But every now and then, an odd thing happens. Maybe it's due to Islamic self-restraint, Malay shyness, or the intimidating presence of a pale American, but sometimes I am treated with what feels to me like a cool indifference. Now and then, I find myself feeling left out, overlooked, maybe even downright ignored.
To tell the truth, sometimes it really hurts my feelings.
However, I have an antidote to these painful situations.
Her name is Aleesya.
The daughter of my primary host, three-year-old Aleesya loves me with abandon. When she returns home from an outing without me, I hear the front door crash open and her forceful little voice calling out to me: "Auntie Diane!!" That always makes me smile.
And Aleesya beams with delight when she finds me. Grabbing my hand, she pulls me wherever she wants me to go, communicating with facial expressions and gestures when our shared vocabulary of English and Malay words runs dry. We eat, we play, we draw, we bathe her, we talk, we laugh, we sing endless songs together. I enjoy Aleesya's company immensely, and judging by the hugs, snuggles, smiles, and hand-holding she bestows upon me, I'd say the feeling is mutual.
I know that all my Malaysian friends, young and old, old and new, love me in their own way. And when their behavior is confusing or hurtful to me, I'm learning to look past the present circumstances and write it off as a cross-cultural hiccup.
But still, I'm grateful for my little friend Aleesya, who pours our her affection for me like the warm, golden Malaysian sunshine. I don't know what I'd do without her.
^ Budding young architect shows off her chops.
^ Shampoo hairstyles. This is my signature up-do.
^ Underwear tudung. Very chic.
^ I love this (blurry) picture of Aleeysa's chubby little hand making pink dots for all she's worth. But even better, I love the reflection of her face, focused in concentration, captured in the white board.
^ At Aleeysa's request, I drew a pair of father-daughter portraits. Without comment, she grabbed another marker and gave them both red beards. Then she laughed at her own hilarious cleverness, and attacked them with an eraser, while I hurried to capture her artistry.
^ Another indoor playground session, This time, Aleesya instructed me to help her line up these oversize blocks, then she delighted in hopping along the ridge, whooping like a cowgirl at a rodeo.
^ Of all our playtimes, giving Aleesya her baths might be my favorite. Not only do we enjoy pouring, dumping and splashing water every which way in her waterproof Malaysian bathroom, but that cool, refreshing water always puts Aleesya in a fabulously sunny mood.
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For more stories about my favorite Malaysian playmate, Aleesya, read these: