Alberto and Orlando

 I ‘ve got to admit, I’m always a bit hesitant to attend large gatherings where I don’t know anyone. These are considered my “terror spots.” I’d rather get a root canal or pap smear, to be honest. But, as God works on my heart for my neighbors and those from other walks of life, I am realizing these types of events are just as important to my health as the two aforementioned procedures.

So, on National Night Out, when my apartment complex had its cookout and activities, I said a silent prayer in my head to my heavenly Father, and asked him to help me not be too awkward or overwhelmed. Well, I was awkward and I ended being overwhelmed by my neighbor’s story, but both were wonderful. God always knows what’s best for me.

Not really knowing how to integrate myself into a group of people of which most of whom don’t speak my language, I soaked an all-beef hot dog in mustard and went and stood awkwardly alone by the fire truck where firefighters were giving all the local kids a tour.

Sitting on the back of the fire truck tailgate was a tan-skinned man with a little belly and a big laugh. He was playing with my Somali neighbors, laughing and making faces and not letting his language barrier keep him from truly enjoying every minute. Joy radiated from his constant smile. Next to him stood Alberto. Now, I had met Alberto about 6 months ago. Right before Christmas, he saw me struggling with my behemoth Christmas tree in my garage and came up behind me and said “help?” I said, “Yes, I’m getting this monster down and have to carry it up to my 2nd floor apartment. I don’t know why I have such a big tree. You’d think…” (needless to say, I was doing my nervous rambling). He just looked at me, smiled and said “no hablo ingles.” I laughed and managed to respond “No hablo espanol.” He smiled and proceeded to carry my giant, heavy, bulky tree up two flights of stairs to my apartment, then smiled again and walked away as I managed very mispronounced “gracias.”

Now, here he was again, so I tapped him on his shoulder. He turned and said “Hello!” With my limited Spanish, I was proud to be able to say “Como estas?” Which he replied “Bueno,” and then “I know English now!” You can imagine my relief! I had just used up all of my Spanish. He introduced me to the jovial guy on the fire truck bumper – Orlando. And as I asked them about their story, I began to be amazed by their joyful spirits. Orlando and Alberto live in a one-bedroom apartment with 2 other men. When I looked shocked at these “cramped” quarters, Alberto simply said, “It’s so BIG! We just love it.” They shared how they came here from the Dominican Republic to work in vegetable fields in Foley and were now searching for work to get them through the upcoming months. Alberto had found a local job and Orlando was hoping he’ll do well at it so he can get him a job there as well. Both men have left families in the Dominican Republic to be here and make money to send home. Alberto showed me a photo of his little girl on his phone while Orlando told me Alberto calls his daughter every night to say good night. Orlando left behind a wife and 3 boys. It’s been more than a year since either has seen their family.

Both men asked me about my daughter, who they had seen me with; Orlando had told me she had spoken to him once in Spanish in the hallway. I explained she’s living and studying in Honduras and together we looked at each other as only parents can when their children are living in foreign countries and are too far to hug or give kisses good night. All differences were put aside and we were united in the commonality of love and loneliness.

How much do you have in common with your neighbors? It’s not too hard to find out. Step out of your comfort zone and get to #knowyourneighbor and feel your heart be filled with more love than you thought possible.