Last week, I wrote about loving your neighbor. Or, rather, how I had witnessed another Word Made Flesh community loving their neighbors really, really well. I wrote about how they had inspired me and how I wanted to pursue friendship and community here in Kigali in the same way that they do in Kroo Bay.
Turns out, though, that I am actually not the best neighbor.
For starters, I tend to walk down my street with headphones in, which does not exactly invite conversation. I tell myself that once my Kinyarwanda speaking skills get to a place that’s less embarrassing, I’ll start to talk to the people on my street, but I think that’s just my inner introvert making excuses to avoid small talk in any language.
Thankfully, building relationships is a mutual endeavor, and sometimes my neighbors reach out to love me instead.
On Monday, I was walking from my room to the kitchen (which involves stepping outside), when I saw peeking over the wall two small children and their mom—my next door neighbors! The kids were shouting “Dog! Dog!” at our house dog, Max, who was sleeping in the yard and pretending not to hear their voices (he has trouble loving his neighbors sometimes, too). I walked closer to greet them, and though some clever charades and broken English/French/Kinyarwanda agreed to meet them on the street so the kids could meet Max.
The boy—probably about two years old—was literally shaking with excitement at being so close to Max (I honestly think he might have peed his pants), while the girl—a few years older—kept reaching out to just barely touch Max’s fur and then would jump back with a squeal of delight. Their mother and I were cracking up watching them interact with a dog for the first time. Max, I should add, was not excited about the whole ordeal (he was under the impression I was taking him for a walk, and was sorely disappointed). We spent about 10 minutes on the street in between our gates, and then when it was clear Max wasn’t going to put up with the torture much longer, we returned to our respective homes.
I don’t remember their names (I doubt they remember how to pronounce mine, either), but now that I know they live next to me I can make small steps to build that relationship. Maybe next time I bake cookies I’ll bring some over to them. Maybe in the next month or so I’ll be able to talk to the mother in Kinyarwanda and ask about her work and if she has been able to send her kids to school. Baby steps to friendship.
Loving my neighbor involves allowing space for my neighbor in my daily life. Relationships are not going to happen if I am closed off to those around me. A dear friend of mine recently wrote in her blog about keeping a mindset of spaciousness in the midst of a crowded, fast-paced world. She wrote, “I like to think of spaciousness as making room: making room for God, making room for other people, making room for light in the midst of darkness, making room for joy in the midst of sorrow”.
Loving my neighbor is not limited to my interactions with the people who reside on KG 599 street, either. It extends to the person next to me on the bus, to the woman I’m buying fruit from at the market, to the kid who shouts from across the street “Mister, give me money”, even to the bus driver who ignores my request for a stop and forces me to backtrack an extra ten minutes (it’sreally hard to love that guy).
Thankfully, in all of this, there is grace and room to grow. I need a lot of that.