Monday, April 6, 2009

The People in Our Neighborhood

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood?

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?

They're the people that you meet each day.

Remember that old Sesame Street song? Are you singing yet?

We have about 11 more weeks in China. Not long. And don't think just because I'm saying this that I'm counting the days. On the contrary, I'm trying to savor the days, make them count.

I thought in these final weeks it would be a good idea to do a weekly posting to introduce you to some of the good people of our neighborhood. For one, they have interesting jobs, interesting ways of life. They're not just the people in the Sesame Street song: firemen, mailmen, policemen, and librarians. They're recycling people, vegetable sellers, and knife sharpeners. I want to remember them after we move. They're wonderful people, hard working, ingenious. I don't want to get back to America, settle into a new comfort zone and forget about them.

Today's "Neighbor" is probably the person we'll miss most when we move away from China, for many reasons. She's our beloved household helper, He Ayi. I know I mentioned her before in a previous post about Tuesday morning cleaning binges, but today I want to introduce her formally. Here she is with our three older kids:

Now, don't get me wrong. He Ayi and I have had our ups and downs. She scolds me a lot, tells me I spent too much money on whatever it is I've just bought. She made me cry one time because she yelled at me about the fact that I hadn't bought enough material to make curtains for my bedroom. She tells my husband he's fat on a regular basis. She "puts things away" in strange places, and often I find dried food on the forks that have just been washed. But overall, I have to say I couldn't ask for a kinder, heart-of-gold helper. She loves my kids. She makes great food. And I know she loves me. I tried to give her a pay raise recently and she refused. I don't know a lot of helpers who would do that. When I asked her why she wouldn't take the extra money she said, "Because you and I are friends." I know that all her scolding is actually because she loves me. She's treating me like mothers-in-law treat their daughters-in-law. I know it's all motivated by love.

He Ayi grew up in a large family with seven siblings, in a one-room, tin-roofed home with no fans or air-conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter. When I think about her living conditions growing up I stop complaining about pretty much anything (for a few days, at least). He Ayi's tough. She's one of the older sisters, so she is responsible and a hard worker. I think the only time she missed work was when her brother-in-law died and she had to help with the funeral.

He Ayi is married and she has one son who's in his twenties. I've never met them. He Ayi says her husband doesn't want to meet us, he's too shy.

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