Silver globes of rain plummet from the sky, hammering the ashen pavement with a tenacity designed to cleanse Medan of the insipid layer of silt that smugly garnishes every building and street. Wonder Woman, aptly named as such not because of any physical resemblance to the raven-haired hero (I am fairly certain that the tiara and go-go boots combo would clash with a jilbab, but maybe powerclashing is in now?), but simply because every action that she takes leaves me in wonder of her authority and ability as a woman (During orientation, a main point of interest/concern was the role and expectations of women in a conservative Muslim society. Short answer- they run everything. Schools, homes, families, businesses- women, especially Wonder Woman, successfully govern them all. When I have a stupid question “Where do I put my trash?”, “How does (insert any variable concerning daily life/culture/language here) work?”, Wonder Woman answers it with a patient, understanding smile and helpful suggestion. When my water is mysteriously broken for the third time in a week, she- rusted pliers and plastic Easter-egg-yellow bucket in hand- fixes it effortlessly. She is the pillar of SMA 3, most likely secretly runs the entire city of Medan, and then still has the energy and resolve to raise a beautiful, well-educated, multi-lingual family) -zips through the skeletal alleys and secret passageways of the city on motorbike, her determination matching that of the rain. Wearing the oh-so-chic superhero’s sidekick garb (plastic blue rain poncho), I cling onto Wonder Woman for dear life as the velocity of her driving launches angry gusts of wind up my sleeves, causing my borrowed rain-poncho to bubble out into a spherical blue globe, complete with a modest pallid face peeking out of the center. You laugh now, but the bubble look will be all the rage next season. One week later, our Superhero/Sidekick costumes have finally dried out from our ‘let’s explore Medan in the climax of rainy season’ escapade, anxiously awaiting their role in the many future adventures of Bubble-Bule and Wonder Woman.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The immaculate white tops of twenty jilbabed heads greet me in unspoken unity, each huddle of students intently focused on some new-found interest adorning their desks, heads bowed as they consciously avoid my gaze. “What do you think the author is trying to share with this poem? What is he really talking about?” *Brief flash of eye contact* Haha, sucker- I verbally pounce on the unfortunate victim of my pursuant glance, “What do you think the author is talking about in this poem? Is he talking about actual roads?” Gleaming black eyes pointedly cut up to mine as my student answers in an assured, “This-is-what-you-get-for-calling-on-me” voice, “No. He’s talking about choice.” As I reach down to restore my gaping bottom jaw up to its normal position on my generally noticeably-less-flabbergasted face, I took a minute to reflect on the jilbabed-geniuses that surrounded me. My 14 year-old students had just correctly identified the underlying existential themes in a work of poetry that is not even in their native language, meanwhile, 14 year-old me in America struggled to get the top off of child-proof allergy medicine bottles, a task which, admittedly, 22 year-old me has still not mastered. (Although, for the sake of being impartial, I must divulge that my students do have their occasional incorrect moments. When discussing Langston Hughes “I, Too, Sing America”, I asked them if diversity and prejudice existed in Indonesia, to which they insightfully replied, “Nope.” After further prodding, “Are you sure….? Does everyone in Indonesia look exactly the same?” I was met with the equally insightful, “Yup.” Okay, so apparently the ‘unity in diversity’ motto for Indonesia is actually fairly straightforward, because according to my students, everyone in Indonesia is the same, hence unity in the lack of diversity.)
Proving that their genius extends not only to poetry analysis, but creation, as well, my I-am-secretly-a-genius-but-still-want-to-avoid-you-calling-on-me students spent the remainder of the session authoring their own poems, displayed for viewing pleasure below:
Poem 1- Untitled. This group aimed to capture ‘happiness’ in their poem. Interestingly, they do not mentioned words typically associated with happiness, such as smiles, joy, warmth, or sunshine, but rather, focus on relationships and connection. They capture the fleeting aspect of beauty and happiness, and how we should be mindful of the beauty that surrounds us, ‘Such beauty that for a minute, death and ambition, even love, do not enter into this.’
