A big factor in loneliness is fear – fear that we can’t cope, that we’re on our own when facing problems, that we’ve got no-one to help us.
Here in my Transylvanian village, that just doesn’t apply. My neighbour Emilia struggled up twice through the thigh-deep snow this morning – once to bring my litre of fresh raw milk she’d just extracted from Joiana the cow, and again to bring me a warm plate of chicken and mashed potato for lunch. She said again that if I needed Ionut (her 20 yr old son, all muscle and kindness) to help me with anything, just to give her a ring. Roxana, up the hill, said the same. ‘You have neighbours,’ she said, reminding me that I had no need to worry about anything.
Emilia asked if I had enough bread – we haven’t been able to get down to the shops for ten days, and it’ll be another week at least before the road is vaguely passable. I said I should be able to make bread, but my cold hands are better for pastry – my bread ends up flat or solid. ‘I’ll help you!’ she said. ‘Just ring. I’ll help with anything.’
Neighbours – vecini – are very important in villages like this, as they used to be in England when I was a child. When you have less, and it’s difficult to get more, you understand the need to help and share without being told. It’s part of the ethos here, and it’s a really heart-warming change from urban Britain, where you can go for years without speaking to near neighbours, and can die alone, unmissed.
That would never happen here – people come in and bring post, bring food, bring gossip, bring help. So the cats wouldn’t have time to start gnawing my ankles if I did keel over…
Why do you think more affluent countries have all but lost this culture? Relative affluence is certainly one factor, as is mobility – we can jump in the car and nip off wherever – so we have become independent with not so much need to co-operate, share and look out for each other. What else are we missing in Britain (and elsewhere) that has made the difference?