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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Famine Claims Thousands As Tons Of Food Wasted

"Statistics tells of an ominous:  the day will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor." 

When a tourist or an expatriate worker for the first time lands in any Saudi city, chances are the conspicuous Arabian culture pretty much does not go unnoticed. Tall minarets dotting skylines and at some point juxtaposed with a skyscraper, bustling traditional souks and ubiquitous modern malls greet you with explicit Arabian hospitality. From the unmistakable traditional garb worn by men to his unique driving style (left foot nestled on the dashboard while behind the steering wheel is a common sight in major roads), one can easily make out and understand local customs and behavior. Sea of black-clad shoppers can be seen raiding the malls at night is another peculiarity unique to Saudi women. 

While a lot of positive things come out long in the list, speaking of Saudi uniqueness however, entails a variety of opposing qualities. Let me stick then to the obvious. If one happens to be in Jeddah, one thing that won't escape your eyes is the all-gleaming blue occupant in every street corner that hosts substantial feline population. These poor creatures can be seen fighting one another for a lump of wrapped yellow rice and ribs loosely hanging on the edge of  blue dumpsters. These wasted foods dumped by people come from the excess on their tables. You cringe knowing that thousands of people die in Somalia due to starvation, and here you see foods being abused and disrespected. Some foods they throw are still fresh and look very much edible.

Coming from the word itself of one Saudi mother, she admits that Saudis in general live in a culture of excess, and food is no exception.  Saudis have penchant for holding feasts especially during summer holidays when weddings are preferably held. Along with the massive feasts also come tons of leftover food that they simply dump. People show less concern for the hungry ones around them that wasting food has been ingrained in their culture.

The month of Ramadan is no exception. Okay, everybody knows every able-bodied Muslim adult fast from dawn till dusk (well, they see to it they are pretty well-stuffed before the break of dawn so that feeling hungry during the day does not make sense). Fasting is imperative so as not to 'lose' reward from god. Even most of my colleagues are too terrified a drop of water touches their lips or they risk losing their reward (hence talking with them closer is not advised). The zeal is there to perfect the daily ritual of shunning food and water, but wait till they get to the table when the loudspeaker signals time to break their fast. You don't believe your eyes how   leftovers could still feed a handful and yet  fly straight to the garbage.

Ramadan 2010 actual data: 
* In Dubai, 1,850 tons of food on average are thrown out daily - mostly from large banquets and top-end venues like 5-star hotels. The rich and famous in the emirate demand lavish food served in hotels at Iftar, after which all excess go straight to the garbage as per hotel policy.
* In neighboring Abu Dhabi, 500 tons of food on average are dumped daily. It is not clear whether attempts by various NGOs to raise awareness on food wastage have been successful.
* In Saudi Arabia, no figure or estimate is available due to some press censorship. Anything that comes out unfavorably for the country's image is an outright 'lie'. But consider this: the very media outlet that screams of massive food wastages over in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a Saudi daily, yet it carries no figure or estimate of the same from its very own.
* Saudi Arabia has one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Local health experts readily blame the culture of over-eating especially in Ramadan, that some even die of high-blood pressure and other related illnesses triggered by eating oily and fatty foods.

Emphasis on Ramadan:  Traditionally, families prepare sumptuous meals and gather for Iftar (breaking the fast) and Suhoor (meal before dawn). As a festival of giving and sharing, Ramadan is centered around on providing bountiful meals so that increased food purchasing is witnessed during the month, making way for more wastage. At mealtime, the habit of piling food on to the plate (in most cases, hunger breeds gluttony), contributes to massive food wastage. Cooking too much food to reward oneself for enduring a day's fast is also an unbeatable habit by many in Ramadan. Anticipating guests to join  Iftar meals also drives them to cook more, to which extent excess food has no more room in the fridge, thus food is wasted.

Putting into perspective, facts laid down are simply comprehensive.  The glaring display of extravagance on food and the resulting food wastages by rich countries is beyond anyone's comprehension, yet across a narrow strip called the Red Sea, piles of dead bodies are strewn everywhere due to famine. Aid organizations do exist in the Gulf region, but they are yet to make an impact proportionate to the region's food wastages. Efforts have been made to minimize food wastages, but without the cooperation of the people, these blah blahs could well turn out to be some vexing advert of epic proportion.

