While in Canada several friends and family sincerely asked if my life in Central Asia was lonely. I am so fortunate to say that nothing could be further from the truth. Upon coming back this time I was struck by how much I fell like I am a part of life here, that I am a member of our neighborhood.
In my neighbourhood there is the older almost toothless Uyghur man and his wife who sit at the front gate of our apartment complex running their tine convenience store, every time I head out they smile and ask where I am going, on my return they eagerly check my bags to see what I have purchased and invite me to sit down next to them and chat for a while.
There is the woman responsible for cleaning our apartment complex, in the summer she uses her over sized straw broom to sweep the ever present dust, in the winter she shovels piles of snow and chips away the ice so we all have a safe place to walk. Due to what I think is a birth defect with her mouth she is unable to talk and often wears a face mask to cover the deformity but her eyes are so bright and welcoming that you don't need to see her lips curve upwards to know she is greeting you with a huge smile. She is part of the majority people group, but can understand both languages and using her hands and different grunts has found ways to communicate with those around her. She always stops and puts down her broom so her arms are free to give me a hug.
In my neighborhood there are the children who come running after me yelling "Acha, Acha" - which means "big sister, big sister". When I turn to talk to them they say in heavily accented English "hello" and then run away giggling to themselves. But they always come back a few minutes later to show me their newest toy or tell me a story about what happened at school.
In my neighborhood there are so many shop keeps who nod and smile as I pass by, or even step out of their shops to yell a greeting across the street. Yesterday the carpet salesman was in the middle of enticing shoppers into making a purchase, when he spotted me and stopped mid way through boasting about why his carpets are the best, to greet me and ask how I was and why I had been gone so long.
Not to mention the seamstress by the front gate who can tailor make any outfit you want, the drycleaners down the street who always clean and press my finished cross stitched things for free or the policeman who offered to help my business in any way he could, the university professor who has studied more English than anyone else in our area and is so pleased he can converse with me im my language. There is a 14 year old Uyghur girl who loves to sneak up behind me on the street and tickle me until my obnoxiously strange laugh breaks out.
These are the people in my neighborhood, and I am so glad to be one of them. Yesterday the water deliveryman was having trouble finding my apartment and I told him just to ask someone on the street "where does the Canadian girl live?" because all of my neighbors know where I live and count me as part of the community that surrounds them. With wonderful people like this close by I am anything but lonely.