Today the kids graduated at Ana Al-Mahsry. Graduated? You’re probably wondering how on earth 60 or so children partook in a “graduation” in their own home and why. Well, no they didn’t graduate from a well-respected university, a high school, or even the 5th grade. But they definitely did graduate.
After a long and extremely hot day outside with relay races, carnival-like games, and a slip and slide (which really turned into a full-on water fight) the kids were all gathered into one empty room and told to sit down. I had absolutely no idea what was about to take place; I thought we were just hanging out with the kids before we left for the day as per usual. But after 30 minutes or so they were lined up in their age groups- nursery kids ages 3-6 (with whom I work with every day and even though it is a difficult task I love every single minute of it), group 2 and group 3 (roughly ages 6-12 all together). The staff at Ana Al-Mahsry began to call them forward one by one and present them with a homemade graduation cap (created from construction paper and ribbon), a diploma with their name on it, and a couple of toys each (little plastic guitars with music and a furry stuffed animal) to reward them for how well they did in school this past year.
The boiling excitement those kids expressed as they anxiously awaited their name to be called combined with the indescribable expressions on their faces as they received their gifts was surreal. My high school graduation had nowhere near that kind of enthusiasm and sentiment. Even my brother’s college graduation that I went to before I departed to Egypt didn’t compare. I realize this all sounds exaggerated but it’s really true-I was near tears.
I walked over to one of my favorite (I know teachers are never supposed to have them but it’s really inevitable) students from the nursery after he had received his gifts. He was pressing the notes of the guitar, but it was still wrapped in its original plastic, so I figured he needed some assistance. As I started to pull it off for him, he began to shout and scream; his eyes began to tear. I was so confounded. I quickly put it back in its wrapping so he wouldn’t start crying and left him to his own devices. I tend to over-analyze a lot, and as I went back to watch the rest of the graduation I started thinking about how little Yusef reacted. How often is he really given a gift? Sure the teachers give the students candy at least once a day in class, but I mean a legitimately wrapped and brand new present. If this had been taking place in America all the kids would have ripped off their wrapping, thrown it aside, and left it in the dust. Yusef wanted to keep his present as pristine as possible.
And then it set in for the first time on this trip: the guilty conscience you develop from this type of experience. It’s a feeling of extreme remorse and distress just because you are who you are; because you were given so much more. You knew that they deserved more but now you can feel it inside. I knew I would feel it; I was warned. But hearing people tell you how you are going to feel and knowing that you will feel it doesn’t mean anything at all until it actually happens. Will these kids graduate high school like I did? Some of them maybe, but probably not all. Will they graduate college like I will in a few years? One can only hope.
On the car ride home I was feeling pretty shitty. Just a half hour before this ceremony I was sitting inside with my fellow Duke Engagers away from the children complaining about how I was tired and wanted to be done for the day. Yeah. I’m an awful person. If we had gone home we would have missed the graduation completely. I couldn’t imagine how I had felt that way; what’s even worse is it wasn’t the first time I had felt like giving up. Just a few days before 10 or so nursery kids were all shouting at the top of their lungs for no reason and I couldn’t control them at all. My patience broke for the first time. Not that I yelled or anything, but I completely removed myself from the situation mentally- something that I told myself before coming that I shouldn’t allow to happen. I’ve learned a lot today and I’ve realized a lot of things that I need to change as I continue my work on this trip-Insha’Allah.