The oldest women on earth has spoken. A bit short of her 129th birthday, Chechnyan Koku Istambulova has plenty to say. And ain’t none of it cheerful.
Poor Koku sure missed out in the joie de vivre department.
'I have not had a single happy day in my life. I have always worked hard, digging in the garden.
'I am tired. Long life is not at all God's gift for me - but a punishment.' (Source: Daily Mail)
Of course, there are plenty of reasons for that profound unhappiness. Koku was born in a poor and backwards – even by the standards of 1889 – village. She lived through the Bolshevik overthrow of the tsar. Watched Nazi tanks roll through her town. Was deported by Stalin – along with everyone else in Chechnya – to Kazakhstan, which was/is no garden spot. And as if Kazakhstan wasn’t bad enough, she was shipped to Siberia for more living misery, digging through the permafrost, trying to make her garden work. And as if Siberia wasn’t bad enough, she eventually landed back in Chechnya, which resulted in zero joy, even though Chechnya was her native land and Koku missed it when she was in exile.
To add to Koku’s misery, she outlived all of her children, including a daughter who died a few years back at the age of 104.
But not one “single happy day” in her entire life? Yikes!
'Looking back at my unhappy life, I wish I had died when I was young. I worked all my life. I did not have time for rest or entertainment.
Hmmmm. I consider myself to be someone who has “worked all my life,” but there’s work and there’s work. And when work is pure, unadulterated drudgery without any “time for rest or entertainment”, well, I might “wish I’d died when I was young” too. But, Jeez Louise, grim as the story of Koku’s life is, you’d think there might be at least a scintilla of happiness in there. One perfect spring day when her kiddos were small and the family had an egg to share. Talk about depressing.
'We were either digging the ground, or planting the watermelons. When I was, my days were running one by one. And now I am not living, I am just dragging through.'
Man, not even being able to take some pleasure from eating watermelon. Of course, she just mentions planting them, not eating them. Maybe she had to sell her entire crop.
One of my husband’s favorite TV shows was the late 1970’s-early 1980’s sitcom Taxi, and his favorite character was Latka Gravas, who had emigrated from some fictional Eastern European hellhole. When talking about his childhood, Latka would say that it wasn’t that bad, even in those early years when his family lived outdoors. “We had the bucket. We had the chair.” (I have a tiny bucket ornament that hangs on my Christmas tree in honor of Latka and my late Christmas-hating husband. Jim’s favorite quote from Latka was this one: “The only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.")
Anyway, Latka’s life sounds like an absolute fun-filled pleasure cruise compared to Koku Istambulova’s.
I’m not one of those folks who want to live forever. Right about now, 90 sounds good for the endgame. But ask me if and when I hit 89. If I still have my health and mobility, if I’m not demented, if my home isn’t underwater (literally: I live on landfill), if my family and friends are still around in good health and mobile, and not demented, well, why not?
But 129 sounds like about 29 years too much for anyone, even for someone like me who’s led a pretty good life with plenty of happy days along the way. Let alone for someone whose highpoints were watermelon digging while Panzer tanks rumbled past.
Guess Hobbes wasn’t right about everyone’s life. Sometimes it turns out to be nasty, brutish, and long.
A shout out to the wonderful Lauren Duca, who tweeted about poor Koku, and who “cannot wait for this feature film starring Kate McKinnon.”