This afternoon I took a trip down to the Chinese old age home in Belgravia, just past Jeppestown. I wanted to meet some older Chinese people, who would be able to let me know a little about traditional weddings and what marriage means to the Chinese. When I arrived, I learnt the lesson I have been learning over and over again this year.
You hardly ever come home with the story, you went to look for.While I was recording an interview with Sister Maureen who works at the old age home, my attention was drawn to a little Chinese woman, who was pitter pattering about in the courtyard.
“She hops from one chair to the other, taking a moment to sit still in each, perfectly poised. She looks down in conversation with herself and every now and again little giggles escape from her, and fill the air. This is Piyong, A 52 year old Chinese womn, who suffers from Down syndrome. Suffers is not the right word.She pitter patter’s around the court yard, peering curiously at all the other old woman. A sheepish grin spreads to her face, before an effervescent giggle from her heart fills the atmosphere .
That’s the thing about Piyong. “She would have been really lonely in China, but she is happy here, in her own little world ”says Sister Maureen.That’s the thing. She is happy. A happiness that is so simple, uncomplicated by words or frivolous translations thereof. Piyong cannot speak anyway, she has mastered one word though: Mama. Perhaps the most important for any living human.
Piyong is alive, she is life, unphased by the stillness around her, she moves from seat to seat as if playing a little game. After she pauses deep in thought, she slips away, and appears again to peer at me through a stack of chairs. Her curious eyes light up as I raise my camera and she throws her head back giggling in the simplest purest moment of ecstasy that I have never seen. I don’t know what she thinks of, when she stills. I don’t know what she sees in her mind when she quietens for a few a seconds, when she comes back to us though, she is laughing always.
Meeting my eyes with a bold confidence, Piyong stares into my camera as if she had been waiting for this moment all her life. Again, she peers at the elder woman sitting across from her and a little grin finds its way onto her small face. I looked away from a minute to adjust my camera and when I looked up, Piyong was pulling out a packet of Marie biscuits . A Chinese man had come to the old age home last week and bought with him, some biscuits and milk for the residents. Piyong has guarded hers, with her heart.
she holds the packet in her hand and quietens, before long she giggles again and makes her way back to her fort behind the chairs. I can’t see her now, but I can hear her giggling, mumbling sweet nothings and everything to herself.
Piyong came to the old age home after her family lost everything they had when the civil war broke out in Maputo. She is at the Old age home with her mother and her aunt, they are all illegal immigrants. There is no way she will ever return to China. She will never go anywhere, except the places she goes to go alone. When I woke up today, I never went to look for a story about a down syndrome Chinese Woman, but what have I come home with? A story of happiness, purity, simplicity and life- Piyong’s story.