Tag Archives help exchange

Someone else’s home (somewhere or other)

I don’t have my camera to hand here, so you will have to use your imagination and enjoy this picture from the north of Chile instead.
Near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
January 2020

I wake up at 07:30 as the white light comes through the curtain-less window. It’s white because outside hangs a thick mist, which hugs the landscape for much of the morning, although come afternoon there’ll be nothing but blue sky and scorching sun. Between the dark of the previous night, and the mist of this morning, I’m left with only a hazy idea of where I am. I know I’m not far from Santiago, although I feel knowing the village name and seeing the bob of my global positioning satellite assisted blue dot moving on a digital map doesn’t constitute knowing where I am. If there is a village here, I still can’t see it.

I get up and wander around the house

It’s an amateur build, a creative project, a mixture of a building site and a home. I cross the terrace and enter the open front door of its non-identical twin. The owner has gone to work already and I’ve been left here alone. I wander in and make myself a cup of tea. The part where I live lacks functionality.  

It takes time, but after rooting around this stranger’s cupboards, I start to understand where to find what I need. I take avena, an apple and a stick of cinnamon to make porridge. I load my clothes into the washing machine, switch a tap, prod around and hopeful water noises begin. A fluffball of a grey cat rubs against my leg affectionately.

I find some tools to remove the concrete floor

Concentrating on the area closest to the front door to begin. I work for a short while, trying to gauge the difficulty of the problem and then pause. It’s going to take some thinking. I step back outside. The mist directly above has developed a blue tinge and looking out I can see a small lake or rather, with this dry summer, a pond. There’s a suggestion of hill. In a neighbouring field stands a nonchalant piebald pony.

I figure it’s time to explore and so take the keys, hanging on a hook, and head down to the pyramid building below. Yesterday, it was just a glimmer of light, pointed out to me as the biblioteca, but now I discover that it’s a tower roof, missing the tower. By which I mean if you imagine a tall tower, with a triangular roof the colour of terracotta, then what I look down at from the terrace looks like the decapitated point. It slants up from the floor and in beautiful Egyptian form rises to a perspex skylight.

There is a door on one side

Inside is a small coffee table with a notebook lying atop, a few worn chairs, an old-style school desk and shelves with books: Oscar Wilde and The Little Prince, an English dictionary and the complete works of Dostoevsky – which is a coincidence as I am reading The Brothers Karamazov.

With the washing hanging, the sun appears and casts the garden in warm light

I marvel at the sudden appearance of hills, or mountains perhaps is the word. Now seems a sensible moment to start thinking about lunch, for I am going to have to eat. It’s a game of ready, steady, cook, which has me delving into the back of the fridge wondering if what I pull out is a courgette or a cucumber. There seem to be an endless supply of tomatoes and enough pasta to keep even me going a while. This though is a game I am quite adept at. I have practised many times before. Frustratingly there appears to be no evidence at all that anyone here drinks coffee.

Outside a horseback herdsman guides his cows to the lake

I watch him and his dogs and smile at the sound of an indignant cow before returning to scrambling in broken concrete. I whack a large hammer systematically at the weakest points of the floor trying to make it shatter, I prise it up slowly and occasionally tumble over. I’m surprised by my progress. I’m going to need wire cutters and a dustpan and brush, but soon the door will swing open freely and there will be space to begin my masterpiece. Meanwhile I place my tomatoes in boiling water to remove their skins and plan how I’m going to make a peach tart. There’s no need to rush anything here and nobody to rush me.

Can I play too?

By Posted on Location: 2min read
A yellow bike on a yellow wall in Verona on the way to my new Italian home.
A yellow bike on a yellow wall in Verona on the way to my new Italian home.

I’m babysitting. I guess that’s the best word for it because if I say I’m an au pair it suggests that I’m doing a lot more than I actually am. Either way, whatever the terminology that you choose to use, this afternoon it’s me and an Italian kid.

It seems we’re surprisingly similar: both independent and introverted. The kid’s got a powerful sense of focus, such that I can imagine most adults envying him. I watch him play with his lego. He follows the instructions with impeccable attention to detail. He rarely makes a mis-step.

What’s clear however, is that he’s going to do this on his own. He was reluctant to let me even open the packet, let alone touch his bricks. But I can understand. When I’m working on a project I often find interference terribly frustrating. I also hate asking for help.

However, when you’re in this position of watching over a kid, and preferably bonding with said kid, you rather want them to play with you. Nobody likes not being wanted as a play companion, least of all the new babysitter who doesn’t speak the language and is reliant on the kid, who knows a handful of English words, to say when he needs anything.

So I spent a good long while in this predicament. I know the pleasure of peace and quiet and time to play alone, but as the responsible adult I want to be responding to something.

The good news was that the kid, who’s terribly polite, didn’t seem to have any objection to me being around. There’s no crying for an absent parent or telling me to go away. If anything, he mostly seemed mildly bemused by me.

To satisfy my need to parent, I found ways to make myself useful. I got him a drink – I don’t want the parents coming home and the kid complaining of a headache. I sliced an apple and gave it to him. He ate it quietly, whilst continuing with his lego. I sat on the sofa and read my book.

And then, a few hours later, he suddenly decided that he wanted attention. The change was remarkable. Suddenly he wanted to go outside and play football with me.

Football? Yes! Something I can do!