Goodbye: To Say or Not to Say

I sat outside our island’s small airport. People milled around; women hoping to sell flowers to relatives awaiting the arrival of their loved ones, men lounging in their cars or clumped together talking. There are always more people at the airport than the tiny strip that allows one twelve-passenger plane at a time dictates. But there they were. And there I was too, at 7:30am.

I was waiting for a friend. We’ll call her Rachel. She had told me she’d be there at 7:00am. So I arrived at 7:30 to be safe, you know, Africa time and all. She arrived at 8:00am… We all wore smiles as she checked her luggage and got her boarding pass. I gave greetings all around the airport as many of the employees are former students of mine. Then we walked back outside together and said our last goodbyes before I headed off to work.

Only God knows what the future will bring, but I will very likely never see her again.

We met just about a year ago. She was very pregnant and scared. At only 19, she had lived the life of someone much older, she told me. She was a “club girl”, something mildly acceptable in America, but not at all in this Islamic culture. She smoked, drank and partied every night, dancing into the wee hours of the morning. She became involved with a foreigner but when he found out she was pregnant there were no more phone calls and he even moved houses so she couldn’t find him! When I met her, she hadn’t heard from him in 7 months. Almost completely alone, with nowhere to turn, when she was invited to study the Bible with some of her “club girl” friends, she jumped at the chance.

Within a few months she had wholeheartedly accepted the good news of Jesus. And she believed in his promises of provision, peace and joy. With nowhere to go after she gave birth, she went into the hospital with hope. The day after the baby was born, the father “Will” came to see them. He invited her to move in with him so they could be a family. It was a complete miracle for which she praised God.

Life has not been easy since then. It never is. She’d alienated herself from her family during her party days. When she accepted the Lord and began to change her life her former friends turned tail. As a young mother she struggled with a baby. Her cesarean did not heal quickly. The baby cried…a lot. She was lonely, in her home most of the day. She longed for a way to make money, but she had never finished school. Yet through all the struggles she held onto her faith and was the first to point out the goodness of God. She was quick to tears whenever we opened the Word together. It spoke to her in ways she couldn’t even explain.

Then my team left the island for a month. Upon returning I couldn’t get in touch with her. She wouldn’t answer my messages. Every time I passed by her house, it was all closed up. I feared the worst. She and Will had broken up. She was living with her sister, unhappy and abandoned. Then on Monday night, returning from the beach, Rafaela and I asked her neighbor if she was traveling. “Not yet. She’s traveling on Wednesday.” What? We walked by her house and the door was open.

“Rachel!!!” We yelled, past the gate. She let us in and I asked immediately, “We heard you’re traveling on Wednesday. Is it true?”

Incredulous, she asked, “Who told you that?!”

“The lady next door. Is it true?”

“No. Not Wednesday. I’ll be traveling Thursday.”

“Where?” I’m excited for her!

“[The country of her boyfriend]”

“How long?”

“Indefinitely.” My face fell. Indefinitely? How can she leave me? And then it hit me like a brick in the face. I sat there staring at her silently. She wasn’t even going to tell us! If we hadn’t passed by her house at that moment, when the door happened to be open, we could have missed her. She wasn’t returning our phone calls. She hasn’t told any of our mutual friends she was leaving. She would have slipped away without telling anyone but her family. Why?

This is not unique to her. This is island culture. I have had many friends, already in the short time I’ve been here, leave and not tell me until they were gone. I’ll get a call from a French island number. When I answer I find out it’s one of my students. They won’t be coming to class anymore because they’re now living illegally on the French island. I can surmise why they don’t share this information:

  • They don’t want to be shamed in case their travel plans fall through (they don’t get the visa, or if illegal, they’re caught by French police)
  • They don’t want to be cursed. Jealously is huge here! As are curses and jinxes. People genuinely fear having their plans ruined by malicious neighbors, “friends” and even family members.
  • They don’t like goodbyes? Maybe they’re emotionally uncomfortable with the finality of saying goodbye so it’s easier not to?

Though I have been saddened by the departure of previous friends and students, Rachel’s leave-taking really hit home. She is someone I really love and into whom I invested a lot of my heart. God knew I needed to say goodbye. I would have been devastated and deeply hurt if she’d left without telling me.

I am now working on being happy for her. I truly hope she finds contentment and joy in her new home.

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