Something I’ve generally always thought and said, but I now have clarification. I don’t like spoiled or bratty children. I guess that’s generally the ones I’m around so it has skewed my perspective. Granted, I’m not one of those people who could be around kids all the time or wants to have 7 babies and stay at home forever-but I do like kids. It has surprised me how attached I’ve gotten to the children in the places we’ve been the last month.
In Kinatarkan, the first of the small islands we spent a few days on recently, we got off the boat met by 20 beautiful little faces with gaping mouths. We said greetings in the local dialect and were met with a few giggles and more stares. Once we put our bags up I went back to the beach to take in the view, and was once again met by the group of ragamuffins. This time, a few answered when I asked for names and helped tell me who everyone was. The names here have been hard to understand and long for the most part, so I didn’t really take them in at the moment. Thankfully after we finished pleasantries a perfectly timed hermit crab walked across my foot. Of course it startled me so I screamed and naturally they all laughed at me. Once I saw what it was I picked the little guy up and let him walk in my hand, inviting others to do the same. Mateo was the first to take the crab and probably the only other one who could stand it for more than a second. It surprised me that island kiddos didn’t want to play with a little crab since I did it all the time as a child, but it was still a solid ice breaker.
They were still shy during pictures and some conversations, but they liked me. I was in. A term used in the Philippines for older sister type people is ‘Ate’ (ah-te). I was soon Ate Kelsey and they helped each other learn to pronounce my name-it’s hard for folks over here.
The first full day spent there was a rainy one (a small typhoon was passing through) so Emily and I spent a good portion of it in our hammocks under a shelter on the beach. Not a bad set up if I say so myself. It was peaceful and relaxing for awhile, then the kids showed up. Normally I would whine and moan (internally) about children ruining my safe space, but the 3 hours that followed were so fun and life-giving that I left grateful for their presence.
The next day held a similar chunk of time full of giggles, games, and grace. Play time started when I heard running feet and ‘Ate Kelsey! Ate Kelsey!’ coming at me as I snuggled in my hammock cocoon. Initially my mind went straight to ‘ughhhh I’m so cozy…I don’t want to play yet…’ But when I emerged from my shelter I was greeted with the biggest smiles and kids with freshly picked flowers in their hands. Some handed them to me with pride, and some threw them at me and ran away embarrassed, but they were so beautiful-the kids and the flowers. I sat back down and started arranging my new bouquet and soon enough there were more and more flowers brought to me by the sweetest of humans.
Other islands we visited held similar situations and a gaggle of rugrats. The last baranguay (similar to a suburb) we stayed in held my favorite children of all. On the first day we put our things away and were invited to go play volleyball while we waited for dinner. Obviously I was in. My German travel companion and I were both experienced in volleyball and at least a foot taller than everyone on the other team. It definitely wasn’t a fair match up, but we went easy and just had fun. The other YAVs joined us and the games got intense (and hilarious). I noticed some adorable kids playing off to the side so I had someone take my place so I could go make friends. Reflecting about this after the fact, I realized that at any other time in my life I would’ve been the one to play volleyball until dinner was ready to avoid interacting with children. Even if I didn’t want to play volleyball, I would have done anything to keep the little ones away. That is not the case anymore and I’m still adjusting to it.
The kids I ended up meeting and playing with now occupy a special corner of my heart. Two in particular. Angela and I stayed in their home the first night (we moved every day) so we got some extra time to bond. Less than 24 hours after meeting them, their mother told me they both cried when I left for another house the next day. They kept asking where Ate Kelsey was and when they would see me again. Charity (their mother) became my friend. We talked a lot and she let me into her life, including her parents house, meeting her extended family, serious talks in broken English, and bringing the kids to see me before I left the island. The little one, Diboi, played and hugged me and I know he didn’t get that I was leaving for good, but still looked sad I was leaving for the night. Stephanie is 6 and understood what was happening. She gave me a big hug, turned to leave, then came back and hugged my legs so tightly. She looked up at me with her beautiful and teary eyes and said, “I love you Ate.” Of course I said I loved her too, then turned around as she left so she wouldn’t see me cry.
I met those kids just a couple days before, and they made me cry! What is going on? I’m not that person. I don’t like kids. I don’t cry.
But I love these kids. I feel like I’ve grown as a person somehow that I can’t quite figure out yet, but I know those dirty little angels changed me. Coming back into the city and seeing crazy kids running around in a restaurant I was quickly back into the not-liking-kids thing so I guess it depends on the situation, but I’ve deeply enjoyed getting to spend time with all the mini humans the last month.