Right now, this moment, I’m feeling completely different about that same next-door neighbor I just wrote about yesterday. I’m trying very hard to stay gracious in my heart, and not succeeding. Isn’t that just the way? God tests our love is always, usually right after it emerges. Will you still love this new mother of yours, He asks, even if it’s her relatives who turn you out of “your” house?
We just barely woke up from much-needed naps, and someone is banging on our gate, and banging on our window (the window to Ben’s room—what if he’d still been sleeping!?!?) And I’m right in the middle of changing his poopy diaper, but I leave him lying on the mat, praying he doesn’t roll over, to run to his window and say, “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m just cleaning my son!”
When I finally make it outside and open our gate (still in my pyjamas—we haven’t gone out today, recovering from a sick night), there stands my neighbor and her daughter, and behind them two little neighborhood girls inviting themselves over, and behind them the husbands… As soon as I open the gate, they all press past me, like they’re going to the circus.
With no preamble my neighbor says, “They’re selling the house, right?” This in present tense, as though there’s a big “For Sale” sign on our gate. (This from my new “mother”, as chilly and reserved and matter-of-fact as ever, tea at her house notwithstanding. Now I think maybe she was just being polite? Just humoring the foreigners, who won’t be here that long anyway?)
“Not til after next June,” I say, very firmly, as they stand not looking at me, looking around with the disconnected air of real-estate agents. “Our contract is until next June. We aren’t moving until then.”
“Uhhh”—the Central Asian noncommittal grunt-chinthrust. “She said they were selling.”
“Not til June, our contract is til June,” I repeat, even more firmly. “We love this house,” I add, a bit desperately. “We don’t want to move—where else will we go? We’re not leaving Central Asia, we’re staying here…”
But she’s not listening. She’s already pressed past me into the house, uninvited. And now she’s inspecting, her impassive-faced daughter right behind.
“Kitchen,” the mother points out, under her breath, playing the tour guide even though she’s never been inside our house either (this, I do think of with a pang of shame—I’ve just been in her house, but she hasn’t been in ours—who’s fault is that, after a whole year?)
I’m quick to add (possessively, desperately, clinging to something), “But everything in the kitchen belongs to us, and we’re taking it with us when we leave….”
I watch, helpless, as they finish their whistle-stop tour of the rooms, glancing around at this, at that… I feel sick. This is only the beginning.
“Because we’ve become friends,” our landlords said, ever-so-graciously (feel the sarcasm?), “we’ll honor our contract with you.”
Such is life in Central Asia. Contracts mean nothing, relationships mean everything. Well, most of the time. New, tenuous relationships like ours with our landlords could mean nothing at all when push comes to shove, contract or not. If an interested party wants this house, and our landlords are in enough of a hurry, they could force us out by Christmas. Or sooner. It’s a possibility that turns my stomach.
We might as well be living in a tent.
Oh wait. We are living in a tent.
The reason my stomach is churning is that this exact scenario just happened to some friends of ours. Their landlord told them he was planning to sell their apartment, and when they requested at least a month’s notice he obligingly agreed. Then, he calmly sold the apartment out from under them without telling them, and it wasn’t until the new owner showed up at their door, several weeks ahead of schedule, demanding they move out by 3:00pm the next day, that they discovered what had happened. And all the justified ranting and raving in the world and calling the former owner did no good—it merely bought them until 6:00, instead of 3:00. How generous. Best of all, the new owner lived several hours away, so their former landlord had to have known ahead of time that he was coming, but never bothered to call and tell them. How thoughtful.
Is this normal, I ask myself? Do all Central Asians deal like this with each other, or just with the poor hapless foreigners that happen to stumble into their midst? How can this be normal? To my translation, it’s a complete lack of common courtesy. But is that how they see it? Probably not… to them, I think it’s just normal life. They’re ready to pack up and move at a moment’s notice; they hardly own anything anyway. They’ve been nomads for centuries—it’s in their blood. It’s just this blasted Western penchant for control and permanence that gets me into trouble, and convinces me I have rights, and I should complain and get them enforced. People over here don’t think that way. They aren’t under any delusions about having rights—the people who control things are the ones who have money and position.
So, our house is not our own. And neither, actually, is anything else in my life. I just like to think I own things because it makes me feel safe and secure. Much as I’d like to resent my neighbors for waltzing in and taking stock of my personal surroundings (as my sister once said, it felt kind of like stepping out of the shower in a cloud of steam and seeing a stranger standing right there), I can feel my resentment draining away… this is just how things are done.
But my stomach is still churning because I’m still not used to this. I don’t know if I ever will be. It always throws me, this impermanence, this total lack of control. It’s constantly hard, constantly sickening as a mother to have no permanence to offer your kids, no guarantee we’ll be allowed to stay in this house when we get back from the States in January… no guarantees of anything.
It’s constantly hard that we’ve only lived in this wonderful house with the wonderful yard a total of about 9 months, and that is the longest William has lived anywhere in his entire 3 years of life.
Oh God, really? Where will we find another house in this town with a bathroom like this? I’m ready to get ready to move next June—but not next week! And I’m definitely not ready for a constant stream of callous Central Asians wandering through my private domain, my retreat in this exhausting setting, the place we escape and rest and rejuvenate… this place that, as I was just reminded so graphically, does not. Belong. To. Us.
“For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we grown, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (emphasis mine).” (2 Cor 5:1-4)