She sailed her rugged wooden boat from port to port not as a fisher not even as a seafarer but as a trained diver forced to dive in seas for coins tossed by tourists and bystanders. She dressed in wet clothes, dived without goggles and exposed herself to the scorching sun almost all day. She had no choice. She had to do it. The little sum she collected diving after those coins thrown by tourists who even cheered for her would buy them food to eat – would fill their empty stomach for the day. That is her life – a seaborne lifestyle she embraced being a Badjao daughter, the sea gypsies of Mindanao.
This was the scene I caught when I chanced to stroll around Paseo Del Mar in Zamboanga City. This wasn’t a kind of view I see everyday but in this part of Asia’s Latin City and other parts of country, this is an everyday reality – children steering their paddle boat, diving after tossed coins, chasing little alms to feed their hunger. And that poor girl was one of them.
I was pitifully watching her from a distant observing her moves, her words and her little world. I pitied on her but I immensely admired her stunning beauty that set her apart from her peers and even from those girls whom she begged for pennies. She was beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.
She had that innocent look so different from her friends. She had a sun blonde hair that complimented her sun-burnt copper skin. Her eyes were sad and deep set. She had that pretty face but it seemed to bear the weight of the earth. But she was just beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.
I moved closer to get a good snapshot of her as she busied herself doing her business on the waters. She dived and got up back to her boat. Dived again and got back. Still, her innocent beauty retained. She was wet but she still looked beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.
I wanted to throw a coin. But I opted to get a 20-peso bill and asked her to paddle her boat closer so I can simply give her my shameful share. She paddled forward quickly and got what I promised. She looked at me with those sad eyes and smiled so sweetly I almost froze in awhile. Those eyes. Those sad eyes. I smiled back at her. I prayed something for her. I pray for her life in the sea of uncertainties.
But she just was beautiful. A beautiful sea gypsy.