February 28, 2012

not in my backyard

we hosted an Ayyam-i-Ha party for children and jr. youth 2 days ago.  aside from the joyful singing and drumming, activities and delicious cookies, more than 60 kids came and it was difficult for dashiel and i to manage.  one of our neighbors called -- we share a compound with 4 other houses -- to ask what was going on and i explained that we were having a party.  she was expressing concern about the number of children and i agreed, explaining that 2 jr. youth groups came to perform and it was more than we had expected.  she said that she wanted to talk more with me about this at another time..  

last night she called to say she feels her privacy is being infringed upon by us having children from the neighborhood visit.  she explained that the entrance area and pavers to my home is a shared area.  she is very concerned -- fearful actually -- that something may happen to one of them because she believes wholeheartedly that the neighborhood will turn against us and we will experience a 'mob' of people coming to hurt not only us, but her as well..

her final argument was that, despite her respect and support for what i am doing to educate the children, i should not be inviting the kids to my home for this 'community project' but rather, i should go to their homes and visit them.  she thinks it is unfair to her to continually have to share the compound with the neighborhood kids for my 'work' (even though they do not wander into anyone else's home environment).  she said that i shouldn't consider our house/yard areas as private spaces because we all share the compound..

as i was listening to her and trying to respond with patience, kindness and tactfulness, i started shaking.  my nerves were full of adrenaline -- it is very difficult for me to face such conflict and opposition.  i tried to address each of her issues with reason but it only led to her revealing an additional issue.  i said that the party is a once a year event and that next year we would limit the number of people.  this led to her saying that if we are all still living here next year she would not want me to have a party at all.  when i tried to explain that all of the kids we associate with are now our friends, not merely kids that we educate -- that we have had their parents to our home and that we visit their homes as well -- she reduced our right to associate with whomsoever we like to a 'community project'.  when i asked if anything happened to her property as a result of the party or any other time in the past 9 months, she replied that this is not the point and proceeded to express her concern about the use of the pool (which recently happened on 2 occasions, each for 30 minutes each, with less than 4 people each time).  i agreed that the pool can be dangerous (even with me watching) and said that i would stop letting these friends use the pool altogether.  she then insisted on me not having the kids in the compound at all because it is unfair to her sense of privacy..

with that i simply replied, 'oh, well, i am sorry i don't agree with you about this'.  i let her know that dashiel was ready to talk with her.  i handed him the phone and ran upstairs to pray.  i could hear him talk as a civil rights attorney with a passion for protecting the rights of the disadvantaged and oppressed peoples of this world.  he was very concise and clear about where we stand with this situation:
  • we will not have any more big parties
  • we will not invite the neighborhood kids to use the pool
  • we WILL exercise our right to invite whoever is our friend to our home without any discrimination unless that person has done something to infringe on any of our neighbors' properties
when dashiel hung up the phone, the 5 of us sat together on the boys' beds to discuss what had happened.  we helped the children understand how prejudice makes a person's argument unreasonable.  they base a lot of what they say on fear.  there was no logical way to talk with our neighbor about this situation.  we explained to our children that we must be willing to suffer when we stand up for justice.  we may have to move as a result of this woman's vehement opposition to our friends' coming to visit us everyday.  we talked about truly loving our enemies as Abdu'l-Baha did, showing to them that uncompromising, loving-kindness despite their anger or dislike of how we live..

today i am filled with many thoughts of how insidious prejudice is and how all throughout history it has resulted in 2 opposing sides: those who get it and those who don't.  those who are in the courts putting forth strong arguments in defense of the white man who is accused of atrocities against black people, and those who are imprisoned for trying to uphold the principles of justice in a world that favors the privileged, the wealthy, and the powerful.

i realize that my neighbor wants poverty and all of its inherent difficulties to end -- and has disclosed to me how her heart has been saddened by what she has seen in ghana -- but she does not want it done in her backyard.  i grew up with that saying..people say a lot about the need for change in the world but the moment it starts happening near them they start to complain and worry about the difficulty they may face in the process..

