Cultural Learning

I was very inspired by meeting Michelle Miller recently, who is working for the Scottish Government project Focus on Dementia. She won the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship last year and went to Japan to look at the ways people deal with dementia. I heard some energising stories of how car dealerships and other companies listed the jobs they had available each day for volunteers and a group of younger people living with dementia went off to undertake these tasks, sharing the workload as colleagues, taking pride in doing a great job and then coming back around the table in a resource centre for tea and food, talking about what they had done during the day. I find so much community and personal value attached to this approach.

Of course, many people volunteer in the Western Isles. More so than Shetland, from what I could gather on my recent visit for Up Helly Aa. However, Shetland has some interesting supported living models and some fantastic nurse led dementia diagnosing is happening there. The two lead nurses for dementia were handing out quiche and cake and having long and meaningful conversations with people attending the fortnightly dementia cafe at a church hall alongside Alzheimer Scotland staff and volunteers, while I was there. A bus filled with people from a day centre arrived, everyone eager to catch up with each other and talk about the recent Up Helly Aa, where the Guizer Jarl and his squad of burly Vikings had taken care to visit each and every care facility during the day, which had given everyone a purpose for baking and preparing treats for them all, in advance of the evening torchlit parade and ceremonial burning of the Galley. How many other cultures take such care in sharing festivals and activities across care settings? We do at An Lanntair, through Life Changes Trust but I think we are quite innovative in that respect.

Looking at the Ceilidh culture across the Western Isles, I was excited to see something very similar on a ferry from Cape Town to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was famously held. Not only held, actually, but that’s another story. A group of women of all ages were sitting together in a circle and singing local songs, some prayer songs, including a rousing chorus of ‘Thank you Jesus, Amen!’ when we safely reached the shore after a wallowy crossing! They entertained the entire group on board and it was incredible to see the similarity between a ceilidh here on Lewis, a gathering….people can’t help but chat, tell stories and maybe sing a few songs. It’s part of life here. And gathering places might have been the Post Office, the Scrapyard, the most popular guy on the street’s front room – not particularly a pub or bar. Alcoholic drinks venues were illegal within living memory – a lovely gentleman at the dementia cafe was telling me a story about his time as a Police Officer on Lewis, where an illegal drinking den was trying to get a license as a hotel/bar. Thousands of beer can pulls were collected from the floor of the building, carefully laced onto a string and presented in court as ‘evidence’, which made the court room bustle with stifled laughter at the time. Because of the cultural significance and the fact that a gathering is so beneficial to people, I have commenced plans to support hospital patients to hold a weekly ceilidh. I hope this works out.

Back to Cape Town, I noticed horrifying differences between people’s status – some cruising around in stretch limos, others taking their entire families to eat out daily, some living in Hollywood Hills style mansions….and some living rough in car parks and eating out of bins. Many people try to eke a living from helping tourists with luggage and as guides, as artists or selling souvenirs (all politely and non confrontationally, I have to add)  but there is little in the way of social support. The benefit system there is based on what has been paid in to the scheme and when it runs out, it is over.

Years ago, I went to Seoul in South Korea – the city and country life was very different. In the country, women largely stayed and raised children on the funds that the men earned by working themselves incredibly hard in the city. All night, I would see people having meetings and it wasn’t uncommon to see small groups of men sharing a bowl of kimchi soup with tofu at 11pm in a small cafe bar. With obligatory Souju. Older people in the country rarely stopped farming and growing and caring for little family members unless they were very unwell. Several generations lived together, which in that culture and many others gave rise to ‘Love Hotels’ to give married couples a break and some privacy! I digress because I have seen these on hotel booking sites in Brazil too.

I’m heading to Brazil for my son’s wedding in March – I’m already wondering how people support each other in Favelas and in general. What provision is there for social security and care? What about health care for poorer people? How is dementia perceived there? What about older people – are they generally valued and respected? I’m looking forward to finding out.