Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 31

The border crossing into Haiti was something that Tupi did not expect. At Dajabón, there were many people carrying luggage and items on their heads. "Wow they have strong heads!" Tupi said and Alex smiled. "That river over there looks dirty, what are people doing there?" Tupi asked Alex as they walked over the bridge. "Fishing, washing their clothes, whatever they want..." Alex said. "That is Massacre River."

Tupi's eyes opened wide. "Massacre River? You're kidding me right?" Tupi asked.

"Nope, more than 20,000 Hatians were massacred here in a genocide." Alex said.

"Is this place haunted?" Tupi asked and Alex shrugged.

They walked by a large open Market and it was crowded. Tupi looked inside and many of the items were old clothes and shoes. "What the hell? Aren't these things donated? Why are they being sold?" Tupi asked.

"Haitians buy these clothes in bulk to bring back to sell in Haiti. There is some form of economy created by these clothes." Alex said.

Tupi looked at the items and nothing interests him. "Lets go!" Alex said and led Tupi to the Customs checkpoint. "Wow, this is a little confusing. So many people, yet not much queue." Tupi said. 

"Its open border day, and Haitians can come over and buy and sell stuff at the open Market." Alex said. "But for us, we need to chop the passport. and pay the visa fees."

Border crossing was surprisingly easy with Alex's help. They navigated to another area where they boarded a different bus to go to Port-au-Prince. This bus ride was surprisingly much better than the Dominican Bus where Tupi was squeezed in a corner. Tupi had his own seat, and the bus ran direct with no stops in between.

In many of the roads, the bus ran on gravel, leaving a trail of dust behind it. The bus also passed by several old mining area and quarry, and the area looked deserted but pretty. Tupi enjoyed looking outside and there was quite a bit of trees and greenery along the way.

Approaching Port-au-Prince, Tupi saw more buildings and shophouses. There were many "Business Schools" which were in small buildings, size of a convenience store. Tupi also noticed a lot of stores selling lottery tickets. "So Gambling is big here?" Tupi asked.

"Sadly, when you are poor, you will bet everything to have a chance to have more, but lose everything." Alex said.

As the journey continues, Tupi sees more lottery stores, and on a block, there can be easily 3 - 4 lottery stores on the same stretch. "This gambling thing is ridiculous. Just like NTUC, our Trade Union that turned into a Supermarket. They seemed to have gambling beside every supermarket as well.

The bus stopped at a big depot and Alex brought Tupi out and Alex has a friend who was waiting in a car and they left to go to the school where the NGO is.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Giving out food to the homeless, to give or not to give?

I've volunteered at food banks before, and helped prepare food for the homeless. There are actually courses you have to go through for food safety preparation before you can actually cook (otherwise you can always help chop vegetables, or serve, etc)

Even for catering, I've witnessed "expired" food given to volunteers at a National even causing food poisoning.

In supporting the vulnerable, I don't think preparing food and giving out on your own is a good idea. Sometime, the packaging, storage and other factors cannot be controlled and the food may have gone bad. I seriously doubt they can afford medical help these days, and you are only making the situation worse.

If you really want to help. Bring them to a food bank or soup kitchen. Donate to these places as they do have a safety standard to keep, and they do provide "safe" food.

I do think the cops should have given these people a warning and explain the importance of food handling and licenses.

I am opposed to give money to a pan handler as I've witnessed a friend give money to a homeless person, and an hour later, that homeless person was hit by a car with a bottle of booze in his hand. Please, go buy them a meal and sit and engage them in a conversation. Learn why they got into the situation and see how you can connect them to help.. or even ask google.

-- Robin Low

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 30

Tupi arrived in Santo Domingo. The sun was out and the weather was nice. It was not too humid but it was warm. Tupi waited almost 1 hour from landing and going through customs to get his luggage. The luggage was rather bulky and heavy due to the gifts. Tupi had a porter help him with the luggage as it was too heavy for him. Luckily, Tupi did not need to go far as Alex was waiting for him outside.

"Do you want to have the Hatian Experience or the Tourist Experience?" Alex asked Tupi.

"Um... The cheapest method? The money saved can be used for other good stuff." Tupi said.

"Are you sure?" Alex said. "It is a pretty bad ride."

"As long as I can get on the bus with the luggage and nothing gets lost." Tupi said.

"The comfort is the issue, not theft." Alex said.

"How bad can it be?" Tupi asked.


Tupi got up the bus and sat beside a chicken. There was instant regret of Tupi's face. "7 hours you say?" Tupi asked and Alex laughed and nodded. "A ride you will never forget." Alex said.

