“I can’t help seeing in their eyes the pleading voice of my mom asking for help. I see the same wrinkles, the same wisdom and experience; all hardships; failures; all their successes… nothing gives me more satisfaction than giving a helping hand while doing my best at providing a decent living during their last days, or for some of them, years, here on Earth.”
And that’s just why she does what she does. She takes care of the elderly and enjoys every second of it. It’s almost impossible for her to keep her eyes from tearing, because, most of what she does, reminds her of her mother. “In Bangladesh I never had the resources I have here to make this possible.” As she says this, she points at Marta, a 90-year-old grandma whose peaceful facial expression as she’s taking a nap makes everyone envious of all the care and love she’s receiving at the moment.
The high suicide rates amongst the elderly are actually very alarming. Many times they are the most susceptible when it comes to falling under a depression mainly because of their health issues. Many of them also tend to refuse to ask for any help as well as living with anyone else, in case they need anything (which many times they do).
Martha is one out of the three elderly women she takes care of during the week. She sees Lucy Monday through Wednesday and on Wednesday afternoon, once the nurse takes over, she comes to Martha. Then on Friday nights she leaves to the Bronx to spend her weekend with Abigail, her “rebellious 85-year-old”. “And you should see the three of them begging me to stay with me for an extra day, again, I don’t think I can get more satisfaction than this.”
All of these ladies remind this remarkable worker, Elizabeth, or in Bengali—Erczi—not only of her mom, but also of her home country, Bangladesh. Although she admits that this job of hers, even though it’s not the wall-street-kind-of-job, it does fulfill her. She goes to bed in peace knowing that she’s making someone else’s life a bit more bearable because when it comes to her life, she’s quite unsure about what to think.
Erczi left Bangladesh when a friend of hers promised her a job as an extra in a movie all the way across the world, in Mexico. After burying her mother, who unfortunately suffered tremendously from stomach cancer, she realized there was nothing much she could accomplish in Bangladesh. She does have three sons, but by that time she decided to leave they were grown and had better chances of getting a job than she did. She still felt like she had a motherly responsibility with them, however, so once she left, she promised them she’d try her best to get at least one of them to go live with her.
As promised, her job was waiting for her in Mexico City. She spent a year there, in which she lost her job, her visa, and struggled with the Spanish, “but it was easier than English”. After thoroughly examining her options, Erczi got herself a “coyote”, or a guide to help her cross the border. She admits that her experience was traumatic enough to not let her learn the language. She almost lost that immigrant enchantment of the U.S being “the golden land.” While in Texas, she spent six months looking for a job and did not have any luck mainly due to the language barrier. She repeatedly argued throughout the conversation that her age—she’s 45 years old—makes it even more difficult for her to learn the language.
One day Elizabeth decided to try out her luck by coming here to NYC since a few people had told her that coming to the Red Apple would be better for her since she’d be able to find a bigger Bengali-speaking community. And every day she’s thankful for the decision she made, because thanks to the people she met and the contacts she found, she’s doing what she’s doing nowadays, taking care of a generation we have so much to learn from.
It’s impossible not to notice the amount of care with which she treats Martha, and although she losses track of who she is at times, Erczi patiently explains to her that she’s in her home and that she’s there to take care of her. I can tell that she genuinely feels for the sadness that elderly, like Martha, feel and live with for not being able to take care of themselves any longer. But with such kind, gentle hands and subtle voice, it’s impossible not to want to have “a second mother” again; that’s how I see the role Elizabeth plays in the life of these ladies. She admits she would do anything for them because that’s just how close they gotten to each other.
Sadly enough, Erczi’s sons haven’t been able to join her. She loves what she does, and honestly that’s the only reason why she takes care of the elderly. She doesn’t make enough money to even sustain herself at times, which is why I think she’s simply just a woman with a great heart—and people like that are very hard to find nowadays. Elizabeth already tried bringing over one of her sons, but she had to send him back because she couldn’t sustain him in such an expensive city like New York, and he was also unable to get a job to help out his mother.
“I don’t know, I guess I’ll just keep on waiting for the time to be reunited with my family, until the time is meant to be…”
NOTE: My friend Niffath helped me translated a lot of the conversation between Ms. Elizabeth and myself. She battles her way through her sentences and those around her can still understand the message she’s trying to get across, but she admits “I don’t have money for my kids so I don’t have any to pay for class.” Because of the type of work she does, we also had to ask for permission from the owners of the apartment (where Ms. Martha lived), I believe it was her daughter, to get in and spend some time there, but it was quite limited. Ms. Erczi also refused to let us photograph her.