"Si-Sen Che-chie!" My name, according to the two year old boy here. The custom is to add "che-chie" to the end of the name of any older sister that you have, and so all of the kids here call me "Sydney Che-chie" because I am the oldest. Apu, the youngest of the Aswasa Bhavan kids, has finally warmed up to our presence and has begun to squeal when he sees me and calls me by my name: "Si-sen Che-Chie!" He's adorable sometimes. It's very encouraging to hear him, because he is learning little bits of English (that we've taught him). For instance, when he wants us to play he says, "Si-sen Che-chie, COME!" and sometimes he'll start to sing "Good morning to you, Good morning to you, mumblemumblemumble PLACES, mumblemumblemumble, GOOD MORNING TO YOU!" Always makes me smile. Oh I love kids! Watching Apu is such a blessing. When we pray and worship Apu is always bouncing around and clapping his loudest, and has recently begun singing the songs as loud as he can with his eyes shut tight. The faith of little kids is always astounding! Much like the little boy in PA that I love so much- one day he told his mom, "Mom I want to see a fox." She told him that only God could make that happen. His reaction? "God, I would like to see a fox please." He is three years old. Awesome.
We've been seeing encouraging results from teaching with the few kids who live here at Aswasa Bhavan- every here and there we will see the kids from our classes teaching the rest of their Aswasa Bhavan siblings the English songs and phrases they've learned. Teaching is fun, and tough! The parents of the school children are all very happy that we are here, and tell us that their kids come home and sing the English songs that we teach them. They want us to stick around for..ever. :) I am very blessed to be here during this time in my life, and have full confidence that this is exactly where God wants me right now. He is always faithful.
The kids here are so smart! One of the boys here (about 12 or 13 years old) learned the alphabet in sign language after watching us go through it twice. And he remembers it! He spells out whole sentences to us when he sees us. A cute little boy (7 years old) is learning conversational English, and is very good at it. He pronounces his T's very strongly, and corrects you when you say a word wrong: I read aloud "the" with the pronunciation as 'thee' and he said, "No- 'thuh'." I thanked him for his generous help, and re-read the sentence with the correct pronunciation. Another day Katrina Elyse asked this little boy when his birthday was. He smiled, and then realized that he couldn't remember the appropriate response. He looked away and started flipping through his brain's file cabinet of responses, whispering: " 'Hello, How are you?' 'I am fine.' 'How old are you?' 'I am seven years old.' 'When is your birthday?'... ^Insert look of confusion^…. 'I am fine'." When Katrina Elyse asked him if it was in October he laughed at her and said, "No! It's in March!" The process of elimination in his mind was pretty funny, and with Katrina's help he finally reached his answer.
One of the more trying aspects of living at Aswasa Bhavan is learning to live as children again. Because we are under the care of the Matthews (like the rest of the children at Aswasa Bhavan) we must ask permission to leave the premises, and must not go alone. We haven't been able to leave the campus very much, because everyone has their daily routine pretty packed with chores and studying (so no chaperone is available most of the time). One day Katrina Elyse and I decided that we would go on a walk to the end of the path out back to see what was on the other side of the hill. This walk was within eyeshot of Aswasa Bhavan, and led to the rural side of our place. We started our trek, when some of the Aswasa Bhavan boys passed us and asked us where we were going. We told them, and they looked shocked and asked if we had asked Pappa for permission. We kind of looked at each other as we said, "no…" We were unaware that we weren't allowed to go outside of the perimeter without permission at this time. So we went into the house and asked Pappa. He said that we could go only if one of the older girls or boys came with us (kind of defeating our plan to get a few minutes of time to talk together alone). I understood that they are completely in charge of our safety, and will do their best to protect us against any situation (like snakes on the path). At first, nobody wanted to take us and we gave up. Finally, two kids felt bad about it and told us that they would take us on a walk- we told them that we wanted to go past Rayju's place to the top of the hill. This is where it gets good.
