Getting to know your neighbors as a foreigner who can’t speak the local language is challenging enough. Add quarantine orders and being confined to a tiny apartment, and you have the perfect recipe for ultimate isolation. We have all developed strategies to feel less lonely. My husband is calling all his friends, our son now has an imaginary friend, and our baby daughter screams with excitement from the balcony every time she spots a human being. I have my own game called “Guess what’s happening behind closed doors.” Every day as I hang laundry on our little balcony, I look at the windows of our neighbors and try to imagine what their lives are like during these times.
Day 1. From the corner of my eye I spot a young woman in the apartment next to ours. I have to take a second look before I realize I’ve already met her. It’s Aruna, the nice lady who was trying to speak English to me. She’s so beautiful! Of course, I couldn’t notice that before since she had been wearing a niqab. I almost feel like I’m intruding, but I keep thinking that she is a real person with a whole life who might go unnoticed day after day. The few words we exchanged convinced me that she was a very warm person. We both planned to get together some time. As I go back inside, I think of how I could befriend her.
Day 5. Hanging clothes to dry again. The only person who seems to be doing laundry as often as me is the lady in no. 3. She lives with her husband and grandkids, and she never, ever smiles. I wonder if there’s anything in this world that brings her joy. Now I spot her in the kitchen cooking. Glued to her, smiling and hugging her tight, is a younger woman, probably her daughter. I’m almost surprised that even grumpy people seem to receive love and give affection. I don’t realize I’m staring until she suddenly looks straight at me. Ouch! In my hurry to get back in the house, I hit my head on the door. I’ll probably have a bump tomorrow.
Day 15. Out on the balcony adjusting the heater. Thick cigarette smoke makes me cough and forces me back inside. The neighbors below us must be home. They are legendary—we know they exist, but we never see them. However, we can smell their cigarettes.
Day 17. The kids from no. 3 are out in the yard playing and shouting while their grandfather supervises them. I’m outside again to get some veggies from our improvised pantry. I accidentally drop a big onion. Oh no, it’s going to roll off the balcony! Frozen and unable to react, I think, Great. Now they’ll know me as the clumsy lady who dropped a heavy onion in their kid’s head! Fortunately, the onion falls onto the concrete and misses every tiny head. Now I have been forced out of my hiding. I try to call down an apology, but I’m drowned out by the kids’ laughter. Their grandfather is laughing as well, and he assures me that it’s no problem. I start laughing, too. The boy keeps waving and saying “Hello” repeatedly, while the girl looks up and continues to laugh, probably expecting another onion to drop. I go back inside thinking that maybe we have a shot at making friends. Thank you, onion.
Day 20. I just found out that Aruna, her husband and her little son suddenly moved out. I hope they are okay. I wish I had gotten to know them better during their short stay.
I can’t wait to get outside again and meet new people. Yes, they are all people. They might be hiding behind an intimidating look, a sober face, a niqab or even cigarette smoke. But they all live, work, love, suffer and hope like we do. I’m looking forward to the day when we’ll be able to talk with them, know their dreams and fears and introduce them to Jesus. In the meantime, please pray that we will be ready to make the best of every opportunity He gives us, even if it’s just through an ordinary onion.