Republished with permission from El Estímulo.
Elsa has been living in the same apartment in Parque Central for 40 years now. She bought it in 1976, with a mortgage she got on her salary as a secretary. She was in a transition phase: she hadn’t finished her Political Science degree from Universidad Central de Venezuela, but she decided to work full time while she met her real calling, the law.
When I saw her, this weekend, I didn’t recognize her.
Her law degree gave way to the passion that’s driven her for three decades: teaching. As a university professor, she’s trained three generations of legal professionals, including lawmakers, corporate officials, prosecutors, judges, even Supreme Tribunal magistrates. At the same time, she dedicated 28 years to public service. At Inparques, she created the vacation camps that run at National Parks and she was a key mover in several programs to plant new trees that make the Ávila greener these days.
When I saw her, this weekend, I didn’t recognize her. In my mind’s eye, she’s in her 30s, a slight but strong woman. Now almost 70, her bones stick out over her skin, her eyes bulge out of her face. At home one son, his partner, and two grandchildren still expect her to shop for groceries and cook. The second part she’s always enjoyed. The first has become a misery. One day, she tells me, she got up at 4 in the morning to go queue up for chicken at the now closed —for remodelling— Bicentenario supermarket at her housing megacomplex. She emerged at noon with the bird in her possession. The story crops up again and again with different products in different locations: black beans, meat, even pasta in mercales, popular markets and supermarkets.
The afternoon coffee at the bakery shop? The latest price hike has forced it to leave it behind.
Her grandchildren no longer get to enjoy her pabellón, or her black beans. But they’re the first in line for whatever comes out of her kitchen. She’s always been keen to try things, but she no longer has the time for it. She invests that in queuing. The afternoon coffee at the bakery shop? The latest price hike has forced it to leave it behind. Each time she calls, she asks about the products she can’t find: milk, corn flour, sugar. And coffee. Because she can’t live without her morning coffee, and she can’t afford the one they sell 20 meters from her front door.
Tears still roll down my face when I see the photo above. With lipstick on and wearing her jacket, because she’s a woman of dignity, she told me. And she is. But it doesn’t matter how hard she works at it, these are hard times. Elsa has worked the last 53 years of her life and she can’t retire with dignity because her salary as a university professor, her pension, and what her children bring in is not enough. Because she’s short the food bonus that the National Assembly approved, but that the president refused to disburse, alleging he was short of funds while he set out a million-dollar summit in Margarita. Because working your way out of San José de Guaribe and making it in Caracas, becoming a professional, having a family and holding down a prestigious job that whole time isn’t enough to spend the final years of your life in peace.
For all I can do to help, what I cannot do is hold back the tears. Elsa is my mom.