This is my last column for the year 2017. The months, weeks and days flew by, but if you look at 2017 closely, from a daily column perspective, it was action-packed.
Saturday morning we were in the pool on our exercise bikes at Aqua Windie’s pedaling away, it was drizzling lightly, then a fat and happy cloud hanging over our heads had a nervous breakdown bursting into incredible rainfall.
It rained hard, the large droplets dancing on the shiny surface of the pool water, just under my nose, skittish and bouncy, forming craters and crowns, splashing then recoiling, a beautiful water ballet which I viewed up close through fogged out sunglasses.
We stayed in the pool through the deluge, who cares we were wet anyway. Then Windie made coffee, after class, hers is always the best, paired with stroopwafels.
You couldn’t help but feel blessed over the small things in life that make it so enjoyable, on a Saturday morning, surrounded by great friends, my last exercise class for the year.
GELUKKIG NIEUW JAAR, HAPPY NEW YEAR, FELIZ AÑO NUEVO, FELIZ AÑA NOBO, BONNE ANNEE… one of my friends wished me: Gut ins neue jahr glitchen, and I am passing it on to you!
CBS runs an interesting website
I always think of Aruba as an immigrant-friendly country. The numbers speak for themselves. When I arrived here, the island had just 64.000 residents. Meanwhile, according to CBS, Central Bureau of Statistics, we have a total population of 110.882 living here — as of June 2017. So the population almost doubled in a few decades, hence, this must be an immigrant-friendly country.
In principle, yes. In reality the system challenges the immigrants’ resolve to live here, but if they persist they end up having a dushi bida in spite of the many crazy hiccups along the way.
Recently CBS interviewed 1,092 immigrants and this is what they had to say:
It took them 5 to 6 months to obtain a work permit.
It took them 6 to 7 months to register at the Censo and obtain a resident’s permit.
It cost on average Awg 3,563 to process the paperwork.
72% of our immigrants had family members or friends already living on the island.
74% expected to get help from them.
76% actually received help.
34% of those interviewed by CBS reported that their financial resources before coming here were barely enough to cover their expenses.
For many, things improved in Aruba. Just 14% report that their financial resources here are barely enough to cover their expenses.
52% received some financial help so they could relocate, and get here.
33% do not have to pay back any of those loans
Not surprising: Immigrants arriving here from Europe make more money than immigrants hailing from Asia.
Do immigrants mingle? 32% of immigrants report MOST of their friends are their own countrymen.
Some immigrant groups keep to themselves: 69% of Chinese only have Chinese friends; 55% of Haitians only have Haitian friends and 45% Dutch only have Dutch friends.
Do immigrants intend to stay here? 74.6% of immigrants report they are here to stay and have no desire to go back to their country of origin or try another spot.
82.7% of South Americans intend to stay, only 13.6% of them declared their will to head back. A minority of 3.7% would perhaps like to try another place to live.
56.3% of Europeans intent to stay, 38.4% of them will head back to the mother-country, and 5.3% might try their luck elsewhere.
69% of Asians intend to stay here while 23.8% plans to eventually go back to where they came from, 6.3% might try another destination.
54.8% of North Americans intend to stay, the rest plans to head back to North America.
As for those who came here from other Caribbean islands, 79% of them want to stay, 7% would like to try their luck at another destination and 14% opt to head back to their country of origin.
Overall, Aruba gets good reviews as an immigrant-friendly country.
Fireworks, Could We Give Them Up To Save the World??
There is artistry in fireworks, using the night sky as a canvas and painting light and movement onto it. A fireworks display is thrilling, and traditionally the focal point of many public gatherings and celebrations, especially New Year’s Eve, but as soon as the fun starts a shower of lead, copper, chrome and other harmful chemicals follows. The metal particles get carried by the wind, and stay in our water and on the ground long after the festivities are over.
I read today in Science Web, an Icelandic site answering science related questions that while fireworks are being set off, the level of heavy metal particles reaches proportions comparable to a volcanic eruption. And you know that no one in his right mind would stick around to breathe that.
So I am just asking this morning, should we give fireworks up, and do something else with the money?
My dogs vote yay. Last night they were all agitated over the amount of fireworks in the street. Today, they will all be getting Valerian, in pill form, embedded in cream cheese. The herb acts like a mild sedative on their brain and nervous systems. Of course offering up my bedroom with the airco and the TV on is also a great fix.
We were talking about pollution yesterday and what great garbage producers we all are. I am bad. My coffee comes in individual aluminum pods, my fruits and salads in hard plastic shells, my cookies individually wrapped. Because of the size of my household, small, I often prefer buying products wrapped in single portions, which add up at the trash can.
One of my friends was speculating yesterday what would the lady at the Wendy’s take out window say if she showed up with her own container for refill, rejecting the cup, lid and straw, the wrappers and bags, here, jut hand me the sandwich, I’m good.
