Getting ready for Kosovo.

Ismet Peja performing on television.
Tomorrow I will fly to Nis (Serbia), to get to neighbouring Kosovo. The main reason is to film a Sitdance tutorial there and to meet Ismet Peja, the singer of the song I am using for the sitdance. After a 2-years search I have been able to trace him. He is now 81, his son Vegim 60 is also a singer. Luckily Vegim speaks English as my knowledge of Albanian (most common language in Kosovo) is zero. I am really looking forward to meet them. I learned a choreographed, traditional style dance called Bracno Oro to this music, some decades ago and have loved it ever since. The sitdance will express the essence of the song as well as the dance. The title ‘Martesa Jone’ means our marriage, and if you google it you will find many Youtube clips of people singing it at weddings.
 
Kosovo has experienced war and instability. It has declared independence in 2008 from Serbia and is Europe’s newest country. Not quite recognised by all yet, but it is safe to travel there. Guess what my biggest concern is? Not the political situation, but the fact that I won’t have mobile services as I transit Serbia to get to Kosovo, as it will require yet another (Serbian) sim card. I will need one in Kosovo as the roaming charges of my UK one are just outrageously expensive. So I will have to find my way around the old fashioned way: with maps and asking people :).
 
Who would have thought that one would worry about mobile connection above anything else, say 30 years ago LOL. Below is a link to the video clip of Smet Peja performing the song on television.
https://youtu.be/oB4OKTHH_Rk

A journey of languages

Above is the longest place name in the world: It is Welsh and has 58 letters and many double or even quadruple consonants in a row! The top tongue twister place name I have come across.

Since I left Australia in April I crossed many languages zones, some familiar, others total alien to me.

After I left Australia I had a short stop in Malaysia on my way to Nepal. Bahasa Malaysia I cannot claim to speak, but I can read some of the menu, and speak some basic words, because it is similar to Indonesian, where I have spend some time in the past.

I have been to Nepal many times, so the sound of Nepalese (related to Hindi) is familiar and I can say some basic words to get by. Tibetan was also spoken in the area of Nepal where I was. That is a much harder language for me, so I stuck to English only and lots of smiles. Both languages have their own alphabet, un-decypherable to me.

Next stop was Armenia and Georgia. Armenian is a language related to no other, just like Georgian. If you look at the tree of languages, both languages are on their own on a branch. Both have their own alphabet, especially designed. It took me a while to remember the first few words because my brain could not find any reference for remembering even basic words.

Dutch (and double-Dutch)is my native languages, and despite having left 30 years ago, I understand it all, speak it all, but I doubt it if my grammer is fully up to scratch. I was also fluent in German, but due to the lack of practice I am much less fluent nowadays. In Switzerland I spent time in the Swiss-German speaking area. Swiss-German differs greatly from high German, but previous exposure means I can understand some. Speaking it is a different matter though. I also learned French at school, but that never got beyond the basic conversation level. through my knowledge of French I can decipher some Italian and Spanish as they are all related.

I love the sound of Goidelic languages: the Manx, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I have been many times to Ireland, including to the Gealtacht area where Gaelic is still spoken. I even learned some songs in Gaelic. In Ireland all signs are bilingual and I was surprised how many words I still remembered after having been away for decades.

The Brythonic languages; Welsh, Cornish and Breton Gaelic, are a different cattle of fish and do not sound like the Goidelic ones to me at all. My ears have not had much exposure to them and listen with a puzzled look on my face.

Somehow I manage to make myself understood no matter what language is spoken. Possibly because I am very used to non-verbal and intuitive communication through my work with non-verbal art students  with intellectual disabilities, and recently through my work with non-verbal people living with advanced dementia.

Non-verbal communication requires a different way of ‘tuning-in’ to a person, it requires being 100% present, and lots of intuition. It forces one to be fully present. It intensifies a connection and can make interacting very enjoyable.

It all depends on the weather…

The weather has been just appalling since yesterday, but just as I was about to leave the location I had selected to shoot a video tutorial for the Welsh dance ‘Farewell Marian’, the very wet drizzle stopped (and started, then stopped, started and then stoped again), juuuuuust long enough to film the 2 tutorials, PHEW!

