I suppose on some level before leaving home it occurred to me that I would be spending a lot of my time with people that I don’t know. I don’t think that I gave it too much thought – at the time it was more about leaving home for a while. For the past few weeks I’ve been helping to restore an abandoned farmhouse in the heel of Italy and there are either volunteers or the owner’s friends constantly coming and going. The sleeping arrangements are all shared which brings back memories of boarding school but beyond that there is the question every time there is a changeover of how the dynamics will shift. So far everyone seems to get on pretty well which, considering we are spending all of our time together, without much pause, is quite a feat. Or perhaps it’s not. Ultimately though it brings about questions about one’s self which although not a bad thing, can certainly bring about an alteration of the mood.
Generally speaking I like myself. Maybe most people would say that about themselves so it may seem like a redundant statement but particularly in the last few years, I have been quite comfortable with the person that I am becoming. There are definitely aspects of my character that I’m not wild about but I’m aware of them, for the most part, and “working” on them. Mostly it’s learning to hold my tongue. Throwing myself into this scenario has been interesting because you don’t know how people will respond to you. I’m used to being around my family and friends who all know my humour and so I don’t have any cause to be concerned about whether or not I’m funny. I know I’m funny. I make myself laugh on an almost daily basis (less so in this situation but I still surprise myself from time to time). This must count for something. However, I’ve certainly felt this side has been a bit suppressed lately because I don’t yet know if we’re all on the same wave length (one has to consider that most people aren’t speaking in their native tongue when chatting to me). I don’t know if it’s in response to this, or just another aspect of the whole thing, but I find myself then questioning if everyone finds me annoying. I don’t think I’m annoying (unless I’m intentionally trying to be and that’s generally reserved for my bro) but perhaps I am?! (Please don’t answer this!). And then in response to hoping I’m not being annoying and disheartened that I’m not being funny, I try to be helpful. So I do a lot of tidying up or offering to help in the kitchen because surely I can be helpful there. This has actually brought about a whole other side-effect because if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that I’m confident in the kitchen. It turns out I’m only confident in MY kitchen. This alone has been such an interesting thing to observe because it has stripped away some of my confidence in something that I have had a lot of faith in for years. It’s only a temporary thing and I do know this, but the feelings of insecurity that it has brought about surprised me. Added to this is the fact that I’m in an environment where I am no longer my own boss and I’m actually responsible to someone. This is not a situation that I know, having been self-employed pretty much since graduating six years ago and so now I have to add a layer of not wanting to do something incorrectly, or insufficiently or else risk appearing to be a complete idiot (which has, through genuine human error, happened). The result of all of this is that I’m faced with being an insecure, unfunny, somewhat dim and possibly annoying person who can’t do simple tasks properly but is constantly trying to help to make up for all of the faults. I must be a delight to be around. And then I consider that perhaps I am completely over thinking the entire thing and maybe even if we aren’t going to be best friends, we can get along for the time that we’re together and then go our separate ways and it doesn’t really matter how I come across. However, clearly my ego isn’t big enough that I don’t care if the people that I’m surrounded by don’t like me. And then I find that my mood may shift, or a new set of people arrive, and the cycle starts all over again.
Through all of this though, I hope that I’m becoming a little bit braver. Bravery can come in many forms. For the second night in a row I’ve cooked Italian food for Italian people. What a risk, considering my newfound timidity in the kitchen. I have to wonder if the compliments are actually heartfelt or if it’s just a further grazie because they are polite and a bit over the top by nature. Returning to the subject of bravery though, there is a place nearby where the only way into the sea is to jump from a fairly substantial height. Yesterday I jumped straight in but I’ve now been a few times so know that the best way is to just go for it. It seems that as I get older I’ve developed a little bit of a fear of heights, or maybe I’m just more cautious. In any case, I kind of like the idea of likening my current reality to jumping into the sea from this platform. Obviously there are times when you have to exercise caution and the rewards that can be reaped from this are probably great, but maybe the best rewards come when you jump into something and just have a little faith that it will all be alright.
P.S. After sitting on this for a few days, I am now on a train leaving the Salento region – I’m happy to be leaving, before the next group arrives. The household will now contain 9 people which although we were that number at one point previously, it’s a bit cosy. But I’m also a bit sad to be leaving. I have loved seeing the progress we have all made together, particularly having been one of the first volunteers on the project. I feel as though I have been here for so long, and yet also no time at all. Is this a sign of fitting in somewhere?
The pizza oven that I started working on, thinking it was just going to be a tiny bit of cleaning but ended up being an almost total rebuilding, isn’t finished but I know that a lot of the work done is thanks to me and I feel quite proud. Further, I didn’t actually do any work onsite today but have spent my morning organising the house for the incoming guests (for which I received high praise at how tidy it was) and also baking a clafoutis aux pommes. One of the pickiest eaters I’ve come across asked for seconds (and she took a sizeable chunk) and the boss’ response was “I see what you did there. You’ve been holding back so that we wouldn’t miss this. It’s really delicious.” It was said emphatically so I couldn’t not believe him. As for what they think of my character – who can really say? But I got asked when I would be back so that’s reassuring. And at least I left them all with a tidy house and full tummies so the parting memory will be a fond one. Overall I’m really happy to have had this experience, icy cold outdoor showers and all – I had my moments of self-doubt but ultimately putting myself outside of my comfort zone is a good thing.