Global impact: Food waste is a real concern of global proportion. Many food products can be classified as biodegradable, but its non-consumption means that precious resources used in its cultivation and production are wasted, such as energy, water and material used for its packing. Carbon emissions resulting from the food's transportation, storage and disposal are also big contributors to climate change.

While thousands die of hunger in many parts of the world, food waste is deemed a serious global issue. Studies indicate that not all rich countries have a hand on this global phenomenon (as this issue is more culture-based). This global concern however is a source of national shame for those countries whose people act irresponsibly, without regard for those dying because of hunger. It is not their fault, yes, but the attitude certainly does show utter defiance to human conscience, that human beings are inclined to show respect and compassion to their kind.

Today marks this year's Blog Action Day and coincides with the celebration of  World Food Day. Apparently, food scarcity is the single most pressing issue that affects many nations on earth. The Horn of Africa for example, is beset with famine due to a prolonged drought that results to hundreds, if not thousands of death every single day. On the other hand, just less than an hour- flight across, rich nations like the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia traditionally compete with each other as to which one gets the crown of having the most number of tons of food wastage on summer holidays and in Ramadan. If tradition is to take the blame, I hope people start to act like humans and practice humanity for the sake of their kind, albeit inferior to their eyes.

If nation or nations preach peace to be their way of life because that is what their religion teaches, then let it practice what it preaches. Let it start by being peaceful with nature - to show respect for all the blessings  nature has given them, and show compassion to those who lack in life. The media and the academe in those  countries should spearhead educational campaign and rally the support of its national and local leaders, thereby gaining a foothold on gradually changing the mindset and practice of its people that are proven irrelevant in the fast-shrinking globalization. Statistics tells of an ominous:  time will come when many would fight for a single grain, rich and poor alike, the dispensation when money is a non-factor - the one  foretold in the Bible as the coming  Awful Horror. Let's hope that everyone stakes his claim to the greater cause of preserving nature, so that food and other necessities in life do not vanish in haste, when climate change has the final say in man's destiny.

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Masskara Festival: Reliving Its Spirit And Grandeur

"It's's alright! No matter what adversity, Bacolod fights on!" - (Masskara Streetdancing lyrics)

To a Negrense at home or abroad, if there is one thing to be proud of or get excited about, it is the annual Masskara Festival celebration that takes place in the month of October in the city of Bacolod. The celebration is  world-renowned  for its unusually three-week long merrymaking activities marked by street dance and float parade, and the participants' ostentatiously colorful costumes which is proven to be the most popular tourist attraction.

Growing up in the Northern part of the province, I actually did not know the history behind the Masskara Festival. In fact, I could even better relate when I first set foot in Manila as friends would call me "Batang Negros" - maybe because of my skinny frame and sun-drenched color that could qualify me for a cousin of Aborigines. Little did I know that the sobering label for Negrenses as "Batang Negros" (a poster kid  portrayed in media as emaciated and hungry holding an empty bowl), was one of the reasons Masskara Festival came into being.

Let's talk a bit of history here. Negros Occidental was once called the "Sugar Bowl of Asia" and was reputed to be one of the most progressive provinces in the Philippines. If my elementary history serves me right,  it used to be the only province in the country with 5 chartered cities and one highly urbanized city that time. In fact, even its capital Bacolod still maintains its moniker as "Billionaires City" as some prominent sugar barons and highly successful businessmen in the Philippines live in the city.

Those glory days however were put to a real test and in fact the province succumbed to gloomy times in late 70s through early 80s. This was due to the price of sugar  in the world market pegged at an all-time low, compounded by America's sudden preference for  sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup that reduced the demand. And that consequently sealed the fate of the sugar industry in the province. Subsequently, people from all walks of life fell on hard times as  it is the lifeblood of the province. On 22nd of April 1980, an inter-island vessel Don Juan  owned by Negros Navigation collided with the tanker Tacloban City and sank. Over 700 lives were lost in that tragedy including prominent families in the province. Those were days of gloom when you almost see a lot of people  in mourning.

In the midst of these tragic events, local artists and leaders decided to hold a "festival of smiles" to showcase the unique Negrenses' brand of resilience and fortitude, in light of the devastating gloom that overtook them.  This was also symbolic of every Negrense's declaration of keeping his spirit aloft amid every adversarial situation. Thus it gave birth to the concept of smiling mask  identifiable to the Negrense spirit, and so the Masskara Festival was born.

