Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Day in the Life of....

It's been a strange week. On Tuesday last week, a 17 yr old German boy from our son's school was found dead on the ground at an apartment block, used mainly by ex-pats, in the early hours of the morning. The police were treating it as a murder investigation. He didn't live there, but was found in what he slept in. Everyone at the school was very shaken. School was very quiet and subdued last week. He was a very popular boy, athletic, president of the student council, involved in several community projects, an avid football player, a keen break dancer and above all, a joker and entertainer. Everyone seemed to know him and like him. I had taught him several times when doing supply at the school. I was in school teaching last week. We had a session for the children from primary upwards, to talk about it and ask questions.

Rumours were flying around of course. It made it much harder for his class mates because no one really knew for about a week what had happened. People want that sorted in their mind before they can start to process it. The picture was further confused by the fact that there had been a murder 2 yrs ago of a Swedish woman at the same apartment block, and locals know the area as a 'bad' area. It now seems he committed suicide (he sent a text to his sister saying "forgive me") rather than having been pushed from a 4th or 5th floor window, having walked about 6km from the suburb where he lived. (That's a lot of thinking time.....) Forensics can tell this, in particular, from the way a person lands.

It's hard to comprehend a suicide; his friends remembered a lively, entertaining, popular and kind teenager. It's even harder for his parents. I can't begin to imagine. Not just the unadulterated grief, but the soul searching, asking oneself why and what one hadn't noticed, living with those unanswered questions.

Having been a teacher for 15 yrs in large British compreshensives, I had begun to wonder whether one death in 1300 was statistically normal. I was in my last school for 9 yrs and in that time 4 students and one teacher died. About one every 2 yrs. Here the school is only 400 strong. A much smaller, much closer community. Everyone knows everyone.

There was a celebration memorial for his life yesterday afternoon. Amazingly, his parents were at the door to greet everyone. The place was full. The video montage and students' memories were wonderful. Lots of teachers were crying. I was fine, not having been so closely involved, until right at the end the boy's father, a dignified, soft spoken man in his 50s, stood up to thank everyone for the overwhelming support of the community, the school, his son's friends who went to see them etc. He asked us to remember his son and his principles, his kindnesses, his sense of fun. Hearing him unable to do more than whisper these words, as he struggled monumentally to hold it together, and failed, just undid me.

Of course there are millions of tragic stories and griefs like this every moment the world over, but it is the personal ones which stray across your path, which draw you in and remind you of our common humanity. And it reminds me certainly, to relish life, my family and to grasp the mettle. A salutary reminder in a country where day to day I can get so frustrated and stressed by things that don't work, the traffic, the heat, the miscomprehension, the cultural gap, and it's tempting just to complain, withdraw and write the day off.

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