The past couple of days have been full of incredible ups and sad sad downs.
I'll start with the sad so as to finish on a high note. Today, we had to say goodbye to Leo and it was horrible. Obviously, we knew it was coming but the time came way sooner than any of us wanted. Though our time together was jammed pack full of things and laughter and fun, our time together flew. We had an early flight and so after an early breakfast in our room, we all set off to the tiny airport. All too soon our flight was called and it was time for goodbye. Warm loving hugs were shared and tears were shed. I know that I am so lucky to have seen him for the time that I did have, but as we walked away, the pain and sadness of saying another goodbye swept over me. Tears of sadness, pride, and love wet my face. I wanted to bring him home with me and have him close again. A piece of my heart will be in Mongolia until he returns home.
Sadness, of course, is only sad in comparison to extreme joy. Our days in Leo's soum have been sprinkled with moments of joy.
Imagine waking up in the coldness of the morning and heading out to the outhouse only to see Leo's hashaa grandmother chasing after a yak with a big stick. Yep it happened and I laughed.
Other moments of joy occurred everytime we walked into a classroom of children who welcome Leo with "good morning teacher" and proceed to tell him the date and the day with excitement and energy. The children who are all learning English are captivated by Leo. He is a fantastic teacher with a gift that must be genetically passed on through my family from my mom and great grandma. He leads his class with ease and joy laughing his hearty laughs as the children and he share jokes. He uses his grasp of Mongolian to translate sentences and uses years of music lessons to play "if you're happy and you know it" for his youngest students. The students care for him asking him when he'll be back from Olgi and whether he'll be leading their after school bingo sessions. It's amazing.
And more moments of joy occurred over countless feasts of mutton and arrul (curds) at the homes of people who love Leo. We laughed with Leo's friend Botakuz about Leo's funny attempts at Kazhak dancing and enjoyed fascinating conversation about retirement and living situations in Mongolia and the US. We enjoyed songs around the dinner table and sang jingle bells along with Kazak folk songs. We learned about people's families and their photos and medals on the walls. We admired carpets brightly linings the walls of homes and continued to be in amazement over the quantity of food served to us.
And lastly, the three of us had beautiful, funny moments of joy. Dad and I relished in the novelty of putting a headlamp on to use the outhouse giggling at the trek we would take. The three of us laughed at our inability to get in a car without getting a flat tire and at the amusing, unrhytmic drumming skills of a somewhat intoxicated Russian man. We shared some time in Leo's house simply talking, discussing, reminiscing and the like and it was just like we were home around the dinner table having our O'Toole family conversations.
My heart is heavy tonight--full of love and pride for my brother, and full of sadness and sorrow that our time together has ended so quickly.