HAVANA TIMES — Many a time, when I get up in the morning, I don’t need to look at the clock, for, at exactly 7 am every day, a man who sells bread and invariably walks past my house blows a whistle and yells out: “Bread, come get your bread!”
For some years now, this man, now around 70, pushes a cart loaded with sacks of bread (usually fresh), sparing people the walk to the neighborhood bakery.
Every morning of every day, in other places around Havana, other elderly men and women start on their daily walk in search of people they can sell such things to. Some of them rely on suppliers, others make their own products.
Currently, elderly Cubans – part of the population that does not contribute to the GDP – render different kinds of services of this nature, for making ends meet is becoming harder and harder as a result of rising prices and the repercussions of corruption. The elderly, for the most part retirees, have measly pensions and hardly any other income to help them get by. Sometimes that pittance is added to the family income and in others is their only individual substance.
In recent days, the government has repeatedly referred to the aging of Cuba’s population, something which was already being announced by the migratory avalanche that took place in the 90s, a phenomenon which takes on a different dimension now and has resulted in the loss of a great part of an entire generation.
At the time, most of the Cuban men and women who left the country, fleeing the economic crisis, were young people, young people who today swell the work forces of other countries and have had their children there.
Though they took the memory of their loved ones with them and promised to help them financially, in many cases, they cannot offer those who stayed behind as much help as they need or as they would want.
The cost of living in Cuba has also undermined the quality of life of many people now over or pushing 70, who live in poverty and are malnourished.
In addition to old people selling bread, sweets, peanuts or pastries, one sees elderly men and women selling tamales, working as errand people who take others their rations, gas bills and mail and even carrying people’s groceries.
In a fairly large area of Alamar, on the outskirts of Havana, two elderly street vendors have become well known in the neighborhood: one carries peanuts inside a can heated up with coals (to keep the product warm) and the other, an elderly lady, sounds a tiny bell to sell the different pastries she makes.
In other parts of the city, you run into elderly people who roam the streets, dirty or wearing rags, people who rummage through garbage bins in search of things, selling used plumbing or electrical fixtures, spare parts some people buy from them.
Some of them sell toothpaste, candles, tampons, bags of cotton balls, used shoes, cigarettes, popsicles, plastic bags or chicken bouillon.
Many of them are no longer able to find employment at State institutions and find illegal means of making a living.
Though all of this may be common in other societies, in the relatively recent past, retirees were a prioritized sector in Cuba. Now, this is no longer the case.
Well, folks, the situation has become worse and worse and has become more noticeable as time passes. These elderly vendors are part of the daily life of all of Havana’s neighborhoods, as we may well be one day, when we join the ranks of this army whose glorious battles are a thing of the past.