One feature of Masskara Festival that is a knockout draw for tourists is the street dance competition, where elaborately colorful costumes worn by participants are a feast to the eye to match with the smiling masks that complete the pageantry. Some say it is the Philippine's answer to  the world-renowned Rio Carnival, for its gaiety and spectacular display of skills by the dancers to Latin beats that usually accompany the dance. There were twists however as this year's organizers decided that the music to be used in the street dance should be original, hence a battle for originality.

The street dance competition alone is scattered in as many days as possible to accommodate all participating groups which are divided into different categories:  barangays, schools and commercial establishments. The Masskara Dance Showdown is another separate competition held at the city's public plaza and is usually the highlight of the festival. Apart from these attractions, the crowning of Masskara Queen is also a proven blockbuster every year for it is a brain and beauty battle among universities and colleges in Bacolod.

This year's theme "Celebrating the New Icons of Bacolod", points out how far the city has gone in terms of its progress. Many notable supermalls and world-class hotels have sprung up in the city including business centers and BPO hubs that provide jobs to locals.  In fact, the city owns the title of "I.T. and BPO capital" of Western Visayas  with the presence of 8 major call centers. It also ranks 3rd, next to Metro Manila and Cebu in the top 10 Next-Wave Cities due to its upbeat economy and its being an ideal investment center. The city is also a Hall of Fame awardee for being the cleanest and greenest highly urbanized city in the country. And the new pride of Bacolod - its government city center which is widely regarded as the most beautiful in the country, so that speaks a lot in terms of achievements for the city.

Bacolod's charm as a tourist destination is known to be boundless, not only because of its unique brand of merrymaking that keeps tourists on coming back. Other equally fascinating attractions such as food, pasalubong items and mementos are cool enough to be ignored. Those who want to pamper themselves with  celestial gastronomic experience, the unique tradition that is chicken inasal of Bacolod is one to die for. Owing to its own success, this great cuisine uniquely endemic to Bacolod has also given birth to its own Inasal Festival - when the city is virtually conquered by chicken inasal fanatics.

Indeed the Masskara experience is something to be looked forward to - the revelry, the gaiety and the sea of smiling faces that is uniquely Negrense. To them, it is their way of celebration and expression of thanks for whatever life brings them, be it blessings or otherwise, the Negrense spirit is held aloft through the test of time.

MassKara 2011 Official AVP from Daryl Jimenea on Vimeo.

***Masskara is coined from two words: Mass, which means "many" or "multitude" and Kara, a Spanish word for "face", thus Masskara is a multitude of smiling faces.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Its Value Greater Than Apple's: Steve Jobs Should Have Known It By Now

"No one wants to die; even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there." - Steve Jobs

He was a true icon of this generation. A creative genius, a visionary. A Cinderella man whose legacy will be remembered forever.  A real pop star in every sense of the word. When Steve Jobs died, Apple's website announced that the world has lost an amazing human being. He had touched lives and essentially changed the world. A tsunami of praises heaped on him after his death doesn't seem to fade just yet. But if in his deathbed he still could not overcome his fear, then one can say, he was a scared man till he breathed his last.

Make no mistake, 'though I do not own an Ipad or an Iphone (I chose not to), I am a big fan of Jobs. I have read a lot about him - how his genius and innovation simply made life for people on this planet easier. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, given his monumental success was once a pundits' object of ridicule when he could not pull off a Job's charisma and spontaneity at a product launch. Even for brilliant techies and contemporaries, Jobs is someone who's being looked up to.

"What a waste to have lost such a genius at still a young age," others rationalize in deep resentment. Many fans just can't come to terms with the loss. Some complain that how in the world his billions could not save him from death. Others resent why a pancreas could not just be rendered redundant in this genetic age. It is unbelievable how people get so caught up with the things of temporal value that they forget there is one thing that lasts for eternity. Death for some is a hard fact to swallow,  but sadly the tentacles of death taunting us is a terrifying reality one cannot just look over.

Even atheists at some point entertain the thoughts that what if indeed God exists. Certainly, we cannot lie to ourselves that death is a big hoax because at some point in our lives we have witnessed death happening - in the family, our closest friends, or even our beloved pets. We even hear those who have lost their loved ones saying, "we will soon be together in the after-life". Why so? One thing we can conclude though - they believe that there is life after death, and that they believe there is a place where people who died will see and join their loved ones.