So early it’s still almost dark out,
I’m near the window with coffee
And the usual early morning stuff that passes for thoughts
When I see the boy and his friend
Walking up the road
To deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters
And one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
They aren’t [talking], these boys.
If they could, they would take each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning
And they are doing this together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
Though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
Death and ambition, even love
Do not enter into this.
Happiness- it comes on unexpectedly
And goes beyond, really,
Any early morning talk.
Poem 2- Regard the Fight. Based on a student experience, this is the story of a school-bribe. One student earned the highest grade in the class, only to have a fellow student bribe the teacher [the devil who ate the money-money] to give the hard-working student a lower grade. The teacher accepted the bribe and the student received a failing grade. This poem reflects the student’s frustration with her teacher and the bribe.
One day I would walk
[Through] the [sun]shine of heaven,
[Be]cause the last that I saw
Was the face of tears, myself.
When I fight [with] myself,
The result- Approached by the Devil.
I want to scream,
Scroll down the fear,
Stop the rain,
And see that I was a winner.
But, it couldn’t be.
Cause she ate the money-money.
You ate the money
You are the devil.
You didn’t have an eye for me,
About my heart
With brain, brave,
Blood and Soul.
Cause she gave the money-money,
You ate the money
You are the devil.
Poem 3- Hurt. This group aimed to capture the word ‘hurt’, and the heaviness and pain that accompany it. Most noticeable is their analogy between the weather (clouds and rain) and emotions.
The tears fall down
And I wipe [them] again.
It feels like [they] cannot stop.
Like the clouds pour the rain,
It feels like there is a storm in my heart
And it is very hurt.
I want to take this pain away
But I can’t.
Poem 4- Warmth. A discussion of connection, this poem focuses on the security and comfort created by a family.
I felt the warmth,
The warmth of love.
It is from a family,
Who always car[es] for each other.
Always loves each other,
And still together.
This is the warmth of family.
74…. 74…. 74…. Armies of traffic storm past my eyes, each vehicle celebrating its own existence with a series of enthusiastic honks and aged squeals – the Morse code of Medan. 74…. I search through the militia of rusted, sagging automobiles for the mustard-colored angkot, my ride home. My cartoonish look of complete doe-eyed bewilderment drawing the attention of every angkot, becak, and taxi driver within a 5 mile radius, the ochre 74 angkot eventually pulled up to my crumbling slice of pavement, absorbing one more passenger into its depthless motorized stomach. Regurgitating me at my proper stop (more due to the assistance of my students than my ability to successfully navigate the labyrinthine streets of Medan, “Teacher, you get off here, yeah?” *hint-hint, wink-wink, nudge-nudge* “Uhmmm…yeah!”) a light, bursting-popcorn-kernel bubble of satisfaction filled my stomach as I entered my community. I, Laurian Della, had successfully navigated the local angkot system from my school to my house, a 30 minute distance. Exploding popping kernels of pride bulging into my dancing mind, I rounded the corner in search of my street. There is was! Or was it that one? Maybe it was this one…?
Aware of the amused stares that I was drawing by not-so-discreetly careening in circles searching for familiar landmarks like a drunken ballerina, I picked a street at random and pretended like I had an ounce of assurance with my surroundings. After 5 minutes of unrecognizable pastel, taffy-hued houses and mazes of chalky shops, my popcorn-bag of pride trampled, I pulled a card containing my address out of my pocket and approached a pair of resting Ibus. “Maaf….Jalan Seroja 6 di mana? (Sorry….Seroja 6 Street (my street) is where?)” Sharing my own look of forehead-crinkled, squint-eyed confusion as they peered at the address on my card, they began to quickly chirp back and forth with each other in Bahasa Indonesian, each pointing confidently in a precise direction only to be corrected by her counterpart. Well, at least I’m not the only one who doesn’t know where the darn street it. Once again pursuing my inebriated-ballet dance of attempted landmark recognition, I realized that the dueling Ibu’s were addressing me, pointing to my crinkled address card and pulling out their phones. Darn it, those helpful Ibu’s were calling home. Or more accurately, my neighbor’s home, the phone number to which they so kindly provided me in case of troubles. Hoping for a busy signal, a dead connection, or anything that would maintain my sense of pride, I found my popcorned bubble of satisfaction thoroughly stomped on, steamrolled over, and then for added measure, stampeded by a pack of 800 restless gazelle being chased by a mutant T-rex which fire-breathing abilities. I am 22 years old, a successful college graduate on a Fulbright grant to Indonesia, and got lost approximately 2 minutes from my own house.
