While it's been hard to say goodbye once again, to the school, to the kids, to my hometown and the people I've gotten to know here I don't feel bad about it. I don't feel sadness or reluctance to depart. I'm certain that it's time for me to go. I'm looking forward to my future studies and the new frontiers I'll be opening up in the US. I'm also looking towards what comes after. To teaching jobs in schools across the globe and the realization that my time back in Thailand has helped lay the foundation for what comes next.
Not only do I feel hopeful but, more importantly, I feel liberated. From what, you might ask? From myself.
When I came back to Thailand in 2013 I was returning for two reasons. First, I wanted to reconnect with my hometown after seven years of being away. Second, and just as important as the first, I wanted to jump into a new field 'teaching' and in the process hopefully discover a new sense of purpose and center my life once again.
It was very important to me to find a new life for myself, especially after I reluctantly left Egypt due to visa issues and a ton of personal hardship and heartache.
In sum, I came back to look for something new amongst the familiar. After such a long passage of time the city was very different. It had ballooned in size. New malls were everywhere. Areas far out from the center of the town which had been empty when I left in 06 were now covered with trendy cafes and upscale shops. Most of the people I had known had departed as well. I made new friends though, and I made a new life.
Living here as an adult, I dealt with the first time with adult problems. I paid rent and dealt with traffic and commutes. As an adult, my life in Chiang Mai was completely different.
Yet the easy going spirit of he city remained the same. The hospitality and flexibility of Thai culture remained unchanged and there were just as many if not more open minded ex-pats to help open windows to new frontiers.
Discovering that the home of yesteryear was gone did not make me despair. Instead, I reforged myslef with new steel with an old hammer and anvil.
That in and of itself makes me feel deeply accomplished.
I am now liberated. Now that I know for sure the world I knew is gone. Now that I know I've been able to build a new house on it's foundations. I know I can make a home anywhere. Wherever my soul feels like flying to.
I've lived the ex-pat life and I will continue to live it. I've called many different places home from New York to Kansas, from Cairo to Chiang Mai. There is no other way I would choose to live.
In every place I've gone parts of me are deposited locked away in a metaphorical bank box waiting to be opened if I ever choose to set foot there again. And yet I'vee taken as much as I've given. The part you leave creates a vacant space and that hole is filled in by the place you've been. As such, you also take a part of each world you visit with you.
I am taking Chiang Mai with me, as I've always done. And I am so grateful to have been able to come back and love it one more time.
Much Love, Now and Always
Although I'm certain that my decision to leave a little early was the right one, it was still hard to say goodbye to my students. Despite the hassle and difficulties that often arise in the classroom, I feel a strong love and attachment to the little six and seven year olds who also have filled the past two years with joy.
It was a privilege to share their lives for a time. And there are six I want to write to here and now.
Tua-O, I know I haven't always been on good terms with you. I'm sorry that you found my after-school classes boring. Please know I never meant to make you upset. The truth is you were right on many occasions when you argued with me about leaving early. You, already fluent, able to tell me about wind turbines and explain the concept of evaporation in your second language, never belonged there in those after-school programs. You should be in an international school, not taking lessons with kids who are still learning how to put short sentences together about animals. However, you do have much to learn especially when it comes to being with others. If you can be as wise as you are brilliant, I truly believe you will do anything.
-To AA, the worst troublemaker.
You were, like so many of the boys I met these past two years, difficult. But most distressing to me was how you could be so mean spirited and cruel. It was your pension for inflicting pain that convinced that children were not truly innocent. Each time I saw you in class you tested my resolve. You challenged me at every turn and you showed no respect to anyone including me. Some would call you a problem child. I called you, though never to your face, an asshole. Yes, it may seem harsh or cruel to talk about a seven year old boy in that way. But that is what you were. Please know though, that calling you out for this does not mean I am apathetic or cold towards you. Quite the opposite. I would still die for you as I would for any of the obedient students who sat still in their chairs. I've seen your energy in the classroom. I've seen your determination with certain activities. You have a charisma even at your young age. If you could harness that energy and determination you could be so much. Perhaps, no one in your life has told you this yet. Perhaps, I failed as a teacher to open your eyes to this. I hope you meet someone down the line who will.
You were always so warm and cheerful in the classroom. You started out wayward and distracted. Now, you focus so much more and do almost every assignment. I know you don't know this but this is a triumph for me. Whenever a student finds the will to participate it makes us teachers at the front all the more relieved. It alleviates some of the doubts, the weariness, the apathy that always hangs around our office desks in those moments of silence where we say 'What the hell am I accomplishing here?' For that little morsel of relief and ratification, I thank you.
The first student I ever bonded with. I know I haven't seen you too much since last year. Know though that I've never forgotten your name when I've spied you on the playground between class periods. I've seen how you've shot up since first grade and how you stroke the leaves and massage the petals of the flowers outside your new building. Know that I will never forget you. You taught me much in that year we spent in the classroom together. I could tell straight away that you were different, lost in your own world and oblivious to the chaos of your thirty seven peers. Some would say you were learning disabled. I myself did. In hindsight I don't believe that was accurate. You were actually enabled in ways most of us aren't. The fact that I could somehow infiltrate your universe and become a part of it, is something that makes me feel proud. I will treasure the times you wandered in the office and stay by my desk, standing still long enough for me to pull out flashcards and be astonished at how you seemed to absorb just about everything I had said in class despite having never looked me in the eye. I know it's not easy being so removed from everyone. I hope you can find others among your peers to share your majesty with. I hope someone can give a name to your wonderful state and provide you and those who love you with the right information. I hope they cultivate you as the rose you are, not the orchid they want you to be.