Our Elderly

By Irina Echarry

They can be seen sitting outside markets or in the parks, photo: Caridad

Children are victims of the way adults behave, so there’s hope that when they grow up they may manage to change some of the things that disturb them.

In contrast, elderly people are victims of themselves, of a past that retreats into the distance until it is too far away to reach.

There is a widely watched new Cuban soap opera on television these days.  Without giving all the details, I could say that it promises to be at least sincere.  The first chapters have dealt with the theme of different generations: the conflicts, desires, and difficulties of young and old people who are obliged to live together under the same roof.

One old man is nearly an exact reflection of the thousands of old people who walk through our streets daily: willful, grumbling, holding their truth aloft like a flag.

Our society is aging – we all know it.  Life expectancy is over 75 years of age.  However, is an old age with well-being guaranteed?

They can be seen sitting on the outskirts of the markets or in the parks, many of them wearing the olive green pants of old uniforms.  They sell single cigarettes, small packets of powdered instant drinks, chicken bouillon cubes or plastic bags.  The state retirement pension, although it has been increased, doesn’t cover all their expenses.

Many suffer from family stress, or from the poor quality of the food in certain diners for old people who have no family care.  Some spend their days going back and forth from the market to the bakery, and from the bakery to the market, always alert to what has just come in to eat and standing in long lines to obtain the food.  Others have decided to work a small piece of land just when they should be thinking of resting.

A few days ago I happened to be standing on a corner of Obispo street, the central artery of Old Havana, when one such elder came up to me:

“Child, I’m in an old age home and today they gave me a pass to go out.  I need to buy some soap to wash my clothes, but I don’t have enough money.  Imagine that, I have very little money…”

Fortunately, I had a 25 cent coin and I gave it to him.  I expected the man would continue to tell the same story to everyone who came by.  Some invent stories in order to ask for money.  But no; I saw him go into the shop nearest us and emerge happily with laundry soap in his hands.

I felt ashamed of thinking that he had been putting me on.

It’s a complex theme, since today’s youth look askance at elderly people.  They are the ones who dominate the government and officially rule our lives.

But the other old people, those from “below”, those who have no power, also made the Revolution, fought in the Sierra Maestra.  They were the women and men who brought the Literacy Crusade to the whole country so that all of us could read and write.  They went off to fight in Angola and Ethiopia with the illusion of a better future for the African people.

Don’t they deserve a old age with well-being?

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

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2 thoughts on “Our Elderly

  • My sister is Milagros, we are twins and she is now in Cuba and i am sitting her home. I shared this story via her blog today and she admits that it is true. She says that it is even sadder to know that nietos, cunadas primas and primos etc are also sucking what little monies the elderly have. She said that some are addicted to alcohol and other drugs and that many have committed horrible crimes against the elderly family members in order to continue thier addicyion.
    She says that noone reports a crime against them and they are all afraid. many are those who had to stay or were left behind in the exodus (es)
    To me, more than being concerned about what the elderly deserve, is a way to protect them from thier own.
    This is what my sister is concerned about. She has become a friend to a few ladies and men whom have known our family for more than 50 yrs and she wants to help. Milagros, only problem is getting her buddies to talk about thier fears..This is worst than being old.

  • It is heartbreaking to read it, although I have know for long that this is sooooo true.

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