Growing up, we had a neighborhood gang. Two girls lived next door that perfectly fit into the ages of my brother and I, meeting when we were ages 4,5,6 and 7. We had to wait every Saturday morning until it was 9 am to call the other house to see how our weekend shenanigans would unfold. We spent every possible afternoon together and grew up playing and creating adventures together.
It was bliss in so many ways. It was an idyllic childhood growing up in a small town, riding our bikes to the library, building forts in the backyard, selling lemonade at the end of the driveway, dressing up all the time, using our walkie-talkies to communicate everything, “over”. So many memories are wrapped up in that white fence that separated our yards or the leaves we raked every fall and the houses or mazes we created with the carefully gathered piles of leaves in our small town of 4 thousand people.
On the contrary, living in Guadalajara, Mexico, a city of 4.5 million, most houses are hidden behind big gates or walls so nobody really knows what or who is behind unless you get a glimpse when someone is backing their car out of the garage.
We live in a great location in Guadalajara, but it’s not one of the many gated communities which become quite attractive specifically after you have children for the additional security and the common green area found in the gated neighborhoods. I’m guessing you even get to know your neighbors a bit more in that circumstance.
On one hand, it’s ironic that many people don’t know their neighbors in Mexico as we literally share walls with neighbors on either side. Yes, most houses in the city are literally built touching the house next door. There’s no breathing room between the buildings, likely due to lack of space and people wanting to use their entire lot. It’s just the way things are done here. So that when our neighbor had a water leak four years ago, we also had a water leak as water stains showed up on our wall. That was not fun.
So yes, you get to know your neighbor when something bad or traumatic happens, like the time a few months ago that we all heard a crash outside the on the street in the middle of the night and several neighbors went outside in bathrobes to see what all the ruckus was about, but for the most part in our big city, in our neighborhood, people keep to themselves. (As seen below from our security camera footage)
During the pandemic, much of our busy city life has been put on pause. The kids aren’t going to any classes in person, they’ve become quite the experts with Zoom (our 3 year old likes to “leave the meeting” multiple times during her 20 minute classes - it’s real fun). Our church has been meeting online only. All swimming lessons and holiday festivities have been cancelled. We’ll have the occasional BBQ outside with friends trying to keep our distance as much as we can and we’ve been spending A LOT of time at local parks.
Parks, sunshine and being outdoors have been saving our sanity, quite literally. A 5 year old and a 3 year old have so much energy. We find we have to get out to a park at least once a day just so they can burn off some energy and so mommy can be more patient with them.
Thanks to the numerous park outings, we actually met our first real “neighborhood friends”! Isn’t it ironic that after living in the same house for 8 years that we’ve just met our first friends around the corner during a global pandemic?!?
It all happened thanks to learning to ride a bike. If you listened to episode 25 on the podcast you heard the story of getting the wrong bike, using training wheels and how our 5 year old learned to ride his bike during the pandemic. Isn’t it funny that his struggle riding a bike led us to meet our new friends? Our neighbor's daughter is also 5 and was also learning how to ride a bike a few months ago.
And thanks to her watching Max, she got the courage to take her training wheels off.
And the rest is history. Haha, or sorta.
There is something about a shared struggle that brings people together. There we were cheering on our new friend with her bike riding, all of us with our masks when her mom and I started chatting. And it serves as such a reminder how much we truly all have in common with one another.
It turns out that her mom is from the Netherlands and married a Tapatio (what we lovingly call all people from Guadalajara), they originally met in Spain while studying and she followed him to Mexico while pursuing her Master’s degree. As we got talking, we couldn’t believe all the similarities between our stories...
Ironically, they were studying in Spain the same year I was studying in Spain!
And they met salsa dancing just like Walter and I did.
They’ve been living in our neighborhood for 10 years and also, thanks to the pandemic, have been visiting more parks.
As a bi-cultural family, they understand how hard and how beautiful it is with different cultures, traditions and languages in one home.
All of her family lives in the Netherlands, just as mine also lives far away in the US or Thailand.
Their daughter literally just lost her bottom teeth as did Max.
And the best part is that our new friends literally live around the corner from us. We run into each other quite often at our little neighborhood park. We even got to spontaneously invite them all over a few weekends ago for a BBQ as we took off our masks for the first time around each other and enjoyed an evening of laughter, sharing our stories and getting to know our neighbors.
As I reflect on this year of slowing down our pace, routines and schedules, I’m so thankful for so many things, especially the serendipitous encounter with our “new” neighbors.
I'm realizing more and more our need for community, especially this year when so much feels like it's been taken away from us when it comes to community - that's why I've created an online community for all expat entrepreneurs. If you have a dream, an idea, a small business and want to talk to others in the same situation, fill out the form on my website to join us for the launch! Or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org