Back from the big blue. I wish I could bottle up the way the sea makes me feel. I wish I could carry it with me. Is that ridiculous?
I spent the last few days mainly in the water--in boats and in remote islands around Bicol. I made this journey so I could get to know the little fishing community where the kids used to swim from one island to another just to get to school. The story is a story of hope. And I am so excited to be a part of it.
The Yellow Boat Project was started when Jay found out about a bunch of kids in Zamboanga swimming just to get to school. One thing led to another and they found out that the problem wasn't unique to the Zamboanga community. Some kids from Masbate apparently had to swim from one island to another just to get to school. Can you imagine that?
And so beautiful yellow boats were made for the beautiful children.
I didn't go to do field work or anything--I went really just to learn what I could.
On the first night, I watched Maala-Ala Mo Kaya (a local TV show) with some of the people from the community--and the episode was actually about Risa (girl second from the left) and her brother Richard (the boy in top center). They were among the kids who had to swim to school, but he had to stop school so that she could go. We watched in the only place in the island where there was a generator.
I slept that night in the attic (?) of that hut. I had a good view of the ocean from where we stayed.
The next day, I woke up at 4 in the morning to go with Richard and Raymart for fishing. The sea and the sky was still super dark when we left--no trace of sun at all. It's so different, boating in the open sea in the darkness. I really just had to trust that these boys knew the sea well, and that my camera would be okay.
Everything's slow and lazy in the hazy morning light, and the ocean was serene. It was such a tender experience, going with them. Both are younger than me, but they've been doing this since they were kids. I watched the sun rise from the middle of the ocean and my sorrows started to seem so small.
This was the catch they ended up with--it wasn't enough to even break even for the gas. It's worth 50 pesos. That made me sad. I was told that commercial fishing vessels were affecting their catch.
We visited the neighboring islands, too. The kid in the last photograph was pretending to be like me. Made me think about this line I read in my Nat Geo portrait book--it said that the photographs you take are going to be partly self-portraits. Makes sense, because what and how you photograph says a lot about who you are, I think. It makes me imagine the kind of photograph I want to be.
We watched the Pacquiao match as well with the people from the island. It was really cool just seeing everyone worked up about it. No matter what happens, the Philippines really is united when Pacquiao fights. They went all the way from the other part of the island to go up the cliff with cable, and a generator :)
While they were watching, I saw some kids playing with the coal from the pot where we cooked our food. If they had known me for a longer time, and if I had access to running water, I would have joined in, too. I love children who didn't grow up in the city. When I take their photos they are more curious than they are assertive.
I joined the fishermen again for the night's catch. We left at dusk and initially, our contact didn't want me to ride the boat cause he was scared the boat would tip over. But I'm a little bit hard headed so in the middle of the ocean, I transfered boats. With my cameras. I was terrified, actually--not so much for me, but for my equipment. But it was worth it.
I noticed their culture of smoking as well. I never really had an archetype for fishermen before, but now I'll be remembering them with cigarettes.
It was really strange, because every time they'd catch a unique fish that they can't sell, they'd give it to me, like a pet so I can hold and feel it before they throw it back to ocean.
I appreciate fishing so much more now. I tried helping and pulling the net out of the water, and it was so heavy, and the net hurt my hands. It's so difficult, but what made it amazing was just seeing how close the fishermen were. It was really all just laughter and jokes. Their language has a bit of Bisaya in it, and I tried to remember the words I know in Bisaya.
So I started calling this guy buang (which means crazy), cause he really was. But in a good way. He bit the damn fish cause it bit him. But what I loved about Burdigol (that's his nickname, I don't know how it spawned from Joseph) was the little detail I saw as he dove into the ocean. He made the sign of the cross and then jumped.
Also, I asked, 'Saan tayo nanggaling?' (Where did we come from?) as I was so disoriented in the pitch black. Then he pointed to the only light I could see, and he said, 'Doon tayo sa ilaw nanggaling. Doon tayo ipinanganak.' (We came from the light. We were born there.) And at that time I thought it was so incredibly full of wisdom. I really like that idea of being born in the light. It gave me goosebumps when he said it.
This was their night's catch. It amounts to less than 700 pesos. The fishermen are among the poorest of the poor. But they're so happy. They must have some secret knowledge.
Pets and I slept on the cliff that night. The sky was just so beautiful and it went really well with the sound of the waves, and it seemed a pity to spend the night indoors. And the morning was equally beautiful.
We took the train going home (we flew in from Manila to get there). We exhausted most forms of transport to make the trip possible, and though it was taxing, I'm really enjoying this way of travel. When I'm far from home and the places start blurring into each other, when I have to adjust to people, cause I'm not really a guest, when sleeping anywhere becomes worth it, when I think outside of myself, when I stop caring about owning things, and when the children come close to me because of my camera, that's when I feel most alive. I've got time to be alive.