The characters in this chapter of my story are mostly children so far.  Children have always been a large part of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s when I’m with kids that I am most active, and creative!  I love watching them play with each other in the sun, make silly faces when they don’t like their lunch, and fall over laughing when one of their friends farts at circle time.

I love the little things in life.  Catching wishes that float around mysteriously on summer days.  Doing cart wheels on soft grass.  Finding pennies in cracked sidewalk blocks.  Children see these things.  They see the ants and the snails, often hidden in the grass, and they see the joy in something as simple as making squawking sounds with a wide piece of grass pulled tightly between your thumbs.

However, when the child sitting across from you playing pat-a-cake is also malnourished, scarred, and lacking a basic education, it is easy to become distracted.

A typical day at the Outreach Centre here in Bucharest begins with breakfast. The program is geared towards the Gypsy children, also known as Roma children, whose parents do not have the means to send their children to kindergarten, which costs money.  Not being able to attend kindergarten means that their children will be far behind the others by grade one in the public school, which is free.  It also means that the mothers are forced to stay home with their children, limiting them from potential job opportunities. Jenn Iacob, who runs the program and has been serving here as a missionary to the Gypsy children for over ten years, focuses on giving the children a good start to life that would be inaccessible to them otherwise.  And breakfast comes first.

Cereal and milk is served each morning, and thoroughly enjoyed by the children.  They come hungry.

Following breakfast, we have a French lesson, curtesy of Monique who has been volunteering here for a month.  Roxanna, an adorable four year old who attends our program, loves to say “mouth” in French.  “La bouche” says teacher Monique.  “La BOOtch!” Roxanna repeats, with emphasis.  After numerous attempts to fix her pronunciation, we moved on and just accepted it…but it didn’t explain why she seemed to love saying it so often.  While telling this to Raz, Jenn’s husband, Monique and I were informed that saying it like “BOOtch” was Romanian slang for butt-cheeks.

If it weren’t for her cheeky little smile, hilarious cute pigtail mounted atop her head and shooting straight up like an antennae, I would be more concerned. While I have stopped repeating Roxanna’s pronunciation of “la bouche”, I still chuckle to myself when I hear her say it with such pride.

After French we have English with teacher Becca (that’s me).  They say my name as “BAY ka.”  I like it.  Recently I’ve been introducing myself to people as “BAY ka” without even realizing it.

Since I love games, I try to use them to teach words like “up” and “down”, and “walk”.  I also teach colours.  The best is hearing them say purple.  It really is a fun word to say!  We practice saying hello and goodbye to each other by passing a tennis ball around the circle, and we count to ten using the ball like a hot potato.  I’m growing from this, having never taught English before.  I have learned so much from watching Monique teach French, and it’s really amazing.  Learning English is great for the children, but more importantly it allows me to connect with the children while also showing them that I come from another culture and language.  I never realized the challenges that come with working with a group of children who don’t speak your language.  It’s humbling, and exciting at the same time.  Challenges are good.

Once the children are full of French and English we move onto circle time.  My favourite.  I love singing silly songs. Plus, singing something helps me to remember, which is great for helping me learn Romanian.  We sing in Romanian about elephants playing on a spider’s web (similar to the English song), Jesus and His love for us, and God’s creations, the fish, birds, and stars.  My favourite part of this one song is when we say “Da da da Ooooooooo, DA! DA!” (meaning yes yes yes Oooooo yes yes! – pretty straightforward, haha) The kids really get into it, and so do I!    In English we sing the very catchy and also practical “This is the way we wash our hands”.  Try to get that one of of your head.

Circle time is also Jenn’s time to give out vitamins, go over colours, and numbers, and check their finger nails to see who’s washing. Many of the children have not learned to count to ten yet, and are still unfamiliar with their colours.  Jenn does an amazing job of helping them catch up and become confident in their skills.  But it can be really frustrating sometimes, especially when one child cannot seem to remember yellow (galben) and green (verde).  I am excited to see the growth and progress in the children, which I’ve already began to see in such a short time.  Roxanna was unable to count up to 4 when I first met her about three weeks ago, and now she can count to 10, though sometimes forgetting about the number 7.

We then go into story time, or small group teaching time, where math is often the focus.  There are some older children who attend the program in the summer break from school and greatly benefit from this teaching time.

Recess!  Once we’re outside, it’s all about being active.  Running. Playing tag. Cartwheels, flips, and somersaults.  American football (to differentiate from football which we call soccer).  Snail hunting.  Snail squishing.  Snail eating…it happened once…and we don’t encourage it.  SO gross!!  I love this time with the kids.  Playing with kids is the best way to get to know them. Flipping them around, spinning them in circles, holding their hand and running across a field as we count “unu, doi, trei…” and so on.  And a regular part of recess is catching children sneaking “corcoduș” (yellow cherry plums) from the tree. The closer I get to them, the faster they chew.  Pointing to their hands and pockets I see juicy, yellow squished up pieces of the sweet fruit oozing out.  They look at me, big eyes, closed mouth smiles to hide the pit.  I have to fight back my smile while I tell them no more eating “corcoduș.”

12:30.  Lunch time!  Pâté on bread.  I thought that pâté was super fancy and rare before, but it’s really common here.  And the kids love it.  Spreadable meat is not really my thing, but it’s great for the children because it is so rich in Vitamin A.  Jenn was given a large donation of Peanut Butter from Canada for the kids, and since peanut allergies are not a problem here, she thought it would be perfect to give the kids for lunch as a great source of protein. But….when we gave them their first peanut butter sandwich they looked at us like we were crazy.  Making faces of disgust, they showed us that they clearly did not enjoy this sticky substance.  However, Jenn did not give up!  She had the ingenious idea of making peanut butter cookies to help the children become familiar with the flavour, but in the form of something sweet, and special.

It worked!

Within two days, the children were eating their peanut butter sandwiches with ease.

When all the children are done eating, we head upstairs for nap time.  Each child has a small, light blue mattress to lay on. “Cap jos” we say, “head down.” On my first day, I was expecting the children to lay there, and rest for maybe a half hour at most.  And I definitely didn’t expect the older ones to actually fall asleep.  But sleep they did.  And they slept. And they slept.  An hour and a half went by, and still some were sleeping.  The children live in small rooms with many people around, and a lot of noise from the city.  So when they come to the program, they are able to make up for the hours missed the previous night. That first day I just watched in awe, waiting for them to awaken.  Now I come prepared with book in hand.

Once I hear the yawns, and see the heads pop up from puddles of drool I know it’s time to take them downstairs for snack, playdough and blocks.  We usually have fruit or biscuits for snack, and then enjoy quiet play time until their parents arrive at 3:30 or 4:00.  I am really enjoying getting to know the moms and older sisters who come to pick up the children.  Most of them do not speak English, and so I am working on learning more and more Romanian each day so that I can better communicate.  I went with Jenn, Raz, and Monique yesterday for a family visit to their community and it was great to see the children and their families in their homes.  One time I sang the name game song for the kids at the program….Rebecca ecca bo becca, banana fanna fo fecca, mi my mo mecca, Rebecca.  They LOVE it.  Each child wanted me to sing it with their name.  And so I did.  Cristina, Anna, Daniella, and so on. The best part was when they gave me their parent’s names.  As I sang out “Anca anca bo banca” the gorgeous mother of Lorenzo and Giani laughed and laughed.  It was so endearing, and so nice to connect in such a simple way. I’m looking forward to being able to connect in more ways as I become more familiar with the language, and as I gain the trust of the families.  I am honoured to be involved in the raising of their children, and I want to do my best to get to know them more, and learn about their lives.

I’m reading Khaled Hosseini’s beautiful book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” during the children’s nap time.  I’m not done the book yet, but I feel that it helped me define some of my feelings about being here and seeing the tough lives of the Gypsy, or Roma people.  In the book, the more you read the more messy and troubling and heart wrenching the story becomes.  There are points when you just want to stop, and enjoy the momentary joy and love being experienced by the characters…but eventually you must turn the page and allow the tough spots to return and evolve.  However, in the midst of such pain and agony, the further into the book you go, the more you see beauty in the character.  You develop of love for the people.  It can be tempting sometimes to offer up a solution, a quick fix to the issues at hand.  But the more you read, you see that it is not about a simple solution. There are layers to lives, and the greatest thing we can do is get to know the person beneath the layers and love them for whatever is there.

My prayer for the people here, the children and their families that I have been blessed to work with, is that hope would arise in their hearts.  Life is often more messy and confusing than we expect,  but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have hope, and experience joy.  God has an amazing way of changing lives and bringing joy in the most horrific times.  He brings peace that passes understanding.  And He gives hope to the hopeless.

Mixed in with the time I spend here in ministry with the children, I have also had time to explore.  Romania is an amazing country, rich of history and beauty and contrast.

In Bucharest I’ve seen parks like none other, walked through the Revolution Square where you can see gunshots from the overthrow of the Communist government, and been to the People’s Palace – an ENORMOUS parliament building full of marble.  Outside of Bucharest, I visited the BEAUTIFUL mountainside.  Brasov, Rasnov, and Sinaia were all part of this journey.  Castles and castles and castles.  I spent the weekend as a princess, and I loved it.  In fact, I still feel like a princess.

p.s. this blog is too long. haha.

 “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Romans 5:5