Senegalese poet David Diop, in his poem The Renegade, chastised his brother for what he termed as flashing his teeth in response to every hypocrisy. There is a hypocrisy in our midst where speeches, platitudes and perfunctory window dressing only serve to expose teeth, and really do little to address what could become a national shame.
A septuagenarian is evicted from a house at Park Road, Bank Hall, St Michael, after the owner passes away and her relatives secure the property. The poor man then takes up residence in National Heroes Square, adjacent to our Parliament where lawmakers and Levites pass him daily –– anonymously. As often happens to stray cats and dogs, this human being eventually dies of old age and neglect on the streets.
An elderly woman roams the streets of Bridgetown, beseeching passers-by for a pittance to feed her daily hunger. The streets where she wanders are often traversed by doctors, lawyers, priests, politicians, journalists, plebs and patricians –– even relatives.
Daily at the Groves, St George junction, an elderly man is a dishevelled, disoriented ornament presenting himself as a target for the scorching sun, and the occasional, almost welcoming rain. It is three-way pass where many working in social services drive to and from their homes and places of work.
The elderly man has been there for months.
In Kensington New Road an elderly man shares his boarding with rats, bats and other creatures, which are perhaps not averse to challenging him for the daily meal he ekes out, should he dare rest it within their reach. His abode threatens to crumble at every strong wind and at every other nibble of happy termites.
His parliamentary representatives, past and present, have often travelled this road. They dare not say they haven’t; it’s their constituency.
Somewhere in Barbados there is a household where daughter or son, nephew or niece, has taken an elderly relative to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for treatment, and has abandoned that old soul there. If the authorities at the institution are to be believed, that occurrence is a major headache.
And it has reportedly occurred at the Psychiatric Hospital, and Geriatric Hospital too.
Should we really be surprised that a nonagenarian was basically buried in her home for two years unbeknown to relatives, neighbours, churchgoers, social agencies, police, pastors, et al.? While her rotting flesh disappeared from her bones, and maggots made merry in the space she once occupied, we all carried on with our daily lives.
We applaud the efforts of those championing agencies like the Barbados Association of Retired Persons. We salute those who annually stage the Senior Citizens Games. We hail those private individuals, who unheralded, ensure their elderly are properly looked after. Often, they care for the elder kin of others because of their Christian charity.
But what of those who daily fall through the social cracks? From where are the interventions coming? What role has agencies such as the Constituency Councils, the National Assistance Board, the Ministry of Social Care, even BARP, played in tackling the issue of our neglected and indigent elderly?
There is legislation in Barbados that deals with the rights of children, based primarily on their vulnerability and being within stated age perimeters. The law addresses issues such as abandonment, the right to an education, the right to be raised in a safe and wholesome environment, among others. Perhaps the time has long passed when we ought to have had legislation specifically catering for, and offering protection to our elderly, especially in circumstances where they cannot help themselves.
In similar manner that adults are held accountable for the care of their children, we daresay they should be held equally accountable for their vulnerable elderly.
The 38th vice-president of the United States, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, once reminded us that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life: the children; those who are in the twilight of life: the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life: the sick, the needy and the handicapped. We are the government.
It is therefore left to all of us to look around our communities and see whether we are passing the test, or simply opening our mouths and perpetuating a great hypocrisy.