Sunday April 16,2000 edition
By Mark Fineman Los Angeles Times
Portsmouth, dominica - At first glance, there doesn't appear
to be much left of Elizabeth Israel.
Her leathered and furrowed skin sags from a frail 90-pound
frame. She hasn't walked in a couple of years and went blind
in November. From time to time, her sentences trail off.
But as she greeted a visitor in her simple plywood shack on
a recent afternoon, her handshake was firm. Her elegant
appearance confirmed what her friends and neighbours say:
She insists that her hair and her earrings be just so.
Through her neighbours, she reminisced in her native Cocoy
dialect about what a "wicked boy" that Adolf Hitler was, about
how rocky her only marriage was - coming so late in life, in 1925
- and about the three grandsons she has outlived.
All in all, not bad for a women who, according to church records
turned 125 in January.
In fact, Dominicans beleieve Israel is the world's oldest person.
This nation's Roman Catholic archdiocese issued an official
baptismal certificate just in time for Israel's birthday, declaring that
she was born Jan. 27,1875. The document confirms an entry a
neighbour unearthed in December in a tattered church registry,
which recorded Israel's baptism on Jan 30 of that year.
Based on that certificate, Israel's friends have submitted her
name for inclusion in the next edition of the Guiness Book of World
Records, which will be out in October. And since Sarah Knauss,
the record holder listed in the lastest edition, died Dec 30 at age
119 in Allentown, Pa., Israel appears to have a good shot.
The story of Israel, known to all her neighbours as Ma Pampo,
goes beyond record books. It is a tale of roots, human endurance
and the lessons that such a long life can teach.
The daughter of a freed slave, Israel worked on a lime and coconut
plantation for about 90 years for pennies a day. She retired about 21
years ago and lives penniless in a blue clapboard shack. yet she is
blessed by the love and charity of her neighbours.
By way of perspective, in the year the records show Ma Pampo was
born, Ulysses Grant was president of the United States and Queen
Victoria was on the British throne. The following year, Alexander
Graham Bell invented the telephone - a device Ma Pampo never
She has survived two world wars, the island's sometimes violent
struggle for independence, a coup and countless uprisings,
although her clearest memory is of explosions from offshore naval
battles during World War II.
"She's a no-nonsense women," said Dominican broadcaster Alexander
Bruno. "She's aware of everything. She smiles. She laughs. She tells me
everything she's heard on the radio.... She knows who she voted for last
month. She knows she's 125."
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