Elderly people and care workers: stories of a forced cohabitation
This is a story that is very close to my heart: it talks about Ukrainian carers working in Italy and about their relationship with our “grandparents”. The title badanti means precisely carers, but in the last few years, it assumed a disparaging meaning, describing foreign women taking care of elderly people.
Tatiana was the first care worker in the neighborhood. She left her husband, her daughter and her parents back in Ukraine to come to work in Italy. She is been taking care of my grandfather, who is 93 and lost all his brain functions after a stroke, for 8 years now. She stays with him 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, except for a few hours a week when we take him out.
The community of Ukrainian care workers increased rapidly in the past few years and now every house in the neighborhood has a helper. Despite the big number of compatriots her social life is restricted to a minimum: “we are in a strange position” Tatiana told me “we live in nice houses but we don’t have a place where to meet; I cannot invite my friends over and that’s the same for every one of us”. That’s why even on a cold Sunday morning if you go to a park you’ll see a group of women hanging around together and you’ll know they are care workers.
Most of the money Tatiana earns in Italy is sent to her family in Ukraine. The rest she spends is for buying presents to her family that she brings once a year to her place during the holiday. Her aim is to earn more money so that she can go back to her country. Unfortunately, the sacrifice is not appreciated by her family; “the men back in Ukraine think that we are all prostitutes” says Tatiana.
« You are very nice and kind, you are all I have. I cry because I am touched.
You are more than nice, you're superb. And when I say superb, I mean there is nothing more praiseworthy than you. You are my cook, nanny, nurse, hairdresser, gardener, and daughter. I am the mother and you are the daughter.
When I broke my thigh-bone I had to stay home in bed for 10 months and nobody came to see how I was, not my children, not a doctor, not a nurse, not a physical therapist, but Maria was with me all the time and she helped me regain confidence.
I wanted a carer who would be part of the family, not someone that stays three months and then leaves and now that I've found one I hold her very tight. »
EMILIA talking about her Ukrainian careworker MARIA
« I had a good life in Ukraine, my husband was a policeman and I had a beautiful house. Then my son has killed a person on the street because he was drunk and went to prison. To get him out I paid many people and since it wasn’t enough I made debts. He was released after 15 years and I came to Italy to work to earn money and pay off debts.
I have been living for 11 years in Italy now.
I worked for many families and now I live with Malvina who is 87 and suffers from Alzheimer. She's totally crazy, she doesn’t remember anything, nothing about her children nor how to go to the bathroom. I have to stay with her 24 hours a day, I cannot leave her for a second or she begins to scream. Her family never comes to see her and I never had a day off in 8 months. My boss is not very good, I have to sleep in a tiny room with no windows, there is only space for a single bed and to open the door. No closets no nothing. I built boxes where I can put my clothes to fit under the bed. I hung pictures of the Virgin Mary and my mother and I on the walls and built small shelves above the bed and decorated them with laces. There is no heating in my room, cold in winter and hot in summer. Anyway, I can never sleep. At night Malvina wakes me up screaming and I have to get up and go help her. She has a hospital bed with bars because once at night she got up and went out in the streets.
I'm tired, I want to go home but my husband is now retired, he is always drunk and no longer a good looking man. Anyway, in Ukraine there is no money, no jobs. I have to stay in Italy. »
ALINA, Ukranian careworker in Italy
« I don’t talk much, my story is not very happy. I live with Marcella who is 101 and had half of his brain cut off in surgery. Marcella was married to an Army general, but in reality, she was the general of the family. When her husband died she became very nasty, she always orders me what to do, but I cannot complain, I get good money and food.»
NADIA, Ukranian careworker in Italy
« The first time I came to Italy I came illegally hidden in a truck transporting wood and then I worked in a house where there was no heating, no bathroom and no food for me to eat.
The second time I was more fortunate, indeed, far more fortunate because I met Mr. Gigi. He is very kind and allowed me to bring my little daughter here with me to Italy and now the three of us live together. Gigi was a teacher and he taught me and my daughter Maria the Italian language very well. I miss my homeland and my other two children who remained in Ukraine but I do not want to leave Gigi, and my daughter now has her life here and I hope she can have a better life than mine. »
OLENA, Ukranian careworker in Italy
« I am the older carer in the neighborhood because I have been living with Mr. Agostino, who is very good, for 8 years now. But before that, I worked for many different families.
The first family was crazy. One day I go to the living room and see two naked men, I don’t know who is on top and who is below, I get scared because I had never seen two men having sex before and call my boss’ daughter. She says that her father has been giving money to this prostitute for 30 years, even before his wife died and that’s why she had taken a carer so that her father was not home alone and did not meet him. »
TATIANA, Ukranian careworker in Italy
© GIULIA CANDUSSI. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.