The Great-Grandmothers of Lipah
We are evaluating potential projects, lunch for school kids, water supply for the 100 families on the hill, support of sportive and cultural activities of young people and a tourism website for our village: Every subject is discussed at length with a small group of locals. Then, our neighbour Ibu Wimega tells us about old people who live scattered up the hills. They are lonely, she says, often, they have only rice to eat, they need medical help. We want to get an idea about the situation and, together with her and one of the village officials, we want to pay a visit to two old ladies who live high up the hill behind our house. Prior to this, however, we gather some information on how old people are cared for in this country. We are told that parents who are old and cannot work any more are traditionally cared for by their sons. Pointed questions reveal that rest homes for the elderly are completely unknown here. The family takes care of its members.
All this information cannot prepare us for what we are going to see soon. With motorbikes we drive up the steep hill. The roads are only partially paved. Then, we discover some small houses. We teeter over volcanic stones and rocks, which are scattered all over the garden. The walls of the tiny house made from thin wattled bamboo seems to have more holes than material. We seriously doubt that anything could stay dry inside this house during the rainy season. In the kitchen a basket with a pot of cooked rice is hanging from the corrugated iron roof over a floor of loam. The only room of the house is nearly full containing only one bed without mattrass.
An old woman is sitting in front of the house, grey-white hair, a much too big shirt around her scrawny body, but nonetheless, she has an air of dignity and a wrinkled face of unexpected beauty. She welcomes us cautiously, apologises for the lack of hospitality in her house. Hesitantly, we present our questions which she answers with good grace. She doesn't know her age. When Mount Agung erupted last time, meaning 1963, she already had two sons. We estimate her age at 75. Her husband died more than 10 years ago, she says. She has 8 children and countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of her sons lives next door with his family. During the day she is alone. Everybody works down in the hotels. When we ask her why she lives up here and not with one of her sons down in the village she shakes her head. Here are the memories of her life, here is her home. She needs her independency. She doesn't want to leave and even less to be a burden to somebody.
Ah. There it is again, the balinese pride, which we have encountered many times before. It is deep-rooted in mentality and culture. You do not ask for help. You do not even accept help if you have nothing to give in return. But when we talk about her health the tide turns. She has chronic pain in her back, her shoulders and her arms. A life of hard work takes its toll. She would appreciate the visit of a doctor. Also, she is prepared to accept a little food.
We hear pretty much the same story from the other old lady even further up the hill. She is nearly blind, but she hobbles, leaning on a stick of bamboo, barefooted through the scrub searching for firewood. She, too, doesn't know her age. She, too, is in constant pain and would like to see a doctor, providing that her son gives her permission to do so.
We are deep in thought on our way back home. We want to help. It is not possible to meet these people and not to help. But we are aware that we must help without compromising their dignity and pride. Not an easy task, but we have definitely found our first major project.