Putting Down Roots

Married life is proving very interesting. Already, my wife has a job with a new business set up by my Singaporean friends, and we’ve moved into a new apartment. As I’d hoped, but dare not expect, by introducing her to ‘my’ orphans, she’s fallen in love with them – not in order to please me, but from her heart.

Out in the sticks, things are getting interesting. With America, Europe and the world belatedly wising up to the fact that global warming and an energy crisis are upon us, the new buzz is biofuel. I haven’t caught up with what the worthies of the western world are saying about this, but if I’ve thought of a problem it must have been identified and exhaustively discussed by now.

My concern is that the powerless majority in the developing nations are going to be fucked over once again by companies from the rich nations (and of course the wealthy elite of the poor countries) that will buy up huge tracts of land to produce fuel for the unsustainably greedy lifestyle of the rich, thus precipitating more deforestation, land-grabbing and dispossession, straining water supplies and causing hunger and malnutrition by taking out land needed for food.

(I’ve just come across this statistic: The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year).

Nevertheless, on a small scale and appropriately managed, this can be a huge blessing. My Khmer teacher is working for a new company which produces biodiesel (not ethanol) from two sources. The first is used cooking oil (be it vegetable oil or pig fat). There is a double benefit to this since the normal practice is for oil to be reused too many times which leads to health risks – now small restaurants can sell the used oil which in turn is converted into fuel. Partakers in the scheme get a discount on the fuel which saves money on filling their 50cc motos. I’m galvanising my sisters-in-law to collect the pig fact around their locality – my intention being that they keep all the profit.

However, it’s the other source that is of relevance here – the seeds of a certain kind of fruit (poisonous to humans, animals and birds) can be transformed into biodiesel. The trees grow wild and make common hedges between fields; what’s more, with the trees’ own leaves and fruit pulp as perfect fertilizer, they can grow on sandy infertile soil. The company is encouraging country-folk to go scavenging for a little extra income, but the trees produce far more, however, if they are regularly watered, pruned and nurtured.

My new family can help us find a few hectares of ‘locally-priced’, otherwise useless land well off the beaten track. Dad’s well-in with the three-star general who commands the area and is keen to ensure boundaries are clearly defined. The parents-in-law, who have a dream of retiring to an utterly quiet rural location, would be enthusiastically willing to take care of the plantation and hire/supervise local farmhands. None of this would be possible had I not married into the community – now I understand the non-cynical meaning of marriage being a business relationship. The family are excited and highly impressed with my business sense; as Frankie sang, ‘Entrepreneurialship and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.’ Or something. I really am putting down roots here.

Sralang Apsara

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