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When are you too old or too sick to be an expat? Should there be minimum physical and psychological requirements to apply?

By Richard Ingle

Two weeks ago, according to Radio Tomebamba, police were summoned to a Simon Bolivar clothing store where an elderly gringa was screaming at two mannequins. By the time officers arrived, thechl guest woman had pushed over the mannequins which, in turn, had toppled the adjacent rack of dresses.

When police asked her what the problem was, she told them that the mannequins were ganging up on her.

In another case last month, also reported on radio, a citizen guard in Parque Calderon noticed that an elderly expat had been holding on to the fence at the Abdón Calderon monument for half an hour. When the officer approached him, he told her that he was too weak to make it to the street to get a taxi. The officer called for help and the man was assisted to Luis Cordero where he was put in a taxi.

When I see or hear of incidents such as these, or simply observe some of my fellow physically challenged expats walking down the street, I cannot help but wonder: should these people be in Cuenca?

Taking it easy in the park.

As a psychologist by training, my instincts are to be supportive. I want to say to these people, “Good for you that, despite your infirmity, you are taking on the enormous challenge of moving to a new country in search of new adventures.” I feel they deserve credit.

On the other hand, I am prompted to ask what business do these folks, in their declining condition, have being away from their home countries and their families, and the support networks and language they are familiar with. Many of them that I observe in Cuenca, maybe the majority, live by themselves and have no local family support.

Ecuador — or any other country in Latin America, for that matter — is not a good place for the handicapped. There are simply too many obstacles, too many rough sidewalks, too many careless drivers, and these are only the physical issues; there are the equally daunting obstacles of language and culture.

Too often, sadly, I find that these unhealthy expats are not here for the adventure. A month ago, I helped an elderly man down the stairs in front of the El Vergel Supermaxi who told me he was recovering from a stroke. He said he moved to Cuenca to get away from his children in Indiana who wanted to put him in a nursing home.

About the same time, I spoke to a lady in her 80s, who walked with a cane, who was on her way to Vilcabamba with her 20-year-old cat so the two of them could regain their health and live to be 100. When I pressed her on why she had left the U.S., she said it was because she and her cat were getting sicker and couldn’t afford to pay doctor’s and veterinarian’s bill there anymore.

I recognize the fact that age itself is no determinant of fitness. I have friends in their late 80s who are in excellent health and enjoying life in Cuenca. But I also know people in their early 60s, with worn out joints, who can’t climb a flight of stairs and are miserable. There are also many expats with manageable disabilities who live quite comfortably with the support of spouses and friends.

As long as the Ecuadorian government does not require physical or psychological testing for residency — and some countries are beginning to add such requirements — all comers are legally welcome, of course. I appreciate the country’s generous entry policy.

Ultimately, the question of the appropriateness of a move out of one’s home country is up to the individual. Sadly, I am afraid that the issue is not given the consideration it deserves in too many cases.