As we are passing Rayju's place, the kids start walking up to his front door, looking shy and embarrassed. Katrina Elyse and I stop. Confusion arises. Then I realize that when we asked them to go past Rayju's place, they understood it as "let's go visit Rayju." So this is awkward. This is an awesome family, with servant hearts, and I love to see them at various events throughout the week. They were apparently watching a movie on TV together, but when they heard us at the front door they stopped everything and hustled out to put chairs out for us to sit on. They made us tea, and we all stared at each other. You see, we only know a few Malayalam phrases, and Rayju only knows a few English phrases. So we couldn't really talk. One of the kids did some translating for us, but it was just plain awkward and unexpected. This lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes, during which I tried to think of questions to relay to Rayju through our translating friend. I'm just glad Rayju was smiling the whole time- I think he thought it was weird that we wanted to visit him and his family, and then just sit there and stare at them with ridiculous grins plastered on our confused faces. Somehow we made it clear that we wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill, and Rayju and his two kids took us all to see it.
It was a flat piece of ground, cleared out for a building that never got built. Exciting. Okay, it actually was pretty beautiful with the sun setting, and the forest around us. I thought it would be a fun place to play big group games. Katrina Elyse agreed and then tagged me, and I tagged her back. We were just joking with each other, but when I tagged one of the kids they felt like they had to play. Soon, all seven of us were playing tag (including Rayju himself). And… it was fun. Rayju thought it was pretty funny, and then he left and brought back some Kricket equipment. This is when I learned how to play Kricket. Strange game, but I like it. All this to say: obedience may not seem like fun all the time, but it is rewarding. If I had wanted to be a little rebel child, I could have walked to the top of the hill by myself. Chances are I wouldn't have had a wonderfully awkward tea-time with Rayju and his family, nor gotten to play tag, and I definitely wouldn't have learned to play Kricket all by myself out there. Heck, knowing my luck I probably would have been attacked by some giant man-eating spider on the path or something. But I recognized the wisdom of Pappa and Mummie and gladly submitted to the position of a child. And look at what fun I had in doing so! By the way: Apparently you don't hold a Kricket bat up in the air like a baseball bat. This will evoke laughter from those around you. It's held low to the ground like a golf club. You know, just in case anyone wants to pick up the sport.
Things we do to keep ourselves entertained on days when we feel a little stir-crazy: Sing songs in opera voices, sing songs in different languages (that we make up), try to make legit animal noises, play cards, laugh at our silly mistakes, walk back and forth around the campus aimlessly, play a painful game of throw-this-ball-as-hard-as-you-can-at-each-other's-body with the boys, play tag games that involve some serious Malayalam rhymes with the girls (while being completely lost all the while), invent and solve large long-division math problems, and (my favorite) eating nutella with bananas… using our fingers because we don't have any utensils.
So, yes: life here in India is good! I love this place, these people, this family. Beautiful faces in a beautiful environment, and God is working all the time. I am so blessed to be a part of this. Don't be fooled, though: there are still some scary things in India. Giant cockroaches (as in the size of my middle finger- no lie), bats the length of my entire arm (it's okay, they only eat fruit… I tell myself), swarms of flying ants that flock to lighted areas (this is like Moses-time plagues), and those jumping wolf spiders the size of my entire hand- yes, my giant hand. It's almost like living in a constant state of camping.
Tomorrow is Kerala's birthday (54 or 55 years old… I know, I should know this stuff). We will have a holiday, filled with celebrations of singing, dancing, and plays given by the little kids. Katrina Elyse and I have special Keralite Sari's to wear (yay!) and will begin learning a Keralite dance during the coming month. We are excited to see the celebration of Kerala's birthday. If it's anything like the children's birthdays, we will be eating cake and singing happy birthday at 6:30am. I am hoping that we can play Kricket as a celebration activity. Fingers crossed.
All of our work here means nothing without the work of God. We pray every day that we can hear God more clearly, and be filled with him more fully, so that we may live lives for him more completely. As always, keep us in your prayers! This past week I had some sickness issues: three days of a migraine, stomach problems, and a small fever. Today it was much better- the fever and headache are gone, but the stomach pains/nausea are still coming and going throughout the day. I would appreciate prayer for my health. Blessings, and much love.