Thursday, August 30, 2012

"This is community, man."

This post was composed a few weeks ago. At this point, many of the members of this fabulous community have come and gone, including the car that I was driving, which, as my friend said, "has sung her swan song"; a post on bittersweet farewells will follow in the coming days.

This is community, man.

All smiles for our festive Summer Solstice celebration in June
Though my sleeping quarters, shared with two room-mates, are at the monastery, I live, work, cry, eat, and laugh with a total of ten other people. This is our community, and every day I am grateful to be a part of this beautiful company. The other day, however, I learned how far this community truly extends.

One of our immediate community members injured herself a few weeks ago while walking on a narrow path. She twisted her ankle severely enough that she hasn’t been able to walk on it without feeling pain. After two weeks with scant improvements, we deemed it necessary to see the town doctor.

If one needs to pay a visit to the doctor’s office, one needs to wait until Wednesday, from noon to one, or Friday, from nine to eleven. The doctor, whose main office, I believe, is located in one of the nearest larger cities, comes to Labro to serve the community for non-urgent concerns (for urgent health issues, a 40-minute drive to the hospital in Terni would be necessary).

His tiny office is sandwiched between the pharmacy—a nondescript room with a counter, a cash register, and white walls lined with shelves filled with a small variety of pharmaceutical, hygienic, and cosmetic products—and the post office, the latter being about twice the size of the doctor’s office and pharmacy combined. In the same building, though on the other side of it, is the bar, by far the largest of all of the businesses that this edifice houses. It’s basically all you’ll ever need in one convenient spot (okay, maybe not all: the four restaurants in town are about a sixty-second walk away).

This past Friday, then, we visited the doctor. It’s a short walk away from the monastery, but a car ride was still necessary due to our friend’s injured foot. As such, I picked her up—not stalling the car even once!—and drove her into town. Of course, that’s when my anxiety started to crest: on a road made so narrow by parked cars that one has to back up—one of two banes of he or she who is learning how to drive standard—to let oncoming traffic, if there is any, pass; in the glaring openness of the glares of onlookers who can’t fathom the idea of a grown person not knowing how to drive (I can drive! I can drive! Gosh, why couldn’t I have learnt to drive in a car with standard transmission!). The idea of finding parking, let alone managing to park in the spots that are all in front of the fairly populated bar without stalling at least twice while advancing or reversing, was positively nerve-wracking, leading me to giggle uncontrollably.

I found a spot, my friend patiently encouraging me, and decided that I would move the car closer to the sidewalk once a few locals left the premises. That’s the opposite of what happened: one of these onlookers approached the automobile, and I rolled down the window. He suggested that I not park there, because, eventually, the garbage truck would need to pass on that narrow road and I’d be obstructing the path; I’d be taking a chance by leaving the car there, but, according to this man, who knew if the truck would even come? (Ha!) He suggested that I park farther ahead, past the bar, which would require not only that I back up but that I do so uphill (hills: the second bane of one who is learning to drive a standard automobile). 

I explained to him that my only issue with moving the car was… well, this is embarrassing… My issue was, and I quote (translated), “I’m Canadian [hahahaha. What does that have to do with anything? See? Panic makes me completely idiotic] and am used to driving an automatic car. I am learning to drive standard, and backing up can be difficult.” It sounds like an excuse, and maybe it was, but I was simply explaining why I was taking my sweet-ass time to move the vehicle. He responded in perfectly witty Italian fashion: “Well, you reverse in automatic cars, too, no?” I laughed and responded, “Of course, we do, but… it’s not the same.” He explained where I should park, saying that he’d move his car from his parking spot, allowing me to fill it. It wasn’t a legal spot, he explained, but its prime location in front of the doctor’s office would render my friend’s one-legged trip to the front door simpler.

I waited for him to pleasantly take his leave, appreciating his concern and well-meaning commentary. I allowed myself to be nervous and giggle with my friend. And then the awkward back-up struggle began, at which point our friend the local returned, on the driver’s side of the car, this time. Having understood the universal gesture of, “get out: I’ll move the car for you,” I opened my door and let him in. He backed the car up the hill, out of my former spot, and back onto the narrow main road, all while speaking Italian to my friend who speaks little Italian. I reclaimed my spot in the driver’s seat and thanked him profusely for his help.

I accelerated forward on the road and encountered a friend, C., that I’d made the last time I was here. He was standing with our new friend earlier, and as I slowed down to say hello to him, he greeted us and then listened to what the other man yelled to him from down the road. C. indicated that I should advance to the end of the road and turn around so that I could advance rather than back into the spot.

I got there; I got my friend to the doctor’s; I got to experience the adage, in a special fashion, of, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to support a 25-year-old Canadian learning to drive standard in Italy. And boy, do I ever have the support of this community, who never once cracked a joke or was mean-spirited; they were nothing but sweet, kind, and helpful. Once again, am I ever blessed and grateful to call this community my family for the next four months.


Josiane said...

What a sweet story! Being supported by one's community is such a beautiful thing...

Hannah said...

Your story is so incredibly inspiring. It's moments like those that restore my faith in humanity. Way to overcome this challenge and do log and serious good karma points for helping your friend!