DEVELOPING A «REAL» TALE ABOUT THE ELDERLY
The interview today will be conducted by Mrs Katerina K. (Katina in short and what her people call her). Mrs Katina suffers from severe deafness so we may need to repeat some questions or speak quite louder than usual. Mrs Katina also suffers from dementia for a few years now, and mild to moderate depression for a year now (after her husband died, they were married for 62 years). As I have discussed with her before, there will be some information in parentheses about the answers she gives.
I: How old are you, Mrs Katina?
-I am… 86.
I: When do you have your birthday? When were you born?
– It was at the end of ’33. (1933)
I: -Where do you live?
– Psarofai of Patras. (It is a neighbourhood in the City of Patras)
– I: At your own home?
– It is on Akrotiriou street.
I: It is fine, I do not need an address, but do you live with somebody?
– With my children.
I: Where do they live?
– With one of my daughters and my son-in-law. (they live right next door, and she has her own personal space as well)
I: That is great that you live with your children!
-And with my grandchildren. (her grandchildren live close by)
I: Do you get some help from the state?
– No, only my husband’s pension. (late husband, she gets 70% of his state pension but none of her own)
I: So are you taking it already?
– Not yet, I get a temporary small one until they make the calculations.
I: Are you still working?
– Of course not!
I: So you do your housework?
-Some basics, such as cooking or washing, nothing else.
I: Are you religious?
I: What religion do you believe in?
I: What kind of Orthodox?
I: Ok, because there are other kind of Orthodox as well. Do you want to tell me what job you did?
-I used to be a tailor and dressmaker.
I: Great, and for how many years?
– I was a tailor and dressmaker for 55 years more or less.
I: Since when have you been working?
-Since I reached the age of 16, I started working in an external job.
I: What do you mean? You used to work at other homes as a tailor?
-Yes, apart from working in the fields with cows, sheep and other such jobs.
I: Do you suffer from any illness?
-I do have many health problems.
I: Many? Such as? Do you want to tell me some?
– I have had a mastectomy (due to cancer), removal of the thyreoid glands, gallbladder removal, half of my pancreas, all of my female organs, and I have a heart problem, pericarditis. (she had all the surgeries due to cancer metastasizing)
I: Do you suffer from other types of disease, like diabetes, cholesterol?
-Yes, all of them, I am diabetic, suffer from cholesterol, many problems.
I: Where you live, is it considered a city or village?
– It is very close to the city, like a suburb.
I: Ok so you live close to a city. How many children have you got?
-I have two children.
I: What do you like to do in your free time, let’s say as a hobby?
-I like to read books and knit, and fix clothes like I used to do.
I: Now I would like to tell me some facts from your life
-How was my life?
I: Yes, tell me for instance some important events that you think made you who you are now
-My life was difficult, many difficulties and hardshipts.
I: Tell me some of your experiences, from the time you remember yourself.
– My life was very difficult. Since I was a kid I lived many years under military occupation so I lived a difficult life. Then came diseases, problems. (she speaks of the WWII and the Nazi occupation in Greece)
I: So, what exactly did you experience then?
-Poverty, hunger and misery.
I: I see, have you also felt fear?
-Of course we felt fear, all the time!
I: Can you remember a story from this time that you’d like to share with me?
-I strongly remember when my father and my mother used to take us to a shelter to escape the bombings of Patras, and we cried because we did not have anything to eat. We were so hungry.
I: So what did you eat?
-Koutsoupia’s fruits and potatoes that they boiled for us and mashed it into a little bread.
I: What exactly is koutsoupia?
-Food that the farmers used to feed the cows.
I: I see… so during the war, how do you remember those who fought then?
– The Italians were good but the Germans were brutal. (She remembers the Axon’s and Benito Mussolini’s forces occupation that happened just before the Nazi forces started arriving in the area.)
I: But you did not leave the house? Did your family remain there?
-Yes we stayed at home and we also hosted people from the city center that were trying to escape when driven out of their own homes.
I: Describe to me an incident that you remember vividly from that time.
-Well, what I strongly remember, I was hungry and I was crying, and there was an Italian soldier that lifted me up and passed me over the barbed wire and fed me “paniotes”
I: What are paniotes?
– The bread the soldiers used to eat. (An Italian type of bread of the era, probably made out of rye)
I: I see (nods).
-He also used to catch owls and cook them to feed me and other children.
I: And could you easily eat them as a child?
