Etelvina Solis, 94, and her son Olman Jimenez, 61, have lived 24 years in a house where, reports the newspaper La Nacion, cats don’t pass over the roof–but thousands of cars do on the Prospero Hernandez highway each day.
They live under a bridge and, like poor Ticos, get along with few complaints. La Nacion reporter Alberto Barrantes seems to feel this is unusual, but it is a centuries long tradition in many European countries.
In fact in France there is a very old — and very cynical saying — “It’s a free country; the rich have as much right to live under a bridge as the poor.”
Still, the life of the mother and son revealed by Barrantes in his story shows the hard core reality for the very poorest Costa Ricans. They have, says the report, no end of rice and beans to eat with an occasional egg or plantain as their only dietary luxury.
All this they manage to buy on 30,000 colonies per month — about $60. Of complaints they have none. “We aren’t people who like to cause trouble for anyone,” dona Etelvina told the reporter, “We live and let live.”
But with a dirt floor strewn with ashes from their meager cooking fire and their fragile walls of castoff wood, they have had reminders of the precarious existence they live.
Four years ago, the highway company Autopistas del Sol evicted them. “One day they took everything out, threw away everything and we went to live in a shanty town in Puriscal but it was ugly…” the old lady said.
After four months, they could stand it no longer and came back to the bridge, Olman taking a cart a kilometer away where he had found wood with which to rebuild their roofless abode.
“When we returned, my peace of mind did too,” she said, “This is my place and here I’ll die.” She has diabetes and lost her vision 30 years ago. For five days a week, her son cares for her and takes her to the clinic to have insulin injections.
On weekends, he guards cars parked at the Piedades church for the meager cash they have. “I’ll never go to an old folks’ home,” she said, “They mistreat old people. One time a nun yelled at me.”
“We haven’t lost the spirit of Christmas,” relates Olman, “Each year we put up a small Nativity scene and I get a few sprigs of cypress. We say the rosary for the Christ Child. We must be grateful we have our health.”
Still, the memory of that eviction still lingers. “The Ministry of Public Works are good people and have promised me that we won’t return to the street,” says Olman.
In blatant contrast to their own poverty, in the last 15 years luxurious condos and modern building have become their closest neighbors. But at night, their bright windows light the outside of their walls while a single candle flickers inside. An ancient battery radio gives them the news of the outside…
But mother and son remember anecdotes of times past and their hovel is decorated with wooden signs Olman has made — advising “No Smoking” or wishing “Merry Christmas.”