HAVANA TIMES — I’m terrified of old age. It’s not exactly because of the portending future of sagging breasts, back pains or wrinkles resulting from overly repeated gestures.
I’m afraid of aging, especially, because I’m afraid of Cuba.
Havana is a city for young people, those capable of chasing down a bus, enduring endless waits in lines, and eating lots of carbohydrates and few vitamins.
While Cuba needs youth doped up on caffeine, the main actors in this city and across the country are the elderly.
Emigration and the low birth rate make my walks constant encounters with grandparents, and even great-grandparents.
They’re everywhere, and I can’t stop looking at them and almost feeling chills.
There aren’t too many with faces evidencing the marks of repeated smiles in the corners of their mouths.
What are constantly repeated are the faces of bitterness and fatigue.
The elderly are faced with having to struggle at the same pace as the young since retirement here is in no way synonymous with an extended vacation or playing in the yard with the grandkids.
Instead, it’s the pronouncement that one’s future labor will be even that much more precarious.
Seniors are the principal sellers of products that only cost a peso (about 4 cents USD). These items include paper cones of peanuts, a shot of coffee and long pieces of candy whose taste reminds you so much of toothpaste.
They are become hawkers, newspaper vendors and sellers of plastic bags at the entrances of vegetable markets.
They were also the ones who died of cold at the psychiatric hospital and are the ones who continue to beg to tourists in the streets of Old Havana.
Finally, to my horror, they’ve become clerks at the only inexpensive markets of the capital. These are places — which while lacking state-given names (though the government requires them to pay taxes) — have wound up being dubbed “misery markets.”
The main markets of this type located at the corners of Belascoain and Monte, Infanta and Carlos III, and Zulueta and Apodaca.
At those sites, the elderly, the mentally ill and alcoholics offer us what they’ve salvaged from the trash.
These might be things like a blouse that can be used ten times more, a beat-up alarm clock, a comb with missing teeth, or shoes still having soles but also a few holes.
All of these items are sold in regular pesos.
I look at these individuals and feel sad. Their pensions aren’t enough to live on.
In the end, they benefited little from so many long hours of volunteer labor, doing night-time block watch duty, or for punctually attending all of the neighborhood meetings of their CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution).
For them, the bright future they were promised will never come.
They don’t have any options, and they (like me) know how difficult it is to protest.
Where are the social workers when they’re needed?
What’s happening with those nursing homes vitally needed by our seniors?
Where is adequate food going to be found for the many diabetic and hypertensive elderly patients here?
In any case, I’m scared to death.