Does anyone remember the cartoon Pinky and the Brain? It was a show in the 1990’s about two lab rats trying to escape and, well, take over the world. For those of you familiar with it, you’ll remember that every episode started off the exact same way, with Pinky (the stupid mouse) asking “what are we going to do tonight, Brain?”, and The Brain (the genius mouse) answering “The same thing we do every night, Pinky, try to take over the world!”
I had to laugh at myself the other day when it occurred to me that my host mom and I have kind of become akin to Pinky and The Brain, not so much in the sense that one of us is stupid and the other smart, but rather that we seem to be on more or less the same dialogue routine every day. An average day basically goes like this: I wake up and go to the bathroom. On the way to the bathroom I pass my host mom in the “kitchen” (which is actually the hallway next to the bathroom) making my breakfast. I say ‘good morning’ and ask her how she slept. She says fine.
After I’m finished in the bathroom I go back to my room and finish getting ready for the day. Then I go out to the eating area and eat breakfast. Sometimes the food is already out there, and sometimes I have to wait a few minutes. If I wait for her to bring it in, I say ‘thanks’ and she says ‘poftim,’ which is basically the equivalent of ‘you’re welcome,’ or ‘here you go.’ Then she goes back into her room and I leave for school.
When I come home in the afternoon (usually between 2-4pm), I say ‘hi’ to her. Depending on what time I get back, she’ll either say that lunch isn’t ready yet, or it will be soon. When we do sit down to eat, I always ask her how her morning was. I guess here is the part that I am finding most frustrating right now: 90% of the time, she will give me a look like ‘why are you asking me that’ and say, more or less, ‘I did the same thing I do every day, I cleaned this or that, fed the animals, and prepared food.’ Sometimes she’ll add ‘there is always a lot of work to do.’ Then I’ll try to tell her a little bit about my day. Sometimes I have stuff to talk about and I’ll do my best to explain, other times nothing really exciting happened at school. Either way, she usually just gives me a look like ‘that’s nice,’ and we spend the rest of the meal eating in silence.
Then I go to my room and work or do whatever until dinner. Sometimes we are able to strike up a conversation, but mostly we just eat in silence. Then we each go to our rooms to relax for the rest of the evening. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I find that if I am ever feeling down or sorry for myself, it is usually because I don’t have the connection I was hoping to have with a host family. I am very grateful for my host mom. She feeds me well and takes good care of me. I know she cares, but the day-to-day monotony is starting to get to me. I feel like one huge disadvantage I have compared to the majority of the other Peace Corps volunteers is that they live with people who either work at the school with them (so they can talk about school related things), or their host families work somewhere else outside the home, such that they can talk about the events of the day, who they interacted with etc. The majority of the time when I get home after spending about 6 hours at school, my host mom will not have left the house, so besides telling her about my day, we really don’t have a lot to talk about.
I do try to give her the benefit of the doubt and keep in mind that she is in a transitional period as well, dealing with the death of her husband. We have had a few conversations about this, but it’s one of those topics that would be hard to talk about in English, let alone Romanian. Sometimes I wonder if she is really happy having me here, or if I am just an excuse for her to stay at the house, someone to take care of, until she figures out what to do next.
Although she doesn’t like me to help with food preparation or chores around the house, I have made an effort to do other things with her so that our relationship doesn’t just revolve around her putting food in front of me. For example, if she goes to the little piatza our town has every Saturday, I will go with her and help her carry things back home. I also had the opportunity to do to Odessa, Ukraine with her and her daughter. I’ve also gone into her room a couple of times after dinner to watch tv with her, but this is hard for me because the majority of the programs are in Russian or Ukrainian, so I can’t understand anything. But I can’t help hoping for something to change; something that will make us both happier, because right now we are both just going through the motions.