By Ciara O’Keefe
When I think back about my first day at the Badjao, I think of happiness. Purely for the fact that these people must be the happiest people I have ever met despite their circumstances. The kids ran around happy with a plastic bag full of water with a small hole where they drank from, and it was shared among all the kids in the circle.
The Montessori school provides a warm meal for each child who attends school each day. This gives them an incentive to come to school every day. The food is prepared by a Badjao community member Nana Thelma. Every day in the school the teachers and us prepare our meal for lunch. This varies every day because each person takes a turn to cook. A mountain of food is prepared, and the leftovers are given to a different family every day. I was so thrilled when I heard this because statistics in Ireland show that 60% of useable food prepared is dumped.
The Badjao are a group of tribal fishermen, so it is no surprise that their diet consists of a lot of fish. In fact, the older generation don’t eat any meat other than fish. They believed that other meats would make them sick. These skilled fishermen and divers sail out to sea in their handmade boats crafted by fellow Badjao people. They dive up to 30 ft and stay underwater for up to 5 minutes without any fancy equipment or oxygen tanks. They catch fish using a spear. If the fish is too big to fit in the boat, they will drag it back to land.
I spoke to some of the older students and asked them “do they cook?”, “who cooks in their family?” and “where they learnt to cook?”. I was slightly surprised to hear that the fathers were the cooks in most of the homes of the people I spoke to. They learned to cook from their dad. The cooking equipment available to the Badjao is very limited. Their ancestors would have cooked using fire but now they use a gas stove that would resemble a small camping stove. These incredible people prepare food for large families.
The Badjao people have the added stress of sourcing clean water needed for cooking, washing, drinking etc. Each morning they will walk with their buckets to fill up for the day, bearing in mind this could take multiple trips. The implications of dirty water could result in amoeba, headaches, and fever etc.
As a chef, I am so interested to see food culture wherever I go. I have never experienced food culture in areas so affected by poverty. The Badjao as a unit are so resourceful, these people are a support network always thinking about their community. From the sharing of water among the kids, to giving the leftovers to a family in need. While us SERVE volunteers have a lot to give, I feel like I am learning so much each day. I am looking at food in a whole new way now.