After three idle weeks in Coyhaique, I feel quite energized by my return to school. The kids even seem happy to be back, and ready to learn. They diligently copy new vocabulary into their notebooks as I watch with suspicion. Surely this motivation will dwindle in the coming months. Many of my students are noticeably thinner, presumably from the lack of government subsidized meals over vacation. When I ask if anyone traveled, they all stare at me blankly. “I went to the campo,” Mariana offers. “Pura pega! (pure work),” complains Saul. Later in the class, Saul lifts his desk off the floor and points its legs outward pretending they are machine guns. “Chicka, chick...boom!” he shouts, shooting down his classmates. Some of them are ready to learn, anyway.
Señora Hilda, the director of our school, has completed her contract and thus must leave Coyhaique. I am a little perplexed as to why this is happening in the middle of the school year, but I don´t question it. The school stages an elaborate goodbye ceremony, complete with speeches, dancing, and singing. It is a teary affair, and as Hilda exits the building, the students all rise to their feet singing. I am amazed to see how many students are crying as they file out of the gymnasium.Their eyes speak of abandonment. I had no idea they were so attached to her. I´m starting to realize why people say Americans are cold.
Almost every goodbye is offset by an arrival, and Maria Teresa and Ernesto finally arrive home today after three weeks of traveling. I surprise myself- I think I actually missed them! Maybe I am not so cold. In any event, it is nice to observe the ritual of coming home after a long journey. They tell stories and show pictures about the places they went, but you can tell by the content look in their eyes that their own home is “just right.” I think about my own comings and goings, and how sometimes the best part of leaving is being welcomed back. Other times, like Hilda, we leave without coming back, but we hope that we will be missed.
Sometimes I feel that life is just a long string of hellos and goodbyes, or arrivals and farewells, as we each navigate our own winding roads. But what matters is the substance between those hellos and goodbyes. Do we stop long enough to belong somewhere? To mean something to somebody? To leave a footprint? And when we move on, will we journey stronger? And when we´ve found home, will we know it?