The Badjao Smile
07.28.2005 Zamboanga


It was the magic of viewing themselves on the small screen of my old Nikon that won me the privilege of coaxing the rest of their smiles.

After two shots, I hunch over to show them what they looked like in the pictures. Peals greet me. There is nothing quite like the sound of it. Especially when up-close. Because they were crowded around me, I was cocooned in their laughter. A sound I'd like to aurally photograph and shelve as a wav. file in the rote-like hard drive of my urban mind. To be replayed while I am stuck in C5 traffic.

To remind me that the world is not as complicated as I think it is. That there are moments and souls somewhere else where there are genuine smiles in the midst of simplicity. Simplicity. I know I am saying this mildly because I hurt when I think of the truth about them --or at least my possibly wrong perception of them. It is a life of poverty. They don't sleep on soft beds but they sleep more soundly than most of us. At least more soundly than I do. For certain. That must mean something.

On the way back, I have the after-image of their smiles more glaring when I shut my eyes tight. That's the mystery-genius of the after-image, when you try hard to shut your eyes, things you've seen become more stark.

And you never forget them.

I remember the unclear water, the sound of the shanty, the tattered cloth, leathery men and idle women with kind blank stares. I feel like crying-- but more for myself, because I am not as happy as them.

text and b&w photo: Gang Badoy
colored photo: Jake Verzosa