Perhaps there are many reasons for my refusal to write these days. My time here is almost over, things don’t seem as ‘exotic’ or ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ anymore, I’ve just grown lazy. Who is to tell? But this evening caught me off guard and reminded me once again of the charms of this life, one that is ending before even I got a chance to truly recognise my surroundings as the choices I have made.
For years, almost for as long as I can remember, I have had the fear of forgetting. It has manifested itself in many ways, most obviously in how much of a hoarder I am. I save scraps of everything, movie stubs and tissues from restaurants that made memories. All sorts of things. I have notes my kids wrote me, Happy Holiday cards that I was given, and of course, this blog – a personal recording of the stories that have made this experience what it has been. Yet, as time here draws to a close (34 more days!), I find myself gripping tighter, harder, trying to make some moments linger, some memories stick.
This evening was one such.
There is this tree just outside the Teachers’ Quarters. It has seen quite a bit, this tree. It was my writing spot for many of these posts, saw colleagues bonding, saw crying on rough nights, saw lesson plans and corrections. It has borne witness to my teaching tenure and that of many before me. And today, I sat under it doing nothing for a few minutes. I noticed it was getting dark and the weather was quite pleasant (it had rained in the afternoon). The far end of the compound was covered by a carpet of jacaranda flowers, yet another addition to my Anaikatti vocabulary. The coconut tree was bearing fruit, and my view was only barred by the cashew nut tree in my way. The mosquitoes were starting to set in and I could hear the calls of crows and sparrows and insects I knew not the name of. It was silent, pristine, so much so that the accidental honking by a driver seemed harsh, unnecessary, out of place. I sat outside taking it all in – the sounds and the silence – and I realised yet again how transient this experience has been.
When I signed up to come here, more than one person looked at it as a sacrifice – of potential, of possibility, of “what could have been”. I have been honest time and again in the acceptance of two things – I did not truly know what I was signing up for, but whatever it was, it was entirely a selfish move. These last two years have only reinforced the reality of those two beliefs.
I am confident that this is only the first of multiple posts where I try to find the words for what this school has taught me. Sitting on a bed (yes, I moved in thanks to the mosquitoes. No amount of romanticism can take away from the stings through leggings!) that is littered with answer papers waiting for my attention, I am not sure where to begin. As a teacher, the learnings have been many, unquestionably so. Yet what of as a person? As a serendipitous teacher and a self-proclaimed “development sector person,” why did I choose to come here? What do I go back with?
This school taught me to breathe. It taught me to let go and step back. When a high school teacher told student me that I was not Atlas, I could neither comprehend the implications nor entirely accept the lifestyle it asked of me. Being a high school teacher myself gave me no choice. I taught, I watched, I prayed, and I stepped back. That was all.
The school taught me that I was important, in myself and of myself. My principal regularly reminded me to take breaks, told me when it was important for me to step back, and watched me as I struggled to strike the balance. Today, finally, there are days when I choose a movie over correction, a phone call over lesson planning, and do not feel unduly guilty for claiming some Me Time.
The school taught me responsibility. I remember clearly the day that I was given a certificate as a five-year-old for being responsible. My school chose a kid a week and awarded them for a virtue they possessed, and that was deemed to be mine. Yet, twenty years later, it is this school that truly taught the newly-minted adult what that meant. When parents leave their wards in your care, what does that mean? When children ask your advice for career choices, how do you react? When your words have more power than you would realise, what do you do?
Anyone who has spoken to me would have heard stories of my own school, the one I studied in till Grade 10, and how that laid the foundation for the person I have become. These last two years have nurtured the sapling that was sown into the adult I will be. It has taught me to be confident in the person I am, proud of the choices I make, and responsible for their consequences. Whether I ever sign off another report card again, these remnants will stay on.