Wednesday, May 16, 2012

R.I.P., Strangers

I was with my mentor teacher and her family at a church retreat on Sunday. The weekend had been full of happiness and fun moments. After being forced to move from our shady spots in the ground's gate entrance, MT, her husband, and I decided to take shelter from the sun in their car. We left the doors open, hearing the happy shouts and laughter from the events going on across the stone wall. We could feel the breeze, chatted and murmured to each other until our eyes got heavy and sleep began to take over. Then, my MT's husband got a phone call. I woke drowsily from a deep daydream. The conversation was in Korean, so I couldn't understand, but suddenly we were leaving.

"Are we leaving?" I asked.
"Ok, you can come with us," my mentor teacher replied.

My MT's husband left the car to go speak to the preacher. He exchanged words with his children on the way. I had left my bag at the tent earlier, so I followed him to go retrieve it. I rushed back to the car with the preacher and the husband. We said our goodbyes, and as the car left the grounds, I asked what had happened. It's sometimes hard to tell when best to ask questions. My MT told me in one sentence that two children from her husband's school had died. She left it at that and continued speaking quickly to her husband.

The drive (under other circumstances) would've been a crazy exciting one. As we drove (maybe 30 minutes) through, around, and down the mountains, my MT's husband made and answered phone calls. He drove quickly around the turns, disregarding the lines drawn on the road but carefully watching out for cars before speeding down both lanes. When cars appeared in front of us, he merely followed at a safe distance behind until it was safe to pass them. Some time during the drive, he spoke up. He told me in his broken English that they were 3rd graders, and that they had been his students last year. My MT added that they had been playing in a river, and both drowned. He left it at that. My MT's husband is a bit of a jokester. Since I'm still getting to know him, I silently wondered how he was taking the news.

I stared out the window at the scenery, thinking unfavorable thoughts about kids drowning. I didn't even know these kids, had never-  would never meet them. Still, somewhere I felt deeply affected by this news. I imagined their parents' reactions and emotions at that moment. I imagined what my friend Lein (who worked at the school as the English teacher) would say when I told her later that night. I would have to tell her so she wouldn't be too surprised Monday morning. Then my thoughts switched to more morbid ones. The kids in my daydream became kids from my school, people I had come to know and care about. Suddenly, my my imagination became my enemy. A torture device that I could not easily escape. Still, I tried thinking of other things. My MT's husband peeked at me from the rear-view mirror. "Shannon... sleep. Sleep," he told me. I looked over to his wife. She had fallen asleep. His request had been part of a joke earlier in the weekend (I wasn't allowed to fall asleep in the car without his permission). Now, he simply wanted me to be comfortable. I just shook my head and stared at the mountains and random buildings passing by. I couldn't close my eyes.

Once we left the mountains and reached the busier roads, I found myself starting to doze. They were their way to Jecheon and would drop me off at home on the way to wherever location they were going. We pulled up to my apartment, and they quickly helped me get my things out of the car. We said our goodbyes and they rushed off. I walked slowly up to my room.

Later on, I learned that these two 3rd graders had been at church with friends and family, but had gone to a nearby river afterwards to play. They were accompanied by some kindergartners (who probably told the adults what had happened). The 3rd graders wanted to catch fish in the water. A deep hole had been dug in some part of the river by a company. Perhaps the company had planned to build something in the river, or alter it in some way. One kid fell into this deep hole, couldn't get out of it, and began to drown. The second 3rd grader tried to safe his/her friend and drowned as well.

I still don't know the full story. Maybe that's what made me so attached to the kids. I wanted to know the 5 W's and H.

A sad story, yes, but it had to be told.


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