Alex has taken the bus several times. It is often over crowded, hot and uncomfortable. However, they pass by several areas with very good local food. The bus was not really an express bus. It has multiple stops in the city. At this time, everyone was hot and sweaty and Tupi was squished and the bus was still letting more people up. There were even people hanging on to the outside.

Fortunately, many people got down at the last stop where the bus will run express to other towns. Alex was quite familiar and as he sees Tupi hot and sweaty, Alex passed Tupi a bottled water and Tupi gulped it down. "You need to pace yourself, next stop is 2 hours where we break for lunch."

The trip outside town was not too bad. The bus was traveling fast enough for a breeze to come in, but the roads were bad and the ride was bumpy. It was like clockwork, and 2 hours later, the bus stopped at a restaurant where the passengers had a 30 minute break for food while the driver rests and refuel the bus.

The bus had a stop at Barahona. This was a very busy city with lots of cars and short buildings. "Wow, this is so far from Santo Domingo, yet so busy? What's going on here?" Tupi asked.

"This is Barahona, one of the most important cities in Dominican Republic. They make a lot of sugar here, and there are lots of Eco-Tourism here." Alex said. "Come, let me show you a good restaurant for Dominican Food." Tupi looked around, this place looks busy and old, and he did not really feel like eating as he was tired after the long bus ride.

Alex spoke in Spanish and ordered some food. Tupi had a bowl of soup and an egg shaped dish served in a wooden cup. He was hesitant to try, but it smells really good. When Tupi break a little of the food to have it with his soup, the mixture of flavor blew his mind.

"What the hell is this?" Tupi suddenly was excited about the trip as his appetite arrived. "This stuff is great!"

"This is Sancocho and Mofongo" Alex said. "Its a very traditional Dominican Dish."

"Oh Mofongo... Where have you been all my life?" Tupi said. "You never lived until you have this..."

"Well, I'm glad you liked it, when you are leaving, I'll bring you to a more popular shop that serves better Mofongo." Alex said.


What is mofongo?

Mofongo is a dish made with plantains: fried, mashed with garlic, shaped into a ball and served in a pilón (the mortar bit of the pestle and mortar).

Classic mofongo is made with chicharrón (fried pork rind). It can be eaten for lunch or supper and is also a popular snack for late-night revelers.

What is Sancocho?

Sancocho is a dish that is usually prepared for special occasions. Its preparation is long and it contains many ingredients. However, the time it takes to prepare is the time best enjoyed with friends, while drinking a little rum or a cold beer.

Classic Sancocho is made with beef only (usually flank, or similarly inexpensive cut) and it is a Dominican comfort food.

Ingredients for the mofongo 
1 cup oil for frying (corn is ok)
5 unripe plantains peeled, cut into ¾" [2 cm] slices
1 lb chicharrón cut into 1″ [2.5 cm] pieces
2 tbsp garlic mashed
1 1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

Chicharrón is basically deep fried pork belly in its own fats. 
If you really want good Chicharrón, it is a bit of work.

Instructions for Chicharrón 
1) Rub the skins of the belly with baking soda.
2) Cut the belly into the right size and rub salt on them. 
3) Place in refrigerator overnight to dehydrate. 
4) Rinse the pork belly and pet dry with towel. 
5) Place segments of pork belly in a wok with a bit of water, set it over the stove, and let the fat render out over the course of a few hours.
6) When the water evaporates, turn up the heat as the oil from the pork has already out of the pork and watch the pork deep fry in its own fats. (3-5 mins)
7) Transfer the chicharrones to a plate lined with paper towels to blot the extra fat. Toss with salt and your choice of seasonings. The chicharrones will remain crispy for many hours.

Instructions for mofongo 
1) Heat oil over medium heat and fry the plantains till golden brown all over (3-5 mins).
2) Using a pilón (wooden mortar) mash the plantain, garlic, and chicharrón together (You might have to do it in small batches and mix in the end).
3) Shape into 6 balls and place in small bowls.
4) Serve garnished with Sancocho .

