This Thanksgiving, Jeff and I again participated in his stepfather's family tradition--the annual Christmas Ornament Competition. This year I won't go into detail about all of the ornaments, but I would like to share mine.
My ornament this year was inspired by my weekly visits to Mother Teresa's orphanage and daycare. As I've said before, Mother Teresa's is located in Medinaat ez-Zabbaleen (City of the Garbage Collectors, usually shortened to Garbage City by English-speakers). Because the residents of this area are so poor, many of them are in great need of daycare centers or preschools where their very young children can stay while Mom and Dad both work. Mother Teresa's provides such a center, as well as functioning as an orphanage for abandoned children. Beginning last spring, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Mother Teresa's once a week until recently. (My pregnancy-weakened immune system, combined with the children's habits of rough play that include bouncing into my abdomen and occasionally hitting it, caused my husband and me to decide that it was best for our own child if I forgo my visits.)
Not long after I started visiting Mother Teresa's, I met Malya. This little girl is probably around a year old, and she stands out at the orphanage for two reasons: (1) Her face is just so incredibly beautiful, sweet, and innocent; and (2) she doesn't play like the other children do. She tends to just sit or stand where she's placed, even though she's capable of walking and running. She doesn't usually play with toys, although she'll occasionally hold one if it's handed to her. Her favorite activity seems to be sitting quietly in an adult's lap or--better yet--sprawling across an adult's chest and shoulder, lying quietly as if she's going to sleep, although her eyes stay wide open. If she's in a lap and other children try to join her, jostling her or making too much noise, she simply climbs out of the lap and walks a short distance away, where she sits or stands and looks mournfully at the commotion surrounding her previously peaceful refuge. She appears healthy, and she eats well, but she remains aloof from the other children, rarely smiles, and in general makes me worry about her.
One morning when I was at the orphanage, I was sitting with my legs stretched out in front of me. I had two children sitting on my legs, which I was bouncing up and down, much to the delight of the kids. My hair was pulled back into a low ponytail. Suddenly I felt someone behind me, pulling said ponytail. I tried to reach behind me to free myself, but it was difficult because of the kids in my lap and the fact that they were hanging onto my hands so they didn't fall off of my bouncy legs. I couldn't even turn my head to see who it was without my hair being pulled harder. I looked to one of the workers for help, but she didn't notice--she was too busy staring open-mouthed at the child behind me, who had started to emit loud, delighted peals of laughter as she shook my hair the way a child would shake the reins of a toy horse. During this process, her grip loosened enough for me to turn and see what was happening behind me.
It was Malya. She stood there behind me, laughing, shaking my hair. She even did a little dance, bouncing up and down herself in time to the rhythm she created with my hair. I was stunned. I just sat there for a moment, laughing with her as she pulled my hair out of my head. By then, the kids in my lap had abandoned me, since I wasn't bouncing them anymore, so I turned and pulled Malya into my arms. She just kept laughing, and I laughed with her.
My ornament this year made me think of that event. I chose this ornament to commemorate my trips to the orphanage, the relationships I developed with the children--with Malya, Mary, Najar, Julia, Nabil, Phoebe, John, and so many others--and most of all, to commemorate Malya's laughter.
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