Pop. Pop. Pop. My once bursting kernels of pride now crumble as the call goes through, one amused Ibu explaining the situation to Nur, the housekeeper for my neighbors. Having only been in Indonesia for a few weeks, I cannot yet speak Bahasa Indonesian, but the few words that I was able to pick up suggested a rather comical tone to the call. Basically, it was the ‘There’s-a-bule-in-my-yard-and-I-think-she-belongs-to-you-Please-help-me-return-her’ conversation (For any of you who have not yet have this conversation, please contact me and I will gladly offer my translating services for the approximately one word I know in Bahasa- bule). After a quick phone call and a guided walk back home (and by guided, I mean an Ibu grabbed my arm and literally paraded me, my arm grasped in her hand, to my house to ensure that I wouldn’t get lost again) I was deposited safely on my doorstep, feeling about as confident as a can of watery soup.
While my first ride home from school may not have been ideal, it afforded me the opportunity to address frustrations within myself. I am perfectionistic to a flaw. I strive to complete tasks without blemish from the onset and fail to allow myself room for mistakes. While this trait has provided me with numerous world-traversing opportunities, it can also be exhausting, and also, a tad hypocritical. Each class I so passionately tell my students, ‘It is okay to practice and to make mistakes, because that is how we learn!’ and yet, fail to accept myself when I make errors. I take my mistakes, such as getting deposited on my doorstep by an amused Ibu, as a personal failure and a marker of my individual competence (or incompetence) rather than as an opportunity to learn. If anything, these next 9 months and the many mistakes that will accompany them, will allow me to accept myself for the flawed individual that I am. I am going to screw up. Some poor woman will have to walk me home (and will probably have a GREAT story to tell her family later). I will learn from my mistakes and will extend to myself the same acceptance that I so strongly encourage in my students. Lesson number 1- getting lost is the best way to make friends in your community. Today I passed by the Ibu who walked me home, and she gave me the biggest smile and welcoming wave (and then proceeded to follow me home to make sure that I could remember my way there).
There is a distinctive human-shaped hole in my community, the extended, graceful limbs trailing off into the snaking streets and white-water rapids of traffic that surround Medan. The site serves as a pseudo-shrine to Miss K., the previous ETA who worked at SMA 3 before me, her eager face beaming back at me from the candid portraits that adorn the eggshell walls of my house, her name excitedly popping up when I am introduced at school, “Oh, Miss Laurian…the new Miss K?”, creating a nostalgic twinkle in the eye of students and faculty alike, community members unabashedly flooding me with questions delivered in rapid-fire Bahasa Indonesian when they find that I live in Miss K’s old house, only to be disappointed to find that unlike Miss K., I am not fluent in Bahasa, and can only answer with my caveman-like vocabulary, “Ya, saya tinggal di sini (emphatically gestures to K’s house) *whirlwind of excited, inquisitive Bahasa* Maaf! Saya tidak mengerti. (Sorry. I don’t understand) *Wide-eyed look of apologetic confusion as Bahasa tirade continues*” Miss K has left a hole in the heart of Medan, and I am trying to squeeze into this hole Winnie-the-Pooh style (think myriad jolly fat rolls thwarting my desired entry). This analogy is not to suggest that I’m plump (which would be a rather fair assessment considering how colossal I am compared to Indonesian norms. I’m a good 6 inches taller than most of the women (and men) at my site, and look as inconspicuous as a giraffe seeking cover in a penguin enclosure.) but rather, that I am trying to manipulate and forcibly insert myself into a space where I do not yet fit. I am not fluent in Bahasa Indonesian, I have not yet made the connections that are so warmly reflected in Miss K’s pictures embellishing my walls, and I am about 8 million times more clueless about Indonesian culture and norms than Miss K. I am not Miss K, I am Miss Laurian, but I will adapt, I will learn, I will connect and I will dig my own Laurian shaped hole in the community (complete with awkward over-emphatic gestures).
