Near the end of my stay with the crazy workaway hosts in Tuscany, I did something naughty which I still feel really bad about, more than 2 years later.
A few days before I was to depart, a new workawayer arrived who was due to stay for maybe a week. She was a girl from France and she seemed a little bit naive, but she was nice and I felt like I got along well with her. I thought that she was a little naive because she also asked a lot of questions, almost to the point of making people feel uncomfortable without realizing it.
Up until this point I had thought that our host family was a little eccentric, but the new girl made me realize that they were control freaks. Most of her questions were innocent, for example she always questioned why we were doing each task in a certain way, but instead of explaining why in a logical way our hosts seemed to get offended, as if this girl was attacking their way of life. However things got really bad when she started talking to the family about religion.
Our host family was extremely religious (in fact one of my tasks was to translate the father’s entire religious philosophy, including his ideas about souls and the afterlife, into English), but the girl started questioning them about their ideas, asking them for proof, and asking how they dealt with modern scientific theories which went against what they believe in. She was genuinely just curious, but once again I think that the family thought that she was attacking them.
On probably the second day that this girl was with us, after we sat down for lunch the girl turned to our host father and asked him if he was okay. I hadn’t noticed that anything was wrong but he looked at her and just ripped into her about all of the things she was doing wrong. He said that she wasn’t working hard and just talked all the time, although he didn’t even work with us that day. She stood up for herself and told him so, good for her, and also said that nobody told her that she wasn’t working well, but he just went on to tell her that she came into their family but instead of just accepting things the way they were she questioned everything and started talking about Darwin. He then continued on with the idea that she wasn’t working, telling her that she never helped in the kitchen either, which I thought was crazy because I had offered multiple times to help in the kitchen and they had always refused my help. I said so too, because I didn’t think these people were treating the girl very well at all. They also accused her of being late for lunch, but it was just as much my fault that we were late and they didn’t say anything to me.
Naturally the girl started crying then and said she was going to go, that she wasn’t wanted, to which the family said that she could stay-but how could a person stay after being treated like that? So the girl got up and went back to where we were staying, which was a second cottage apart from the main house. I wanted to go too but the family started talking to me, and eventually offered me some fruit, which was kind of a rare treat. At a certain point the father said to me ‘I wonder what that girl would think if she came in here and saw us all laughing and happy’. I felt really awful.
I finally managed to get away and found the girl in the cottage. The thing about the cottage is that it had no electricity, and there was limited internet in the house. Luckily my phone was charged and I had some internet from my phone so I helped the girl find out when the next bus came, which was something ridiculously early like 6am. I also tried to explain to her how to get to the bus stop, which was a 40 minute hike along a hilly dirt track. Then we went to eat dinner, where everyone acted as if nothing had happened.
The next morning the girl woke up early, and of course I was awake too, but I didn’t really want to go for a hike in the dark at 5am, which is why I had tried to explain where to go the night before. But the girl said my name so I got up, and she told me that she was scared to go alone. I probably should have offered to go with her from the beginning but since she asked of course I said that I would accompany her.
On the way down to the road we passed the main house, where our host father was outside and asked if we were okay. We said yes so he went back inside, so I accompanied the girl down to the road, where I left her to wait for her bus. I never heard from her again.
So this story is already crazy, and up until this point I was experiencing a lot of conflicting emotions. On the one hand I wanted to support my host family, because they had always been kind to me, but on the other hand they had treated this girl in what I thought was a terrible way, and that was starting to change my opinion of my host family. I also felt conflicted when the girl got up to go to our cottage. If I had followed her then, I would have offended my host family, but by letting her go I was literally leaving her alone in a cottage in a field with no electricity.
Anyways she had come and gone within just two or three days, but I still had a few more days to go, during which I really had a lot of time to contemplate what had happened, and I started to feel pretty guilty about how well the host family was treating me and how poorly they had treated her. I also started to feel an intense anger at my host family. The more I thought about it the more I thought that the girl had been right and that the host family had been wrong.
I thought about leaving before I was due to depart, without telling my hosts, as a sign of solidarity. In the end I did nothing like that but on the night before I was to leave I did do one act of petty revenge, which is that I burned their Italian dictionary, which they had loaned to me because I was studying Italian at the time. Every room in every building there was equipped with a homemade wood burning stove to keep warm, along with a bottle of alcohol to help light it, and I just started tearing out pages and throwing them on the fire. And it felt great.
In fact I did more than that, because I also started squirting bursts of alcohol on the fire, which caused flare ups. The more alcohol I squirted on the fire the more angry I became, until I squirted a huge amount of alcohol on the fire….. which, after a second or two delay resulted in a WHOOOOOMF and what sounded like an explosion. In fact it was so loud I thought that I had broken the glass on the stove or something in the chimney, and I was sure that I had woken up everyone in the main house so I put all the candles out and crawled into bed.
The next morning I woke up early but instead of an apathetic send-off like what the French girl had received I was entitled to a large breakfast where the host family told me that I was one of their best workawayers ever, and we promised to keep in touch in the future. Then I was accompanied down to the bus which took me to the train station so I could head off on my next workaway adventure.
I feel pretty bad about burning the dictionary, especially when my host family called me later and asked if I knew where it was, but the more I thought about the situation the more I thought that the host family was wrong. On the other hand I also loaned some money to the girl before she left because she said that she had no cash, which she promised to pay later through Paypal-which of course never happened. It was just a bizarre situation overall but one of the biggest lessons I have learned from experiences like this is to strive towards being open and friendly to everybody regardless of who they are or what they believe. On the other hand it has also made me more critical and questioning, and although I often keep my opinions to myself in this situation I think that I should have stood up for the girl more. Finally, it is another situation of many which has made me avoid loaning money to people, especially strangers!