– No, he used to chew their hard meat first, and then put it in my mouth to eat. Peter -that was the name of the soldier-, in the end got married to one of my aunts.
I: So he stayed here in Greece in the end?
-Yes and he was a very good man. He loved me and my sister very much. (She smiles and her eyes water)
-I: And when the Nazis arrived?
– The German army soldiers were very bad to us…
I: Is there something you’d like to share with me about that time?
-Yes… They were bad. They came to catch us, to kill us. (after the interview she remember to add an incident about this, with the soldiers raiding their homes and taking the little flour they had, and also came digging the family’s little garden for hidden pistols and guns)
I: And then what happened?
-Nothing, I remember the Germans were gone suddenly. I didn’t understand (as a child)
I: And what followed?
-We were able to stay at our home finally.
I: I mean then what happened, around ‘50s? How was your life then?
-Well I do not remember much; things had changed so we lived better then.
I: When did you meet your husband?
– We did not meet, they brought him to me.
I: How did that happen?
-In ’57, and later on we got married in Zarouchleika (a neighbourhood that was close to her own).
-I: So you did not know him before?
– No, we did not know each other from before.
I: So, they just brought him to you? What do you mean by that? Did someone come and tell you about him?
-No, not exactly. Someone came and said to my family that one of his cousins had brought him to another girl, but he did not like her. And then they said they’d bring him to us, because they told him that my father has a good girl for marriage. This girl is considered as the best bride in the area (they were talking about Mrs Katina).
We once went to a dance gathering with relatives and music was playing and one of my husband’s cousins told our relatives that he would ask me to dance, but he was told that my family would not allow me to dance.
But the cousin came and said to me «Would you like to dance?», and I told him to ask my brother first and he did so. Then my brother told him that he could dance with me.
So we danced, and then he went to my future husband and told him he should approach me, as he thought I was a great and respectful girl. So they came to my father, they also met me and they were finally accepted from my family. My father had to ask his brothers and other relatives if they knew him to be a good man from a good family too. So after discussing it with them and seeing that he was a good man, my father accepted his offer to marry me.
I: How did you manage with the fact that you didn’t t know him beforehand? When did you actually meet each other?
-We were engaged for 6 months. During that time he used to visit us every 15 days to spent some time with me so that we could get to know better each other.
I: Did you discuss alone or with somebody else’s supervision?
-Usually my sister was also there, so we may stay alone only if my father happened to go somewhere and she allowed it for a little while. We once went on a small trip and I felt I did not want him around because I didn’t really know him.
I: What was your wedding like?
-It was a good wedding. People slaughtered sheep and we also celebrated in our yards on the street.
I: So after some time you had 2 daughters?
-Exactly, 2 daughters
I: And what was life like after?
-Well, we were kind of poor but it was a full life.
-I: Did you work then?
-Of course, I was working. That was also the time when the water from the river almost drowned my baby.
-I: What do you remember about that time?
– We were flooded by “Diakoniaris”. (that is the name of a river that used to run rampart sometimes close to the neighbourhood, especially in the Winter months)
I: How old was the baby then?
-Only 6 months old, and I had gone to work and I told my husband to take care of our baby girl and if she cries to give her some chamomile, and feed her with her bottle. At that time, I was working in an apartment building in Patras.
I: You worked for many people?
-YES… AND WHEN WE FLOODED THEY CALLED ME. THERE WERE NO TELEPHONES THEN, ONLY 2 IN THE WHOLE AREA. AND THEY TOLD ME TO COME HOME BECAUSE WE WERE FLOODED. I CAME ON FOOT THEN, THERE WAS NO TRANSPORTATION AT THE TIME. THE SOLDIERS THEN FOUND ME ON THE STREET AND ASKED ME WHERE I WAS GOING AND I TOLD THEM THAT I WAS RETURNING HOME. I WENT AND FOUND THE BABY WHO HAD BEEN PICKED UP BY THE WATER AND WAS SO SCARED. MY ELDEST DAUGHTER WAS AT MY MOM’S AND SHE WAS SAFE, BUT I HAD LEFT THE BABY WITH MY HUSBAND. ONE OF OUR NEIGHBOURS RAN AND SAID TO THEM THAT MY HUSBAND WAS TRYING TO SAVE OUR BABY, THAT I DIDN’T HAVE HER WITH ME WHEN I LEFT SO THEY STILL MUST BE IN THE HOUSE.
