Saturday, July 16, 2011

how lucky I am

Yesterday was a day that I thought would never come. Some days it seemed like it couldn’t come soon enough; others, like I never wanted it to come at all. But it came and went and here I am to tell you about it.

My last day at Buchanan started extra early; I had to wake up before morning prayer to iron my saree. After morning prayer I accompanied the girls to the mess hall for morning coffee, meanwhile thinking I can’t believe I will never walk here arm in arm with Shanu and Snigdha again.

Coffee finished, Deepa, a TTC student, came to my room to help me dress. I’ve been wearing sarees on my own for a month or so now, but yesterday was a special occasion: my last day at Buchanan, and my ‘send off’ celebration. I would be wearing a Kerala saree, and everyone wanted to make sure it was perfect. A ‘kerala saree’ is, as the name suggests, a special type of saree that Kerala is known for—cream colored and with a gold border. It is worn on the holiday Onam, and on special occasions.

Deepa made sure all the pleats and pins were in the right place, and I was ready to go. Luckily I had finished my packing the day before, but my work was far from done. In the preceding weeks, I had taken and printed a copy of a photo with every teacher and staff member. Yesterday morning, my plan was to write a short message on the back of each. This took longer than expected and resulted in me skipping breakfast.

I finally made it to the staff room and was greeted with much approval and many smiles at my very traditional Kerala dress. It’s only fitting that I look like a Malayalee on my last day, right? :-) I felt it was kind of symbolic, too: I came a stranger, a madama…and left looking like a Malayalee. (And the transformation has been more than outward, I assure you…I’ve got the mannerisms and speech idiosyncracies to prove it, haha).

Jessy Teacher brought out a bag of jasmine flowers and set to work tying them in my hair. Jasmine flowers are another essential part of the ‘kerala saree’ look. I was showered by gifts and cards from teachers and students, turning my place at my table in the staff room into a mountain of chaos and love.

Before long it was time for the send off celebration, and the entire school gathered in the auditorium. I was made to sit on the stage with the school’s manager, K.T. Kurian Achen, and the Headmistress, Aleyamma Kochamma. Both addressed the gathering, followed by a speech from a student, speeches from two teachers, and a time for me to speak, as well.

I responded to a comment that K.T. Kurian Achen made in his address: “Madison adjusted very well to life in Kerala and life on our campus.” My reply was that adjusting was not only not an issue—it was easy. Because I had the love, friendship, help, and kindness of all Buchanan teachers and students, right from day one. I ineloquently thanked them all as best as I could, and was then presented by handmade cards from each class. The teachers got me a gift, too—gold earrings.

I guess I should tell you that I had already bought some gold earrings, back in November. I hadn’t brought any with me to Kerala, and it had become quickly apparent that I was going to need some, as it is pretty much an expectation for all women to wear earrings, and my ears are allergic to anything but gold or silver.

Last month, however, I sold the aforementioned earrings. I was out of cash, at the time, and, with just a few weeks left in India, rather than pay a ridiculous ATM fee to withdraw more money and further deplete my limited bank account, I thought, “you know, they’re just earrings. I’m going to be a poor Seminary student soon…I don’t really need them.” And that was that.

Posing with a few of the teachers, wearing my grambu mala :-)
WELL. The teachers were all dismayed that I had done this, and, unbeknownst to me, secretly began plotting to all chip in and buy me some new gold earrings as a going away present. At yesterday’s send off celebration, they were presented to me, and I was blown away by the teachers’ thoughtfulness and generosity. They also gave me a ‘grambu mala’ (spice necklace), a traditional gift for retiring teachers, which they all helped make by hand. Sitting on the stage throughout the program, I was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love I was getting. I could feel it radiating from the hundreds of faces looking up at me. I am still overwhelmed by it.

After the send off, I was given the honor of laying the foundation stone for the new kitchen/dining facilities that are being constructed at Buchanan, using funds from the wonderful organization ‘Girls for Good.’ So even in the face of sadness about me leaving, it was still a great and memorable day in the life of Buchanan :-)

The beautiful gold earrings I mentioned…one problem. I realized, with horror, that the posts were too big for the holes in my ears. All it took was one look for me to know there is no way these are gonna fit. I approached a few of the teachers in the staff room with this difficulty, and they were quite confident that it was no problem and they would easily be able to get the earrings in my ears. Five minutes, some Vaseline, and a few “ouch-you’re-hurting-me”s later, it became clear that this would not be the case, no matter how many teachers were involved in the process.

I was presented with two choices: go to a ‘beauty parlor’ and have my ears re-pierced to make the holes wider (!!!!!), or, go to the jewelry store and exchange the earrings. I opted for the second. So Jaimol Kochamma and Annie Teacher got permission from the Headmistress, and the three of us hopped into Martin Sir’s car for an impromptu trip to Kottayam. The trip was successful and we found some replacement earrings. And now I will always have some beautiful Kerala gold that I will wear and, in the process, with happiness and sadness, remember all of the people that I love at Buchanan Institution Girls’ High School.

When we arrived back to Buchanan the bell was just ringing for lunch. At the same instant, I got a text message from Maggie: “We’re leaving Nicholson and coming to Buchanan now.” This meant that I had approximately 45 minutes to finish everything I needed to do: handing out photos to various teachers and staff, packing the new cards and gifts I had received that morning, going around and saying goodbyes, etc. Looks like I’m not eating lunch, either, I realized. But no matter; in spite of not having had breakfast, I didn’t have any appetite, anyway.

The hired car and Maggie arrived impossibly quickly; from there, it was all rush and tears and goodbyes. Students and teachers filled the main courtyard area, seeing us off. The boarding students ran at me for a last tearful group hug. Sanila Teacher and Jaimol Kochamma accompanied me to the car; and with hugs and tears I told them goodbye, not knowing if I will see either of them ever again. The car pulled away and I waved out the window to the hundreds of girls and teachers who all hold with them a piece of my heart.

The car ride to Aluva was uneventful, with the exception of the fact that our driver was crazy and we are lucky to have made it here alive. Our next two days at Achen’s house will be a time of enjoying each other’s company one last time, and reflecting on and processing all that has passed, as well as what’s ahead. I am so thankful for Thomas John Achen, Betty Kochamma, Binu, Jim, Maggie, and everyone at Buchanan for making, and continuing to make, my last days so special. My hair still smells like jasmine.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –Carol Sobeiski and Thomas Meehan, Annie

(Click here to see more photos of my last day at Buchanan, as well as earlier events in the month of July).

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