Badjao, Wow!

Name:Ronan Bennett
Location:Cebu City, Philippines.
Aiming for:Silver Award
About the Author:I am a final year Bachelor of Education student in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick who enjoys art and theatre.

Badjao, Wow!

Following a night’s sleep of the strangest quality, we arose still groggy but slightly less tired than the evening prior. Encased in a mosquito net, I managed to avoid any bites but awaking in a pool of sweat with 70% humidity, I struggled to decide which would be considered the lesser evil.

Never the less, the breakfast that awaited us softened the blow. Our kind hosts prepared bacon and eggs for us as well as the most succulent mangos. A real transition between Irish and Filipino. A tin of coffee magicked itself on the breakfast table too, much to my delight as I live on the stuff.

After another glorious shower, we walked to the end of the road in the 26 degree heat; hibiscus flowers falling from trees, cats lazing in morning sun. The end of the road is where we got our first jeepney.

To describe a jeepney is a difficult task. Literally, they are old army convoy vehicles left here in The Philippines by the American Army. Today, they are a cultural trait of the body of Cebu City. Decorated to each driver’s taste, they come in a variety of patterns and colours. Operating one looks to put one’s own life in jeopardy.

Zooming through the streets, people hop on and off as they please, trustingly passing money up along the vehicle to the driver as they pass through the daily grind. Something you would not get away with in Ireland if you wished to keep your money!

The jeepneys dodge other vehicles and pedestrians, all without the use of any indicators as the drivers simply beep to let you know they’re incoming. It’s quite terrifying but there’s something subliminal and humanly connected about the whole ordeal.

Following our jeepney rides, we were given an amazing transport experience through the service of tricycles whereby the passenger sits in a sidecar and the cyclist steers you to your destination. As the cyclists were so keen to make some money, my one ended up taking 3 people in his sidecar with me crammed onto the front of it. I felt like one of those ‘fly or the windscreen’ days where I was most certainly the fly.

We were tossed and thrown through rambling streets with only dust and stones serving as a road. It was through this I got a close look at this side of Filipino life as market stalls in bad repair leaned against each other for support like old friends and people wearing varying amounts of clothing in all its forms wandered about; all with a huge smile and a happy hello.

The Badjao Tribe then came into view with their houses, called ‘quads’ because of four dwellings being contained in one structure, peeking above the rooftops of the shacks below. Crowds of children came to greet us, holding our hands and commenting on how white we were. Being Irish and pasty was never made so predominant.

The tribal settlement itself rests upon the sea shore with fishing being central to their community. There is a large amount of waste and rubbish on the ground and flies swarm around anything that is edible for either human or beast. The conditions are poor and the resources are few but there was no counting the amounts of smiles and laughs. They are truly happy and content in each other’s company and also remarkable clean and tidy given the circumstances!

Our group then proceeded to enter the school building where we were welcomed graciously by Sister Fidelis and Sister Ninette. They guided us to the main hall of the building which was no bigger than about 70×30 feet. Two hundred odd people fit in there where welcoming songs were performed for us and we played collaborative games to get to know each other. There was no such thing as a language barrier as we knew how to communicate through fun.

Our group were then given a tour around the Badjao’s settlement which was both eye opening and striking as much as it was shocking. Quite a large amount of pollution surrounds the community and the housing is not ideal by western standards. But one must remember that this way of life is alien only to us, and that for the Badjao, living the way they do is part of their culture and their identity, not ours.

Today marked the pinnacle of what the past 8 months have been about – meeting the Badjao and beginning our work in helping them within their community.

With the welcome and kind open heartedness of today, I do not think it will be too difficult to help in the slightest.

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