Prep time is about 15 mins and cook time is about 1.5 hours. (If Chicharrón is already cooked before prep)

Ingredients for the Sancocho
1 lb beef for stews flank, chuck, or round [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork sausage longaniza or chorizo [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork for stews belly, or chump end [0.45 kg]
1 lb chicken [0.45 kg]
1 lb pork ribs [0.45 kg]
1 lb bones from a smoked ham [0.45 kg]
Juice of two limes
1 tsp cilantro or parsley chopped
1/2 tsp oregano powdered
1 tsp garlic mashed
1 1/2 tsp salt 4 tbsp oil corn, peanut, or canola
2.5 quart water [2.5 liters]
1/2 lb yam cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
1/2 lb West Indies pumpkin (Calabaza) cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
1/2 lb taro yautia (or what ever Taro you can find) cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
3 unripe plantains 2 cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 lb tapioca cut into 1-inch pieces [0.23 kg]
2 corn cobs cut into 1/2-inch slices

Instructions for Sancocho
1) Cut all the meat into small pieces.
2) Coat the meat with the lime juice (except the pork sausage).
3) Place the beef in a large bowl and add the cilantro, oregano, garlic, and half a teaspoon of salt.
4) Rub meat to cover with the spices.
5) Marinate for at least half an hour.
6) In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat, add the beef and stir (be careful with hot oil splattering).
7) Cover and and simmer for 10 minutes.
8) Add a few tablespoons of water if it looks like it might burn.
9) Add the pork and simmer for 15 minutes, adjust water when necessary.
10) Add the rest of the meat to the pot (except for the chicken) and simmer for another 15 minutes, adding tablespoons of water as needed to prevent it from burning.
11) Add the remaining meat and simmer for another 5 minutes, adding tablespoons of water as needed to prevent it from burning.
12) Add 2 quarts of water to the pot and bring to a boil.
13) Add the yam, taro and tapioca and the two plantains that you had previously cut.
Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Grate, or scrape with the knife the remaining plantain to make it into a pulp, add to the pot.
14) Add all remaining ingredients (minus the salt) and add water as it becomes necessary to maintain the same level.
15) Stir regularly to avoid excessive sticking.
16) Simmer until the last ingredients you added are cooked through.
17) Season with salt to taste.

Cook time and prep time is about 1 hour each.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 29

Tupi was woken up the next morning by a phone call. "Can you come to the airport at 8am? The flight will be ready for take off at 10am."

Tupi quickly packed his things and informed Justin. "My flight is confirmed." Tupi said. "But I'll be back in a week to help out again." Tupi was concerned, experiencing a disaster really changes a person's perspective.

Tupi did not want to leave, but was not sure how more to help. Many of his assumptions seemed to be bad, and even hoarding supplies before a disaster may harm neighbors who need them but have no time to get them in advance. There was a lot going on for Tupi emotionally, and Tupi did not want to think about it.

He quickly packed and Justin drove him to the airport where he saw many travelers still stranded, awaiting their flight. Tupi checked in his big luggage of supplies and hugged Justin. "I'll be back to help out, thanks for everything."

Tupi called Alex in Haiti. "Hey Alex, I'm coming over, the airport is open again and I just checked in the luggage. See you at the airport!"

Tupi had a strong internal struggle with his feelings. He felt like he needed to stay and help, but also his mission was to go to Haiti, and he wanted to just leave. Well, the plane tickets are booked and everything is set and he just had to keep calm and carry on.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 28

Tupi woke up the next day. The airport was still closed, but scheduled to reopen in 48 hours. Tupi help to clean up the area around the house and was still a little in awe at what happened. Tupi felt very fortunate that nothing had happened to him, and Justin's house seemed fine and he had power from his generator and the gas lines still worked. Tupi could still have LTE signal and can connect to the internet.

Justin and Tupi went to the shelter again. There were significantly more people now. It was lunch time and everyone was queuing up for food. Tupi met some new people and went to talk to an old couple. "Hi, Crazy storm huh..." Tupi said. "How is your home? Was it damaged?"

"My garage and shed was destroyed by a tree, otherwise ok." The old man said.

"That's good." Tupi said. "As long as you are safe. Are you helping out?"

"No, we ran out of food." The old man said. "I don't drive anymore and just buy groceries for a few days. Went to the supermarket near by and everything was gone by the afternoon. Its just crazy."

"Oh my... I was at Walmart, same thing, all the food was sold out." Tupi said. "But we have stocked up before that."

Tupi went around chatting with some of the people eating, he was trying to learn more about why people were here and how they were affected, how the insurance worked and how disasters affected people.

Tupi soon realized that everyone there was like a regular person. Had a job, owned a home. Some have homes that were slightly damaged, and simply did not have enough food, and just came for a hot meal. They were not there for handouts or any consoling. They did not beg.

Tupi then met a couple who had their home destroyed.

"We live by the beach and the waves and surge just came and destroyed the house." The lady said.

"Wow, luckily you got out." Tupi said.

"Well, we were in the shelter before the storm." The lady said. "Our house gets flooded almost every year."

"Every year?" Tupi asked. "How did you afford to pay for the repairs?"

"Insurance" The lady said. "The insurance paid out for all the damages."

