Malta is a small island archipelago situated between Sicily and Tunisia. In total there are three islands, in size order they are Malta, Gozo, and Comino. The islands are home to ancient temples, beautiful beaches, and a culture grounded in religion and siestas; the latter two aspects which many of my informants have cited as being “perfectly Maltese”. I came to the sister island of Gozo to pursue ethnographic research at a field school specifically tailored for young cultural anthropologists. The project specifications were loose as the main goal was to allow the students to develop our own methods and find our way in the elusive place called ‘the field’.
My particular research took place in the village of San Lawrenz. With only 745 residents, the village is centralized in the main square or pjazza which has a restaurant, a bar, a small convenience store, and a church. This village stuck out to me during my preliminary research because it is known to be “Dementia Friendly”. I was intrigued by this distinction and upon arriving was amazed by the efforts taken to create a space that allows those living with dementia to exist autonomously depending on their stage of the disease.
For this to happen, collaboration had to occur between the local council and the Maltese government. Individuals from the government hosted talks and provided printed information outlining what dementia is, the risks associated, and certain actions which can be taken to protect the mental and physical state of those living with the disease. San Lawrenz was chosen specifically because of its small size and because it has a large elderly home near its main square. Aside from raising awareness, signs were also installed which included a larger and bolder font, a yellow outline, and photos (See image below) . These along with signs informing drivers a large and concentrated elderly population lives nearby ensure that individuals can find their way safely.
After speaking with the director of the elderly home it was clear that a lot more goes into maintaining stable care for an individual living with dementia. The family unit and community are cited as being essential aspects both for the person with dementia and any individuals that care for them as this syndrome in particular can be extremely isolating.
This opportunity allowed me to grasp the complexities of ethnographic research and made me aware of my passion for conducting research which is able to impact communities in a positive way. The Eugene Lang Opportunity Award helped bring this project to fruition and I couldn’t be more thankful for their support. I am excited to continue to work with my findings to produce my undergraduate thesis in which I hope to emphasize the importance of autonomy and agency while an individual experiences the natural effects of aging.