Already, after four days here Africa seems very far away, like a ‘wrinkle in time’ (title of Madeleine L’Engel’s children’s book). I’m used to wearing sweaters again and warming up my cherry pit bag in the microwave to take to bed with me. It’s been cold here – so cold the newly emerged corn is looking a sickly yellow. The cool weather crops are thriving. The canola is ending the blooming stage, the barley is mostly headed and the sugar beets don’t mind the cold either. Robert keeps commenting on how heavily fertilized the wheat fields look. Almost all cereal crops are winter crops – seeded last fall, so are knee high or more.
Our discussions, once dominated by African small farmer issues, now circle around the problem of care for Robert’s parents, and his mother’s increasing dementia. The family feels increased help is needed; the parents don’t agree. The tension between respecting your parents’ wishes and their real needs is difficult!
The village of Schleitheim offers a good network of services. Already a woman comes to clean once a week, a nurse comes to shower Grandma weekly and they receive a daily hot meal service. The problem is that Grandma insists she can do everything just fine herself. A strong self-sufficient woman who has raised seven children and long worked hard on the farm, it is impossible for her deteriorating mind to comprehend that she should now be incapable of looking after herself and Grandpa.
She’s finally accepted the meal service – I think it’s just become a part of life now. But she fights the cleaning lady. If no one is there she’ll send the lady packing again, with $50 to compensate her for coming. Thankfully she doesn’t know which day of the week it is anymore, so we can ‘cheat’ her.
It’s the hardest for Grandpa. He has to be here 24/7, listen to the same comments all day, fight for things, and look for everything she’s misplaced. He’s getting visibly tired – both of them are 87 years old.
When Africans hear we put our aging parents in senior lodges, they think we’re cruel. For them, it is only right to take care of their parents to their death. It’s not easy for them either – usually there is a good amount of sacrifice involved.
I tell them our lodges are safe, caring places where our parents are well taken care of. There are no such places in Zambia for ordinary citizens.
Even for us, the idea of eventually settling Grandma and Grandpa in the lodge is very difficult. But just in the last few days again I’ve seen how much patience parental care could take. It’s easier to go to Africa…