Last week welcomed October, my last month in Timor. The goodbye month started off with the most official goodbye I’ll have to do (hopefully) – farewell party at the cooperative.
In the days leading up to the party, I tried to district myself by “preparing” friendship bracelets for everyone and photos. When someone would bring it up, I’d try to comically add in that I was going to cry a lot, but that’s just how I was. Often when walking alone, to the house or to school, I’d try to really think about it, imagine how it was going to be, with the uninformed mentality that that would make it easier in the end.
The day before the party, I found the prepared speech from the cooperative printed on a desk. After taking a picture (maybe to read beforehand in preparation, but mostly to get the list of all the people I need to “give my respect to”), I started on my liafuan badak, or short words. It took me all afternoon and included switching back and forth between google searches of “how to stop yourself from crying.”
Pinch the bridge of your nose, where the tear ducts are, or pinch the webbed piece of skin between your thumb and second finger.
Because I knew how it was going to go. People were going to say nice things about me, and apologize for anything they may or may not have done (as is custom here) and thank me. And I was going to try my best to express the incredible amount of gratitude I have for each person who became family and friends, and to a community who continued to welcome me with smiles and understanding – something they definitely didn’t have to do.
Increase muscle tension by flexing or moving to oppose the passive and helpless reaction. (Quick note: I personally believe my crying is very active.)
The morning begun with my host mom giving me a long skirt made of tais (a traditional woven material), some confusion about whether I should change at the house or down at the cooperative, and a walk down to the festivities with Maria. First tear of the day dropped thinking about how she might be married when I come back to visit and about how she might be my best friend at site – definitely not sad things, which should give you an insight to just how easy this crying thing is for me.
Antonio, Lurdes and I
The tears continued a bit, until Lurdes gave me a pretty good pep talk – no comforting or back rubbing, just straight up “you gotta stop crying.” While this was going to be impossible, she explained that members might think I’m mad or sad at something they have done in the past or they might cry if they see me crying.
Tilt your head up slightly so that the tears cannot flow down.
After getting dressed, I sat around inside her house (which I was thankful for because many members had started to arrive outside), and took lots of pictures with kids, adults, and mostly teenagers. I brought out the friendship bracelets and key chains, which were immediately coveted by, mostly teenagers.
Yaram, Evan and I. Maria, Yani and I
We were then called outside to take a group picture in front of the new building. Soon after Simoe, the MC for the day, called certain people up to enter the space (it took place on the second story), and we walked two-by-two in. Chefe Suku and Chefe Aldeia. Katakista and cooperative Vice President. Cooperative President and I. The long skirt caused me to walk up the steps sort of like a penguin. Upon entering the space, it was hard to miss the large banner with photos of me and the words: Tempo mak disidi. Ho tempu ita hasoru malu to’o mos tempu ita fahe malu. Which translates to: Time decides. Time we meet each other until the time we separate from each other. If asked, I would have said the banner would be too much, but I wasn’t asked.
I sit next to Lurdes, cooperative President and Jose, cooperative Vice President on a bench decorated with various colored fabrics. I’m glad to have them, literally, on my sides, as dozens of people are watching me.
Hold your eyes open wide and don’t blink very often.
Simoe starts the agenda, inviting Lurdes to speak on behalf of the cooperative. She powers through the prepared speech, naturally projecting into the microphone. Note: any volunteer here would tell you microphones make it almost impossible to understand everything that is being said. In this case, it might have been an advantage for avoiding a breakdown.
The set up and Lurdes speaking.
Next is a string of liafuan badak from the Chefe Suku, Katakista, President of another cooperative who is most likely receiving a volunteer this year, a cooperative member, representative from World Vision, and three university students doing research here in the community. All mentioned that I should leave the bad stuff here in Aileu and only bring the happy stuff with me to America. All mentioned how I can’t forget Timor and this community. All said sorry.
I was then asked to speak – preparing myself with tissue and my written notes – I stood up and did my best. I think everyone got the gist, even if they couldn’t understand well. I explained that my tears don’t mean that I am mad or sad, but means I am so lucky to have people and a life here that are so hard to say goodbye to.
Cross your eyes or roll them several times.
I then handed out certificates to the ten members who followed a recent financial literacy training. Awkwardly stumbled through the handshakes and cheek kisses. We prayed. More hand shaking, crying, and photos.
Handing off Mateus his certificate. He is who I have to thank for most all of these photos.
I got some food and ate, comfortably, pretty much by myself. Dahured (a circle dance that could go on for hours), took more pictures, sat around and people-watched each other.
Close your eyes.
My host dad, Telly in arms, comes to ask to take a picture with uma laran or family. My host mom is close behind and sits next to me waiting for others to join the photo opt. At this point, I’ve had relatively dry eyes for at least 45 minutes. But that immediately changes when I notice her sniffling and reaching for her eyes. She leaves the photo and goes to a room to compose herself. But we both know that’s impossible, and we both know it is better if everyone ignores it. So I handover some tissue and leave the room.
While not moving your head, look up with your eyes.
I am not good at saying goodbye. I was prepared to say goodbye to the U.S., my parents, friends, and culture (mind you, still cried). But it seems this goodbye has caught me by surprise, even though I’ve known the exact date for over two years now.
There is this thing Peace Corps promotes called the Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment, which details the predicted “ups and downs” of being a volunteer. I have been lucky and for the most part, have felt positive and comfortable for my whole service; not necessarily following the predicted lows. But the last three months have been the hardest of the 27. Until this farewell party, I felt almost constant anxiety, a weird mixture of sadness and relief, guilt, and regret.
The tears, and emotional words, and thanks, and sorrys have provided some closure.
I still have the big final goodbye left. Which won’t be easy, but at least it’ll give me some more practice with these tactics.