Bati Bleki Weekly Recap, May 21, 2017

Customs Crybabies

On March 16th of last year, I already wrote about the Customs strike in Barcadera. You will find it relevant if you read it:

Aruba’s Customs Agents are the biggest crybabies, they flip out every second week, they strike, they slow work down, they inconvenience tourist-arrivals on the island.

Last week again they went on strike. Over parking. Really? And before that over car-rental office space.

Crybabies, I decided. Then I thought about it.

The issue is probably not the issue, the strike is just a symptom of a deeper postema. They must not feel loved, or appreciated, that’s why like kids they act out, on totally unrelated issues.

Many of them are MEP followers, now working in an AVP environment, why should it matter? I have no clue, work is work, but in Aruba, political affiliations defy logic, and the sacred party loyalty, is considered more important than work ethics.

Solution? Get all my blonde girlfriends, dress them up in short shorts and big lipstick, drive to the airport to kiss and hug all customs agents, who keep us safe from smugglers and wrong-doers, as a sign of respect and affection.

Maybe not.

Then I remembered who is at the helm of the DAA department and I get it, the agents realize they play an important role, but they suffer from complete lack of leadership.

It’s the complete lack of leadership, in this organization, that’s problematic, and the rank and file feel invisible and uncared for, so they act out in desperation in the media, and get engaged in matters that are not part of their core mission. It’s all an attempt to be heard and respected.

Dear MinFin, I know you are an occasional reader of this column: It’s unfortunate, that you don’t do anything about your people’s distress.

They are whining, and you gotta hear them, but hear what is not being said. Their Union Leader is completely incompetent, as I said before, he is trying to build himself an empire, with its own special rules and privileges. He is just throwing his weight around to demonstrate how powerful and influential he is.

Dear MinFin while you cannot fix the Union Leader you can fix the head honcho. Before you leave office, please select a better DAA department leader, and peace will be restored, take my word for it.

One of my diplomatic friends summed it up: “The people of customs deserve better, better management, and better union leaders, the current situation doesn’t represent the hard working agents at the department.”

Ban serio, about hard working. Most of the time they just hang out in groups, at the exit of the arrival hall, some check their phones, leaning against the x-ray machines, their backs to their crowd. But ok, as long as they don’t strike, I am powerless about their indifferent and/or sulking faces.

Such crybabies.

Maria Teresa Madariaga is bigger than life

Maria Teresa Madariaga is the high-priestess of junk, bangles clanging, earrings jangling! Her handbag occupies the space of a suitcase and her voice overtakes every room.

She is a much appreciated local artist, a Cuban born diva with strong Aruban blood ties to the Chumaceiro family and half the phone book. When I met her she was reportedly sleeping under 100 yards of Belgium lace and mosquito nets. Why? Because she is a consummate collector, and hoarder, and at the time her traditional cunucu house in Sombre, served as the island Etymological museum, with over 10,000 square meters of collectibles on display, brought back to Aruba from her globe-trotting, self-searching years.

In the past decade MT forged a creative partnership with another remarkable junk artist, Luis Alonso Castano Benjumea, his work can be seen at the Aruba airport among other public spaces. When she had more than 50 hand-crafted leather purses hanging from the rafters, he suggested that she start selling some of them. Wow, what a concept. Not just making the artwork but also selling it. That was four years ago.

Since then MT has been making one of a kind bags, traffic stopping, exciting pieces, and she has a diehard following on the island. They all come around when a new collection of oversize statements leaves her workshop.

Last Saturday, a popup store at the House of Mosaic had another collection of about 40 bags, made its debut. Benjumea has been collaborating on bag design and production in the past eighteen-months, so that we in fact saw two collections, his and hers.

The leather comes from Argentina. MT goes there to buy materials, at fine leather tanning shops. Then the pieces get cut according to her original designs and they travel to Colombia to be hand-finished under her supervision, by Colombian artisans. The bags then are festooned with buttons, bones, beads, embroidery, buckles and frills, zippers and dangling objects, in silver, bronze, pewter, you name it, it all fits together. The decorations come from flea markets as far as Afghanistan and Turkey. The bags look solid and everlasting, an investment, a piece, a one of a kind, a bohemian irresistible temptation.

Yes, you have to sell your first-born, or mortgage the house to get one, but who cares, it is a work of art.

Next October MT and Benjumea are going to London, with a new ethnic, tribal collection already in MT’s head, she just has to go to Argentina now to buy the leather, then to Colombia to put her vision together, but don’t worry, it’s all there already, and Kings Row will be going ape-shit about it.

Do flags and stickers win elections?

My girlfriend who lives in San Nicholas woke up one night, the dogs were barking, she went outside to check, and found that AVP had hammered, a humongous flag to her gate posts, we’re talking big. They never asked permission and they attached it in a way which is difficult to remove!

