Tantely stood up and addressed the rest of the forum, assembled in a giant circle in what used to be the classroom. The event was delivered in ritualised formality, but with undertones of friendliness and vulnerability. Honey (as we call him) is doing the dreaded task of speaking first, and you can feel his tenseness. But out the torrent of feelings erupt, delivered with his newly acquired English skills.
The torch passes to Fanilo, who nervously rocks from side-to-side, but then finds his stride, and delivers a second blow. I can't take much more of this.
Everyone has gathered today to say
See you later, not goodbye!, and the speeches are hitting me right in the feels.
Clopedia has left the room. The feels have struck her too.
Jacquit follows up the speeches with his own, flavoured with his essence of pride and discipline.
And so ends our formal parting ceremony, and I'm feeling humbledead.
We head outside to take some photos amongst the trees, and make fun of the situation and each other as always.
Sugi is crying inside the kitchen, and with some coaxing from Sarah, the two emerge to have their own photos included in the group poses we commit to our bitmap memories.
That was on Saturday, the 10th.
I'm now in Tana after another gruelling 11-hour bus trip, and I'm feeling very content. The whiskey is helping.
The 9 months that was
It's been difficult at times, but that difficulty easily gives way to the overbearing sense of meaningfulness, and new connections made. The students, all 20 of them, will always have a place in my heart, attention, and thoughts.
I've learned so much, about myself, my work, and teaching. I think I've found my calling. I want to incorporate more teaching or mentoring in my future. I think it's always been a subtle influence in my life, but now it has risen to the top. It feels amazing to come to that sort of resolution, and I find myself uncharacteristically optimistic about the future.
Living a more simple life has also been an amazing remedy for short-sightedness, and I've come out of it with a new found respect for those less fortunate than myself. The Betsimisaraka people (and others from Mahanoro) are incredibly upbeat in circumstances nobody would wish on others.
The heart of this story is the students though. I can't wait to hear about their endeavours, to watch them grow into experienced and respected web developers. I look forward to the first time they reach out for guidance, but would be equally chuffed if they get on with it independently.
Back to SA for now
As I indulge a little in the material comforts of city life, I'm struck by how different Tana is to East Coast life. The wealth gap has widened up again, and existence is cheap. But don't take my word for it, watch this documentary instead: Madagasikara (The Tubi version is free-to-stream. Hat-tip: Loïc.)
And so begins my transition back to some sort of normal, in an abnormal time. But there's a part of me that is holding back. I want everything I do to have a meaningful impact. I don't want to enrich shareholder value, I want to build communities. I want to be closer to my family, but also experience life in different places.
I can't feasibly return to NZ for now, as flights are getting cancelled left, right, and centre. [Also, twice bitten, thrice shy.] So it'll be good to spend some time with my Mom in Cape Town (after isolating of course), entertain the ideas I've got brimming over, and come up with the next steps.