"Is your insurance expensive?" Tupi asked. "Does it go up everytime your home gets destroyed?"

"No, the insurance is backed by the government and it does not go up." The lady said.

"Then it must be nice to have a new house every year." Tupi joked.

"No, it is actually pretty bad." The lady said. "The house repairs and some furniture is paid for, but there are some things which we still have to pay out of pocket. And for a few months a year, we have to live with our parents while the house is getting fixed."

"Wow, that sounds horrible." Tupi said. "Why don't you sell after the home is fixed?"

"Who will buy it?" The lady asked. "Everyone knows this area floods."

"Can't you just take insurance money and buy another home?" Tupi asked.

"No, insurance is for repairs." The lady said. "We paid $80,000 for our home and collected more than $200,000 for repairs already. And because we need to pay more to replace furniture that is not covered, we have no savings and cannot afford to buy another house. And the house floods every year, so no one will buy it."

"Can't the insurance company just give you the money?" Tupi asked. "And even partial sum of the house would be good for you to downpayment for another house. And the insurance would save money by not paying for repairs every year."

"If only insurance works like that." the lady said.

"Damn, this system is so complex and ... fucked up." Tupi said. "So I guess your neighbors are screwed like you because the system is screwed up."

"Yup, pretty much." The lady said. "But as long as insurance keeps paying, we have no choice but to fix and live there, then repair every year when hurricane comes."

"This is a nightmare," Tupi said. "I don't know how I would cope with this on a yearly basis."

Tupi was depressed. In a disaster, even when it seems like you get free repairs for an old home, there was still a lot of things unspoken and stress that goes with it. Perhaps in some areas, man simply should not live there, because nature always win in the end.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Short Social Fiction: Adventures of Tupi 27

Tupi exited the house. The rain has ended and everything was calm. Tupi sat on the front steps with his feet in the flooded lawn. He looked around and tears rolled down his face. Tupi felt the pain after looking at all the destruction, even though he had not lost anything to the hurricane. Tupi has never seen such destruction in his life. It was not really too bad. There were several trees uprooted, widespread flooding and a lot of debris all over. The house Tupi was in did not seem to be damaged in anyway.

"This is bad." Justin said as he sat beside Tupi. "I've not seen it that bad before. Lets go out in my truck to see if anyone needs help."


Justin and Tupi walked around the house to survey the damage. One of the neighbor's fence was destroyed by a tree, and there was debris all over the yard. Tupi cleared some plants and debris outside the garage, and there was otherwise no signs of damage. The garage door opened, and the floor of the garage was wet, some water entered, but nothing was damaged. They got into the truck and drove around.

Tupi was in the truck driving slowing down the street. He was holding his breadth as everything felt surreal and incredible. He saw some houses which totally collapsed and others damaged by debris. In some areas, there were downed power lines and policemen directing traffic away.

"This is terrible." Tupi said. "The streets are so empty."

"Hi officer, is there anything we can help with?" Justin asked the policeman.

"Perhaps you can visit the High School." The policeman said. "Some people who have their homes damaged are there."

Justin returned to the car and looked worried. "Well, we know about the hurricane, and I thought your flight would be cancelled but you came. Too bad you can't have a nice sightseeing as you can see, everything is damaged." Justin said.

Justin stopped by one of the houses where an elderly couple was staring at a tree embedded in their house. "Wow..." Justin muttered. "Can we help you in any way? Do you need to go to the shelters?" The couple just waved them by and Justin drove back home. "This is my first hurricane that is so bad, Maybe I should evacuate next time."

The water level went lower and within hours, the flood was no more. Tupi helped to clear the debris off the lawn and clean up the surrounding area. There was sounds of chainsaws as the city officials started chopping up the down trees to have it towed away. It was a busy day and restoring work has just started.


After tidying up the lawn, Tupi took a short nap and was woken up by Justin. Justin was packing some bottled water and cookies he stocked up to bring to the shelter. Tupi got up and walked over to the garage. "Need any help?"

Tupi help load the canned food and bottled water and drove to the high school. There were about 100 people in the shelter and many other cars dropping off food and water. Tupi was glad that he could be part of the help. Overall, many people brought bottled water, canned food and biscuits. Tupi sat down and chatted with a few people in the shelters. Most of them lived in areas where there could be widespread flooding near their homes when it rains heavily, or they do not have any cars or trucks, so they may not be able to stock up food before the hurricane.

Tupi and Justin spent an hour at the shelter, and went back. Tupi quickly went online to check on his flight and it was still suspended. Justin turned on the generator and cooked dinner, after which Tupi took a quick bath and went to bed. It was a long and tiring day and Tupi felt good about himself.