Luckily I was prepared with a sheet of plastic to protect my laptop that needs to play the music, and an umbrella to protect my camera. There was a walking track next to where I was doing the filming. I could hear passers crunching their brains trying to figure out what on earth this guy was doing when they saw an empty folding chair standing in the rain, and me huddled next to the tripod with camera shielding it from the drizzle with an umbrella. Gives them something to talk about tonight doesn’t it 🤣.

I was looking for a pond, as it features the story behind the dance. What I got was not just a pond but also a castle, and not just any castle, but the one where Henry the 8th was born (Pembroke, Wales).

This dance will feature in the ‘Sitdance with the Celts’ programme, a Sitdance journey through the six celtic nation on the edges of Europe. I Visited 5 nations thus far: Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales, the last one is Brittany, the far west corner of France.

Dance to Remember is now available on DVD!

I am pleased to announce that the Dance to Remember Sitdance Programme is now available as a 2-DVD set. It can be purchased through the Nontropolis shop, or Sitdance shop. World-wide shipping is available at reasonable prices, allow 2 weeks for shipping. When shopping, please note that all prices are in Australia Dollars. A link to an online currency calculator can be found in the shop.

Dance to remember was already available as Download/streaming option. I trust that the DVD will suit many Activity Coordinators/ Lifestyle Coordinator.

Have a ball!!!

Marcel Baaijens

Creator of Sitdance.

 

Meaningful, non-verbal, dementia friendly interaction.

As dementia progresses, it may become harder to have meaningful interactions. I combine principles of Base Stimulation, Holistic Pulsing, and Sitdance to establish a non-verbal interaction that is enjoyable and meaningful for all.

In this video I still used linguistic communication as Anne did comprehend, and also because it was a demonstration, but it can totally be done without words.

Music and songs provide a time frame, songs activate the voice and soul, simple pulsing/handdances activate the body and establish non-verbal contact. It can be subtle, but that does not mean its less effective or less meaningful.

Once words fall away, we have an opportunity to intuit, to ‘tune-in’ to the person. It is an opportunity to connect at a different level, a heart level, an opportunity to be truly present, resulting in quality time spent with a loved one.

Care staff may not have much time available for one-on-one interaction. For family members this may be a valuable tool to make visits enjoyable and meaningful. Training sessions for groups available on request.

A parting shot from Ireland.

After a hectic couple of weeks it is time to move from Ireland to England, Wales and Cornwall. I will be flying across today and continue camping in a van there. This has given me valuable freedom in Ireland. Most days I do not know where I will end up. At some stage during the day, the final destination always reveals itself, and generally for a good reason. I love this way of travel. It allows you to be in the ‘zone’ or 100% intuitive as to where one should travel.

So far most my destinations are related to Sitdance work, some for travel photography and stories that complement the Sitdance work. I collected lots of photos, videos and stories as I do everywhere, which, once winter comes, I hope to have time to edit and publish.

By late October I hope to have gathered all the materials I need for another 3 future Sitdance programmes and a training programme about my non-verbal, meaningful interaction methodology for use with those in advanced (often non-verbal) stages of dementia. Care staff may not have much time to do one-on-one work. However, family members may be pleased to learn how to non-verbally interact in a way that is enjoyable for all and offers a meaningful occupation of quality time together.

After the U.K. the following countries are still on the to do list: The Netherlands, France, Kosovo and Greece. After that it will be time to hibernate somewhere nice for a few months to turn everything into a cohesive whole.

Thanks again for being a witness to, and a part of my journey. I hope you will continue to do so as I enjoy your company very much. I am lucky that I get to meet people I know in most countries, but second best to that is your virtual company.

I leave you with a parting shot from Ireland: a spiritual, impressive landscape with one of the most friendliest, musical, and warmhearted peoples in the world, for sure.

Dingle Dazzle

‘Going with the flow’ is my favourite thing. Sometimes it is easy, other times life events can get in the way. However today was a great flow day. It did not start out that way though. I sprained by lower back a few days ago making moving about in a small campervan a bit of a challenge. Sitting, standing, lying down, there was not a single position that was comfortable, making it hard to tune in to a sense of adventure.