I: HOW WERE THINGS IN THE LATER YEARS? HOW DID YOU EXPERIENCE THINGS DURING THE JUNTA? (MILITARY REGIME THAT STARTED IN GREECE A FEW YEARS AFTER SHE DESCRIBES, 1967)
-IT WAS AN AWFUL AND MISERABLE PERIOD…
I: CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC?
-THERE WAS HUNGER AND MISERY. WE LIVED IN FEAR AND TERROR. WE WERE NOT EVEN ALLOWED TO GO OUT OR TO DO ANYTHING AT ALL. THIS IS HOW WE LIVED
I: After that?
– Then the junta fell, and things got better, another person came into power and there was democracy again.
I: Lets talk about something else now. Going backwards in your life, what would you say was the worst moment? The most difficult point.
-I would say hunger because I didn’t actually lived my childhood. Also my severe illnesses, and the child that my family lost, that was definitely the worst of all time, losing Panagiotis. (her eldest daughter’s son died in an accident when he was 3-4 years old)
I: Tell me about it
-It was a family member. It was the worst moment ever. My daughter’s eldest son.
I: And what about your illnesses that you mentioned?
-I was isolated because I got radioactive iodine. I needed to stay in a dark room that had neither an open door, nor was I allowed go out. It was extremely difficult, one of the most difficult times in my life.
I: How has this affected you?
– I cannot stand the darkness, even now.
I: When you enter an enclosed space? How that makes you feel?
-Well, I can’t. I still feel insecure, it is like I panic.
I: Let’s say the opposite now. What was the happiest moment so far?
-When my children got married, when they and my grandchildren graduated from the University. But I still have a deep sorrow, that has to do with my granddaughter, as she faced a serious health problem.
I: Would you like to tell me about it?
-My granddaughter had to deal with a huge health problem with her kidney and she had to remove it and we were all upset. We were in such pain and sadness and we prayed every day so that she would get over it and get well and be happy again. (her granddaughter had kidney cancer at 27 years of age)
I: I will ask you something completely different now, if you don’t mind. Have you ever felt rejected or annoyed by someone because you are a woman? Or maybe for your religious beliefs?
-No never. I have never faced such problems, or they weren’t big problems to me. (Mrs Katina was a very active, hard-working and strong woman. From what she mentioned before the interview, she never allowed any abuse or racism, or the specific racism was considered a norm of the era)
I: What you told me earlier was that you worked a lot in your life?
-Yes, I have done a lot of work in the fields when I was young and later, with the animals, and then also as a tailor, as well as with the household and raising my children.
I: What do you think you achieved in your life regarding your work as a tailor?
– I believe that I managed to help my family and my home as best as I could.
I: Were you good at your job? Did you tailor for a lot of people?
-Yes, a lot of people, I had a lot of customers.
I: If someone asked you about our city holidays or celebrations what would you tell him?
– Well the most popular is “Apostolos Andreas”. (the Patron Saint of the city. It is considered a holiday in Patra and many people attend the Mass at one of the biggest Basilica’s in the Balcans).
-Ι: Ok and beyond religious;
-Our traditional carnival. (The city of Patras has a history of arranging the biggest carnival of the country. It is an artistic festival as well as a city-wide party, with games and festivities that last for 40 days)
I: Do you have a story to remember from such celebrations?
-I remember that many carnival events took place every year where people had fun while disguised, in all kinds of costumes.
I: Did you ever dress up and attend such carnival events?
– No, I didn’t really like dressing up.
I: But maybe you made costumes for the rest?
– Yes, I did. I worked on many kinds of costumes and carnival uniforms too.
I: Lets now talk about the role that religion plays in your life and how much it has influenced you.
-I pray to God every day, but what is really meant to happen is going to happen. Being faithful to God has helped me in my life as I think I am a deeply religious person.
-I see. As for other traditions, are there any traditional dishes you can mention; some local food for example. Does something cross your mind? That you used to cook on your own?
-Well, I made kourampiedes (a traditional sweet, a bit like sugared buns), “spoon” sweets (sirup sweets, made from different types of fruit), not many as I used to work a lot.
I: Could you please describe a usual day of your daily life to me?
-My daily life is difficult because I am too old now, and sometimes I cannot cope with it, thus my children help me to do everything.
I: When you were younger and you met older people what did you use to think?
– That this is where I will get, that I will grow old too if God wants. So now I am here, really old, and facing severe problems.
I: If something happens to you do you have someone to help you?
I: Can the State offer you any help or support?
– Actually it can, but it doesn’t.
I: Would you like to explain this to me a little?