My first day of hole digging has begun, albeit, with a generic plastic spork rather than a shovel. With a year of teaching under my belt and my experiences from Thailand still warm in my heart, I stepped into the grade 12 classroom confidently, careful to introduce myself at a pace that would be understandable for my students, articulating each syllable and taking deliberate pauses to gauge the understanding of the room, which, despite my molasses speech pattern, still returned blank stares. Opening the floor for questions, I was expecting the traditional, “Where are you from?”, “What is your job?”, or even complete silence, but rather, was met with, “Miss- You stated that you studied Psychology in university. I am very interested in hypnosis. Can you please explain more?” I had just deliberately introduced myself at the pace of an inebriated sea-slug only to be met with questions by a group of students more proficient in English than myself. Our discussions ranged from the practice and use of hypnosis in psychology to the ethics of animal research to the existence of the Illuminati in American government and society. My first day has left me trying to squeeze into the Miss K heart-hole while simultaneously trying to dig myself out of my ‘Thailand experience’ hole. With a new school comes a new way of teaching, of understanding. The lessons that I lead in Thailand will not be appropriate for my advanced learners in Indonesia- there will be no emphasis on phonics and vocabulary, there will (hopefully) be no eye-poking injuries from me trying to teach a student how to write the alphabet, students will be able to construct and write not just individual sentences, but full paragraphs and pages. This year will be a learning experience, both for my students and for myself. We will each continue to dig our own holes, using language to explore cultural and individual identity, unearthing fresh and raw parts of ourselves as we dig further, deeper.
Dust-tinged trains of compact houses echoing shades of mustard, cream, and umber drip into the ground, each concrete flake and missing brick contributing to the collective sea of debris that fills the streets. The inhabitants themselves appear to seep into the earth, their aged, leathered bodies consistently found in a secure squatting position, as if gravity were a sui generis affliction exclusive to the community. Seemingly unaffected by the substantial force of gravity that so greatly burdens the local elders, stampedes of children follow us through the narrow alleys on rusted pastel tricycles, their whispering, lambent curiosity at us bules matching our own patent curiosity with their daily life and culture. In the two weeks that I have lived in Indonesia, this is where I have felt the most at home, in a dust-bubble of an Jarkatan alleyway, surrounded not by the waterfalls of ivory comfort that are the Trans Hotel bathrobes, or by the cloudy comforters that made me question daily if I was sleeping on an actual bed, or rather, a pile of large pillows carefully stuffed with mini-marshmallows, but in the simplicity of a rubbish-laden, gravity-afflicted passage, enveloped by the glow of inquisitiveness and of genuine interest. It is in these glimmers of opaline smiles, these uninhibited, gleeful cries of “My name is _______!”, and these sailing tides of laughter that erupt when I practice my stumbling Bahasa Indonesian that I have found my home. I am in Indonesia, and I am at home.
Rotund displays of secure flowers sprout from their gilded nests as twinkling allotrope dragons circle above, suspended from towering, lavish ceilings. Below the palatial, dragon-adorned domes, my travel-weary self, disheveled and wielding the offensive odor that accompanies a roughly 40 hour journey, grapples to make her way to her hotel room, perplexed not because of the language barrier, exhaust, or other complications that arise from fresh arrival to a foreign land, but because she is simply too philistine to understand how to use the elevator in a swanky hotel. Circumnavigating the globe? Check. Fancy elevator? Uncheck.
