Sunday, May 30, 2010

Election fever

Election fever dominates the sound waves here since voting takes place finally on Sunday. Just like in South America, cars go around all day blasting their candidate’s names and jingles from huge speakers. 660 people have candidated themselves for the council – il consiglio. They hope to get some financial gain out of it apparently, network in high places; but I still haven’t worked out what the requirements and parameters for candidacy are. Even the young girl in my favourite clothes shop asked me for a vote; so many of her friends were candidates too that she couldn’t count on friends’ and family’s votes alone. So what will you propose be done for women, I asked her. But she hadn’t a clue. She said much was needed for children here, more sports facilities, more playing fields and swimming pools. If anything is needed for children here, it is something of a more educational nature; cultural exchanges, international opportunities, better use of the grants available from the European Union. I am preparing 14 year olds in a local secondary school for the KET Cambridge English exam as part of a well-funded EU scheme for extra-curricular activities; but out of 100 in the year group – ten showed up for the course. Parents obviously not aware how important English will be for their future, and head teachers unable to sufficiently promote it. The standard to English teaching here in schools is not good, by the teachers’ own admission – and from what I have seen; the children were slow to respond to my communicative, interactive techniques, and it is still, after 4 months, difficult to get them to speak in English in pairs, or to me! They are taught by rote, and can parrot off to me the past participle and simple past if I give them the infinitive, but that’s about the height of it. Constructing sentences is a mammoth task for them. Another example of ill-used resources – the internactive whiteboards in a room upstairs in the school complete with overhead projector, but useless because the keyboard to the computer is missing … and there is no internet in the school anyway. Meanwhile I have to use chalk on the blackboard. Reminds me of the wonderful windmills on a hilltop outside the lovely mountain village of Montalbano; these wind energy stations seem to frame the belltower of the town’s duomo, but do little else; they don’t work!

I am disappointed, though, that the shopgirl has no ideas for women; statisics gathered by the donne libere, the women’s group formed here by friends of mine, reveal that the unemployment rate for women in Sicily is 70%, and that thousands of women are violently assaulted, and even killed, in Italy every year; in Sicily only 2% of these women will go to the police about it; but the police, and the doctors who treat their wounds, are likely to tell them to go home nad be a good wife to try and avoid any more trouble. Women are too afraid to report here, and even if they do, have no support system to look after them. Police and doctors need training, the women need free access to counselling and psychologists. This was part of the aim of donne libere; they have already applied for funding and three paid positions within a local structure here where these services would be provided, along with an improvement in child-minding facilities to enable women to work or get to the gym instead of having to rely on family, as is the only option here. But since the reality of this ‘sportello donne’ came onto the horizon, my founder-friend tells me, the come of the women who have been flimsy frequenters of the meetings have now become strident in claiming their right to the paid positions in the sportello donne. Since my friend is now leaving, I fear it will all fall apart, sicne it was her vision and energy which drove the initiative. This would be a great pity since she is doing one of the most useful things for women this town has ever seen. Her networking skills and diplomacy have given the donne libere a visibility and standing which could finally guarantee some positive changes for women here.

Meanwhile, fears that the current mayor will be re-elected prevail. Despite the fact that he and other members of the commune (town council) are implicated in mafia-related extortion concerning the development plans for the waterfront area. The lungomare, generally a scruffy and pretty-much abandoned area all year round except for July and August, was undergoing extensive regenerating, including a walking and cycle path (since the area behind the pebbled beach is rough scree and dirt), and the planting of palm trees. But the work was interrupted because of the ‘regola del 3%’ the rule whereby the mafia get 3% of any funds directed at public works, and another €500 000 requested under threats by these certain members of the commune and the mayor. The investigating judge requested the arrest of these people, but it was refused. So the mayor continues to stand for election. And in the eyes of the populace, who look admiringly at the numerous palm trees he has planted along the restructured concrete piazzas (palm trees also go well with grass, Mr Mayor), the hastily reopened castle despite the many safety hazards (I saw it last Sunday – the mayor even put on a free lunch aperitivo which mio marito and I stumbled on, to our delight – massive walled city and castle, but yes indeed, keep your eyes open and kids on by your side), and the outlandish fireworks displays for local saints’ days – he’s probably doing a great job. A comprehensive, functioning health system with adequate resources? Higher standards of education? Job opportunities? Support for women? Who cares, as long as we’ve got out palm trees.

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