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Who are the people in your neighborhood?

By Melonie Cannon

Can you hear Mr. Roger’s singing, “Who are the people in your neighborhood? in your neighborhood?  in your neighborho-oo-od?” Please keep that theme in your mind as you read this entry, because we are going to start a regular feature on Segullah blog (if we get a good response, that is) where we introduce one of our neighbors.  The underlying motivation of this feature is for us all to realize that every person has a story and the person that you pass every day, just might be a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.

I first noticed the woman in Sacrament Meeting.  She sat straight and thoughtfully looking ahead as her ten-year old son, with Down’s Syndrome and autism, ran his fingers through her hair like it was play dough.  She sometimes would patiently turn her head and smile at him.  She again came to my attention in Sunday School class.  It wasn’t her appearance that interested me ”“ although it was unusual for this part of Utah ”“she had black hair, olive skin, and a ready smile- it was the thoughtful and insightful comments she made.  She had an unusual accent.  My husband and I compete in a game I call “placing the accent.”  Because we both have traveled a lot, we both pride ourselves on locating a person’s country of origin based on their accent.  Her accent was a toss-up.  
“Its not from Spain.”
“Nor Italian.”
“Maybe from somewhere in South America.”
“No, not even close.”
“There is sort of a French lilt to it.”
As it turns out, Maria is from Mozambique, Africa, with ties to Portugal.  For a glimpse into the amazing history of Mozambique, and to give you some insight into Maria’s life, go here.

Maria and I went to lunch and I took six pages of notes, mostly about the country she loves which has been ravaged by war and Aids.  Maria grew up in a rural part of Mozambique, in a modest home with three acres of snakes and jungle in her backyard. She says Africa is “so big and has so much space that it is like living in a cocoon.”  That didn’t make sense to me, so I asked her to explain.  “Africa was left to itself. It was isolated then.  Before it became fashionable to raise money for AIDS and give concerts, the pop culture did not reach us. We were without television, but we had radio.”   She played with her five siblings.  Her sister, however, had severe autism and two of her other siblings contracted polio.  These challenges were made harder by inadequate access to medical care. Her parents were Protestant, which was very unusual in a country that only recognized Catholicism.  She grew up under the Fascist rule of Salazar with a feeling “that you can’t belong to anything.  You become a persona non grata.”  She explains that there was no free expression- cultural or political ideas, no elections, and no allowance for being a free thinker.

Her father, however, was.  He painted murals, was on the radio, and was an intimate friend of Amilicar Cabral, the opposition leader of the Colonial government.  Therefore, her family was always under scrutiny.  In 1974, Salazar’s rule ended when Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) overthrew the government.  Maria was fourteen and has vivid memories of this time period.  Her father worked for the government and stayed in Mozambique to aid in the transition of the old government to the new, while other colonialists were forced or asked to leave the country.  She said that living in Mozambique at that time was “like going to a masquerade ball.  You never knew who was behind the mask” and who you could trust.  Her father was arrested and eventually released after Maria helped establish his innocence.  Her older sister, however, was sent to a “reeducation camp” when she and other students tried to organize a school prom.  Maria watched as the students, along with the principal and some teachers, were marched out of the school and sent to an abandoned plantation about five hours away.  Maria is grateful that she was there to find out where her sister was going, as many people just disappeared. There were about 4500 people at the camp, mostly Jehovah’s witnesses who were imprisoned for not singing the national anthem.  Through briberies and pressure, the students were released almost five months later.

In 1976,  Maria’s family moved to Portugal to escape the conditions of Mozambique.  There her family was introduced to the missionaries and two years after that Maria joined the church.  She met her husband, Alan, at BYU while she was an international student.  She has two children with Alan ”“ Kevin, and Sarah, 8 years.

