By Eva Wu, KF9 Philippines

Bizarre is probably not the best word to describe this client interview, but without a doubt we were intrigued and utterly fascinated by the alien-looking blob we saw sitting pretty before us. Corroi, HSPFI‘s Kiva Coordinator and I found ourselves staring at a live (or semi-live) sea cucumber during a visit to HSPFI client and Kiva borrower Ann Lagrada on Camiguin Island.

Ann Lagrada, Camiguin - Sea Cucumber

(This is the second part of my “most memorable client interviews on Camiguin” series – check out “The Most Beautiful Client Interview (Part 1 of 2)” if you haven’t already!)

(If you have a soft spot in your heart, an ongoing and lasting fondness for sea cucumbers like the one above, and the thought of chopping/prepping a sea cucumber for consumption would cause you much undue stress, do NOT click on the “more” link.)

We peppered Ann with questions. I had eaten sea cucumbers before – it’s fairly common in Chinese cuisine – but I had never seen a live one before. Corroi hadn’t known before this that people actually eat sea cucumbers – so I tried my best to describe the slightly glutinous yet crunchy taste of sea cucumbers for her. A little bit like the seaweed dish that we had eaten earlier in the day.

Ann explained that her husband dives at night to catch the sea cucumbers. There are places in the Philippines where sea cucumbers are protected, she added, but there are currently no restrictions on harvesting sea cucumbers in Camiguin. After her husband returns with the catch, she’ll leave the sea cucumbers in small basins until they spew out any leftover sand and innards, then boil and dry them. Every two weeks Ann and her husband sells the dried sea cucumbers to a Filipino agent for $1,500 pesos/kilogram. She said that the agent will then export the dried product to Korea.

Ann Lagrada, Camiguin - Dried Sea Cucumbers Ann Lagrada, Camiguin width=

Ann estimates that she and her husband sells two kilograms of dried sea cucumbers to the agent every time they meet. At $6,000 pesos a month, this business is bringing in solid income for their family. John, the HSPFI project officer (or loan officer) who brought us here later told me that this business had successfully found a niche market and was one of the client businesses that he was most proud of.

Seeing our continued and somewhat lurid fascination for the sea cucumber, which had by this point of the interview ejected its innards, Ann asked for a knife and proceeded to saw the now completely dead sea cucumber in half. It had hardened much more than what I would’ve expected from its slimy exterior.

(Watch the below video at your own risk! Although I assume if you’ve gotten this far, this is probably what you’ve been waiting for…)

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Ann’s husband had joined us towards the middle of the interview, presumably to find out why a foreign bumpkin interviewer was getting all excited over his sea cucumbers – joined in some of the answers and showed us his diving flashlight. We wrapped up with a few more questions and thanked them both. As we walked out to another interview, this time with Ann’s mother-in-law Perpetua Lagrada, John joked that Koreans liked to eat sea cucumbers because they’re believed to increase sexual drives. To which I laughed and replied, if that’s the case, sadly they haven’t worked on me at all!

Eva Wu is a proud member of KF9, and she’s still head over heels in love with the Philippines and her host MFI, Hagdan sa Pag-uswag Foundation, Inc.! Support HSPFI by lending or by joining the HSPFI lending team today!

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