Considering the large part of my posts have been about the trips out, I figured I`d spend most of this one talking about the actual placement. Just a quick note first about our trip to Kyoto last weekend to see the Geisha (Geiko/Maiko) dancing at the Gion Odori. I bought several grammar books in an attempt to aid my studying, a new jacket and a hair cut – although a little different to my usual, so I`ll be able to see what my hair looks like longer in a few weeks I think…
*Anyway* – The dance was very interesting, pretty much as I`d pictured it to be after reading `Memoirs of a Geisha` (which must be a testiment to the author`s superb writing ability). Although unexpected was the slightly comical `Nasu to Kabocha` song (Aubergine/Eggplant and Pumpkin) – the Geisha performing the dance did it very well. I would have liked to have been able to understand the lyrics more fully, but you get an idea of the story each dance depicts through the motions. Overall, a very good – very traditional – experience. The other noteworthy thing I liked in Kyoto was walking down one of the smaller sidestreets. It couldn`t have been more than two meters wide but was packed on each side with a variety of restaurants and small bars. Each one seemed to be marked with it`s respective individual lantern, so the dark alleyway was plotted with orange and yellow glows like floating orbs and intriguing entranceways leading down into the ground and into the buildings.
Okay, enough travel talk. It`s approaching 2 1/2 months at Shiso Home now, and I`m now at a point where I know most of the residents I work with and nearly all the staff. I`ve been attempting conversation on a daily basis with everyone, even though my Japanese is progressing very slowly, which makes the time much more enjoyable. I`ve found it to be perfectly true how, working with the handicapped, you learn to see the person behind the disability. I can say with no doubt that I greet them more as friends and acquaintances now, like all the staff, than as subjects just to work with.
Certain residents have captured my interest more than others, inevitably, but each one recieves individual care necessary for their disability. Hashudo-san is probably the one I find funniest. Aside from ripping up the craft projects, he has an insatiable desire for boushi (hats) and more recently, my camera ^_^;. He`ll wear pretty much anything with pride, if it sticks to his shiny head, especially if there`s music to dance to at the same time. It`s one of those things that is very difficult to explain and appreciate without having seen some pictures or having met him, but he has a toothy grin and a sharp crinkle at the corners of his eyes when he smiles; an expression that just beckons a hearty laugh I find ^_^;.
I usually work in the B-living area, mainly with residents Kuriyama-san and Hinakura-san. Kuriyama-san is a drool factory when he`s excited, and has an affinity for any number of boxes, paper and card – continually taking them from around the home and storing them in his room. It`s difficult to find humour in his actions, as hair-pulling generally doesn`t make me want to laugh, but all the same, he wouldn`t be Kuriyama-san without his little quirks, so I like him for that. Hinakura-san is another resident who has an odd `hobby` – playing with his flies zip and any other object within easy reach. He seems to find my cleaning duties rather hilarious though, when I`m down on the floor with a cloth; always laughing in a sort of bashful, instinctive way. He laughs when he`s shy though as well, I`m told, but all the same, it`s hard not to like him because he smiles so much. I have noticed that just a simple act such as smiling really brings out the best in people – it`s perhaps a reason why I`m difficult to approach, because I`m usually frowning in thought.
Yamaguchi Youko-san is another resident who always gets laughs from the staff. She has a habit of rubbing her hands together (for which she has some pretty painful blisters :\) and shouting random words. We (Jess and I) have found it possible to teach her phrases to recite (that are slightly more family-friendly than `ahou` and `bakatara` (both idiot)). She`s learnt my name now, and seems to know who it refers to, generally saying it when I`m around. Just small things like this make you realise that there is activity there, somewhere, and drives you to bring out the best in each person. It`s particularly funny when she learns lyrics to songs and sings along to them – even the English songs on GAP program!
Kaminishi-san has Down`s Syndrome and finds it difficult to open his eyes, moving very slowly around the home. For such a small guy, he seems to have an amazing aura though – very gentle and laid-back. Again, it`s getting him to do things like sit-ups and crafts that make you realise he isn`t incapable at all. Miki-san is Jess`s main resident to care for. She loves drawing, videos and is extremely curious about everything. Just last week she was photographing the other residents during GAP program with my camera – watching the display with that wide-eyed uninhibited interest ^^. The old ladies who regularly attend the activites throughout the week are very sweet as well. Even though it`s difficult to talk with them (some of the residents can speak Japanese), silly little things like high-fives, peace signs and basic `daijyobu desu ka`s (are you okays) really help the rapport among the home. A couple of them taught me origami a couple of weeks ago, so I can now make one of those impressive festival balls (which I forget the name of unfortunately).
Toyozumi-san is an odd resident whom I had mixed feelings on at first. He tried to commit suicide at the age of 30, and starved oxygen to his brain. He`s very sensitive to people interacting with him, and often flips out, shouting, dancing around and trying to bite you. It probably sounds worse than it is, and I was more sorry for him at first than anything. Now that I`ve worked with him for a while though, it`s getting better – I see the funny side rather than pity him. Even occasionally at bath time with Danbayashi-san (one of the male staff), I`ve seen him laugh at some boxing jokes!
There are many other residents I could write about, but I get the feeling it might be a little boring – like I`m a situation that can`t really be described to the same extent as I experience it. The general atmosphere in the home is positive. We have four living areas, each where a certain group of residents reside, and all dine together at lunch. The staff have allocated residents and areas to look after, so they can give personal attention. Some of the residents also have jobs, such as cleaning in the home, working in the bakery upstairs, the Cheshire factory that produces wooden toys, or maintaining the vegetables and plants. As the brochure implies, it is much more of a Home than a rehabilitation facility, so the emphasis is on a family environment with the staff there to help things run smoothly. On my vists to Harima and Hanshin Homes, things have been very different, perhaps because the majority of residents are in wheelchairs and have more serious physical handicaps. Each home has a different feel though, just the structure of the building, the staff, even the fact that Shiso has a door ringtone when it opens. I say I probably wouldn`t have liked to have been at a different Home than Shiso, but I imagine I may have grown to like the others in different ways too. I guess the translation `Shiso/Harima/Hanshin Jiritsu no Ie` (Shiso/Harima/Hanshin Independent Home) says it all.
Well, I`ve gone on long enough about things now and I think I`m attracting the interest of the Ichinomiya Town Hall staff (I`m using the free Internet here) having been on about an hour and a half. I`ll keep things updated as best I can.
Just before I go – Lianne, Simon, Jenni, Chris (Mepham), Rosina – I recieved all your letters and am replying to them at the moment – expect them soon ^_^. I also send a parcel home today as well, so I hope it arrives safely. As other readers may have guessed, I`m really not able to check my email a whole lot anymore, so use a letter for anything other than a quick note if you want to talk ^_^. Take care everyone!