomes too attached and has a harder time saying goodbye, but I can’t assume that the kids don’t’ experience any negative effects from having so many brief relationships.  One positive is that these children are part of a stable community and most of them live with their own families.
There were lots and lots of hugs as I said goodbye just before my walk back to the hotel.  Every child thanked me, even though no other adult was around to remind them.  And I was asked, repeatedly, “Teacher Tim, when you come back?”  I should have been prepared, but wasn’t, so said the first thing that came to mind.   “When you’re this tall,” I said, holding my hand several inches above their heads.  They liked this answer, but now I feel like I’ve made a promise.
I came to Kratie three weeks ago and immediately questioned whether or not I should stay.  Things did not dramatically improve, but there were definite positive steps forward in regards to some of the concerns I initially had.  All of my regular readers will be tired of hearing this by now, but what made this a good experience was connecting with people.  Yes, I loved the kids (when I wasn’t teaching them!) but also made some great new volunteer friends and shared many, many laughs about our experiences here in Kratie.  I’m glad I came back to Cambodia.
















For another perspective on volunteering in Kratie,  read Sara and Melissa’s post (including pictures of me!)  http://twowomenwandering.com/?p=2064 
 

Comments (18):

  1. Melissa

    May 8, 2017 at 03:03

    Beautiful post. I have wondered the same about short stays teaching. We weren’t in Kratie for very long so I didn’t feel as much of a connection as you, but we were in the refugee camp for three weeks and it was so hard to leave the students there. Even now, when they contact us on FB, I wonder if it was worth it for us to go there and wonder if they gained anything useful. But then I think, at least they have friends “on the outside”.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:00

      Yes, I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages most of the time, but it’s good to be aware of both.

      Reply
  2. Sara

    May 8, 2017 at 04:53

    Ah Tim. You are such a great writer. I want to be like you when I grow up. Great post and introspection.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:00

      Thanks, Sara!

      Reply
  3. Paula Agins

    May 8, 2017 at 05:46

    I know I will miss your posts, the kids, the families and the beautiful pictures! I am sure they will remember you long after you leave.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:01

      Well, I know they’ll remember the Legos and Uno cards I left behind!

      Reply
  4. Lori

    May 8, 2017 at 05:53

    Tim, even making a connection one moment in time, no matter how brief, can be life changing…you may never know how much you have impacted a child’s life……but rest assured, you have made a positive difference that will last a lifetime.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:02

      Yes, I feel the same way most of the time.

      Reply
  5. Rosir

    May 8, 2017 at 06:46

    Hi Tim
    I realize that your experience has touched so many! Little feels as good as someone who cares and I’m sure these individuals sense your sincerity and caring about them. I loved the photos.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:02

      Thank you, Rosie!

      Reply
  6. LInda A Wight

    May 8, 2017 at 07:51

    It must be hard to leave the kids but I do think that people come into our lives at different times and make a difference, as I’m sure you did. I still think you’re teaching them even when not in the classroom. I still remember a dentist, that I went to as a child, who sent me a subscription that encouraged my love of reading. Perhaps you will be able to return someday. Love the pictures, Tim, and your wonderful descriptions of people and places. Happy travels and hope your eyes are better soon. Love, Linda

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:04

      Thanks, Linda. I do try to teach by example and guess I am always in teacher mode even when I’m playing with the kids.

      Reply
  7. Elaine Temel

    May 8, 2017 at 13:17

    Ahhh…..a beautiful reflection on your work. Reminded me of this quote…I think you are leaving your footprints where ever you go.
    “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”
    ― Flavia Weedn

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:05

      Great quote! It’s the kids who have left footprints on my heart.

      Reply
  8. Vicky Ann Deledda

    May 9, 2017 at 13:31

    Who is it harder for at departure time…. the kids or you?

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:05

      You already know the answer to that one.

      Reply
  9. Vicky Ann Deledda

    May 9, 2017 at 13:32

    Your titles are my favorite part!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 12, 2017 at 02:06

      Thanks! Sometimes they come to me way before I even write the post.

      Reply

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