Being 60: 3

Last Wednesday I took a day off work and went with my dear friend F to get our INAPAM cards, which is what they call the card here that proves you are over 60 and therefore eligible for certain discounts. I didn’t actually need to take a whole day off but I thought I would so that I would not be stressed about missing work, and also to enjoy a day with F. We had lunch here at home afterwards.

Naturally we had to go the office armed with endless documents and immigration papers and bills just to prove who we were and how old we were and where we lived. Plus 2 photos which I got done just round the corner from the INAPAM offices.  Not a bad photo in the end, so that was good.
INAPAM stands for Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores which exists to issue these cards and make sure we senior adults are not abused or forgotten, they promote and protect, in theory, our human rights, they also offer free medical attention, as well as eye tests and glasses, etc. as we saw in the office we eventually found in downtown Jiutepec. F and I have known each other for 53 years. It seems incredible but it’s true, we met at the age of 7 in our primary school in Colchester, Essex, in England, and have been true friends ever since.  Now we are both 60 and still sharing experiences amid much laughter. We decided long ago to do all the bureaucratic stuff together to make it more fun and avoid the boredom of waiting around. In that spirit we got our migrant status together (in Mexico City and that went on all day) plus our driving licences every 5 years or so (depending if the traffic office has new licences or not) and now the INAPAM card.  We sign each others photos when we have to get new passports and it always makes us laugh, as well as be amazed, when we write that we have known each other for more than 50 years.

We arrived at the office, full of 60 year olds, it had a lovely garden on one side but we were directed pretty quickly to where we needed to go. We got to a kind of covered patio outside an office. We came to a halt in front of one of those ribbony things that stretch in front of you to stop you going any further. People respond to them in one of two ways, stop and obey or walk underneath. My personal experience is that if you attempt to open it the ribbon often has a tendency to snap out in a very vicious way and the ribbon winds back up with a great whoosh into one of the bases. They have loads of them in airports, they force you to line up in a certain way, in a certain direction, but they are one of those weird things in life that are easy to move but no one does and most of us end up following the line, i.e. obeying. So there it was, two bases and a short piece of ribbon blocking our way. Naturally we stopped. On surveying the scene we saw 2 lines of chairs hugging the walls on either side. I said, where is the end of the queue? And a man sitting down beside the ribbony thing stood up and opened it for us and said just go through that door and get a ficha, which was very helpful of him. Both us thought that the man was also in the queue and that he was just being helpful; later we realised that that was his job.  So we went through the door and got a ficha; I had P and F had Q. It turned out that there were 2 queues: one for pensions and the other for the INAPAM card. Those with numbers were for the pensions and those with letters were waiting to get the card.

And there we sat for a couple of hours, the numbers on one side, the letters on the other. One reason why F and I always do these things together is because we never run out of things to say to each other. So we chatted and as more people arrived and there was confusion about fichas and queues we began to listen to what was going on around us. We discovered that we had K, L, M, N and O before us still to go and there was only one lady who was attending our queue. She was in a small office equipped with a small desk on which she had a typewriter where she was bashing out people’s information with great patience and not too much dexterity. There were two other people attending the pension queue, which seemed to be longer than ours, and one of them was a young woman in a red striped t shirt who kept leaping up from her desk and rushing about trying to sort out the queues. It turned out that we were all muddled up and there were numbers with letters and so she soon moved everybody around to untangle us all. She answered questions and told people where to go with great efficiency, all this in a very loud voice so we all knew who had what letter as well as other details that we didn’t really need to know.

We talked to the owner of the letter S (R was nowhere to be seen) who had come to renew her card. Why would she need to renew it we wondered and then we saw why. Every 6 years the President changes in Mexico and when he does he introduces a new federal government identity. It just so happens that my office did the previous government identity and our neighbour S had the old version of the card (much nicer if you ask me…). Woe betide anyone who has a card with the wrong design… So more work for the ladies in the office, more money spent on issuing new cards, more time wasted. But it’s the same old story every six years; every single government building changes its façade, all the interior signage is interchanged, all the documents and everything you can possibly think of are ditched in favour of the new, and all of that takes about 6 years to achieve. What this means is that the millions and millions of pesos that are spent on changing everything is money not spent on education, new roads, the health services, etc. It’s unbelievable but this is the reality of a government change, and it happens every six years. So basically we shall have to renew our card every six years too, even though there is no expiry date on them …

When it was my turn I approached the desk and the lady was charming and patient. She had trouble typing up my name of course, that’s always a challenge, but we got it corrected (with white out) and sorted. She asked why I was in Mexico, as always happens, and we chatted away, while she was checking the zip code and bashing on the typewriter. I asked her why she didn’t have a computer and she said oh no, we don’t have anything like that here, we just get sent the cards and so we have to everything by hand. And, she said for good measure, we don’t get paid much either.  I’m so sorry I said, you do a very important job. She smiled. Eventually in went the card and the info was typed on that too, the photo was affixed and my thumbprint applied and I became the proud owner of an INAPAM card. I thanked her and left and then it was F's turn and she went through the same process. She also chatted away with the lady and was asked all about her family and so I think we managed to entertain her a little that day, with stories that perhaps are not quite so typical. We said goodbye to the rest of the alphabet still waiting patiently and went out of a door back on to the street.

I have yet to cover my card with plastic, to ensure its longevity and usefulness, and I have yet to use it but can’t wait to buy a hugely discounted bus ticket or use it to pay less for medicines. It seems there are all sorts of discounts but you have to discover them as you go along.

I noticed that there were more women than men in the queue, at least on the day we went, I wonder if that’s indicative of the tendency for men to die earlier than women. There was a big sign up on the wall saying that the card can only be obtained by the person in question, that no one else can obtain it for you. I sat and thought to myself, hmmmm, I wonder if Carlos Slim has bothered to get his but could never ever imagine him doing something so mundane and ordinary, so beneath him. Of course, he doesn’t need free transport or cheaper medicines but it’s the principal of the thing. F and I were delighted with our cards and had a great day. Our celebratory lunch was great fun, sitting on the terrace, drinking a couple of gins and tonic and feeling very well indeed.


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