Most of us feel doubtful about the things beyond us such as death, but the Bible is straightforward in its truth  saying "For it is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27) Death is certain as we all agree, but where do we go after we die? Maybe we take the form of mist-like Casper and hang around in creeps yet with good intention? Or is it the perfect time to turn the tables on those vain fellows who had once made our lives miserable? Even our imaginations would sometimes take us to where we would choose to be - to some fairy tale realm, or us going through the process of reincarnating into a bird, a penguin or a dinosaur - yet none of this sort of things will ever come true. 

The Bible is very clear about death and judgment. But how one can avoid judgment? Let us remember that God is a loving god and that He loves the world so much that He gave His one and only  Son Jesus so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). Therefore if one does not believe in Jesus there is a possibility that he will not have eternal life. And God speaks of those who do not believe that they are perishing into eternal damnation which is the lake of fire. But still God desires that everyone  could get saved, and come to the knowledge of truth. (1Tim. 2:3,4)

Why is it important for humans to obtain salvation? God is holy and no sinner could get to heaven. But the Bible says we are all sinners, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3;23). "For there is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans 3:10) And if we all have sinned, what then do we deserve? The Bible answers, " For the wages of sin is death but God's gift is eternal life through Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:23)

But what about our good works? Don't they count as much? What about giving alms to the poor, giving money to the church, sponsoring a poor child's education, or giving a piece of hamburger to a beggar while your friend takes a photo of your generosity? Of course they are commendable. But God says, "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). "For it is by grace that you have been saved, not by your works so that no man should boast (Ephesians 2: 8,9).

No matter how  many different roads we prefer to take for us to get to heaven, the Bible says there is only one way and that is through Jesus (John 14:6). But sadly, a lot of people prefer to take their own way only to fail when they get to the end. Not even Oprah, with all her wealth and influence could accept that there is only one Way and that is Jesus. The Bible says, it is Jesus who paid for our sins through His death on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins. Instead of us getting  nailed on the cross for our sins, he took our place and made himself a sacrifice for us, so that anyone who believes in him will be saved.

God is love. That's true. That's why people refuse to come to terms that a loving God could put His creatures in hell, and that creates a heck of an argument. Yes, God is love that's why he sent Jesus His son to die for our sins, but let's not forget that God is also a righteous God. He cannot accept us sinners because He is holy that's why we are eternally separated from Him because of our sinful nature. But there is good news here. Jesus had bridged that gap between a holy God and a sinful man, so that all can get to heaven. And not only that, God himself calls us His own children if we accept Jesus into our lives because He is the one who sent Him (John 1:12), (John 12:44-50).

Yes, it is difficult to talk about death because it follows that you talk heaven and hell as well. Most people prefer to talk about the good things that a dead man had done when he was still alive. However, it is very sad to note that the tributes, the praises heaped on the dead cannot be appreciated by him because he had no awareness of what's happening on earth after he dies. A believer in Jesus after his last breath is taken to heaven while a person who dies without Jesus in his life goes to hell immediately, and this is the plain truth. (Matthew 25:46), (Matthew 13:41,50) The Bible is precise about the two destinations of man after he dies. The bad news is, there is no such thing as purgatory for those who have 'slightly' sinned. Clearly, salvation is by choice and not by destiny. Man has been given free will and intellect to decide. It's only two things. Whether we accept Jesus who died for our sins, or we reject Him and continue with our sinful deeds.

For us Steve Jobs' fans, I have here a thing to get excited about. If he had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ before he died, then we have something to rejoice for. He must be rejoicing in heaven now and have met the One who gifted him with enormous talent that impacted the world. But there's another to get sad about - if he died without Jesus in his life, he must be in a place of terrible torment now. To a rich and powerful person, it takes a great deal of humility before one recognizes that he is a sinner and that he needs Jesus. I hope Steve Jobs did just like that.  For you wouldn't wish for anyone to go to hell, not even Hitler or Bin Laden, for it is a really really terrible place of torment. For a person who has been blessed to have known the truth, I wish that everybody should come to the knowledge of truth, and accept that Jesus is the only way for us to get to the place where everybody dreams to belong, for it is what God desires for us all. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

I am not a fan of this guy posting his thoughts on Steve Jobs' death, but what he had to say is something worth  pondering about.  You may also check out this blog by Daniel St. Pierre.

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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