Long Ago Farewells

Memory Monday

I ran into an old friend today . . . on Facebook, of course. I don’t even remember how we first met–probably the ESOL classes at my church in East London–but I do remember going to visit her quite a bit. She was a refugee with some pretty traumatic refugee experiences, and I wanted–and she wanted me to–write her story into a book, but then I left London and we never saw each other again–until today on Facebook. We hadn’t really known each other for more than five months when I flew away, so I didn’t expect her to remember me, but she said, “I have been searching the fb like mad for u but I couldn’t find u coz I couldn’t remember ur last name, I’m glad u found me.” Me, too!

Usually when I think of momentous years, I think of 2008. But actually, on 3 January 2002, I had an inexplicable freak-out about returning to London (where I had theretofore assumed I was going to settle for the rest of my life) and so even though I did return, the wheels were set in motion from that point onward for me to leave. I used to say that God told me to, and I still reckon He might have, but whether He did or didn’t, I don’t expect my choice surprised Him very much and things seem to be working out–at the moment, anyway.

Anyway, this made 2002 a pretty momentous year, too, because before I left London for good in May that year, I jumped into a bunch of new experiences kind of at the last minute, just in case. One of the things I did was find out that even though I didn’t have a work permit to work in the UK, I could volunteer as a teacher’s assistant at one of the local schools.

A Teddy Bear's Picnic with Year R/1

A Teddy Bear’s Picnic with Year R/1

I ended up helping out in about three different classrooms and it may have been the most fun thing I did the entire time I was in London, so it’s kind of surprising that alone didn’t make me stay. On the first day, I read stories to a group of cuties in Reception (Kindergarten). Javed wanted me to read Where the Wild Things Are. So I started reading it. We paused carefully at each page to look at the pictures.

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“That one looks like you, Miss,” said Javed.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn't exactly wrong.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn’t exactly wrong.

The school was not a religious school, but it was a very religious school, all the same, because most of the kids were from religious families. Far and away the highest percentage of the kids were Muslim, but there was also a sizeable Sikh and Hindu population, and just a smattering of Christians. One thing I loved about British schools was that there were actually Religious Education (RE) classes, so the kids were learning about different faiths, and none of the teachers had to be afraid to talk about them. Sometimes the classes were a little tricky, though, when a given teacher was trying to teach about a faith that wasn’t his or her own. Like, you should’ve seen the day that one teacher placed another book on top of the Qu’ran when he was teaching about Islam . . .

But there was also the Year 4 teacher who was trying to teach the kids about Easter. It was Easter time, so I guess they were trying to be seasonal with their lesson plans. My guess is that this teacher might have fallen into the “spiritual but not religious” category, and so when of the children asked a question about some Easter specifics, she didn’t know how to answer. I was sitting in the corner trying to work on some remedial reading with an individual child, when Manvir, whose family I had been friends with for years, piped up. “Ask Jenn!” he said. (Everybody else called me “Miss.”) “She knows all about this stuff.” So, in a community school full of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and a very few Christians, I talked about Jesus being God and coming to die for our sins and coming back to life again and the whole time I kept waiting for someone to get offended or for the teacher to tell me I had crossed a line, but nobody did, because it was RE, and in RE we talked about beliefs.

At the end of the year, one of the teachers had his class sing me a farewell song since I was leaving England, and all the children gave me hugs. I guess I didn’t know when I signed up to volunteer in school, that saying goodbye to a bunch of children–most of whom I hadn’t known before January–would be so difficult. It took me three years at least to get over London. I’m glad I’m where I am now, but I’m glad I was there, too. I’m glad that I kept making friends until I left. And I’m glad I had those five months at that school.

"Til We Have Faces" - I'm pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

“Til We Have Faces” – I’m pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

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5 thoughts on “Long Ago Farewells

    • It’s a WILD THING. ;)

      I think they may have. There was some sort of bill someone tried to pass after I left, whose proponents wanted to prohibit those classes all together. I also know that my old neighbourhood has seen some strife since 9/11 that wasn’t occurring when I lived there–although the time period I describe here was right after 9/11. I reckon it might have been good both for me and those kids, for me to be an American working with all of them.

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed your time in London Jenn, and I always love it when I read something positive about my home country from a visitor. As a Brit who was educated in Britain but then moved to California and brought up my children in the American school system, I did find it so different. In my day of course we said grace before we had our lunch in the school dining room, prayed at assemblies and took part in nativity plays at Christmas, and it was just a normal state primary school, not private or anything. Of course it’s very different now but when I moved back here in 2003 my two younger children continued their education here for several years. RE was called PSRE – Personal Social Religious Education – so it has changed again.
    How lovely for you to have met your friend again. That’s where FB can be so good..thanks for sharing this lovely story, I really enjoyed it Jenn :-)

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for clearing up the “changed again” question. Interesting new name. I love how the politer and more individual we try to make everything, the more general it ends up sounding, and the longer it takes to say! ;)

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