There is the noise in the morning. The noise of sweating men putting hard labor into working cement into the form of a building. The noise of children squealing with delight and love and fear and sadness. Crying for someone to lift their dirty, tear-stained, coffee-colored faces into arms of love and kindness. The noise of pots and knives and cooking utensils mashing in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for the children and the women who make life about living love.
How many of these women, Ates they are called, are giving up their hearts and lives to the tiny grasping hands of the orphans?
Live a life of love, Jesus commands. These Ates are more than living it, they are dying to it. They are living sacrifices, constantly dying to live the life of love.
Ate Eleyana, they call me and teach the children to call me. It is a title I do not deserve, but I receive it graciously with a smile. And I take the children who call me that and I push their tiny selves up into the air and delight in their laughter.
All the noise comes early. All the people, men, women, and children rise with the sun.
I am American. I sleep a little extra.
Before breakfast is ready I rouse myself and dress. I wash my humid soaked skin with baby wipes. I wash my hands with squirted sanitizer. The little bottle needs a refilling. Then, I open my door. There is the courtyard, dosed with rays of sun. The cobblestones are warm, not quite hot yet, my bare feet soak in the warmth as I walk to the building where the people are crying, “Good morning, Ate Eleyana. Did you sleep well?” their voices thick with the accent of broken English. Above me, to the right, the men are building an add-on for the orphanage, more room for the children to grow strong and joyful.
The men are all ages. Old and young work side by side. There are six of them and the ones that can see me stare. They are curious about the white girl. They think the color of my skin makes me special, like fresh cream on a dirty farmhouse morning. I wish I could tell them all skin is equally special, only because it is the dwelling place of souls. It is the God-made house of His most precious creation. I wish I could say this to them, but I cannot. I have been told they do not understand English.
I walk into the house and the children grab at me. One cries for me to pick her up. Another wants to play with me. “Game! Game!” he cries. This one, his name is Jancee. He is the oldest child here–ten years old, and we are good friends.
He asks me, “Do you like brown skin?”
“Yes,” I say. “I like all the colors.”
“Do you like red skin?” he says.
“What? Who has red skin?”
“You do!” he says, teasing.
“No.” I pause and think a moment. “Only when I blush.”
“You blush? You blush? Boyfriend makes you blush?”
“Boyfriend? I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Why?” His face shows concerned confusion.
“Because I’m not ready to get married. I’m too young.”
“No! You twenty.”
I laugh. I have told them so many times how old I am and still they cannot believe it. “No,” I contradict him. “I’m sixteen.”
“Sixteen? Sixteen? No, you twenty.” Then he adds, “You have Filipino boyfriend?”
“Do I want a Filipino boyfriend?” I ask, careful to understand his heavily accented question.
Jancee nods, his face covered with a foolish smile.
“Yeah,” I say. “You can be my boyfriend.”
“No!” He shrieks. He hides his face in his hands and giggles.
In the morning he stands with his braced leg and smiles at me. “Game!” he says again. I tickle him and say, “Later. Now, it is time to eat.”
Before us the table is spread long. Several different dishes grace it’s top; leftovers from the day before, cereal, bread, rice–it’s a constant in all the meals, and a few cups of instant coffee for the Ates.
Jancee and I sit together. Around us the Ates also take their places and some of the oldest little ones sit with us. A baby at the end of the table is crying. She won’t let anyone ner her, except her brother and sister. All three children miss their mama.
When everyone is seated we sing a prayer, slapping palms against plastic table top. “Thank you, Lord, for giving us food…” We end with a jubilant amen, and begin eating.
The morning around us passes and fades with the cool morning air. It has become hot and sticky, but we are happy.
In Christ Alone~EleyanaFaith