All of the experiences and challenges I’ve described are just a small part of her life, though they have contributed significantly to who she is.  Maria describes some of the things she has learned. “I try to be the best I can and to be genuinely me. I have a visceral aversion to personal hypocrisy, so I live with my heart on my sleeve and consequently have a wonderful feeling of inner peace. Of course, that doesn’t come all at once, but little by little.”  Maria talks with fondness about growing up in Mozambique. “It is empowering to grow up as I did ”“ with mixed races, a different status, disabilities, and a different religion.  I’m darker.  I have an accent. Diversity marks me as a person.   I was “special” in ways that nobody wanted to be.  It made my life rich.  I genuinely rejoice in the richness of my diversity.  It gave me abilities to reach out to others and feel what other people feel ”“ like the people in Iraq, for example, or even people here in the United States.”  Maria has a strong testimony of the Savior and of living the gospel.  The Savior has helped her through many difficult experiences.  “With so much change in my life, you have to have a grounding, or a strong spiritual support.  You can’t just have a conceptual religion, you must LIVE IT!”  Maria does.  Wouldn’t you love to have a neighbor like her?

Who are some of the interesting people that you have met in your neighborhood?

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About Melonie Cannon

Melonie has surrounded herself with beautiful words for as long as she can remember. This led her to find a home with Segullah after writing an essay published in the May 2006 Segullah issue. She was invited to join the staff and has been a part of Segullah in various capacities since, including being the creator of the “Words Fall In” podcast.  She received her M.Ed from the University of Utah and was a certified Secondary English teacher before becoming a Mom of four. Over the years, her focus has been on natural healing modalities and becoming a sacred sound healing practitioner with a focus on the drum, rhythm, voice, and vibration. She is finishing her PH.D. in theology and metaphysics to further these studies and help women to connect to the divine within themselves.

13 thoughts on “Who are the people in your neighborhood?”

  1. I met "Neeg" and his wife and child while doing late-night laundry at a commercial laundromat down the street.

    He appeared to be in his 40's, with a 30-ish wife, and their daughter was just a toddler.

    Like most men, he was standing around while his wife did the work of the laundry.

    Neeg was a shuttle-bus driver at the aiport. Prior to coming to the United States, he was an economist in Russia. His country of origin was Ethiopia. His wife was also Ethiopian.

    He was one of the "best and brightest" of Ethiopia who was recruited to the Soviet Union for advanced studies, back when Ethiopia was under the Soviet sphere of influence, and had remained in the S.U. for his career.

    With the collapse of the S.U., they didn't need as many economists there for state planning.

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  2. My next door neighbor is a preschool teacher, and her husband is a rocket scientist who built an airplane that will someday fly to Mars. He likes to drink beer and watch football. They put up Christmas lights that didn't reach all the way around the house, and he groaned that he committed the ultimate engineering sin. He wrapped it around the porch, and left the lights looking goofy. They have a big, hairy, ill-behaved golden retriever that is absolutely charming. We like our neighbors.

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  3. Excellent post. This is something I feel very keenly as I obvserve people from our pew at the back of the chapel. I really want to know and record their stories, especially those people who might kind of stay under the radar. I started to write a series of posts about some of my neighbors, but never finished. Here is a link to my first.

    Melonie–if I've remembered the long-ago conversation correctly I believe your aunt is one of my neighbors and dear friends. Are you related to the lovely and talented Marilyn and her husband Jim of Provo (He's a dentist, the entire family is musically inclined.)?

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  4. Dalene that was just beautiful to read about M. Thank you so much for sharing that. She sounds amazing. I am not related to Marilyn and Jim as far as I know and I don't remember ever having a conversation with you. Am I going crazy? I don't know my own relatives nor do I know to whom I've spoken. Sounds like me.
    Heather- your neighbors sound quirky and wonderful. I want to come over and see their lights.
    Bookslinger- Isn't it amazing that the "best and brightest" do laundry and drive cabs? We never know what people's experiences are. Thanks for reminding us.

