Ediberta Malpartida met Isabelle at a festival for the Virgin Del Carmen, a Christian saint that is widely worshipped in Peru and Colombia. In the 40 years since their meeting they became very close, more than just friends “we became soul sisters, truly friends, real sisters,” Isabelle said.
One day, Ediberta showed up at Isabelle’s doorstep with nothing but six buckets, two dogs, two turtles, $150 and of course, her stamp of the Virgin Del Carmen that she carries with her everywhere.
She had no money, no other belongings besides the clothes on her back, no explanation and nowhere to go. What was a sister to do? Isabelle took her in
Five years later, Ediberta is still living under the care of Isabelle and her daughter. Isabelle is happy to care for her, but a string of unfortunate events for Isabelle and her daughter Judith along with the deteriorating health of Ediberta since her arrival, has made the burden of caring for a dependent too much to bear.
Ediberta is nearly crippled with Arthritis. When Janet and I visited for patient follow-up, it took her a couple minutes to walk across the room and take a seat on the bed. She had a perpetual look of pain on her face, grimacing, wincing with each small movement. Like a kind of tick, she continuously puckered her lips, opened and closed her mouth, making a light but audible smacking sound.
The only cognizant thing she said the whole time we were there is that she feels lots of pain. At one point she tries to grab something from a bag of knick-knacks a few feet away. It requires a huge amount of effort for her to reach across the bed and bend over the few feet to grab the bag. She doesn’t seem like she can do it, and realizing the extent of her disability I grabbed it for her, but she just discarded it- like she had forgotten or never had a need for it.
Janet and I sit down. We don’t need to ask Isabelle any questions, it all comes pouring out of her, like she has been dying to tell “The story of the grandmother who was abandoned,” as she called it, to someone for a long time. What follows is the story as she told it.
Ediberta didn’t used to be poor, she begins. Her family wasn’t poor either. She used to have a nice house in Villa Maria, where she met Isabelle. Her husband made them sell the house and move Quilmana, an area south of Lima. They bought a nice house with a beautiful garden abundant in fruit. When Isabelle used to visit, she would return to Lima with a basket full of fruit. Things changed.
Ediberta’s husband died.
At this point Ediberta was struggling with old age and could barely take care of herself. Living alone was no longer safe, she had no children to help care for her. She had few assets other than the house she lived in. She subsisted primarily on fruit from the garden. Sometimes, she would fall in her house and it would take two or three days for someone to notice and come pick her up.
Eventually, Ediberta decided she was going to sell the house in Quilmana, and move to Huanuco, where her sister Elaria lived. Could she stay with Isabelle for a couple of months? After which, she promised, she would go to her sister’s house in Huanuco. Isabelle of course said yes, but she pleaded with Ediberta to not sell the house, “money runs out and we don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives. At least you can rent your house,” she told Ediberta.
Nevertheless, Ediberta sold the house for $2000 and asked Isabelle to come get her in Quilmana. Isabelle sent her daughter Judith to get her. When they arrived in Villa Maria, Ediberta’s plan was to use the money to open a grocery store in Huanuco. Isabelle tried to convince Ediberta to buy a woodhouse in the hills of Villa Maria with it, but she was set on her plan. She was also spending it little by little on basics like food. She went to Huanuco after less than two months had gone by and lived there for awhile.
However, when her family realized she was running out money, and the grocery store hadn’t panned out, they bought her a bus ticket back to Lima, and sent her off. That’s when she showed up at Isabelle’s door with nothing but $150, two turtles, six buckets, two dogs, and nowhere to go.
What was Isabelle to do? She took her in.
“We took care of Ediberta because we are humans and we need to have charity. We feel compassion but we don’t have support enough to give her. But thanks to god at least we have something to eat. I have been alone for 24 years, I got divorced, and I have been fighting since then, but I haven’t abandoned myself,” Isabelle said.
Ediberta started living with them in 2000, they took care of her on their own until 2015. When Ediberta arrived both Isabelle and her daughter were working, Ediberta was too old to work. As time has passed, things have gotten much harder for all of them. Isabelle was fired from her job when she got severe bronchitis. So Judith has to support Isabelle, who is now 70, along with Ediberta. Judith is a teacher. She teaches classes at a church during the day time, and does office work in the afternoon and evenings.
