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Leaving is the Hardest Part

I’ve had a perpetual knot in my stomach since Friday morning. An absolute dread threatening to take over my whole body. I knew then that the goodbyes had started. I haven’t made it through the first couple of hours of any morning since without breaking down in tears. With more to follow later in the day. I knew it would be hard. I didn’t know it would be this hard. And I thought the hardest goodbyes I ever said were the ones I said two years ago to my family in the airport.

This is one time I am specifically grateful for my to-do list. It is what I use to remind myself of what has to be done before I am gone. Without it, I think I would just stop and shut down, unable to focus on the next step. Instead, I will myself minute by minute to complete task after task because until I complete those tasks, I can’t get to the other side of this season. I am excited about what waits on the other side of all of this heartache – I want to get to that side – but the string of goodbyes between here and there seems never ending and sure to break my heart in the meantime. I would rather just shut down and walk away – it would be less painful that way. I’ve done it many times before. But I force myself to take in each moment for what it is. I don’t want to regret not having done so later.

The hardest goodbye of Friday was the one I had to say to Munera. I had not told her that I would be leaving and going to say goodbye just felt wrong. Kind of like I was leaving unfinished business. I couldn’t think of anything to say that felt like it would be enough. I finally just had to leave because sitting there crying wasn’t helping anything. I left so poorly and so emotionally that I had to go back yesterday to give her a little gift, get a phone number, and make an effort to say goodbye without feeling as if my heart was going to rip out of my chest. I don’t know why, but that little girl stole my heart. She has a smile that can light up a dark, smokey mud hut and one that can break my heart when I am standing in its presence for the last time.

Then Monday, the day I had been truly dreading, finally came. The goodbyes at the goat site. They killed a goat, we ate, we laughed, we drank coffee, there were blessings, there were speeches, but the actual goodbyes were still lingering unsaid. I had a feeling they wouldn’t get said unless I initiated. But it is hard to initiate a goodbye with a grown man with his head down and tears in his eyes. I don’t like to see men cry and I certainly don’t like to see tough, African farmers cry. By that point, no words were said. None could be gotten out. Just shoulders bumped three times each in the traditional greeting as I went from man to man giving my final handshake. It felt like a funeral visitation.

I’ve even had my chance to say goodbye to the town. To the mountains. To the beautiful scenery. To the kids playing in the street. To the sounds of people calling each other in the local way. To children giggling, and sometimes crying, outside my window. One last morning greeting my sleepy eyed guard and giving him his coffee.

All of this is so surreal. The goodbyes, the hellos. The ends and the new beginnings. The tears and the smiles. The sadness and the joy. All mixed in together. Unable to be separated.

The whole group.

All of the worker’s wives.

Even Heather joined in on the fun and helped cut up some goat meat. She sure looked pretty doing it though!

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