After visiting a nursing home I gave up work and choose to nurture my body instead. The nearest swimming pool was some 70km away. The pain was exhausting.  I needed a nana nap a few kilometres before I reached the pool. It rained heavily as I crawled under my blanket and before I knew it I fell into a deep sleep. The thunder of a passing truck woke me. Like an old man I crawled out of bed and back behind the steering wheel. The visit to the pool and the hot steam room relaxed my tense muscles and eased the pain a bit. I could start tuning in to the road ahead.

I looked at the map and the west coast of Ireland was calling with a promise of dramatic interactions between light, sky, sea and landscapes. As I got closer to town of Tralee, the skies cleared, the showers lessened. Dingle peninsula was not much further and with enough daylight left it became the destination for the day. Reaching the coast was immediately rewarded with a stunning view of Dingle peninsula across the bay. A conveniently placed parking lot made stopping possible. By this time I was very hungry, but that had to wait, a little snack had to do for the best light of the day would not wait.

The further I drove, the better the scenery got, but also the hungrier I got. I stopped near a beach to make a quick omelet. I managed to not feel guilty about eating. It proved to be the necessary delay that allowed inspiration for the last leg of the day to materialise.

I looked on the map and discovered a tiny road crossing the mountain ridge of the peninsula. I punched in a destination into my phone and turned on the navigation, allowing me to focus on the journey rather than the route. As I turned off the main road there was a sign warning drivers that there is a steep road ahead. The Irish sign shows a vehicle on an almost 45 degree slope. A bit exaggerated I thought, but the sign was not kidding.

The road narrowed to a single lane, bopped up and down and wobbled left to right as it climbed higher and higher. The van I am driving has a powerful engine and had no problem navigating the tricky terrain. Luckily I encountered no other traffic.

Choosing a road less travelled is always rewarding, and this one was no exception. The stunning views, the electrifying light, the dazzling colours, and the wild spiritual landscape made my soul sing.

But nothing is permanent and as the daylight faded, the spectacle was over. Time to head back to civilization, find a warm cozy pub, and edit the photos for an encore.

 

Discovering paintings from the past.

As I travel around the world, I come across sketches and watercolours I painted in the late 70’s, and 80’s. I used to paint and draw on location. It is not art with a capital ‘A’, but I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process and the opportunity it provided to linger and ‘take in’ more of the locality I was visiting. It allowed me to intuitively connect with the subject matter before me. As a result I still remember where every sketch or watercolour was made, which is not the case with photos.

 

This watercolour, at my sister’s house is of a wonky old farm near Delft, Netherlands. This area lies below sea level and its soils are soft, causing buildings to sag and sink. The brick area on the right are the living quarters. The left is the barn area of the farmhouse. Most likely the house part was build with better foundations or on firmer soils. 

 

I am still planning to get back to painting and sketching as I travel, but at the moment producing Sitdancing programmes take priority this year. So for now I will stick to photography till I can afford to slow down, sit still, and once again more intensely absorb the places I visit..

Filming “My Bonnie lies over the Ocean”.

Take one:

I found a beautiful location to film the tutorial for “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”. There are many cute little harbours on the Isle of Man, but Port St. Mary proofed to be the right location with great scenery, the sun at the right angle, and very little chance of people getting in the way, or so I thought.

I was halfway through the first take when a woman decided to take photos of the boats on the water behind me. Oblivious to the film shoot in progress she wandered right on to the set. There was little I could do but wait patiently till she was gone.

Take two:

I cued the music, prepped the camera, ready for action. Nobody to be seen. I press the buttons and set on the folding chair. Just as I was about to start the pebbles supporting one leg of the folding chair gave way and I sank backwards. My arms tried to stop me from falling with the most peculiar balancing moves in all sort of directions. Luckily I did not keel over. I stopped the camera,  found some flat stones to support the leg, levelled the chair, and started all over again.

Take three:

Off with a good start I became hopeful that this would be the final take till, almost at the end, a few infamous midges (very tiny flies that inhabit this part of the world) arrived and started biting me. I managed to keep a straight face and finished the recording before the sun moved into a blinding position. Phew! I was a few bites richer, but also a tutorial. Job done!

