I think, as of last night, I’ve hit ‘the wall’.
If I remember correctly, marathon runners hit this ‘wall’ just a few miles before the finishing post having completed most of the race but still far enough away that every cell in their body screams “I can’t do this anymore”.
I’m at day 25 with this series of 30 posts and after relentless goodbyes, meals, celebrations and packing of bags, yesterday I found myself so sad I felt I couldn’t carry on.
The day started okay. I was asked to give a short talk to the bideshi, ex-pat community at LAMB and this went just fine. We sang some Christmas carols too and although it wasn’t a formal goodbye, it is probably the last time most of ‘us white guys’ will get together in one room so it was nice to have the chance to give a presentation, share lunch together and then go.
But after that another friend came round to collect more of our furniture.
It was taking this picture when a first wave of sadness hit me.
Our front room has known literally hundreds of friends come and go over the five years. They’ve sat on these seats and drunk cha, coffee, water eating everything from biscuits, bananas and other nasta to full meals. We’ve had as many as thirty crammed into the room, watched movies, celebrated engagements, wept over deaths, laughed ourselves silly over endless jokes and funny clips shared between laptops. I don’t know if a front room could possibly have been used any more with so many. How the sofa hasn’t collapsed I don’t know.
And now the room echoed and I couldn’t help but feel that resonate in my heart and soul.
I didn’t have time to deal with this before we all moved on to our next biday. Last year I was asked to help lead the local teen group and, despite my pitiful Bangla, I thought I could help out alongside the other two people who run it. By Christmas last year they were both gone and suddenly I had become the leader. Never has anyone been more inadequately prepared for leading a group in Bangla and then, in the summer, running a three-day seminar for about fifty teenagers from all around LAMB.
Although I handed the group back to a returning leader at the beginning of the semester, they wanted to say goodbye to me and to Thing I who was a member of the group, and I was grateful for the kindness. How do teenagers celebrate at LAMB? With a bonfire, of course!
We had a wonderful time toasting dough to make bread and eating a variety of nastas. Then the teens started singing and dancing to traditional songs around the fire accompanied by a single dhol drum. Many of my ex-students had returned to LAMB from their studies in India or from university in Dhaka and I was struck by the love and friendship shared by the very youngest to the oldest.
That was when the larger wave of sadness hit me. Watching how these young men and women had developed and seeing so many I used to know as little children. The ones I used to perform magic tricks to at parties and in lessons now more interested in clothes and the latest hollywood/Bollywood movies.
And I felt the irony that they were all moving on in their lives yet staying geographically still. Whereas I am moving geographically thousands of miles away but I haven’t moved on from LAMB.
Strangely, the urge to leave the group early rather than trying to savour the moment was very strong. I just wanted to withdraw and leave these young people to their partying. I almost felt like I was an intruder interrupting a group where I had no place to do so. At the same time all I wanted to do was gather them all together, hug them and tell them they are still all my children and will never not be so.
Before I knew it, my mind went back five years to when I said goodbye to all my students in the UK. I think the same feelings of overwhelming sadness came over me then too. Certainly, I still can’t think of those days without missing them all, missing the lessons, the laughter and the camaraderie. If that pain is still so real to me after five years, will I ever manage to be away from Bangladesh?
Take a deep breath, Ford-Powell, the finishing line is still a little far off yet.