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  5. Because I can't communicate with most of the people in my neighborhood, I'm left to imagine their lives in my head (an interesting way to spend an afternoon at the park). Almost everyday (as I'm hauling my groceries from the store that is just a few blocks away but 90 degrees straight down), I see a set of floppy, gigantic dogs being walked by one of the smallest people I have ever seen. Usually, this woman's daughter (granddaughter?) is with her. This same daughter laughed at me on one of my first trips to the store because I was hauling my groceries in a "kinderwagen" (stroller). Maybe using a stroller isn't an appropriate way to carry groceries here, I have no idea. But, either way, it always seems to me that the dogs are more in control of the walk than the people. They have bows in their hair and always look freshly groomed. I wonder how big of an apartment they live in, how they groom the dogs, how they manage to keep their furniture clean of dog prints on rainy days. I wonder what kind of people keep that kind of dog.

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  6. Melonie–no, you're not crazy. I had a conversation with Marilyn about someone she knows who writes for Segullah and I couldn't remember her name, but somehow I got it in my head it was you. Eventually I'll figure out who it was…

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  7. There are 5 women in our ward who are over 80.
    I feel so drawn to the elderly.
    They have so many stories and just want someone who is interested to listen.
    I feel sad that the possibility is when you get grey hair, you become invisible.

    One of the sisters has lost 3 of her 5 children.
    One of the sisters just lost her oldest child.
    One of the sisters has a chronic illness.
    One of the sisters just lost her husband.
    One of the sisters runs a boarding house!

    They all show up for church on Sunday and park their walkers up front of the first, left side pew.
    They sit silently, hunched over, carrying decades of life's experiences tucked away and ready for revealing at the drop of a hat.
    These are hard, suffering, and difficult challenges though these just might be painful experiences that nobody really knows unless they ask.
    Ask and they will tell!

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  8. Seth! You are so right!!!!!!!! I can't believe that I would make that mistake. I think the Mr. Roger's neighborhood title messed me up. Thanks for the correction. It seems I made more than one mistake. Here is a message from Maria..yes, the Maria from the above.
    Hi Melonie,

    I read the blog. It is a very kind account of me, thank you. Just for FYI there were a couple of facts that were exactly correct (I overload you with so much information that I am suprised you got so much recollection) Amilcar Cabral (was a Liberation Leader for the Islands of Cabo Verde and Guine (also colonies of Portugal at the time- my Dad was born and raised in the islands and they grew up in High School together and did same radio programs after that). Frelimo was the Liberation Movement for Mozambique, my Dad had no ties with the Frelimo before the Independance. The PIDE (Portuguese Goverment Secret Policy) was all over the colonies and the kind of control any kind manifest or suspicion of manifest, expression and action against the Goverment Segregation Policies and Institutions. It his right that my father relationship with his friend and open expression against oppression and segregation earn him the constant surveilance he surfer during those years.

    Thanks, Maria and Seth for the corrections.

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  9. The wonder about "Who are the people in your neighborhood" segment is not so much my story told by truly kind words of Melonie. The wonder is Melonie's desire and idea to write about her neighbors, to know them as individuals. That is the true wonder that makes everyone of us count. That wonder is created by each one of us every time we take some time to listen (I mean listening with your eyes speaking back!…, to dare to be curious enough about each other because it is our bussiness to keep us connected!
    Maria

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  10. In the last few years, I have come to love character sketches whether they be real people or fictional. Thank you for this wonderful piece. I do not know if I will share anything specific in my life other to say that as I talk with people who others see so much negative in their life, I find that I can always find something that I respect in that person. I have a sort of part of me at times that wonders if anything matters at all. This has only come to me in more recent years. Even the most profound sadness or happiness, I wonder if it has purpose. I analyze love and if I even know what it is. But it all must matter or there would not be such an opposition in all things and chances for people to sacrifice and be noble. That is another favorite theme of mine-opposition in all things–and how that makes us real. I hope that you continue the stories!

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