So does that mean that San Nicholas is green?!

I am asking myself whether flags and stickers win elections?

Monday morning, the newspaper was filled with pictures from successful campaign rallies, with happy politicians hugging and kissing, celebrating birthdays, bands playing, lights spinning!

The campaign even piggy-backed on the Dutch Marine’s annual open house, blocking traffic to and from San Nicholas, to accommodate the MinPres and his urge to pop his head into passing cars. Thirty-four thousand locals inconvenienced; it was a bottleneck with the MinPres risking his life to arrest traffic by sticking out his neck, literally, to slow down motorists for an election pep talk!

I asked around then, who pays for the flags, stickers, tee-shirts, Mother’s day and Christmas cards, and I was told there is no election budget anchored in law. The political parties have been stalling the draft for “Political Parties Financing Law,” which would bring mandatory transparency into all political funding, which of course they do not welcome.

Now, my child, there are many creative ways to accumulating campaign funds, which are usually funneled through stichtingen, foundations. So now you know why each minister has all these foundation registered. And more pop up every day!

WHY? Because the legal structure of the foundation implies there is no transparency at all, in contrast to NVs or Eenmanszaken, which require disclosure.

Usually GOA contracts affiliated companies for various jobs, often bypassing public tendering. These companies fatten the invoices, then funnel the excessive monies into related stichtingen.

Recently, we heard from Open Bar Mysteries, OM, that “selling” work permits is lucrative, and by looking around we can clearly ascertain that government land lease deeds also pay off handsomely.

The traditional fundraising BBQs? They are just window-dressing, a lot of sweat & tears with minimal net result, but granting labor contracts against a donation to a not-for-profit stitching, that’s the way to go.

It is obvious that the bigger the party, the more successful the politician has been at “fund-raising,” collecting campaign funds, and our fun loving people enjoy the music, a free drink and a tasty snack, anytime.

Over the next few weeks, you will see our politicians spending money like water, it’s our money they are spending, on the election campaign instead of on healthcare and education. They will have no problems spending, they did not have to work to earn the funds!

Miracles in Moko

For the past seven years, Audrey Lacle has been inviting me to come visit Cas Esperanza in Moko 28. It is a halfway house maintained by Adopt an Addict foundation.

Ten years ago Audrey started the foundation in order to take drug addicted homeless off the main street and alleviate the pressure on the merchant community downtown, suffering from break-ins and vandalism.

Together with friends and NGO supporters she founded Adopt an Addict and forged a partnership with Hogar Crea in Santo Domingo, a rehab facility, where those lucky to be collected off the street, were sent for treatment, all expenses paid.

Upon their return, clean, they had nowhere to go, but back to the street. So Audrey identified the house in Moko, and set it up as a boarding facility for men in early recovery.

How did she do it? “I don’t know,” she said, but with occasional private sector donations, more than one dozen men are now in recovery, clean, well-spoken and in possession of new self-awareness and most importantly, hope.

On Monday one of the residents ‘graduated.

J. was travelling to the Netherlands where medical treatment is more readily available for his health challenges. But he was leaving with a renewed faith, his head held high, he was back among the living, having left 30 years of street-life behind. He traded it all in for sobriety, he says.

The home provides 24/7 guidance by a resident counselor. Residents cook for themselves and maintain a modest, well-organized home, they garden too, growing corn, beans and papaya.

Conditions are basic, bunk beds, 4 in a room, no air-conditioning, just 2 small windowless bathrooms for more than a dozen adults, but the atmosphere is relaxed and informal, with the assurance that none of the residents will be drinking or drugging today; a huge victory over the insidious, ugly disease of alcoholism.

Government subsidy? No. The home pays rent, imagine more than Awg 2,500 a month to the government, for doing the government’s job!

The foundation has paid Awg 170,000 in rent over the past years and is lobbying now to get the title to the home, so improvements can eventually be made.

Plans for the future? Audrey would like to see a small additional ward for double-winners, residents who suffer from both alcoholism and mental illness. The home welcomes you as you are, she explains, if you have the desire to stay clean, but residents in need of mental  care, should have their own program, apart from the general population.

Cas Esperanza welcomes volunteers. While a guest at the ‘graduation,’ I met some of them, individuals who contribute a few hours each week to help with maintenance, companionship or with occasional errands.

There was a lot of love at ‘graduation,’ and pride, mixed with a bit of apprehension as to what the future will bring. Will J. take his meds on time, stay positive, veer away from bad influences and continue to live in a recovery community? Time will tell, but for now, he is in top shape, and ready to participate in every day life, which is nothing short of a miracle.

