We have a neighbor to the back of us.
As it turns out, he just moved to Kafue too. He is a 26 year old young man from Burundi (A tiny country between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda). He has a student visa and will be staying here in Zambia for about 3 years.
What a nice guy.
He also speaks French. Swahili is his first language, French is his second, and he is now learning English. Wouldn’t you know it? I have a degree in French. Now, don’t get all excited about my French because let let me say this… it’s been a while. My French ability is a FAR cry from fluent, but my new friend barely speaks English. With no other French speakers for miles around, I am sure even being able to greet someone in his native tongue is not only great fun, but in some sense of the word, a relief. (If you have ever lived in a situation where the only way to communicate with others is to speak in a foreign language, you know what I am talking about.)
Continual speaking, listening, reading and translating in a foreign language is exhausting!
And yet he does not want to speak in French with me.
With the goal to learn English in view, he takes every opportunity to come for a visit and practice his speaking. I don’t mind a bit… he is a great guy.
I have a background in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and told him I would be happy to help him. The other day he was over here to work on his English conversation skills. I wanted him to elaborate on his home country. I asked for descriptions of things, to tell me about his family, what life was like, and more… I know that the more I can get him to talk, the more quickly he learns. So he started to really share….
“My home was not in the city, it was in the country. There was my father, my mother and there were five children. I have three that are older than me and one younger brother. My oldest sister is six years older than me. It was nice.
I was five years old and I was hiding in a banana bush with my brothers and my sister. We were so afraid. We hid because there was genocide. We were watching the soldiers take the head of my father and of my mother. After we saw what they were doing we ran. We had to jump over dead bodies. There were people and people and more people… all dead. We had to run over them. We went to the city where it was safer from genocide. My sister was the one taking care of us.”
(at 6 years older, she would be 11 as head of household)
I wish I could pause your reading so that you fully digest the story I just wrote.
I certainly had to take time to digest what I heard.
The suffering and injustice that some must endure is mind-blowing. He was 5 years old. How can we not notice these things that are happening in the world and do what we can to bring an end to these horrific injustices? We read the headlines and hear the news, but do we really think about the ordinary people who pay the price of oppression and conflict?
Sitting there listening was a mixture of grief and horror, my emotions were stewing. Is there anything I can say? It was a relief, for sure, to know that he is a Christian and views his personal history as a testimony… not just of survival, but of God’s faithfulness.
We sat in my living room for some time. I felt honored that he was so willing to share his story with me. We are neighbors, but we’ve only just met, and we are foreign to each other. Me, an American…him, from Burundi…
I’ve been thinking about this conversation every since… I mean, I can’t get this conversation out of my mind. I’m not even sure I can accurately describe what I think and feel about his story, but I will share with you what I’ve come away with so far…
Have I ever really heard the stories of my neighbors in times past?
For me (Jennifer) I’ve had to do the hard work of learning how to be a good friend over the years. Those of you who know me, especially if you’ve known me for a long time, you know I can say what I think, though sometimes what I think is not what is needed. I can also come across as harsh and uncaring…. aloof? They call it “introverted” now, which I think is a nice way of saying, “alone and OK with it”.
Let’s just say I have had to reach for friends, but the friends I have… they are for life.
I am improving. Over the years I’ve decided I want to be more relational, more involved, a better listener and a better friend.
Perhaps I never heard my neighbors’ stories because I inadvertently gave them the cold shoulder… sending the message that I don’t want to hear. If I’ve ever been your neighbor, I should apologize now.
But I DO want to hear, and I was entirely taken back by my new friend’s story. I was overwhelmed by the intimacy of it and his sharing deepened our friendship something like 100-fold. Now he’s become a part of the family. He and Rob have a standing agreement to check on each other’s fires, help each other with the heavy lifting around each house, and share tools while he calls me “Mami” and sips juice while discussing our gardens.
I sort of feel like saying my “introvertedness” is (or was) a sad excuse to not get involved. I think the fear of making new friends… or rather being able to keep them… prevented me from some pretty valuable relationships. I think back over the years of all the neighbors I’ve had and I know that each had their own story, but I didn’t make the effort or take the time to find out and listen. Why? Was it out of Fear? Complacency? Busyness?
So I have to ask… What’s your excuse? Do you know your neighbor’s story? Do they know yours?
But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied and said, “A certain man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho; and he fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, he passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion….
Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor…?”
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