In the movie Downsizing – I saw it a while ago and I am still talking about it – the recruiter speaking off the auditorium stage in favor of becoming 5 inch tall, and reducing personal consumption – with the noble goal of saving the planet — holds up a 13 gallon trash bag and declares that this is the garbage produced by the TOWN of downsized individuals in one year. It’s what I produce in two hours.
We gotta change our ways. In a recent conversation with Ramsey Halabi of Ecotech, Waste Management Company and Waste Collection, he also lamented our wasteful habits. In the old days, he explained, all food leftovers went to pig farms, or to the pig living in the family’s backyard. No one raises pigs anymore; the organic waste all ends up stinking in the trash. Table leftovers went to the family dog that was an efficient and happy disposable system. Today we buy fancy processed food for the four legged companions, often resulting in skin allergies, and the chicken bones end up rotting in the trash.
Ramsey discreetly shares that when he does the dishes, organic food leftovers end up in the flower beds below the kitchen window, a section of the garden his wife is most proud of, believing it is her diligent watering that’s responsibly for the healthy growth. It’s my organic fertilization says Ramsey, advising us all to send fruit and vegetable debris back to the garden.
Anyway, in the name of saving the planet, could we give up fireworks?
Baby steps on the road to a fossil-fuel free future
When Jamal Mahawat Khan speaks, if my mind wonders for a second, I’m lost — this guy is intense, and his narrative is filled with facts and figures. The former head of the local Chamber of Commerce shared lots of interesting information with me but what is worthy of publication as 2017 comes to conclusion is his pursuit of secondary recycling, in conjunction with ECOTEC Aruba Waste Management and Waste Collection.
According to Jamal he first got interested in recycling in the 90s, when from his office window at Barcadera — he was operating a rice packing company at the time, getting rice from his family farm in Surinam and shipping it to Europe under favorable import conditions — he regularly witnessed the dump on fire. This eternal flames eventually brought him to recycling and for the past few years his company has been collecting/buying used car batteries on the island. The old car batteries have a price tag and as a result of his good efforts, no car batteries ever show up at the dump, they find their way to CARENTRA, Caribbean Energy Traders, and get recycled. Kudos.
He then turned his attention to the greatest offenders, old car tires, and educated himself on the subject of pyrolysis, a heat using process that melts the rubber, separates the steel and black carbon, and uses the rest as alternative fuel, good enough to propel a WEB generator.
So that’s his current pet project.
Starting January 2018, he will be producing 1,000 liter a day, and can go up to 5,000 liter every three days — he identified a live buyer, and will be recycling rubber, coming off the island’s 70.000 cars. Yuppee, no more toxin-releasing, pest-breeding, fire-risking, landfill polluting tires hanging around our landscape. As I just learned, those things do not decompose on their own free will, thus giving them a second life in fuel generation is the only way to go.
Jamal is also pursuing used motor oil, collected from the island’s garages, previously dumped in the wilderness. He will be turning the oil into usable energy, clean enough to partially power WEB, if WEB did not heap so many obstacles on his way. But not to worry, he identified a live buyer and step by step is getting there.
These secondary recycling projects will also provide some menial work for the clients of Aruba Stichting Trampolin pa Trabou, a job coach organization for people with disabilities age 16 and up who are workless but have enough potential to be able to work if trained and given guidance. CARENTRA offers some opportunities for them, endorsed and encouraged by CEDE Aruba, an organization which brings people and resources together for a sustainable development.
So, what is Richard Visser up to these days….
We’ve seen him here during the election campaigning for AVP, hoping to introduce innovation into education and perhaps also into tourism. At the time, he expressed great passion for both and was prepared to move mountains, deliver deep and wide changes once he conquers the district of Noord for the party. But the going got tough. You know, there were too many hurdles, too many complications. Then the fake news item about his wife taking the hospital over started circulating, and that aborted the rest of his campaign; he was not eyeing health care, he set his sights on education, but the fabricated scandal hurt his trajectory. The Dutch say tall trees catch much wind.
So off he went, back to his own projects which have been set up around the globe, Vera Health & Education, with branches in South Africa, the Benelux countries, Scandinavia, Brazil, Caribbean & Latin America, Turkey and some Arab countries. He is delivering a new model of healthcare and education that is apparently desperately needed in the 21st century and beyond, because increase in lifestyle diseases and age-related chronic conditions, as well as infectious diseases in some developing countries, is putting an intolerable strain on healthcare systems everywhere.
Take the example of AZV; it is becoming more and more difficult to economically maintain one-on-one health services, between patients and their care providers. It is costly and inefficient.
Vela Health & Education promoted a new model where patients get in touch with their physicians via phone or tablet, on an application, and get tested, scanned, measured and diagnosed electronically, receiving electronic prescriptions at the end of their virtual doctor’s visit.
