I started to think about writing about this amazing helicopter ride I went on only a few afternoons ago. How cool it was to see the island I am living on from above. As an amateur photographer, I love any adventure that gives me the ability to capture beautiful scenery that I am able to see with my own eyes, to share with others.
But while going through my photos of this ‘adventure’, I started to think about the other part of the adventure, the one where we were taken on a dingy to the tuna boat, where many men, from different parts of Asia, work for very little money and under quite daunting circumstances.
I thought back to a boat ride I had taken from Eneko, where we has spent the weekend just lounging around on the beach, and the conversation we had with a pilot from of the many tuna boats that are anchored in the lagoon here. He told us the story of these men that work on the boat, who work for small amounts of money, often not paid the full amount until the end of their contracts. Many men aren’t even allowed to leave the ship during their contract, which can sometimes be years at a time. I can’t even imagine being on a boat, where I can actually see the shore, and be told that I am not allowed to get off. This particular pilot told us that these rules were due to the fact that often times, when the men were allowed to leave, many would not return to the boat. What does that tell you about the conditions on the boat? This was also another reason they weren’t paid their wages until the end, that way they can’t afford a flight out if they did manage to make it to shore.
It made me sad at the time to hear about these men, and see them briefly from our little boat heading back from Eneko, but even more so now that I have stepped foot on one of these boats. Seeing the difference between where the pilots, mechanics, and captain, get to spend their time on the boat, versus where the fishermen spend their time, was interesting enough. But when I really got to think about it, here I am this privileged white woman who gets to step aboard the boat, only to be whisked away on a helicopter to get a tour of part of the island from above. All this because friends of mine met pilots/mechanics while at the restaurant where all the other privileged, and mostly western, people dine out. It pays to be pretty white girls in a foreign land, I suppose.
As I went through my photos, and edited the ones I really liked, I realized all this. I realized that most the men on the boat were probably never given the opportunity to go up on the helicopter. Why would they be? They aren’t pretty girls that the pilots may have a shot with. So here I am, not even actually having met any of these pilot men prior to the ride, and I get the opportunity to take photos and enjoy the scenery from their helicopter. I get to peer into the lives of these amazing men working on the boat, whose faces light up as we came onto the boat. The pilots warned us that the fishermen might leer at us and all that, but to be honest, they were so smiley and seemed genuinely happy to just see new faces. As I tried to sneak photos of them, as natural as I could-seeing as how when they noticed they tend to pose, peace signs or waves being the usual for that kind of thing-I did not pity them, or want to ‘save’ them. They were smiling and had jobs, and will hopefully not have to spend too long in these circumstances.
The thing is, I can’t beat myself up for being born in Canada into an upper/middle class, white family. Nor should I be ashamed of it. And given the chance, after all this reflection, to go back up on that helicopter, I would do it all over again. But next time, I would love to have the opportunity to talk to the men on the boat, and interact with them. Not to pry into their lives, or find out the dirt even, but just to give them some human interaction. A little bit of humanity. Sure we can bring them food, gifts, money. We can think we can help with all the material things in the world, but sometimes I think all people in these kinds of situations crave is human interaction.
I took some great photos while on the helicopter. Islands from above are something spectacular to see. But to be honest, my photos of the men on the boats were really what struck my eye when going through and editing them. It would be amazing to know the story behind each and every man that I captured on my camera.