Day 3 – Ramadan 1443 / 2022

Gratitude for Neighbors

Having a kind, good neighbor is a blessing. Having multiple kind neighbors is another level.

For about 15 years, I have lived within the same 2 mile radius. When I lived with my in-laws, I almost never saw anyone on their block, even in the summer. People had privacy fences, and I don’t recall having conversations with anyone. One neighbor yelled at me for walking on “private property” once but I couldn’t tell you a single name of a single house on that block.

After I had my daughter I decided not knowing my neighbors after a decade was unacceptable. I was working towards a vision of a culture of health when social isolation was the norm. Enter global pandemic in which social isolation becomes even more normalized. We begin to fear even people in our own family who might be sick, let alone strangers living down the street. Fear permeates all our decision making.

Before the pandemic, maybe around 2018, I took my toddler on a walk down the street, on a mission to meet my neighbors. One delightful neighbor took us out back to her backyard to show my daughter her koi fish pond. One neighbor across the street gave us a bunch of her peonies and fruit. Another one offered their doll house. My neighbor across the street has kids the same age as my own kids, and when I don’t know what to do, I simply walk over so the kids can play.

In my current neighborhood, I know most of my neighbors. On special holidays like Eid or Diwali we share our special dishes. We have each others numbers in case anyone needs anything.

Even during the chaos that was Covid last year the neighbors sent food during Ramadan.

It was delightful, sure, But it is also something more.

There is a sense of peace, safety, and ease. I feel a deep sense of gratitude.

Last night, I think for the first time, one of our neighbors gathered many of us for a Ramadan iftaar. It was absolutely amazing to put a face to the food boxes full of iftaar and biryani that I get most years, and the biryani I deliver to people during a Covid Ramadan. And after the meal, the women had distributed all the food evenly, into grocery bags so that today there is nothing to cook.

I don’t have kids in the schools and I don’t go to the community center so obviously, meeting parents on my block is difficult, but not impossible. I am close to one neighbor — the neighbor I call when I am out of onions, or tomatoes, or coriander– and she introduced me to her neighbor who indeed knows everyone on the block. It feels better being known.

The warmth, welcome, and sweetness of meeting your Muslim neighbors — what a gift. We each brought a dish or two and the spread was huge.

Growing up, I had never been to a potluck anything. My mother always insisted on cooking and preparing each and every dish herself. I have no such grand illusions about my capacity to host or entertain while on low blood sugar.

I grew up in Queens where pretty much my entire street knew my parents, and chatting with aunties or uncles was common whenever I went to the grocery store. I loved that familiarity.

Yet 15 years in the same town in New Jersey, I still feel pretty anonymous– though I have bumped into cousins or friends a few times at the grocery store.

In Queens, on my parents’ street, when I was walking with my daughter she saw a white parakeet on a neighbor’s veranda. The father must have seen us admiring the bird from the street, and told us to come on and check it out. He introduced us to his wife, and his 3 daughters, and F was delighted to have someone answer all her questions about the bird. I don’t think that’s ever happened here, amongst strangers. There is the familiarity of being part of one Muslim global community or ummah. You trust each other simply because of the shahada, or the testimony of faith. I’ve felt this sense of belonging before, in Madina one of the holiest places for Muslims. There, strangers would gift us breads and chocolates and whatever they had simply because we brought our children with us and the Prophet sws loved to make children happy. People give generously because that is what is expected of your so-called family.

Today I am grateful for neighbors who care to fulfill the rights of their neighbors. It is a beautiful thing to witness. Nothing ties us together on this neighborhood except our faith.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s