Eloisa, a Cuban Representing Many Retirees

Having a decent pair of shoes is a fantasy for many Cuban retirees.

HAVANA TIMES – In an increasingly aging society, senior citizens see satisfying their most basic needs as a dream. In Cuba, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access footwear and clothing, especially for retirees. Eloisa does not want to give her last name because she is embarrassed, she says. At 73, she is one of those pensioners who suffers from the burden of scarcity and lack of resources despite having worked her entire life.

HT: Describe life for a retiree today? 

Eloisa: Very tough, barely enough to eat poorly for a few days. Everything has gone up, food, medicine, gas, electricity, all services. That’s not to mention the scarcity and the lines. Prices seem like they’re from another country. Not to mention buying something essential like a pair of shoes.

Is that the worst for you?

Right now, I couldn’t tell you, but luckily, I don’t have to follow a medical diet, I can eat whatever appears. However, buying shoes is a dream. I don’t know how people with school-age children manage without any help. More and more, I think about the past, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for older people, but that nostalgia is natural. As a child and teenager, I always had access to any type of footwear, clothing, and handbags for any occasion, be it parties, graduations, or even funerals.

So how was your transition to total scarcity?

It doesn’t happen suddenly, of course. I was a primary school teacher, I earned little. Salaries have never been much in this country, where you always have to be thinking about what you’re going to eat next, but occasionally I could buy something. With retirement, it was a disaster, and the final blow was that Ordering thing [the economic reforms of 2021]. Recently, from having two pairs of reinforced and glued shoes I don’t know how many times, I went to having only one pair, which suffered total deterioration. Currently, my sneakers don’t have very good soles. I improve them with cardboard that I change every time it rains, you can imagine that I’ve caught cold, had fungi, and been looked down upon for this situation. It’s totally impossible for me to dream of being able to work, even as a cleaning person or washing dishes, much less as a caregiver. I’m still useful, but it’s hard for me to get something.

I imagine it’s totally impossible for you to buy shoes in the stores.

Of course. With a pension check of 1600 pesos (less than 5 USD), I either eat, bathe, or buy a pair of shoes. I’ve often fantasized about saving a little money, but when I reach mid-month, I give up. Shoes are an increasingly distant dream. Starting with the fact that stores sell in MLC (magnetic dollars) and my check is equivalent to five or six MLC.

The state stores sell in MLC the magnetic dollars.

Near my house, there are several private stores that sell sneakers for 5,000 pesos, and others by artisans that offer sandals, sneakers, and loafers, almost all costing 2,000 pesos or more. Who would have thought that I would be in the same situation as those children who, before ’59, stood in front of the shop windows to contemplate candies and toys. I never would have believed it.

Many of the artisans shoes cost more than a retiree’s pension.

So you don’t enjoy shopping trips?

But how can I enjoy seeing things I can’t buy? Before retiring, I loved going shopping, making plans for future purchases; that’s all behind me now. Currently, I avoid areas where artisans gather, I no longer suffer, now I face reality. On several occasions, I’ve been taken for a vagrant and offered money. At first, I refused, but now when it happens, I accept it and save it for an imaginary purchase.

Don’t you have any other source of income?

I had. I sold all my books with great regret, and believe me, the money I got from these sales was so ridiculous that in the end, I gave up. I’ve kept some of them and treasure them; they are a reminder of other times and my best company. I also sold fine ornaments.

Did you not have family?

No, it was just my husband and me. We tried many times to have children, but it didn’t work out. We ended up accepting it; God knows what he’s doing. My husband passed away 30 years ago. I think it was better that way; he would never have understood these times, and we would have been two to suffer these hardships.

What plans do you have at the moment to solve this problem?

Plans? That word is so distant now… Currently, I’ve been visiting places where sellers of old items gather. Among the items they sell, I’ve been able to see used shoes and sneakers that can alleviate my situation. I’ve even struck up a deal with one of the sellers to reserve some sneakers for me. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy to find an affordable price, nor to find my size, much less to overcome the embarrassment of having my feet seen because no matter how clean I keep them, the dirt from the street penetrates through the cardboard.

How have you managed to gather the money?

When retirees need something, we have to do without other things. I’ve sold [the rationed] cigarettes, coffee, tubes of toothpaste, and soaps. I manage to use two sets of clothes, one for going out and one for staying at home.

So you don’t wash much?

Well, that’s another issue, water doesn’t always come, and when it does, sometimes I can’t get enough. In my building, there’s a water thief, and it hardly reaches my apartment, but it’s enough for me to fill a small tank and three buckets. Above all, I prioritize drinking water, and besides, I’m not the only one in this situation.

What do you mean?

There are other retirees who are in a worse situation than me. I’ve adapted to eating little, but there are those who suffer from diabetes or other illnesses and also don’t eat well. In Cuba, living on a pension is quite a challenge. I feel very bad for talking about my damp feet, my broken shoes when there are others who have to eat the scraps they find in the garbage.

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