After a hearty breakfast prepared by the able and friendly staff of Balai, I went up to our casita to get my camera. I thought it might come in handy while taking a stroll around the resort. Looking down from the porch, I saw my Carewell friends crowding around a young man who seemed to be selling trinkets.
My curiosity piqued, I went down to check what was going on. The man was a hawker, and his wares were mostly pearl earrings and bracelets. “Not for you those blings,” my inner voice spoke. A fair reminder since I have a few pieces of jewelry that have not been used for a long while and are just kept in a box somewhere.
But Manong was determined to shake my resolve not to buy. He went on to show one item after another, claiming that the pearls were from Tawi-Tawi and that I could be sure they’re of good quality. I tried engaging Manong in small talk not only to divert his attention, but also because I wanted to connect his heavy accent with his looks. He had sunburnt skin and sported a man bun, a tuft of hair held together by an elastic band.
Me: Galing pa yan ng Tawi-Tawi? Mga Badjao ba kayo? (Badjaos are members of an ethnic group found in the islands way down South; also known as “Sea Gypsies” because of their seaborne lifestyle)
Manong: Hindi po, ma’am. Gudjao po kami.
I was dumbfounded. Was there another ethnic group I didn’t learn about in school?
Manong: Ang mga Badjao po, mga tamad. Nanghihingi lang ng limos. Ayaw mag-trabaho. Kami po tumatawid pa ng dagat para maghanap-buhay kahit pa kami mahirapan. Kaya ang dapat itawag sa amin, Gudjao.
And with that, the haze cleared. Manong was wordplaying with “Good” and “Bad,” referring to the Bad-jao as the group of people who normally roam the city streets around the Christmas season to beg. The Good-jao (which I took for Gudjao) refers to the same ethnic group, but of the more independent and hardworking type. The realization made me want to buy something.
I asked Manong if he had other items as I was still unsure if I wanted anything for myself. From his bag, he pulled out a string necklace with a tortoise pendant. Still not for me, but I was sure my son would love the ethnic look. Manong Goodjao made a sale from this tightwad that morning.
Whoever taught Manong his selling skills has done an excellent job. Bent on making me spend more, he kept pushing other items. Failing to convince me with the features of his products, he tried the emotional-appeal pitch. He said he needed to sell more so he could buy bread for his kids as they have not had breakfast yet. “Pambili lang ng tinapay, ma’am.”
I knew then what I had to do. I went up to Balai’s dining hall and looked for a kitchen staff. Finding one, I asked to buy any bread left from the breakfast served to us earlier. He quickly put some pieces in a brown bag but refused to receive payment when I told him whom I was giving the goodies to.
Manong was profuse in his thanks when I gave him the bag. He did not only thank me for what he received. He also wished that heavenly blessings be showered upon me and everyone in my group; that we may all be safe on our trip back to Manila; and that we may meet each other again when we return to the resort in the future. Yes, all those heartwarming expressions in beautiful, though differently accented Tagalog.
How many new people we meet every day could make us feel so light and blessed?
After a couple of hours Manong and his group were on their boat again, sailing far into the sea. I said a short prayer for their safety and thanked God for this meaningful encounter with some wonderful Goodjaos.
“I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”