I said goodbye to my little Newtok family tonight, and it was way more depressing than I expected it to be! I held back tears in the car on the way to the airport, memories of the last five months with them flashing through my mind. But even still, I’m ready to go home.
Lately I’ve been having this recurring daydream where I’m in third grade in the hallway at my school. I’m leaving my classroom and walking through the hall to the main exit, where I know my mom will be waiting to pick me up. It’s that comforting feeling of going home that’s triggered me having this daydream, I’m sure. Even though I’ll miss this village and all the people I’ve grown to love, I’m at the point right now that I absolutely can’t wait to get home. I’m truly a homebody at heart. My time in the Bush has taught me, among many other things, that, no matter how adventurous you are, going home is good for the soul. The little third grader in me can’t wait to see my mom waiting for me in the parking lot after a loooong day of school.
At the Christmas staff party this year, Grant and Sarah gave me a going away gift. Well, two gifts, really. One was a little handmade tundra grass basket that has “Newtok, Alaska” woven into it. The second gift is a large pair of traditional dancing fans, made of tundra grass and reindeer hair. I was overwhelmed by these gifts because they are so priceless—Eskimo-made gifts given to me specifically from well-respected Natives. I felt so honored, and I’ll treasure those gifts forever.
Just like I’ll treasure all the experiences and relationships from my time here.
It seems my time in the Bush has come full circle. My first day of substituting, I taught the fifth and sixth grade class (if you don’t remember that wild experience, you can read about it here). My last two days of subbing, I taught this same class. Although subbing for that class still has its challenges, this time around was much better. Through the year, I’ve gotten to know these kids so much better than I ever expected to. After doing gym night with them for almost three months, subbing for them occasionally, teaching them every Saturday afternoon, and seeing them after school all the time, I feel like I know each one of their personalities, and I’ve really grown to love them.
Instead of being greeted with “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?”, this time around I was greeted with a few hugs and a lot of “I’ll miss you”s. As I stood at the classroom door while they filed back inside after lunch, one of the notoriously unruly little girls stopped to say, “I love you, Audrey!”
“I love you too,” I told her.
And I meant it completely, remembering all the times I’d spent with her throughout the semester, picking tundra tea out on the muddy land, throwing snowballs at each other, walking to the store, playing basketball on gym night, watching her Yupik dance, being frustrated together as we taught/learned some simple math, calming her down during her crying fits, and then all those Saturdays full of reading and writing. Even though many of the kids are exhausting and downright horrid in the classroom, I can’t help but be fond of them. Even the kids who I have no other contact with but in the classroom, I still think of them affectionately. When they throw tantrums and make me want to run back home as fast as I can and hide under the covers, something in me still loves those misbehaved little Eskimos completely. And I know that has to be God working in me because I don’t think it’s human to have that much mercy, and I usually don’t have that much patience. And trust me, I’m NOT always patient and I don’t always have mercy, but more times than not I know God is making decisions and reactions for me instead of my irritated, angered self making them.
As surprising as it sounds, even the miserable times spent in a classroom full of hooligans, I wouldn’t trade. I hold every memory of my time in this little village close to me, and I wouldn’t replace them for anything. And even though I am so ready to go home to Texas right about now (and I’m just two more flights away from being there), I’ll always consider Newtok home as well.