Like a Good NeighborJune 30, 2011 at 9:34 am | Posted in Transylvania | 19 Comments
Tags: Challenges, Curiosity, Expats, Family, Language, Life, Neighbors, Relationships, Romania
We share our floor with another apartment. They’re number 2; we’re number 3.
I walk past their door, their porch, their back balcony, every day. The woman who lives there has gorgeous potted plants on the ledges of her kitchen’s bay windows. Their leaves are lush, thick, and green like emeralds. She has the same drying rack we do, and she hangs out her towels and sheets on Tuesday afternoons. She and her mother listen to opera in the mornings. They drive a Subaru Outback.
One day last week as I was heading to the market, the woman came out onto her porch. “Scuzaţi-mă, Domnişoară,” she said. I knew she was talking to me, so I turned. She rattled off some very fast Romanian, and I shook my head sheepishly. “Nu înţeleg,” I said. “Engleză?” She pursed her lips.
We stared at each other silently. She tried to come up with the English words for whatever she wanted to tell me. I longed to speak more Romanian because she seemed pretty earnest — like maybe our leaky shower had leaked its way into her space or our kids were waking her up at 5:31 a.m. every day, too. We kept staring at each other. Seconds? Minutes? A long time.
Finally, she raised her hand in a half-wave and said, “Okay.” Then she went back inside. And I went on my way, worrying that maybe she was trying to tell me not to park next to her anymore because she’d seen me try to back out of the driveway. Whatever it was, it was a barrier we couldn’t break through, and it reminded me that I am the stranger, the newcomer, the interloper here. I am the one who doesn’t know, doesn’t understand, doesn’t blend.
We met the woman’s daughter the other day. Her tiny Russian Blue cat was hiding under our car, and she helped us coax him out with a piece of cheese. She’s 20-something with a blonde pixie haircut. She speaks a little English. She’s in a wheelchair.
Whatever put her in the wheelchair must have happened recently because the landlord just installed a ramp for her. Yesterday, Bun and I watched from our window as her mother and grandmother eased her chair down the ramp and situated her in the front passenger seat of their car. It was raining.
I wanted to help. I wanted to hold the door or the umbrella or something. But I didn’t know if I should. And I didn’t know what to say. Or how to say it.
So I bounced Bun on my hip and watched and wondered. About them. About their story. About how our story would become part of theirs over the next year. I imagined asking them to keep an ear out for the kids while I ran down to grab the mail. I imagined loaning them an extra ethernet cable or some WD-40. I imagined baking them loaves of banana bread and cranberry bread for Christmas.
I imagined knowing them. But will I? Can I? Should I?
Do you ever feel like the one who doesn’t belong? How well do you know your neighbors? And do you have any suggestions for taking the first step?