Well it started quickly this week. On Monday all the kids from Bander left. Their car came while we were in the city. So we picked Mommy up from duty and then drove back to the Home before they left. When we got back I saw one of my crew members had made the journey back to the Home. Shubham had come with his mother to get his two sisters, Sonu and Rupali. I got to hang out with him for a little bit until he left me, again, for the second time in a month. This was the beginning. They were the only kids who left today. Tomorrow, the rest of them would leave.
On Tuesday, pretty much all of the kids left. And it started right as they were getting back from school. Rohit’s mother came at the same time the kids were getting back. This started the chain of kids leaving. I could go through and describe thoroughly how each kid left, but I’m not going to do that. It was sad enough having to watch the kids leave one by one. I said my “see you laters” to everyone as they left, and told everyone, “Za nocco.” They just laughed and said, “Me za. Za nocco.” It means, don’t go. So all throughout the day the kids left. As they all walked down the driveway, they all turned around for one last wave good-bye. It really wasn’t as sad as I thought it was going to be. The more I think about it, it wasn’t a sad day. Maybe it was a happy day, a day filled with thankfulness and the knowledge that this wasn’t the end. It was the only the beginning. It’s not a question of “if” I’ll see them again, it’s “when”. And the kids know that. We didn’t cry because it wasn’t a good bye. These amazing kids will not be forgotten anytime soon. Not all the kids left today. There were seven that didn’t get picked up today. So you add those to the 11 high schoolers, the two boys in college, papad wala, and the four orphan children and that left us with 25 kids for the next few days. But like the other kids, these last seven also got picked up slowly throughout the week. Actually only six of them got picked up. Sandesh was going to stay and leave with his brother, Ishwar, on the 11th. As I watched how happy the kids were when they saw their parent walk down that driveway, I thought about the four orphan children. I wondered what went through their heads as they watched their friends’ happiness when their parent showed up, and know that no one was coming for them. I wanted to do something for those four kids, Roshan, Priti, Ruth and Joseph. I talked to Mommy about and asked her opinion. She said she feels the same way for those children and I told her I wanted to buy them clothes. She said that was a fine idea because the kids usually come back with new clothes that their parents bought for them. So on Thursday Mommy took me to buy the kids clothes. I had an idea in mind of what I wanted to get them. She asked me how much I wanted to spend and I told her that money was not an issue. I told her that the gifts weren’t from me, they were from my mom. I figured this is what I would tell them when I gave them their clothes so the other children wouldn’t get sad that I didn’t buy anyone else clothes. I think Mommy knew I was lying, but she went along with it. I picked out two kurtas for the boys and two Punjabi dresses for the girls. All very nice. Then Mommy bought one Punjabi dress for my sister. I know she doesn’t read my blogs so I can write that here without ruining the surprise. We then bought some other gifts and then headed back to the home. On Friday I gave the kids their gifts. They liked them and Priti started crying and gave me a big kiss. I told her I’d relay that to my mom for her. After I gave the four of them their gifts, it was time for the kids to give me my gift. I had the Marathi Bible that Mommy gave me and I told her that I wanted all the kids, and staff, to highlight one of their favorite passages in the Marathi Bible, then write their name in the front and what passage they highlighted in English so I could find it in my Bible. These kids had some very good ones, and once again, they found a new way to amaze me. It was amazing that after four months they could still amaze me with their passion for the Lord. Later that night I was telling everyone how fat I’ve gotten over these months and Ishwar went into Dede’s room to get the scale. Everyone took turns weighing themselves. I was hesitant to get on and had to be carried onto the scale. The scale finally stopped, I looked down and saw it had stopped on 74, my girls tried telling me that it was actually 75. I then took off my watch and gave it Mommy, no change. Then I took off my necklace, no change. I went to my room to check how much 74kgs. are and found out that it equals 163lbs. Before I came to India I weighed 135. I gained almost 30lbs. in four months. I think that there is a different gravitational pull here in India because we are closer to the equator.
Saturday was my last day at the Home, so in the evening we had a celebration, complete with orange floats. And this time everyone got one. Ravita had joked earlier in the week that they were going to have a celebration on the 5th, right after I left. She also this week told me everyday how many days I had left. I asked her why she was counting and that she was a very naughty son. I told Mommy that Ravita probably had some tally marks up in the girls’ hall of my days I had here and everyday would erase one. She said she wasn’t doing that and told me not to go. She said she was going to hide my suitcases so I couldn’t leave. I told her to do that. That night I taught them how to play everyone’s favorite game, “For on the Couch.” The kids loved this game so much that we played four games. One before dinner and three after dinner, we played until 23:30. Despite their numerical disadvantage, the girls still won the best-of-five series 3-1. I didn’t play with them, I took pictures of them playing. It brought joy to me that I was still bringing them joy right up to my last minutes.
