Sunday 28 September 2014

When the cat’s away…

Roel went to Europe, and when he gets back, his first comment is that we have turned the house into a zoo. Our garden 
resembled a safari park already, but apart from a bunch of gecko’s and a hamster, as pets went, it was pretty calm. 

First, we find a rat’s nest in the beanbag. I don’t know if you have ever had a baby rat, eyes still closed, lying in the palm of your hand? Our pest control efforts all of a sudden seem mean and cruel, and my suggestion to give the little thing to Louis, the neighbour’s cat, as a present, is received with horror by the kids.

Next, Indah spots a bird in the frangipani tree. Nothing special in itself, but this one, with it’s yellow grey feathers and proud quiff, is not a local one. Indah soon lures it down from the tree, and has it eating linseed and breadcrumbs from her hand. It stays the night her room, perched in a laundry basket. Google tells us it’s a cockatiel, native to Australia and a common pet. The cockatiel is a bit under the weather, and at first we are not sure it can fly properly. A few days of bread and seeds get it’s strengths up. It darts out of the window. And the day after it is back. 

One morning, I notice the hamster cage roof open. I want to blame the kids, but I know, off course, it has been me who left it open last night. It is not the first time either. I close it quickly, and forget about it

That afternoon Indah points at Louis in the back garden. 

‘What does Louis have? A mouse? A baby rat?’

Louis drops whatever he is holding, and as it hops through the grass I notice two undeniable, and worrying, facts: The thing has stripes. And no tail. 

‘That’s no mouse,’ I scream, the open roof flashing through my mind. 
I jump, out the window, over the plant beds, up the hill, and grab it. 
Poor Marigold’s hind leg bends in a funny angle, and he has a cut on his right shoulder. 

A few days later Linde tells me, ‘Mama, have you not noticed Louis sitting next to Marigold’s cage?’
‘What the ghrfumble,’ I shout, chasing the tom out. 

Our bird, perched on his bamboo fruit basket, observes cooly. It has not moved much the last few days, even free to fly it prefers to laze around the seed bowl. But the tiger in Louis has awoken. Marigold might be locked safely inside, our free-ranging bird demonstrates he can fly fast and far, by dashing out of the house screeching, followed by a fierce looking Louis. 

Louis now prowls around the house, stalking our pets, in a killer mood. The cockatiel resides in the high palm tree before the house, while Marigold licks his wounds (or the antibiotic cream I applied) in the furthest corner of the cage. I had thought the cockatiel would be safer in our house than in the jungle. Now, I am not so sure. 

Thursday 11 September 2014

Boontjes met vlees

Kids and vegetables, always a tricky combination. It is not that long ago that Linde looked at me, head cocked, stating with a weary voice: Mama, you know I don’t eat vegetables. She did not say it, but I could read the why do you keep serving them in her eyes. 

Yet a few months ago when I asked what she wanted to eat on her birthday, she summed up, without hesitating: green beans, broccoli, pink fish (salmon steak) and rice. In that sequence. I am still  recovering from the shock. 

Green beans especially have been a firm favourite in our household for a while. We have had fights over who could get the last ones, and those were fierce fights too. The other day we served two large packets of beans, and I had naively assumed that after three of my kids would have feasted on those, enough would be left for Indah’s dinner. No. They ate them all. 

I remember how much I hated green beans growing up, especially those served at my grandmother’s house. Memories of green beans boiled to death in the classic Dutch way still make me shudder. We never have those. I have not boiled a vegetable since I-can’t-remember-when. We stir-fry. 

Credits for the popularity of green beans can be granted to a dish we call, very prosaically, ‘boontjes met vlees’. This translates into, well, ‘beans and meat.’ The dish is as simple as it is yummy, consisting of stir fried, ehm, beans and beef. 

Roel claims to be the inventor of this famous dish, the recipe of which has been further perfected by Indah (and we will tactfully ignore the fact that it is in fact a classic Asian disc). Last Monday when we (we meaning Indah) cooked this dish I brought it out to five children, ready at the table, chanting ‘boontjes met vlees’, while banging their knives and forks on the table to the rhythm. Our little guests (who had had it before and had requested it) complained that when their aunty made it for them, it was just not as good. 

And since I know that all you parents out there are now dying to get this famous recipe that will get your kids to gorge on green beans, without further ado I present Indah’s version of: 

Boontjes met vlees 
(stir fried beef with green beans)

500 g stir-fry beef, in thin strips
2 or 3 (~200g) packets of green beans, cleaned and in 3-5cm pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
kechap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) 

for the marinade:
3-4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon corn starch
pepper and salt

I have given indicative quantities for most of the ingredients because we don’t really do exact measuring in our kitchen, and also because it depends on your personal preference. You can’t really go wrong much, and you can always add more soy sauce or oyster sauce later. Mix all the ingredients for the marinade, and add it to the beef. Let it sit for a while, at least half an hour. 

Heat a wok with a generous glug of oil and fry the garlic and onion for a few minutes. Add the beans, and stir-fry these for a few minutes as well until they are almost done, before you add the beef. Make sure your wok is hot and you stir well. When everything is cooked, add a generous glug of kechap manis to taste. Serve with plain rice, and sambal for those who like some added bite.

Thursday 4 September 2014

The other side of Singapore #StopTraffickingSG

Singapore is an excellent city to live in for expats. Shining lights, clean, safe, with good schools, and amazing food. All the comfort you need, topped with an exotic sauce to give it just that hint of Asian flavour, without the dirt, hustle, bustle and hassle of many of its neighbouring countries. 

Some foreign residents, in their expat bubble, are not aware of another, much darker side of Singapore. They might have heard of some of the goings-on in Orchard Towers, or Singapore’s infamous red light district Geylang. They might have seen the foreign construction workers toiling on the newest high-rise buildings. Or they have seen domestic workers spending they Sunday morning washing their employers cars. 
But unless you look very, very closely, it is hard to see the plight of some of these workers. To see what sacrifices they made to get here. And what problems the more unfortunate migrants encounter. They are expats in Singapore too. Yet the advantaged position of expats on Employment Passes, in condo’s and with kids in international schools, is lifetimes away from that of a low wage migrant worker with a limited grasp of the English language, who travelled to support a family left behind in their home countries. They will work long hours for a low salary, sleep in squalid dormitories or store rooms, and get fed only just enough to sustain their hard labour. And that is when all goes well. It does not always. 

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore, only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. Leaving is difficult, because of huge debts owed to recruiters. These men, women and children often face long working hours with inadequate rest, or even physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking in Singapore. The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014.
Singaporean Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) advocating human rights welcome the new Bill, and hope it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore. HOMEAWARE, TWC2, HealthserveUNWomen and MARUAH have taken this occasion to raise awareness of human trafficking issues in Singapore, and jointly organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign.

StopTraffickingSG urges the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking. 
StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

· Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.

· Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked.

· Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.
At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are prosecuted themselves for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories:

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook:

Please sign their Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.