At My Age, I’m Telling You…

Alfredo Fernandez

What is worrisome is that a culture of the aging doesn’t still exist in this country.

“Everything from here looks tiny.  The hours pass and things below become distant.  Sometimes I think I won’t ever walk the streets again.  But what I miss most is not being able to work with the young women; I’ve already told them they need to start looking for someone else,” ruefully quipped 86-year-old guitarist Sarvelio Fuentes.

Thanks to a broken elevator, for five months he hasn’t been able to come down from his ninth-floor where he lives in Centro Havana. Owing to this, the exquisite Cuban trova duo “Voces del Caney” have been deprived of its musical accompaniment.

Likewise, curbs that are too high prevent 87-year-old Livina Pelegrin from accessing every street in the municipality of Palma Soriano, in Santiago de Cuba Province.

The difficulties of the transportation system and the limitations enforced by her monthly pension of $230 pesos ($9 USD) do not allow Daisy Martin, 78, to make it her required three-times-per-week therapy sessions at the La Rampa Polyclinic in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. This is why her rehabilitation from a stroke has taken so long.

Exhausting lines to get a ticket have made it impossible for 72-year-old Teresa, a native of Camaguey Province who lives in Havana, from regularly seeing her family in her hometown of Esmeralda.

Dr. Flavio Correa, in Santiago de Cuba, has to appeal to his neighbors daily to address problems that his 87 years and his loneliness prevent him from doing on his own.

Every day in Centro Havana, 84-year-old Vicente Aleman gets out from under his sheets at 4:00 a.m. to buy 10 or 12 newspapers that he will re-sell in the street as a palliative to his token pension.

Similar stories are repeated across the entire country, though it turns out that life expectancy in Cuba approaches the world level; on the island it stands at 76 years for women and 74 for men.

Nonetheless, as the above examples suggest, we also have a worrisome situation of the physical and social infrastructure for the elderly.  Yes, Cuba has been able to raise life expectancy levels to those of the First World.

However, what is worrisome is that a culture of the aging doesn’t still exist in this country.  In Cuba it is seen as ridiculous if an elderly couple walks hand in hand down the street, or if they dance at a party; and it would be viewed as scandalous if they kissed in public.

Such prejudices extend to the State, as those institutions fail to provide seniors with the more basic privileges afforded in some developed countries, such as half-prices for the use of public transportation or discounted admission into cultural and recreational centers.  The State programs created to assist the elderly have not functioned as expected.  Many seniors lack basic living assistance, just as there are few initiatives for the elimination of existing architectural barriers.

Social initiatives are urgently needed to prepare for the increasing elderly population which by 2020 will make Cuba have among the ten oldest populations in the world.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

3 thoughts on “At My Age, I’m Telling You…

  • I visited Cuba in 2008 when I was 71. I stayed in El Centro, and spent a lot of time just walking around rather than taking taxis. Frankly, I have to agree with this article about the lack of amenities for the elderly and disabled. I cried when I had to climb 6 flights of stairs to my first Casa Particular. My knees are bad, and I have arthritis in most of the joints in my body. Cuba is not an easy place to navigate!

    I still hope to come back – But, I’ll have to limit my stay to places with an elevator that works. OTOH, I live in Hilo, Hawaii, and even 20 years after the Disabled Access Law, many places flack the accommodations that are supposedly required. It is a real frustration to be unable to access many public parks and buildings. We lack sidewalks in many places, or they are in the same condition as many in Havana.

    The only thing funny about this lack of concern is that we will get our revenge. Those of you who are young and healthy today will discover what it is like to cope with a deteriorating body as well as a deteriorating city. And the US is worse than Cuba. Your country is not rich. We have more than enough for all, but spend it on the Military, and Wars, and Toys, and STUFF, rather then the needs of the citizenry!

  • Alfredo I am not sure if I will be able to send money to a total stranger in Cuba but I am willing to help with some money the lady Daisy Martin, so that she can do her therapy.
    You can get my email address from the Havana Times editor and write me directly how to send money to help this lady.

  • Since you are talking about the elderly we should also include all the disabled.
    Those that use wheel chairs or that are blind or that have any type of disabilities.
    One of the things that surprise me a lot about the US when I first got here was seeing elevators with the floor numbers in braille and that will speak the floor you where in. Or the ramps created on the streets for disables to cross with a wheel chair or the mechanical contractions on a public transportation to accommodate for those that need help.

    Why can this not be done in Cuba?

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