I watched as she ripped the flower I drew to pieces, watched the shreds of paper descend slowly to the floor and join the remains of other drawings she had destroyed. I tried to talk to her, but she would not answer. In our limited Kriolu, Lauren and I explained that she was not in trouble, but rather we needed to understand what was wrong in order to help her. She met my gaze with a blank expression. Finally, she began to respond with head shakes to ‘yes or no’ questions, and we asked question after question incessantly, trying to understand, to help. Eventually, I asked the question that lurked in the corner of my mind, the question I perhaps feared an answer to the most: “Are you upset because we are leaving in three weeks?” Yes.
My heart sunk as I found myself in the position I feared from the moment I entered the Emergency Center. I was at a loss for words because, frankly, I wanted to throw my own tantrum over the fact that I have to leave the kids at that center in three weeks. Kids who laugh harder and smile bigger than any I have ever known. Kids who show their love through tight hugs and sloppy kisses. Kids who are sad that school is ending because they will not be able to see their other friends until school starts again. Kids who tell me “until next Saturday” every weekend when we say goodbye. Kids who make me wonder what I will say when it is time to say the real goodbye because goodbye just cannot be enough.
As she gazed up at me, I kneeled down and grabbed her hand. I told her all that I could think to say in that moment. I explained that yes, I have to leave in three weeks, but we still have three weeks to spend time together. I explained that I will miss her so much when I go back home, but that I have to go nonetheless. Then, I let her braid my hair and my future transgression seemed forgotten or forgiven for the moment.
Now, as I sit here thinking and writing with only a little over one week left in Cabo Verde, I find myself with the same uncertainties I had at the beginning of the program regarding the negative effects of short-term engagement. If anything, I feel more certain about my previous thoughts as my fears seem to be coming true. However, as I finish out the program, I am left with one overwhelming question: how do I say goodbye? How do I say goodbye when realistically this is a final goodbye and not a see you later? How do I say goodbye when I know that even sending letters or emails is not an option? How do I say goodbye to kids who have come to mean so much to me? What is there to say when words seem to fail?