Thursday, October 25, 2007

Senior Citizens Parliament

Yesterday was a very good day. Last week I spent most of one day in a pre-workshop for the Limpopo Senior Citizen's Parliament and, knowing that my supervisor was scheduled to be away at a workshop, I asked if I could go along. The big day was yesterday.

I was "supposed" to get picked up at 7:30 for the 9:00 event. (My village is straight south of Lebowagkomo, where the Provincial Parliament meets and about 45 min or an hour away.) I totally knew that no one would be there for some time, but I went early because there was NO WAY I was going to miss the taxi! It eventually got me at 9:00, but some of the others had been waiting since 6:00! I just stayed out of the sun, read my book, and ROASTED in my suit jacket (the choice was between being hot and being sunburnt). We had a really nice taxi. It even had a DVD player! So, we alternated between watching a miracle preacher save some kid who hadn't walked for 15 years and the previews for a Nigerian movie (and anyone whose seen those can tell you that they're...special). We couldn't watch much of either because I don't think the driver could drive and manipulate the DVD controls at the same time. It was so amazingly bizarre.

I absolutely loved the group that went from our Municipality. I sat with one tate (lit. father) for a long time during the event. We couldn't really talk, but he was so kind and lovely. Two women from a village west of Jane Furse spoke (there were loads of observers and carefully limited speakers) and I was so, so impressed by their candor, their bravery and their insights. I mean, to get up in front of a full house in your legislature and talk about sexual abuse against old women? I thought they were amazing. And I told them so, afterwards! One of them was so excited by it all that she took me by the hand and we talked all the way to the food tent. I'm going to go and visit their pensioners club soon, hopefully.

Four topics were discussed: 1) pensions and pension pay points (many people go to a certain place on a certain day of the month to get their money in cash and sometimes have to wait for hours and hours and get harassed by vendors, funeral parlors, etc.); 2) Care and services for the elderly (Home Based Care, old age homes, etc.); 3) impact of HIV/AIDS on seniors (many of whom end up caring for dying children and the orphaned grandchildren, some become infected because their children haven't disclosed their status, they don't know about proper handling for people with HIV/AIDS, or they don't have gloves); and 4) Contributions of seniors to the quality of life (lots seemed to be about sharing culture and morals).

There were some fantastic ideas. Like: little care packages with wipes and water for the people waiting for their pensions (not to mention making toilets available) or giving away GLOVES at the government clinics, the way condoms are available. Lots of people called for more education, whether about HIV/AIDS or better ways to manage your pension income. Of course, one of the biggest rounds of applause for the day came when someone suggested more corporal punishment was the way to stop the spread of HIV. I got a lot out of it, because someone gave me a translation device! Now if only those worked in the village....

It was also an interesting cultural day. Everyone was wearing their best clothes and it was so much fun to look at the different ones: Venda, Southern Sotho, Pedi, Swati and so on. Awesome! And they even had a special table of food for people on a no salt diet...which was so me! Of course, I'd only just recovered from a very, very bad "running stomach" (yes, that means what you think it does) so I was taking it easy.

I think the part that I liked best of all came at the beginning. Someone (who I think was important, but I'm not sure who he was) spoke for a long time to open the event. And he made a point that I thought was important, but probably blindingly obvious to everyone there. He talked a lot about how these older people were the ones who have the most to tell us kids about life under apartheid, how they were the ones who lived through it the longest and fought against it. I think that my favorite people here are the old ones and I can't wait to get to know them better. (Bonus: if they worked in Joberg (which many did), they tend to speak great English!)

Oh, yeah, and I'm pretty psyched that I got to visit the Provincial Parliament (that's like the State Legislature). It was a lot like a college campus, really, with lots of government agencies in different buildings. And pretty much no ornamentation (but then, the Indiana General Assembly doesn't have to spend much on translating equipment). It was such a great day and one of the best I've had in South Africa.