Except for a brief and unfortunate episode in Mexico where my life was endangered, I have been very lucky with neighbours. We lived in a compound in Kenya, so there was absolutely no avoiding neighbours there, and like it or not, since it was company housing, we had to learn to get along with one another. It worked out for the most part, with the usual cultural misunderstandings and overstepping of boundaries, but I have to say it was a relief to all parents to be able to let the children run around happily.
From a child´s perspective, neighbours are defined by the ability to interact the other children and conquer the local playground, terrorising pets and parents alike. I had an absolutely wonderful childhood in this respect, growing up in countries where I was free to knock on other people´s doors and ask if XYZ could come out and play, or the other way around. Even as a teenager in Manila, I knew everyone by name for the next three streets, so it was never scary to come home late at night.
The game-changer was when I became a parent and needed to keep a close eye on my daughter. Nevertheless, I was still surrounded by caring, supportive and generous neighbours who were always willing to lend a hand, share a cup, come over for a meal, offer the use of their toilet when ours was occupied, or as the case often was in India or Manila, send food over.
My mother in particular was the best neighbour to everyone she knew, and I struggle to live up to her standards. Her friends and neighbours ran to her for prayers, news, advice, cooking tips, injections (she was always a nurse on stand-by), and whether she had money or not, she was ready with a smile and a hug. So in her hour of need, the outpouring of love and neighbourliness was heartwarming and humbling.
I have had two concert pianists as neighbours in my life, which was an absolute joy, and the odd mix of entertaining families who were anything but boring. Now that I am rebuilding my life, I treasure my neighbours more than ever and have to smile in amusement when my doorbell rings for unexpected reasons an peculiar requests. One neighbour asked for half a cup of vinegar, or to borrow my tools to assemble baby beds. Then her sister came over to ask for a piece of tin foil, a piece! Not even half a meter or something. And this morning I shared a bowl of cat food, much to the consternation of my cats who wanted to know why I was walking out the door with a bowl of their cat food!
If I look back at the biblical definition that I grew up with, proximity has very little to do being a good neighbour. It is more about being a decent human being: helpful, generous, supportive, and the openness to transcend from distant stranger to travel companion on the journey of life.