The prevalent ineptitudes such as my elevator excursion (which, after pushing every single button was resolved by a simple swipe of my hotel key card) serve as a reminder of the alien nature of my surroundings, where even the security/comfort of a hotel designed for foreigners leaves me baffled. I am a new face in a foreign land. I am surrounded by a persistent barrage of novelty combined with the welcoming tone of familiarity- Routine brays of traffic horns now erupt with a fresh tune; all too familiar calls of ‘falang (foreigner)’ are now replaced with the dewy calls of ‘bule’; the discernible leather fumes of grilled meats emanate from exotic sources; motorcycles and angkots careen around me as I navigate my way through a new people, a new language, a new culture, and a new home.
My first week in Indonesia has been spent in the comfort of a Western bubble, where each member of my (amazing!) cohort brings his or her own sliver of home, combining our stories and memories to create a pseudo-America in the heart of our lavish hotel. In many ways, we have not yet left America. We remain surrounded by predominately white faces, we are addressed in English, we remain impervious to the people and the customs that envelop us. We are caught in the middle of a culture, one foot placed solidly in America, and one foot placed hesitantly in Indonesia. As we depart for our school sites and disassemble our communal slices of America, we will gradually grow to stand firmly in Indonesia, fully embracing the diversity and the customs of the country we will soon call home.
With less than a week until my departure to Indonesia I have embarked upon the odious task of packing the next 9+ months of my life away into a generic, travel weary, navy blue suitcase, with albeit, not so generic contents. Any airport security agent who has the misfortune of exploring the questionable contents of my bag will probably end up pondering if there is a recently discovered market for patriotic circus clowns in Indonesia, because the contents of my suitcase average out to be roughly 40% incentives for my students to participate (think vibrant kazoos, glistening U.S. candies, and of course, the currency of the South-east Asian school system- stickers. Pages and pages of stickers, because, let’s face it, more often than not, bribes with stickers are necessary to ensure my success/popularity as a teacher), 35% gifts for my fellow teachers and staff members (red, white, and blue star spangled pencils, pins, and flags adorn the linings of my suitcase), and lastly, the final 25% of my suitcase is devoted to my personal collection of clothing, which, when compared to the size of a typical Indonesian female’s wardrobe, closely resembles circus-clown-esque attire anyway. It is with a sense of energy and anticipation that I pack up my suitcase of kazoos and candy and excitedly commence with my journey to Indonesia. Selamat tinggal, Amerika; selamat datang, Indonesia. Goodbye, America; welcome, Indonesia.
A Trail of Goodbyes
My soul thirsts for adventure, the low, electric hum of snaking curiosity, the naked sense of wonder and guileless, unrestrained awe as I explore a novel, stretching terrain, a virgin culture, a fresh home. I have grown to realize over these hazy, white-curtained summer days that this very quality, this consumption with exploration, this attraction to the novel, is a patinated silver reflection of my own transient nature. I unabashedly devour the fresh, absorbing and introjecting every fiber of caliber, only to softly detach and flutter my way to the next prospect when I have depleted my current prey. In a less poetic tone, life stops being new and I leave, searching for novelty and the enamor of existence that accompanies it. And while this characteristic has (and continues to) lead to many opportunities and journeys, it has also had the misfortune of leaving a perpetual trail of anonymous goodbyes in its wake. My life is that of a drifter, settling in just long enough to form significant relationships, and then swiftly disengaging and replacing the vacant, rusted keyholes of my heart with a new threshold, a fresh cohort, a reconceived version of myself, and yet, the same craving for curiosity and marvel. However, life without roots wound steadily into the reliable flesh of earth is not necessarily the anxiety-provoking quarry of emptiness that I assumed it would be. Rather, it has allowed me to welcome and appreciate the ephemeral beauty, rather than the temporal duration, of relationships. A friendship is not calculated simply by the arbitrary years or months of the coupling in question, but rather, is measured by intensity and intimacy of the collective conversations, by the authentic, unrestrained flow of words between two minds, by the simultaneous reflection and development of the self through the