The Turkey and I

Besides the family dog, the first pet that I truly had was the turkey.

I was about eight when Dad and my uncle bought a couple of turkeys home.  For some reason, I took to feeding the turkey not as a chore, but as a “mission” of sorts.  Feeding leftovers to the neighbor’s pigs was one thing, but taking care of the turkey was another.  I even made the turkey gobble on cue: all I had to do was stand in front of it, jump around, and imitate Taz from “Tazmania.”

Until that fateful day when Dad decided that the turkey was fat enough to be killed.  I was inconsolable: for much of the day I looked at my relatives as cold-hearted pet-killers.  Eventually I relented: after a gift of a plastic robot and a talk with Dad over the facts of life, I sat down to one of the best pets I ever had.

It wasn’t exactly a good meal, though: my pet turkey ended up as adobo and afritada, not the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce of our 20th century colonial masters.  It wasn’t bad – a rather earthy, gamey chicken – but a bit sinewy and rubbery.  That’s the first and the last turkey we kept.

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Yolanda: Notes on a Disaster

Twenty-three years ago, Typhoon Uring (international codename: “Thelma”) turned Ormoc from a peaceful port overlooking the Camotes Sea, to a wasteland of despair and death.  The flash flood of 1991 gave way to the most haunting images left behind by Typhoon Uring: entire houses flattened by floodwaters, and streets ravaged by rubbish and debris.  Almost 5,000 people died from the flash floods.  An estimated 3,000 were declared missing, and P600 million worth of property were damaged by a storm that was, for a time, deemed the worst of them all.

Perhaps the most haunting images of all were rotting bloated corpses: like statues etched in blocks of impure marble and clothed with tattered rags, it seemed that the sculptor wanted to capture drowning and despair in their most literal forms.

And here we are, in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (international codename: “Haiyan”). Most storms hit the same places in the Philippines’ eastern seaboard.  The Eastern Visayas region – Samar and Leyte in particular – is no stranger when it comes to typhoons.  Yet at the same time, the region is no stranger to the poverty and vulnerability that comes with generations of underdevelopment.  Eastern Visayas is a place of extreme wealth in the hands of a few, and despondent poverty for the multitude.

The chatter in Philippine social media today spares no barbs for the Aquino administration, international humanitarian agencies, and even reporters from here and all over the globe.  Everything from politics to donation protocols to media coverage was put in the spotlight.  The images of hope – a street child donating a peso, a dirt-poor 80-year-old woman donating a half-open packet of milk to those starving in Leyte, lone helicopter pilots doing airdrops on their own, ShelterBox volunteers – are often shadowed by the criticisms of an angry public, mostly spared from the devastation of Yolanda.  “Donations are not being distributed fast enough,” one says.  “Politicians are hoarding donations for them to put their names on the bags,” says another.  That storm of opinions, brewing and swirling in Twitter and Facebook, did in words what Yolanda did in gales and storm surges: to shake the very core of our being.

Yet the devastation caused by Yolanda was just the exclamation point to the tragic story of Eastern Visayas: mired in hardship and poverty for decades, perhaps even generations.  Samar and Leyte became the poster provinces of rural poverty in the Philippines.  Yolanda barreled through the Visayas and not only uprooted trees and destroyed buildings and claimed lives: it also exposed the extent of poverty and underdevelopment in a place that needed aid and support way before the strongest typhoons of this year started brewing.

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Greetings from Jakarta

It was the poet T. Mulya Lubis who once wrote, roughly translated, “Indonesia’s future is two hundred million mouths gaping.”  As the Blue Bird taxi took me from the Soekarno Airport to Kuningan (sort of the Makati/Fort Bonifacio of our friendly neighbors south of the country), it was easy to see that the one marked, obvious difference between the Philippines and Indonesia is that we drive on the left.

I guess this is reason to believe in the wise words of my high school English teacher: there are more things that bring us together than keep us apart.

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Two Billion Tons

What many of us missed in the news last month: in an AFP report from London, two billion tons of food (roughly half of all the food produced in the world) is thrown away every year.  To give some sense of perspective to how much food we’re wasting, two billion tons is the annual increase of carbon dioxide absorbed by the world’s oceans every year.  Globally, we produce a little over two billion tons of iron ore a year.  A big contributor to food waste: ugly food and vegetables.  Maybe the apples aren’t perfectly proportioned enough, or that there are a few blemishes in the cabbage.  Our preoccupation with perfect-looking food contributes to the 725,742 Olympic-sized swimming pools we fill with wasted food every year.

It’s easy – and correct – to pin the blame squarely on commercialism, on consumerist thinking, on the excesses and wastefulness of the modern way of life.  A company like Krispy Kreme, for example, won’t serve or save a misshapen doughnut: they would throw it away (which is probably the same case for other fastfood chains like McDonald’s or KFC or something).  More than that, however, I think that our choices in food also require some rethinking.

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