On Wednesday I went to the office of Visayan Forum to meet up with the small team who work in Cebu, trying to keep up the fight against the overwhelming problem of the human trafficking and forced labour and sex trade here in the Philippines.
I had a small orientation and a great chat with Vic, Tita Baby and Jenet. We set up a schedule for me and I have begun meeting and seeing various groups and projects going on around Cebu city over the last two days.
I spent time talking with a woman heavily involved in the People Power Revolution of 1986 who is now working for legal rights of women. Her name is Lolet and along with her friends they do inspiring work helping to empower women who have been victims if all sorts of abuse; training them in computer skills, proper massage technique (educating them against sex massage) and making crafts out of recycled materials. I met Sister Marie, a Catholic nun who is part of a school that engages in ALS, Alternative Learning System. This is a program by which children who have had to drop out of school to work, or who cannot go to school because they were trafficked or are domestic workers, can attend school once a week on sunday for free. They go for 8 months and teachers volunteer to teach them. At the end of the 8 months they take the exams like everyone else and hopefully they graduate. This year, at Sister Marie’s school 17 out of 34 students passed, around 50%. We attended a graduation where 550 ALS students were graduating, inspiring stuff!
I also found myself yesterday in the Cebu Port Authority building talking to the police, or to be precise, the Director of the Cebu Port Authority. Normally I won’t talk to a regular officer in England, let alone a director! I learned that the police have made not one single arrest all this year in relation to human trafficking. For the major port of the Visayas, a hotspot for human trafficking, this is, quite simply, shocking. That they would so openly admit to me that they have not even had a call or tried to apprenhend one person involved, when there has unquestionably been hundreds, if not thousands, of people trafficked through their port in just the past four months alone beggars belief. A member of another NGO said to me this morning when I told her this, “Welcome to the Philippines”, the insinuation being corruption is rife. The problem is huge.
But anyways, I digress. ‘An Incident…’ is the title here. So, I just finished my first meeting with the Visayan forum crew. I wandered out of the office and up to the jeep terminal to get a ride home. I saw a lady with a little bbq stall selling chicken (common on all street corners) and being peckish I enquired as to the price. Just 10 pesos (15p), so I requested a stick with 3 hunks of chicken on, which she reheated on the coals, and I also asked for a little puso, or hanging rice, just a small serving of rice to go with it.
I paid up and wandered on down the street. I whipped the chicken pieces from the paper bag and tucked in. My gosh, it tasted great, just like bbq chicken. I did note that the texture was a little funny and when I pulled it away from my mouth I thought it didn’t look much like chicken meat.
A thought flashed in my mind. My mouth stopped moving, my jaw dropped and I focused on the meat. It suddenly struck me that this might not be chicken thigh. I peered closer and refocused and to my great surprise I suddenly realised what I was looking at; 3 barbequed chicken heads. I had just consumed the 1st ones tasty brains and eye.
I hate to waste food, and I wanted to give them to someone who might want them but I just couldn’t face wandering up to strangers offering them my unwanted heads, so I disposed of them. I’m afraid I can’t say I just went on eating. How interesting the psychological shift in this image is, before I knew what it was it was just tasty chicken. But the switch that overcame me when I realised its true nature meant that I could no longer eat it.
So there it is, always look twice.
As a related aside on the interesting foods front, the other night I tried ‘Balut’, a national delicacy. It is egg with the half formed chicken foetus inside. Mine was a 16 day old foetus, the younger kind. I can’t say it blew my mind. The flavour is appreciable and the texture is ok, if a little lumpy. But the smell is not so good. It smells irrevocably like farmyard.
I had gobbled up the last of my balut and was chewing it with a wince when my friend Jay noticed my discomfort and said to me in a friendly tone, “Do you want vinegar Harry? It stops the smell.”
“Oh thanks Jay”, I retorted, “Wait til I’ve eaten nearly all of it before telling me that.”
So, interesting foods month in the Philippines. Tune in next time for boiled frog. At least I can say I’ve eaten chicken head now, that’s got to count for something, right?