course of the amity. If anything, the brief, fleeting quality of my friendships has made them all the more authentic- the knowledge of limited time splintering the vaults of mind and heart, allowing me to share my honest, unguarded self in the knowingly restricted time that we share. The conspicuous knowledge of defined time eliminates the slow, asymptotic development of a friendship, and rather, leads to a brilliant auroral flash of a connection, an accelerated, and yet substantial, growth of two selves together, the air pregnant with self-discovery and reflection, and anticipation of the revelations to come. To all of those who have been (and will be) a recipient of my ever-swelling list of goodbyes, thank you. Thank you for sharing your souls, your thoughts, and your selves with me. The intensity of our friendship, even if short lived, will never be forgotten. Each of you has filled the ever-morphing keyhole in my soul, unlocking my heart and my thoughts, molding my malleable copper mind into a more understanding, loving, and authentic version of myself. I may forever leave a trail of goodbyes in my wake, but I know of few other spoken words so sincerely reflective of the shared journeys that sprout among us and which root themselves in the entirety of our being, or of the individual journeys that will grow to define us.
While a majority of the experiences in my classroom were positive both for myself and my students, there were a few moments that left me questioning my proficiency as a teacher (and pondering if there should perhaps be malpractice insurance issued for the teaching profession). I have included a list of my greatest “Oh, crap” moments, with an implied apology to any students who may have been the recipient of my well-intentioned but unwisely-executed behavior.
Confession 1: I hit a male student in the crotch with a seesaw. Hard. My enthusiastic, impish, puppy-dogs of students wanted to see if I could lift one of them up on the seesaw using only my arm strength. Never one to turn down a challenge, I quickly pressed down on my end of the seesaw only to realize that the student was not yet fully seated and that I had just driven the lime-green teeter-totter full force into his crotch, only to be met with a disgruntled cry of “Unghhh, teacher” and an echo of embarrassed giggles from the surrounding students who remained free from the grasps of my unintentional assault.
Confession 2: I don’t know your name. I have spent 6 months teaching the same group of 180 students and can remember, at best, only a dozen of their names. Don’t get me wrong, I know each and every one of them, just not their names. I can remember their grade level, their average class performance, their ability to communicate in English, their sticker preference (Looney Tunes or jungle animals), their sugary-sweet best friends, their most despised enemies (at least their enemy for that given week, or day, as in some cases), the flavor of ice cream that they consume after lunch, the sports that they play, and the cartoon characters that they like to draw (Mickey Mouse is widely regarded as the most popular among the girls and the boys alike), but ask me to state their names and I will return to you the same obtuse, empty-eyed (and brained) look each and every time. I’m a bit concerned that my students will think that the appropriate response to “What is my name?” is an open-mouthed, blank-faced, “Uhhhhhh…..”
Confession 3: I cannot teach children how to write the alphabet. Not safely, that is. While bending over students and gently guiding their tense, pencil-gripping hands to form the scrawls that will become the letters of the English alphabet, I have not so delicately jabbed some of them in the eye with their own pencils, elbowed them in the head, and tripped and fallen over students who have lined up behind me for assistance. If it is later discovered that any of my students have acquired significant brain damage, it is most likely due to my repeated accidental blows to their developing skulls.
Confession 4: I have made a student cry. And not just a single masculine tear drop gently sliding down the rugged cheek cry, but a full on Kim Kardashian ugly sob. After a pressured week of students noisily darting in and out of my classroom and disrupting my teaching sessions simply to test my now dwindling patience, I was finally cracking down and kicking out anyone who was not in my designated class. I explained to one particular student that he could not join my Grade 4 English class because he had to join the rest of his Grade 5 class in Science, and firmly asked him to leave the room. The only problem? He actually was in Grade 4 and was so upset by my asking him to leave that he ran away sobbing and refused to come back to the classroom for the rest of the day (despite promises of myriad stickers).