our family is striving to live a life of service to the world of humanity.  we are free of prejudice against poor people.  we treat all people as equal in the sight of God.  we love each soul as a loved one of God.  we open our home to our neighbors with a bright and friendly face, building trust through mingling in the closest of associations.  we are focused on spiritual and academic education of children and jr. youth as a means of enabling souls to have the opportunity to reach their fullest capacity morally and intellectually..

our neighbor is a wealthy, educated, young, professional, black woman from angola.  she has expressed fear of the neighborhood families from the moment we met her.  she truly believes that if anything happens with one of these kids that everyone in their extended family, as well as the neighborhood in general, will come and attack us.  i do not feel or believe it is a rational belief.  if there will ever be an uprising of the poor people here, perhaps it would happen to the foreigners who are not associating at all with the community, as they would be viewed with contempt and mistrust..

what is most disturbing to me is how this woman's fear of 'something happening' to the kids would not be there if we were friends with wealthy families.  she would not be opposed to me having kids over, for whatever purpose, if they did not make her face her prejudice against people who are poor.  i am not naive.  i realize crime exists, as well as carelessness, ignorance and negligence -- but kids from all classes present the possibility of mischief, mistakes, accidents, poor behavior, etc..

the issue then becomes one of perception.  kids who are well dressed and attend schools that are providing a better education are perceived as less of a threat to one's well-being.  yet we all know that very wealthy, educated people are responsible for an immeasurable amount of corruption and crime in this world.  an article in the news today coincidentally reports that a study was done out of Berkeley demonstrating that "..higher-status people tended to behave in ways that served their own self-interest."  it questions the perception that those with less material well-being are more likely to commit some kind of crime -- it feels as though my neighbor is acting in a negative way to serve her own self-interest..

Abdu'l-Baha counsels us:
Is it possible for one member of a family to be subjected to the utmost misery and to abject poverty and for the rest of the family to be comfortable? It is impossible unless those members of the family be senseless, atrophied, inhospitable, unkind. Then they would say, "Though these members do belong to our family -- let them alone. Let us look after ourselves. Let them die. So long as I am comfortable, I am honored, I am happy -- this my brother -- let him die. If he be in misery let him remain in misery, so long as I am comfortable. If he is hungry let him remain so; I am satisfied. If he is without clothes, so long as I am clothed, let him remain as he is. If he is shelterless, homeless, so long as I have a home, let him remain in the wilderness."

Such utter indifference in the human family is due to lack of control, to lack of a working law, to lack of kindness in its midst. If kindness had been shown to the members of this family surely all the members thereof would have enjoyed comfort and happiness.

    (Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 38)
 i'm relying on prayer and patience in the midst of difficulty.  for now we have no close association with our neighbor who feels we have infringed on her right of privacy, and we continue to welcome with genuine affection the children and jr. youth who come to our home each day to learn and enjoy a peaceful way of family life with us.  i pray that in time 'our backyard' will touch our neighbor's heart and serve as an example for how poverty can be alleviated, one soul at a time. :)


  1. I wonder what would happen if you asked your neighbor if she'd be willing to do a special presentation for one of your classes - maybe a topic in which she has some professional expertise - or to their parents. Perhaps if she meets the kids in person her fears would diminish.


  2. Kathy Kelley BaezaFebruary 29, 2012 7:32 PM

    Dearest Miss Pamela, I wonder what contributions the junior youth might make re: this situation - their insights, their suggestions, their perceptions... without identifying the neighbor of course...? xoxo

  3. thank you for the suggestions. it would be a good hypothetical subject to discuss with the jr. youth, but as far as inviting my neighbor, it may take some time for her to come around. right now she is traveling and we ended our conversation without resolving the issue -- she is very firm and serious about us not having these kids over to our home anymore. perhaps time and prayer will touch or change her heart..(btw, she has met the kids)