The new health care model is available for schools, jails, trains, and airlines. They will no longer look for a doctor on board an aircraft in the event of an ailing passenger; the crew will contact one in his clinic in the cloud with instant access to every medical specialty under the sun.
A student, a prisoner, a passenger isn’t feeling so great? Get him a doctor in real time via Skype/Face time or other applications, all HIPAA-compliant, in accordance to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that sets the standard for protecting sensitive patient data, and polices the system.
Richard reports that he will be setting up a Vera offshoot here, in Aruba, in collaboration with local assets, a local clinic, because he believes the time for innovation has come, we live in an age of huge technological developments, and easy global connectivity, and should open our eyes.
This revolution, he says, is redefining every aspect of our lives, no matter our socio-economic background and/or geographical location — Vera Health & Education is busy putting these technologies together to bring us the future of healthcare, efficiently.
Education will be next, easily accessible, from trains, planes, buses, and jails – education will come to you personalized and in real time to help you discover your real talent.
Octopus a tale of 11 dishes
The octopus is an amazing creature, soft-bodied and eight-armed with bulging eyes, it can shoot ink, swim backwards, change color to camouflage itself, but alas, it dies shortly after mating. How sad. The mollusk inspires chefs to great nothing, in other words, while it looks intimidating to cook, you basically just have to simmer it until tender, and throw it in a salad. In the case of the average octopus, less is more.
And if you are wondering, I recently obtained my PHD on the subject in Portugal, on vacation, where we had octopus EVERY DAY, sometimes twice a day. I kept a running diary of the squiggly, squirmy thing, because I never before felt such fascination with a single food item.
We first ordered octopus at L’Esquina Alfama, with a side order of Fado. We ate quietly and reverently while the musicians and the Fado vocalists aired their dramatic saudade — the equivalent of Vallenato music in Colombia. You are required to chew quietly while the music in on, in respect to the tragic subject-matter, life.
We had Salad Tentaculos at Café Nicola in Coimbra, an historical and picturesque university town north of Lisbon on our way to Porto. The riverside medieval town is gorgeous and classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO. We sat in the sun, at the outdoor café, in the middle of the town’s Christmas market. I would go back tomorrow.
In Porto on the waterfront just under the teleferico, we had a delightful octopus salad at Taberninha do Manel and chased it with a Francesinha, an elaborate dish, you don’t need to know, you don’t need to order, it’s one of those authentic things you gotta try once in a lifetime. While the Francesinha was forgettable the riverside and bridge views were tremendous.
We loved the Salada de Polvo in Aveiro, a seaside town, with a bustling sardine fishing and salt mining industry. We sat across the tiny fish market at Terrinamagica restaurant. We topped the octopus salad recommended by a super friendly waiter with fried eel, skinny-snaky things, looking quite disgusting but tasting delish.
The town of Evora in the heart of Portugal afforded one octopus opportunity in the central Placa do Giraldo, a square remembered as the focal point for murderous 16th century Spanish inquisition activities and the execution of the local Duke. We sat at a café, and ordered wine; it came in a carafe, tucked into an ice bucket. Then we looked at the menu found out they served no octopus, moved with our wine two tables down to St. Humberto, and ordered Salada de Polvo for lunch.
I believe we also had octopus at Moments restaurant, still in Evora, but maybe not, the charismatic, cigar puffing owner of this restaurant overshadowed the food with his personality. Did we have octopus, Yes? No? I am not sure. But we definitely had most amazing fresh mushrooms.
At the densely forested town of Sintra we had octopus twice at Vinhos E Sabores, with a drop-dead gorgeous North African waiter, and at restaurant Tulhas, both in the heart of the old, remarkable town with exquisite royal palaces, extravagant residences and decorative gardens. Of course, Sintra is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We raced up the steep, no joke hills, to the palace and the residence on top, 55 strenuous moments, it was an unforgettable trek.
The weirdest octopus salad was served at Polvo E Companhia, at the World Capital of Octopus, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean named Santa Luzia, a few kilometers from Tavira, in the south of the country. It was mixed with corn. Absolutely delicious, but weird. The village is blessed by a long line of seaside restaurants serving octopus for lunch from 12 to 3 and for dinner from 6 to 9pm — do not attempt to bother them, outside business hours.
Back in Lisbon, the cutest corner eatery on the edge of bohemian Alfama, Canto da Vila bistro, with blazing purple bougainvilleas, served a mean salada polvo. Carmo Restaurant, at the sophisticated Bairro Alto prepared it à Galega, it was the best we’ve had, warm, tender, simmered in herbs. We also loved the Polvo Salteado at A Praca, an eatery in a trendy upcoming area in town, transforming abandoned seaside warehouses, just under the Lisbon suspension bridge. Very cool, urban revival at its best!
Lisbon, Coimbra, Porto, Aveiro, Sintra, Evora, Tavira, Faro, Monsaraz, and Silves, I might have forgotten a few, most of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, so much culture, history, and esthetics, great wine and food. We really liked it.