Tuesday 18th August
I was awake earlier than normal this morning. I think I was trying to prepare for the emotional day ahead and was wide awake as soon as I opened my eyes. I felt quite serious through breakfast and Raquel commented how quiet I was, but she knows why. We went down for our last assembly and at them all squeaking ‘good morning, madam, good morning, sir’ I nearly lost it already. Get a grip, woman! All of a sudden one of the older girls at the back of the assembly hall, about 9 or 10 years old, burst into tears and Raquel took her into the office to see what was going on. It transpires that the poor girl was beaten by her older brother this morning and her back was really hurting her. I don’t think she has a father (very very common here for the fathers to disappear and never be seen again) and her mother was away so she was cooking the days dinner this morning before school but then had to leave so as not to be late. She asked a sibling to just finish off the cooking and in response got a wicked beating for it. Poor child. Thank God she’s still coming to school so she can get out of this. It was really upsetting to hear.
So today we wandered through the classes randomly as I wanted to spend more time with my girl, Kajal, in Pre Nursery B. She was so happy and Javi got lots of pictures of us together so I’m happy. They were writing out letters of the alphabet and she was really struggling to form just the letters AB and C so I pulled her onto my lap and held her little hand to write them. She was so tiny and cute in my lap.
Then we went to Archana’s class and she gave me a gold necklace! It was so sweet and I had to try not to cry – her face was so cute, she’s permanently smiley. I’m so touched she’s given me a leaving present, how nice is that! Bless her. In Chandan’s class he was covering school books and the kids kind of just watching so I took one of their books and was pointing at pictures getting the kids to tell me the colours, shapes etc. We did the whole textbook but otherwise they were just doing nothing.
Of course I’ve taken a ton of pictures of each class today, and group ones too with their teacher and then one with me with the class and teacher and one with Javi and the teacher etc. Sajeet and Shipra wanted pics of us two on their phones too which I was quite flattered by to be honest. We had lunch with the kids and teachers on the roof and then back to classes. Fifteen minutes before home time all the classes were called to the assembly hall and honestly, I had no idea what was to come. I was not prepared!
All the kids were standing in the hall and the teachers too, and I was struggling to find my little Kajal and Panu in the crowd, it being more difficult because they weren’t sitting down. Raquel had a coy look on her face and all of a sudden both Kajal and Panu came out of the office with two bunches of beautiful flowers. I grabbed Kajal and Javi Panu and both of us were crying already. Ahh the thought of not seeing these little faces again was too much! All the kids were and laughing and screaming and Raquel said a few words, thanks for coming and helping and we hope you’ll come back, that kind of thing, and then one of the older kids bought us a wrapped up present. Inside were two lovely wallets and a huge piece of material suitable for a tablecloth or bed cover or something – it’s absolutely beautiful! Blues and reds and tiny patterns – we already know it’s going to cover our ugly sofa at home. We then went in amongst the kids and Raquel took lots of photos of us with everyone, with the teachers and also with her, of course. We were both red-faced and crying and holding on tight to Kajal and Panu. The hostel boys had come home from school by now and were all confused as to why we were crying – they just don’t show their emotions here in India at all like us Westerners, crying all the time. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life and we’ve only bloody been here 10 days! It’s crazy how attached we’ve become to the kids and the place. Lots and lots of hugs were exchanged and Urmilla (shouty) told me that she will pray for us to come back – another fresh bout of tears. Guryia the office assistant said she’ll miss us and Archana too – the women were all crying with us. Wow. Emotions emotions emotions! Then all of a sudden the school was empty and quiet again.
Upstairs in the house I got the pretty jewellery from Asha and Javi cooked the tortilla for tonight. We then went into Bodhgaya for lunch in an Italian Raquel had mentioned she wanted to try. We didn’t know how else to repay her for her hospitality so over the ten days we just bought bits of food for the house, donated money to the school, and took her for lunch. We’re so grateful for her opening her home to us – yes I know she’s family but we haven’t seen each other probably for about 20 years and the volunteers always stay in the town, sorting out their own accommodation. In fact this is what we were going to do, stay at a guest house recommended by Raquel, but at the last moment she said why don’t we just stay with her. It was perfect and much appreciated.
When we got home the time had come to go visit Kajal’s house in the village. I knew this was going to be hard. I grabbed the bag of presents and sweets and off we went in the dark. When we announced our arrival Kajal was changing into her best dress (which was pretty cute and I thought damn, it’s nicer than the one I’ve bought her haha) and the whole family came out of the mud hut. They are one of the poorest families and their hut is about 12 feet by 7 feet – this is it. This is where seven siblings and three adults live (grandma too) and the father was currently cooking something on the mud stove. This made the whole hut fill with smoke so we went back outside into the night. Already half the village had gathered around us to see what was occurring. Then, to our surprise, they served us hot samosas and chai tea! With my emotions already out of whack this nearly made me cry because these people have NOTHING, and they’ve gone and spent money (and a lot to them) on food for strangers. It’s overwhelming how kind they can be. I then presented the dress and pants and clips to my girl and we helped her into the dress. Hehee how petty she looked, purple looks good on her, and I put a sparkly clip in her hair. All the kids loved it and I gave the sweets and other clips to the family. We stayed for a bit longer with Raquel translating between us and the family and neighbours – the grandma told us repeatedly to take Kajal home with us. Now this really upset me – if only I could! She didn’t mean it horribly, just there’s another six kids to feed. We saw the younger sister, about 5 years old, holding onto the two 18month old twins – her charges – like a mini adult. The whole group of people escorted us back to the school gate, Kajal holding my hand tightly, and when we got to the gate I just didn’t know how to let go of her! She didn’t let go till I did and I crouched down and told her she was a very good girl because I know she understands ‘good girl, very good’ from classes. I seriously felt like I was leaving my own daughter behind, I felt sick. When the gate closed on all those faces, babies, toddlers, kids, adults, old, it was awful.
I then had to refresh my face and my mind because now we were taking the tortilla, crisps and 7Up upstairs to the hostel boys for our last dinner with them. They were hilarious with it, it was like they were drunk on the bubbles and the crisps disappeared in no time, and the tortilla went down well too. Little do they know they have three more big bottles down in Raquel’s fridge for another time. We took a lot of pictures of them, with them, all mixed and some individuals with Santosh, and then Santosh stood up to say a thank you speech to us for the clothes. He said how grateful he was that we were his new sponsors and how happy he was. It was adorable. Then Ranjan, the oldest, about fifteen, stood up and read out a letter he had written, saying thank you for spending our time here with them and remembering the things they’d done with us – playing football with Javi, learning to tell the time, when we wore the Indian clothes and saree for Independence Day, going to the temples on the first day we were here – and that they all hope and pray we will return. Wow, here comes that stubborn lump again. I couldn’t even take photos of him, I was mesmerised as long as he was talking. Satyinder their tutor also gave a little thank you speech which was sweet and then Javi and me too! I obviously cried as soon as I started to speak. All I said was that they were all amazing boys and they will all be what they want to be if they stay in school and study hard. That was it, I was blubbing like a baby. The boys were very confused and Raquel had to explain to them that when we cry it’s not always a bad thing, we can cry out of happiness too. Well, then she had to explain I was crying because I was going to miss them. I got a big hug off of my favourite Ajay who said “I will miss you” (baaaaah!) and also Umesh, another cutie. His hug was so tight!
We have to get up at 2am to get the taxi booked for us at the end of the track at 2.45, so we’re back in the house already at 8pm, ready for bed, with the boys promises of getting up and walking with us ringing in our ears. SO much love going on here.