Confession 5: I threw a full glass of water onto one of my students. This specific “Uh-oh” moment had more to do with unfortunate timing than ill-intent on my part, but faultless or not, my student still ended up drenched. As I sat down to lunch, my tray full of aromatic, fiery vegetables and meats, I noticed a single red ant drowning in my glass of water. Not wanting the crimson character to die (well, actually, I just didn’t want to forget about him and drink a glass full of ants. Or since he was singular, a glass full of ant) I stepped to the window and tossed my glass of water outside, only to have a rushed student, late for lunch, run right into my ant-infested water stream. Oops.
While I may not be a perfect English teacher, I am most assuredly a memorable one. The days of “Teacher Laurian” are long gone, now replaced with, “Teacher Laurian, the crazy, seesaw-crotch, water-throwing, eye-poking English teacher”.
The sentiment and nostalgia begin to set in as I approach the finale of my journey through Thailand. With less than two weeks left of my teaching adventure the once rampant flutters of joy have morphed into sorrowful wings of strangled tears and obstructed goodbyes. As I sat in my room trying to distract myself from my impending departure and its associated sorrow (mostly through watching Disney movies, because I adamantly believe that if Mulan can’t cheer you up, life is hopeless- I’ll make a man out of you), I heard a soft knock on my door, followed by a bashful, “Hello…..? Teacher Laurian? Hellllllllooooooooooo???” My mind performed a tally of the possible scenarios that could lead to such an interruption of my sob-filled Disney movie marathon. It was too early for lunch, for once I hadn’t forgotten any supplies in my classroom (about three times a week a child has to run behind me with handfuls of the paper, notebooks, pens, and pencils that I have carelessly forgotten, with calls of “Teacher Laurian, stop please!”), I wasn’t late for class, I didn’t have a scheduled meeting. I opened the door, curious to see what my thundering beehive of a mind had neglected yet again, and was greeted with the satisfied face of one of my students, Tah, as he outstretched his budding arms and handed me a plush, tea-colored stuffed dog. “For you”, he proclaimed, his voice a mix of pride and somberness, “to think of me when you hug”.
As I squeezed both Tah and the stuffed dog (which I have decided to name Harry, after numerous training sessions practicing the story “Harry the Dirty Dog” with Tah) in a suffocating embrace, the awkwardness began to set in- I didn’t have anything to give him in return except for a picture of Ironman that I had drawn for him. I walked over to my bed to unearth the image from the depths of my sketchbook, feeling embarrassed over my flimsy paper offering when I had received such a sincere and meaningful present, when my hand stopped, hovering over my own weathered, 14-year-old, stuffed chocolate dog, limp from persistent squishing. This ragged dog, my constant companion throughout my childhood, youth, and now adult years, a Christmas present from my parents when I was 7 or 8, joined me on my adventure through Thailand to serve as a reminder of the warmth and comfort associated with my family, a gateway to my shimmering turquoise and soft buttercup memories of childhood. My traveling token of home, security, and comfort, and yet, as I grasped the vivid Iron Man caricature in my hand, I made a move to pick up my lumpy chocolate lab, as well, for in front of me was a child just as desperate for those dreams of the comforts of home, of the security of the soul that only loved-ones can bring, for that over-squished, gravity-weary, limp body of a toy to hug. I do not need a toy, or any physical object, to remind me of the security that I feel with my family, for they reside in my heart, my mind, and my spirit. Their support and guidance show through my every action and it is their faith, encouragement, and comfort that have allowed me to stand where I am today, in front of this child, holding out this tattered, memory-repleted dog, so that my student can now share this piece of my life and my family with me. As I hug my newly acquired Harry the Dirty Dog to my chest, it is my only hope that this student may feel even a fraction of the love, unconditional support, and security that years of dream-ridden embraces have fused into his freshly obtained treasure.