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80 metric tons of dates

On the lighter side of foreign aid, especially after last week’s “We don’t need you, EU” outburst of the Philippines’ quarrelsome President, here’s something from the desert to chew on.

As a non-Muslim, I feel some kind of discrimination because the 80 metric tons of dates from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were meant as food aid only for Muslim Filipinos, and not for members of other faiths. Food aid, meaning for the needy. On the other hand, when the Catholic-run global charitable institution Caritas Internationalis sends aid, it never specifies particular faith groups as beneficiaries.

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This is just an observation, not a judgment. As Filipinos are wont to exclaim with a wince and a smile when they are left out, “Paano naman kami?” (What about us?)

A news story in the Inquirer (and other media outfits, too) said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) turned over on Thursday at least 50 metric tons of pressed dates to the Philippine government as part of food aid to Muslim Filipinos.

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“At a press conference, Ambassador Abdullah N.A. Al Bussairy said ties between the KSA and the Philippines were strengthened further by President Duterte’s visit to Saudi recently.

“The 50 metric tons of dates turned over last May 18 are in addition to 30 tons which were officially turned over last week to the World Food Programme for distribution to Filipinos.”

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud also donated 50 metric tons to the Maldives. Call it dates diplomacy.

I love dates, pitted or not. They are not cheap and not easily available in regular supermarkets, not even in the halal section. When I have the chance, I buy them from stores selling Middle Eastern and Indian stuff along UN Avenue. The yummiest Food for the Gods has chopped dates and walnuts in it.

What do 80 metric tons (80,000 kilograms) of dates look like? I googled and learned that 25,000 kg of the stuff would fit into a 20-foot shipping container, the lumbering kind you see on the road. So make it three or four containers for the KSA’s donated dates then.

Dates usually come in individual rectangular boxes or plastic packs. A photo of the turnover shows big cartons. I do not know how the dates from KSA were distributed and received by Muslim Filipinos. I know that in Muslim countries they are a favorite repast at the end of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan begins tomorrow, May 26, and ends on June 24.

I read up on the cultivation of date palm trees, the work of cross-pollinating (there are female and male trees) to make them bear fruit, the stages of ripening, and finally, the harvesting. These trees will not thrive in the Philippines where there is too much moisture. Would they thrive in desert-like, mined-over areas?

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The Koran tells the story about Mary giving birth to Jesus, not in a stable, but beside the trunk of a date palm. Famished and in pain, Mary heard a voice telling her to shake the tree, whereupon ripe dates fell on her. Dates are a good postpartum repast, I suppose. It is said (and research is being done on this) that pregnant women who eat dates regularly have a shorter period of labor.

When I wrote about this Nativity account years ago, I received nice letters from Muslims, one of them from the Middle East.

Dates ripen around summer, which means that, if we go by the Koran account, Mary gave birth to Jesus, not in December, but around July or August. Not that dates (times of year) matter now.

As the Marian month of May closes, we note the centennial celebration of the first of the series of Marian apparitions that occurred in 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. On May 13, Pope Francis flew to Fatima and officially proclaimed the canonization of two of the three visionaries, Francisco and Jacinta, who died a year or so after the apparitions. Lucia, the keeper of the so-called “third secret of Fatima,” died only in 2005 at the age of 97.

Fatima takes its name from a Moorish princess who is the namesake of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima.
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TAGS: 80 metric tons of dates, beneficiaries, Caritas Internationalis, Food aid, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Muslim Filipinos
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