Depending on the time of year there are two times lots each day that are suitable for filming. One a few hours after sunrise and one a few hours before sunset. Being able to figure out where the sun will be at the time of filming is essential. By now I am pretty good at making an estimated guess, but it is a guess nevertheless until I return the next day for the shoot. A short little video can sometimes take a few days to film and that does not include the editing. So it is very satisfying when in the end the music, the footage and the voice-overs all come together in a tutorial that works.

 

 

 

 

It is just a stunning day on the Isle of Man. I am here to film new Sitdance tutorials for the ‘Sitdance with the Celts’ programme. Any place looks good on a stunning day of course, but the the combination of unspoiled landscapes, both natural and man-made, buildings that seem to grow out of the landscape, or have been part of it for centuries, is just a fantastic recipe for soul nurturing beauty. It is wonderful to be in this part of there world. This almost abstract view is of the ruins ofPeel Castle, on the west side of the island. 

Visit to a day centre for the elderly in Tbilisi, Georgia

 

Today I had the opportunity to visit a place for elders in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Georgia is a very poor country and so I was expecting a very basic facility. I had no further information, but my landlord/host arranged the visit and came along to act as my translator. I had no idea what it would be like, but I grabbed my camera just in case. To my surprise it was located in one of the main streets of Tbilisi, a boulevard really with grand monumental buildings. It is quarter build by the Germans in the 1800’s. The building is as grand as all the others in this street that has been restored to its former glory.

This patron insisted that I photograph her. She got up and stood there proudly.

The interior matched the exterior with grand rooms and the most wonderful furniture. It is a day centre where elders can visit, socialise, and eat for free. There is a small area for permanent residents, but there is no medical or nursing care. It can accommodate 14 residents, but only eight are living there right now. During the day they can use the facilities of the day centre.

There is some serious macrame works decorating the building, all made by one man. It looks like an outsider art collection really. Some works are 3 meter tall.

I met some delightful characters today.

The day centre comes equipped with sitting areas, nooks for paying board games, a wonderful library, a room with an indoor aviary surrounded by chairs so patrons can sit and watch the birds, a beautifully decorated orthodox chapel and… a theatre. The funding comes from a few rich individuals or companies. The government owns the building. Paid staff, as well as volunteers, keep the place running.

Rehearsals in the little in-house theatre.

I was there just in time to witness a rehearsal in the theatre, and what a joy that was. The a cappella singing in typical Georgian fashion was incredible, raising hopes that I might be able to find a song or melody and some Georgian dance moves for a new Sitdance. Wouldn’t that be cool? Management is very keen on any form of collaboration, so watch this space.

 A patron and Tata, my guide at the day facility.

Getting from A to B, the Armenian way.

Getting from A to B, the Armenian way.

A farewell photo with my very helpful Armenian friend Tigran

.It is always much harder to get out of a big city than a small town. Yerevan, Armenian’s capital, must be one of the hardest cities to escape. I wanted to travel by bus, as I prefer to travel like a local. I said goodbye to my Armenian friend in Yerevan and took the ‘sardine express’, a neighbourhood microbus crammed with people to the rafters.

The ‘sardine express’.

Then switched to the stark but spacious metro to one of the many bus stations to find a bus that could take me to Goris, a small town in the south of Armenia, my destination for the day. But… there was no bus, nor at another station I tried, despite information provided by a guidebook and locals. I had the choice between a four-hour wait in the city with my bags or a shared, most likely unregistered taxi, which leaves once full. A shared taxi I choose. It is 11.38. So far there were two passengers and it seemed the driver is hunting for more.

Yerevan Metro.

The word ‘taxi’ does not equate luxury. It’s a station wagon with little leg space, a cracked windscreen, and a steering wheel on the wrong side. But is has Armenian carpets as seat covers and a crucifix dangling from the rear view mirror, so I hope we will fly like a magic carpet and be protected by divine forces. It will be interesting to see when I get to Goris.

Crusifix dangling from the rear-view mirror.