-Well, they take care of whom they want and not equally.
I: So, what is your opinion for the Health system?
-I surely don’t find it good, equal or adequate, because there are patients who still suffer and they get no support from the State.
I: What about the doctors or the appointments? Is it easy to make an appointment?
-Yes, some doctors are sensitive and helpful while others are not. So it has to do with the character of the doctor more than the help from the State.
I: So the whole health system is not good?
-For some patients may be appropriate I cannot speak for everyone of course.
I: How do you get your medicine? Are they free or do you pay for them?
-I pay for almost everything.
I: All or some percentage?
– I save some money but this tends to be a joke, they cost so much money. (As a pensioner in Greece she pays about 25% of all her medication, and she showed me her medication boxes, they were plenty)
I: So you need lot of money to get your medicine?
I: So, spending that money on health issues means you cannot save for other expenses?
-I have to try greatly to save which is not easy at all, so as a result I cannot offer anything better to myself, nothing more nothing less because the money is never enough. My only income is my husband’s pension, the part of it that they give me now.
I: If someone asked you what is this one thing that you would you like to be happy, and they would give it to you, what would you answer?
-What I really need is someone to keep me company, or even offer me some help with daily issues as I am weak and I cannot manage all these on my own.
-I: What kind of help for example? Can you be a little more specific?
-I need someone to help me with the daily outdoor shopping, to help me to take a bath as it is getting difficult for me. So that I don’t burden my children.
I: What do you think that Elderly need to be happy?
-They need someone to protect them and keep them company when there is no family to do it. But even when there is family, they have their own families sometimes and their own problems, so they can’t just worry or help the grandparents all day. So if you have somebody to help, your family can also be free to do things for their life too.
I: Do you feel lucky in this field or unlucky?
-I’m really lucky to have my own children to support me.
I: What do you think other people who do not have children do?
-They suffer, they are taken to closed care institutions.
I: So how are the institutions nowadays?
– I don’t know that exactly. In bad condition I suppose, the Elderly suffer in such environments,
I: What would you say is the worst thing about the institutions?
-The worst thing is that you lose the company of your children and family, and there are also some workers that treat the Elderly badly in Institutions and mistreat them. But there are also some workers who love them. The Elderly need pure love.
I: So you mean you have to be lucky in that. And what could the State do?
-The State could train people or has a strong supervision in such institutions or even hospitals to supervise how each person is treated.
I: What else do you think the State could offer regarding an ideal support and intervention?
-They should offer extra financial aid since the Elderly do not have enough money to take their medicine or even reach a quality of life. Some cannot even save a cent. Some they cannot even afford to buy an ice cream for example.
I: I see. And as far as “keeping company to the Elderly” is concerned, what should the State do?
-They could train qualified nurses to be able to keep company such people. This is what I think. They could also provide help to the families and caregivers so that they can be more effective.
I: As we reach the end of our conversation, is there anything you would like to add?
-No, these all I wanted to say about the people, and for those who will listen to us, I would like to mention that I wish they should pay attention to the Elderly. And maybe think of us old people a bit more. For example, to support us with extra financial aid and be sensitive with old people. They should also take into account that we feel lonely and we need company so that we will be able to save our children’s time. Even for an hour, so that they will be able to manage with their own household and their own family. I feel that my daughter for example is very tired because she has her own problems, she has a sick husband, she has her children and at the moment she has nothing good in her life.
I: One last question over Covid-19. How did you evaluate the quarantine phase that we went through? We were almost locked inside. How did that feel?
-Bad. Very bad. I could not go out because I suffer from a serious health problem. I face asthma and bronchitis issues and I inhale with a mask sometimes. And I could not go out at all, not even at the balcony and when my daughter finally said I could go out at the balcony at first, I could barely see as my eyes were really tired from the “incarceration”. It was a very hard time. Very hard for me and all.
I: Did this make you very sad and upset?
-I was very upset, not only me. Everyone was under pressure all that time.
Ι: Is there any problem that this situation may have caused you? What would you say?
-What did you ask me? Can you please repeat?
I: I am asking if there is any bad feeling that this pressure caused you.
-Well, all these left me a bad fear and I see that in this way people went back instead of going forward. People could not operate their shops, they could not save money, and they could not build or work so many people faced financial problems. I strongly believe that if the building line stops, everything stops too because everything depends on it.
I: Okay we’re done I think
– Did I do well?
I: Yes of course, it was perfect! Thank you very much.
-You are welcome.