It is not just food and shelter that Ediberta needs, but healthcare as well. Ediberta fell and broke her hip. She was unable to walk and was perpetually in severe pain. She lay in bed suffering all day, waiting for an operation, which Isabella and Judith eventually saved enough to pay for, with some help from insurance. Then, right before the operation Elberta fell again and broke her hand. All the money they had went towards basic care for this injury, and Elberta wasn’t able to have the surgery.
“I said lord why is this happening to me I’m going to put this in your hands because I have no idea where I’m going to get money,” Isabelle said. “My daughter has her own children and now the bill the light and the water bill is due. Then I saw the statue of the Virgin del Carmen, which is actually the one that Ediberta has devotion to for the last 40 years. And after I pledge to the virgin and the lord, Ediberta started walking again. It was a miracle of the lord.”
Ediberta walking was a great relief to them, as they did not have a dire need to pay for the surgery, and did not have to carry he everywhere. But their relief was short lived.
Life kept beating them down; Judith had a heart attack.
While she recovered quickly was able to resume her role as breadwinner, the strain of the situation was clearly weighing heavily on her.
“All the expenses come from us. Sometimes my daughter tells me, what happens if Ediberta dies, how are we gonna have a funeral. I always tell her don’t worry, if you worry you’re going to have another heart attack. The heart attack happened just two months ago. That’s why I don’t want her to worry. And what happened next, I had a stroke. I just laughed,” Isabelle said.
Now Isabella can no longer do even the work she was doing after she lost her job; making lasagna, rocoto, and rellenos to sell on the street, because the stroke impaired her motor function. At least she recovered enough to take care of Ediberta and her grandson while Judith is at work.
“I got to the market I buy groceries, because I don’t have anyone to get them for me,” Isabelle said. “My daughter works all day. I have to run, I have my grandson I have to take care of too, I don’t have time for Ediberta. I’m tired, but I make her food. I don’t have time [to give her enough attention] so she feels abandoned. That is why she had the crisis three days ago, crying like a little girl, saying she doesn’t have anyone. ‘I don’t have anyone, I don’t have anyone to talk with,’ she said. Every time I see Ediberta cry I say don’t worry god is not going to leave us.”
Isabelle must do everything for Ediberta, she can do hardly anything on her own. Basic things, like finding diapers for Ediberta, can quickly snowball into a struggle under the strain of poverty. Isabelle goes to a local church to beg for diaper donations, but she can’t always get them. Whether or not she gets them- just this task can take up a good part of a day’s time and energy for Isabelle.
Just leaving Ediberta alone in the house is sometimes a problem.
She is not of sound mind. One time she escaped the house, and for hours no one could find her. Thankfully, a neighbor found her wandering around in the rain soaking wet and returned her. Sometimes, she will grab her belongings and tell Isabelle that her dead husband has arrived; he is calling her and she must go. Ediberta paces the house, speaking, muttering to herself all night -or perhaps to visitors only she can see, like her dead husband.
“My biggest fear is if something happened[to us] she is not going to have anything,” Isabelle said. “Thank god now I recovered and can take care of her in the house. What I want to ask is for you to help me with her because she doesn’t have anyone. We may be poor, but she at least she has bread for her mouth. If there is not enough[for her], we will eat [mine] it together,” Isabelle said.
They would love to continue taking care of her, but their budgets are stretched to the limit, and they have significant health problems as well. They have tried taking Ediberta to an Asylum, but they would not take her in. The asylum told them that they would not accept Ediberta because Isabelles house is made of concrete, and if Isabelle could afford to take her in 5 years ago, she must have the resources to take care of her. Isabelle has tried visiting Ediberta’s sister Elaria to get help, but she will not help them. She has tried calling Ediberta’s nephews, who hang up on her when she mentions Ediberta.
She has to care for Ediberta on her own.
MEDLIFE is working to get Ediberta into the pension 65 program, a Peruvian government program that is very difficult to apply for that gives money to the elderly poor, much like social security in the U.S.. Pension 65, however, is specifically for people who were generally to poor throughout their lives to pay in.
MEDLIFE nurse Janet went to the municipality and walked them through the paperwork every step of the way. This money would enable them to put Ediberta into a home where she will be cared for, or just lighten the load for them. Pension 65 is a slow bureaucratic process. It is often too difficult for those who need it to navigate on their own and wait for. It will be months before we know if they get in. Hopefully, it will allow for a new beginning for Isabelle and Judith, who have put everything they have into caring for Ediberta for so many years.