It is early May. Nature is awakening and the snows have almost gone, but so have many parts of the road surface. Once you leave Armenia’s capital Yerevan, the road turns to custard. Holes, bumps, and more bumps, sometimes so bad that drivers move to the other side of the road to avoid them. That is not the only thing they need to avoid. Herds of sheep use this highway too.

A herd of sheep on the highway.

12:23 Taxi is full and we are on our way. And when I say “full”, I mean full!. It was a wise decision to leave my suitcase in Yerevan and travel with one medium and one small daypack, which are easier to stow. This is not suitcase territory. My driver is the fastest on the road, overtaking every car in front of him at the most impossible locations or moments, like when he is on his mobile phone. I try not to look, as siting in the back there is nothing I can do but hope that he knows what he is doing. Sometimes he overtakes with only seconds to spare… The suspension is struggling and so is my body. Siting in the third row, right above the rear wheels I feel every bump reverberating through my spine, despite the Armenian carpets covering the seats.

Armenian carpets as seat covers.

The landscape is just stunning. Reminding me of Outback of Australia. It’s arid, rocky wild. Moody overcast weather adds to the feeling of otherworldlyness. The heavily tinted windows act as a gloomy brown filter. Oh I wished I could get out whenever I wanted to photograph this amazing landscape.

The tinted windows give the landscape a gloomy look.

After about two hours the car needed petrol and the passengers were allowed to get out. I climbed from my third row seat through the door of the second row. To my relief I discovered that my legs were still able to stretch and that the blood was still flowing.

 

Toilet sign in Armenian and Russian.

I recognised the Russian word for toilet and dashed. Not that I ever learned the word or the Russian alphabet but when the need is high, the brain learns fast. It was a squatting toilet. My knees were grateful that I did not need to squat. I was hungry too. I had barely grabbed a savoury pastry before we were rushed back into the taxi. Wrong petrol station, the right one was about a mile down the road. Yay, we get to get out again!

The petrol station.

Still hungry and little choice on offer, I bought an elongated donut filled with potato. It was so greasy and gross that I could not finish it. Why is roadside food the world over so poor in quality and disgusting? Armenian food can be so delicious! With the petrol tank filled, it is back inside for another two hours off the pothole slalom and overtaking derby.

A greasy potato-filled doughnut.

Chansons by Charles Aznavour, a famous French-Armenian singer tried to sooth the senses, as if a four-hour crammed and cramped taxi ride on a bumpy road with a mad driver is the most romantic thing one can do. The once popular Greek singer Demis Roussos has a go as well. I am pleasantly surprised that my grumpy driver is playing such an international repertoire of music. I am daydreaming of decompressing my body in a bath at my Goris hotel. Yeah right! Or as my Dutch grandmother would have said: “Oh Ja?” This is Armenia!

Charles Aznavour.

We just crossed a pass of 2320m with a sign saying “Silk Road”. THE Silk Road, the one I have been dreaming off travelling on my entire life, but whenever I had the opportunity there was a war somewhere making it impossible. Unfortunately I could not take a selfie with the sign to prove that I was there. We remain at high altitude for a while. It must be cold outside as snow is only a little higher up the slopes. People have set up tiny stalls along the way, trying to sell a few potatoes, or fruits. There is not a town insight, so I wonder where they have come from and why they have chosen such Godforsaken spots.

Goris, Armenia.

16:38 Goris, some five hours after I got in the taxi. I checked into my hotel for the night. It is poring with rain, but I don’t care, I am desperate for a good long walk and a wholesome meal.

Activity Resource for Aged Care Staff:

Questions to ask your residents and searches to undertake to foster further interest:

  1. Where is Armenia?
  2. Which countries share borders with Armenia?
  3. What does the Armenian and Russian alphabets look like?
  4. Who has heard of Charles Aznavour, a world famous French-Armenian singer?
  5. Can you name any of his songs? (find some on Youtube).
  6. Who has heard of the greek Demis Roussos (popular in 60’s-70’s?).
  7. Do you know any of his songs? (check out Youtube)
  8. Who had protective objects in their car like a crusifix or saint or similar.
  9. How much do you think a four-hour shared taxi ride would cost in Armenia? (6000 AMD)
  10. How much is 6000 Dram (AMD) in your currency?