The D’Abaru Cunucu at Bloemond, is worth visiting

We visited the Kelkbooms in Bloemond this week, to see their eighty D’Abaru trees cunucu. It’s impressive.

The story goes the following: Emile Kelkboom was a greatly-respected radio journalist, the owner of Radio Kelkboom, one of the oldest stations on the island. Then he decided to close shop and reinvent himself. He bid the airwaves farewell and sold his radio license.

I think he then stayed home under his D’Abaru tree and watched the iguanas and birds fight over the fruit – slightly sweet and silky white bonbons bursting from twisted red pods, hanging from the considerably large tree.

The fruit is tasty; Emile remembered it from his childhood, as a barefoot kid roaming the Bloemond cunucu, “We ate just about everything we found,” he reminisces,” including the D’Abaru fruit, which often ferments, resulting in a nice alcoholic buzz.”

Emile, who knows his way around the kitchen then decided to give the iguanas and birds some competition. He collected a basket of pods and went in to figure out what could be prepared to please his own palette.

He asked Sandra his creative daughter to join in the research.

The result? Amazing Veggie Burgers, delicious small snacks and breads, liquor, juice and tea.

Incidentally, the D’Abaru veggie burger is already served at White Modern Cuisine and at SideBar restaurant, where the organic, made in Aruba patties are very popular.

Emile explains that when he realized he developed a quality product, he decided to clear the land behind his house and plant 80 D’Abaru trees. He also devised a clever rain water trapping system, so he could water his plantation, year round. He also established a new company, Dushi-Pasaboca, and slowly, an original, sustainable home-industry took off.

When in season, December – March, the cunucu yields a huge quantity of D’Abaru pods, which must be shelled in order to extract the fruit. The kids of Sonrisa sometimes help, because it is a time consuming job, and the kids with special needs are experts; they’re also happy to earn a bit of money in the process.

Then Emile and Sandra do their thing in the kitchen, and their thing is delicious.

Call Dushi Pasa Boca at tel.: 592-7040 for your own supply of Veggie Burgers or for a catering job, it’s really terrific.


Oranjestad has a new park

In the past two years, every time I drove down the boulevard, past Boy Ecury Plein, I looked at the old park and said to myself:” Self, this construction will one day come to an end, it must.” But the truth is that until the park was re-landscaped, we could only think about destruction of old trees.

Why didn’t they place a sign, stating their intentions, and the name of the developer, depicting what the park would look like when it is done? It would have eased our fears and discomfort.  It would have been the right thing to do. Inform us, share your vision, we are stakeholders too.

Anyway, it is done. We got palm trees, nice grass, a modern albeit uneven floor, an interesting stone sculpture with a tree branch threaded through it, and an historic ship propeller that now keep the bust of our national hero company.

Parents who pick up their kids at school, are getting used to the new way the traffic flows. Has the flow improved?

Will you be placing a modest sign at the propeller to teach us of its historical value?

The park also includes, surprise, a stage, and a backstage, with dressing rooms, or perhaps bathrooms. Did the neighbors agree to have a concert stage across their front yards, I wonder.

The developer of the adjacent monster-condo concrete tower, who is also the developer of the park will have to maintain and supervise that public space, I hope he budgeted the work into his condo fees.

The building flaunts amazing ocean views, but it is overbearing, overpowering, and flicking the finger at the small houses in the adjacent streets.

Who’s gonna move in, I wonder. Surely, individuals with deep pockets.

Found out post publication, regarding propeller. The propeller is from the Oranjestad, the ship hit by a German U-boat in the San Nicholas harbor in 1942. This is the propeller found and raised by Percy Sweetman, in 2009, raised from 225 feet, it weighs 4000lbs. It was submerged for 67 years.

We loved the Intergalactic Party

These people know how to throw a party! We were invited to a Customer Appreciation Event last weekend, which threw everyone into a tizzy. What do you wear for an Intergalactic Gala?? I met some very worried chicas at the D’Shop. They wanted to dress to impress. As always, it was challenging but Aruba came through. The crowd looked amazing, and the party was filled with innovative touches and surprises.

We were greeted by aliens, and entered the ballroom through a time-tunnel! Then twenty-three of the Marriott Sales and Marketing divas were transformed with the help of make-up magician Andrew Curiel into silver forehanded, glittery extra terrestrials.

The commanding officer of the enterprise, Tom Calame was dressed as Mr. Spock, the lovable Star Trek vegetarian, human-Vulcan hybrid. He was born to play that part!

The food was incredible, served in abundant micro mini portions, all individually plated and garnished,  O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo, I did not see the executive chef but he was there in spirit!

Ofo and NFuzion music spun their magic too. You should have been there.


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May 21, 2017
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
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Bati Bleki by Rona Coster
Bati Bleki by Rona Coster