Sunday was full of lasts, last breakfast, last lunch, last day and last church service. But I’m not going to focus on the negative. For my last nigh, I slept outside with all the children. I should have been doing this for a while since it was so much cooler than in my room at night. I had to wear a blanket the whole night. I was awoken to the sound of hundreds of sparrows singing in the tree above the stage. When everyone was awake we sang songs and then prayed. After that I had a pillow fight with Roshan. Before breakfast we celebrated Palm Sunday by marching around the campus with palm branches decorated with flowers. After our service we had breakfast, which was made by my son as a gift. Everyday I would thank her for making me my omelets and she would laugh and say, “You’re welcome.” even though Auntie made them. So this last week I kept begging her to make me breakfast and she kept saying no. I decided to compromise, I asked her to make me my last breakfast at the home. She agreed and then I told her make me tea as well. So this morning she made me, and everyone else omelets, and they were the best. I told her next time I come I don’t want to have to wait till my last day for her to make me these delicious omelets. She made them just how I like my women: Hot, and full of spice. For the rest of the afternoon I played carrom with the younger kids, while the older boys helped the “blasting wala”, as Mommy called them. They were here to blast the well to make it deeper. So I played with them for a little bit then I went into the guesthouse to finish packing, plus it was very hot. I had finished and was just sitting there watching TV and decided that this was how I wanted to spend my last days here. So I went outside and played “uno” with Ruth, Mercy, Prathna and Ravita in the guesthouse garden. This was the most fun I’ve ever had playing “uno”. Right before lunch it was time for the blasting. We all gathered inside the big hall to watch. And as we were filling in and trying to get better views, BOOM! Without a countdown or anything they just blew it. I wanted to videotape it but all I could do was take pictures of the aftermath. We had lunch right after that. After lunch the kids watched TV up until it was time for me to go. I took one last bath before I left and when I was finished, it was time to leave. I put my suitcases outside my room and said to My son, “Here. Hide this.” Before I left I had one last thing to do. I went up to the top of the water tower and just looked out over what was my home for the last 4 ½ months. It was sad knowing that I have to leave this place, and I took a little video from up there of the campus, not for me, I will never forget how it looks. It was for my family and friends, so they can see where everything is. After I took my video I stayed up there for a couple more minutes before walking back down. I was doing fine until I turned the corner around the big hall and saw all the kids standing by the guesthouse, waiting to say good-bye to me. This is where I, and the kids, broke down. Daddy said a quick prayer for me and then it was time. I shook hands with Roshan first and just grabbed him and patted his stomach. Next was Priti, and I gave her a big hug. I also gave Sandesh a big hug. After those three it was the older kids. First the boys, who I shook their hands and then gave a big hug to each of them. I have to say that not one of us had a dry eye. Next were the girls. I started with Dede and gave her a hug, then my girls came up to me and gave me their greeting cards they made for me. I shook their hands and last was Aunite. She made some joke about me not wearing a hat and she kissed my hand and I gave her a hug. After all that was finished, I had to get in the car. It took everything I had to get in the car. I told all the kids that I would see them later, and I told the boys that when I come back I want “ku-sti”, then I shook their hands again and once all my bags were packed it was time to make the longest drive of my life. As we drove down the driveway, I kept my head out and waved to the kids. This wasn’t something I looked forward to, but it was something that I had to do. I would be back, and just like I said, “We’ll pick up right were we left off.”
Once we got to the train station I said my “see you laters” to Mommy, Daddy, Peter and Naresh before the train arrived. I was talking with Mommy before the train got there and I told her to “show me that smile again, show me that smile. Don’t waste another minute on your crying.” She gave me a hug. Despite my wishes, the train arrived. We loaded our bags into our room and then I went back to say “see you later” to them. When our train started pulling away I waved to them. I continued waving long after I couldn’t see them. As we were leaving I couldn’t help having this feeling like I forgot something at the Home, and that I had taken something else. I mentally rechecked my bags trying to think of what it was when I realized that I hadn’t forgotten anything. I left it there. And I hadn’t taken anything. It was given to me. I left it there on purpose, just as what was given to me was given on purpose. When I would think about it, I know it can never be taken away from the Home. And what was given to me, I will always have it. It is the greatest thing in the world and is more beautiful than words. I think about my last minutes at the Home, everyone gathered around me, everyone crying. It fills me with joy thinking about how much emotion these kids can bring out of an adult. Now it is a two-way street, but these kids have impacted my life way more than I’ve impacted theirs, and I told them that everyday. Prathna wrote in her greeting card, “I have nothing to give you except my prayer.” which is not true at all. She, and all the kids, gave me everything. They gave “it” to me as I tried to give “it” to them. I often think about when I will return, how I’ll take family and friends with me. Maybe that’s why I have to leave, so that I can spread the love of Ankoor Children’s Home to the world. But for now, I must this chapter of my life must come to an end. This chapter about one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I say “one of the most amazing experiences” because there are many other amazing experiences in my life, I just haven’t experienced them yet. I haven’t returned to Ankoor Children’s Home.