While living in the village, I had a love/ hate relationship with my neighbors. It would take hours to describe the neighborhood we lived in and the culture of the people around us. They were far different from anybody we had ever met in Korce, and moving into their world felt like being on anther planet.
Immediately, our privacy was a luxury of the past, as our new neighbors were overwhelmingly intrigued by the strange foreigners living on their little private street. They were a small community of extremely conservative people that had come from a very remote village, not even reachable by car. About ten years ago, they all transplanted themselves to Libonik. Most of the women my age had little education and were just waiting for their parents to find them a spouse, so that they could move out to serve their husband’s family. Naturally, we were a novelty, and our lives were just as strange and foreign to them, as theirs was to us.
Their curiosity though, was stronger than their usual social graces. It often had them peaking through our windows to watch what we were doing, or inviting themselves to our house uninvited…even snooping through our trash to see what the funny foreigners had thrown away. All hours of the day, they would feel free to call out my name continuously to get my attention (had they forgotten about knocking?). Not a single guest could enter our house without us getting the great inquisition from them later on. Naturally, these were the parts I hated.
But they were wonderful to us too. We were constantly brought gifts from their gardens or animals (like eggs and freshly slaughtered meat!), invited over for coffees and incredible home grown and homemade meals. They even offered to help me with the cleaning and sometimes just started cleaning my house without being asked (which I was clearly not able to keep up with their standards of cleanliness).
So, upon moving out of the village, I was overcome with mixed emotions about our new separation from the neighbors. These were people who had warmly welcomed us into their community, invited us into their lives and had been a part of our everyday life for over a year.
However, eager to welcome back a life of privacy and normality, I was thrilled to be in apartment on the sixth story where it would be impossible for outsiders to look into our windows. So I was surprised to find myself thinking about and missing the neighbors terribly our first few weeks back in Korce.
I thought about them constantly, but most all when I was cleaning. Part of me was rejoicing to be able to clean however I wanted, at any time I wanted, without anybody telling me I was doing it wrong! I could clean at four in the afternoon, and nobody would know, nonetheless care! I could do it my way, and at my leisure!!
So I decided to tackle the rugs out on our balcony…a chore that the neighbors constantly offered to do for me and I always refused…simply because I’m stubborn and did not want their help. Now, this isn’t just a vacuum job. Cleaning the rugs means hosing them down, scrubbing them with a scrub brush forever and ever, and then rinsing them with a hose and letting it dry for days.
Now our rug is about twice the width of the balcony so I had to fold it over and do it in sections. Little did I know, a wet rug is heavier than I can move by myself. Also, we don’t have a hose on our balcony, so I had to make about a gazillion trips to the sink with the mop bucket to wet, wash, and rinse the beast. At first, I was singing praises, happy to be doing the difficult work alone, without anybody watching me, or telling me what to do...thinking to myself, “Ha ha neighbors!! Look at me now…I CAN clean all by myself!!”
But about an hour into it (and about 200 trips to the sink later) I really began to miss the neighbors. Why, oh why, hadn’t I accepted their offers to help? Why had I been so stubborn? It would have been so easy at their house…with the entire rug laid out, and their hose to rinse, and four girls, all eager to clean and scrub. But no, I had to do things MY WAY.
I’ve learned a lot from those neighbors…like how to make byrek and Turkish coffee and I have a deeper understanding of their culture, but mostly my relationship with them taught me multitudes about myself. Now that we have a healthy ten miles of distance between us, my relationship with those neighbors has changed. It is no longer love/hate relationship …it is just love.
Once Steve got home, he helped me get the sopping wet rug hung over the balcony to dry. Later that night, a disgruntled and annoyed neighbor from downstairs came knocking on our door. Our rug was dripping onto her balcony. Sigh. So much for my “island living!!”
"...you shall love your neighbor as yourself..." Mark 12:31