What Neighbors Do

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A very brief one, stretching out St. Patrick’s Day a little longer.  I played in an ultimate tournament today and I am, paradoxically, both a little disappointed and immensely satisfied.

We have a team in town.  By “team,” I mean a group from a church back where we’re from who are here for a week+ to experience Nicaragua, see and help with what we do, and try to grasp what it’s like to live here.  Before we moved to Nicaragua, I did a bunch of these trips.  They’re increasingly controversial, with many insightful concerns being raised about them.  But I also know we would not have moved here if we had not gone (come) on several trips.  I can see both sides.

Last night, our neighbors Mileydi and Juan Carlos invited the team over for dinner, for, as she said, “real Nica food.”  The team had a wonderful time.  Mileydi and Juan Carlos are good friends of ours; Mileydi runs the preschool with Kim.  Mileydi and Juan Carlos are generous and hospitable, and that is one of the things I hoped our visitors would experience.  Receiving generosity from those whom, by your standards, live in poverty is powerful and humbling.  Doing so can break through some of the automatic superiority that most of us feel, whether we acknowledge it to ourselves or not.

I had told the team that we weren’t coming for dinner (a tricky dance in itself, but having us there would have really changed the dynamic) but that they could come back over for dessert, since we still had way too much left over from earlier in the week.  After dinner they returned, bubbling over with how much they’d enjoyed it.  My hopes were realized.  They ate dessert.  I drove them back to where they’re staying.

When I got home, Mileydi yelled across the street, “What about dessert?”

¿Quieres helado?”  (“Do you want ice cream?”)

“¡Si!”

¿Chocolate o vainilla?

“¡Vainilla!”*

Here’s the beauty of this moment:  it was so marvelously normal.

I’d thought Mileydi and Juan Carlos might come back over with the group and we would all have dessert.  They didn’t.  But I had offered dessert!

When you live among people in poverty and you are rich (as we are, in comparison) things are always a little weird.  You learn to deal with it.  That’s just one challenge of living in the community instead of outside of it.

But this wasn’t weird!  It was normal and comfortable and funny!  It’s the thing a neighbor would say, who is also a friend with whom you laugh and who, at times, makes fun of you.  It’s not giving because one has more and the other less but sharing because that’s what neighbors do.  You can ask, in a joking way, because that’s what neighbors do.

This may not strike you as a big deal, but it’s one of those moments when I realize, “This worked!”  We did this crazy thing moving into our barrio and we’re still the crazy gringos but somehow now we’re also the neighbors who laugh and look out for each other and can share ice cream without it feeling awkward or like charity.

Because that’s what neighbors do.

 

*Obviously this is a mistake, but that’s not the point of my story.

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