It isn’t very often that I KNOW that a specific person was sent into my life by God. From the moment we met, I knew Aya was sent to me. Austin’s project was nearing the end, and his client was waffling back in forth about whether to keep him for a little longer or release him. Every day, he was coming home with a different story about whether we were leaving or staying. While Zibo was a bigger city with a nice mall and amenities, there was not a lot of culturally enriching things to do. We had done all of the activities I wanted to do, and I was ready to go. I did not know what I was going to do with the boys for another few weeks if we stayed without spending a ton of money on mall playgrounds. Landon was not getting along very well with the crowds of Chinese kids at the park. I found out we were staying, and was not happy about it. I prayed to have a better attitude and make the most of our time in China. That day, we decided to make the long 2.5 mile run to the Zibo Botanical Gardens. We had visited once before, and there was plenty of room for the boys to roam and places for them to dig. We wandered around the park for awhile, and then Aya came jogging up.
She started talking to me in perfect English, telling me how happy she was that she found me. She LOVES foreign children, and started playing with Landon and Owen. Other people came up and started talking to her, asking her questions about me, so we learned more about each other that way. She put on music and the boys danced around with the local kids. It was adorable, and a nice little break for me that I didn’t have to chase them around to tell them not to put dirt in their mouth.
After awhile, Aya said, “Come have lunch with my family!” So we did. We walked with her back to her apartment, which she shares with her mother and grandmother. She speaks such good English because she lived overseas studying for a year in the Netherlands. She also has many foreigner friends that she keeps in contact with, and an Italian boyfriend. She is a singer and dancer that works for the railroad company performing at meetings of the leaders of the railroad.
Aya had a very bubbly and outgoing personality. At once, we became great friends and talked a lot about the difference in culture between western countries and China. She was actually much more critical of her own people than I anticipated. Always very observant, she praised me for being so patient with Landon and Owen, asking how I did it and commenting that Chinese parents would not be so patient. It was really nice to hear, since it’s something that I have to work very hard on, and fall short often. She played with the boys and loved talking to Landon. At lunch, her mother made a bunch of different foods for us. None of them were really foods that the boys would usually eat, so it was hard to get them to try them. But when they brought out the popcorn, they ate that right up! We stayed and played for a little while until Owen was ready for nap, and made plans to go to the pool together that weekend.
A few days later we went to the pool in Aya’s apartment complex, and then out to Italian food with Aya and her Italian boyfriend, Luca. Austin and Luca had a fun time speaking Italian to each other, and we all stuffed ourselves with yummy, authentic gnocci and pizza. Later on in the week, Aya played with us at People’s park and took us to a mall further away from our hotel to try batting cages because she heard that Landon’s favorite sport was baseball. She invited us to take the train with her to Qufu, where she was meeting Luca for the weekend. As a railroad employee, she was able to get tickets cheaper and easier than normal, and she got us into the VIP waiting rooms, which were air conditioned and much quieter than the normal train station. It was great!
We spent our last day in Zibo playing at an indoor playground. Aya came after work to play with us, and then went out to dinner with us and Austin’s co-workers for our farewell meal. We thought that was the last time we were going to see her, but the next morning, we saw her working at the information desk at the train station when we went to buy our tickets to Weifang to catch our flight. She had us sit in the info desk room and had a helper buy our tickets for us.
Aya was a Godsend. She gave Landon someone besides Austin or I to talk to in English, she loved playing with the boys, and filled our last weeks in Zibo with fun! We are so grateful for her and her friendship during our final weeks in Zibo.