Father, Son, and the Sea

Fuaad is a Bajau boy who lives on the ocean with his father, mother, and two sisters near the Balabalangan Islands off the eastern Borneo coast. His family, along with a dozen other Bajau-Laut families, formed an alliance called “Pagmundah.” They are boat-dwellers who regularly fish and spend time with each other, sharing food and pooling labor, nets, and other fishing gear. His house is built on the water. It is small and poorly constructed; the ceiling is so low that his father and mother can not stand upright inside. It has only a single unpartitioned room raised on piles five feet above the high-water mark. The hut also has an open platform, serving as a hangout area during the day. The small kitchen is attached to the hut at the rear. Fuaad doesn’t like spending time in the hut because it is shaking so hard that he is afraid that it will fall apart when the wind blows.

He loves getting up early mornings with his father. It’s their daily routine: He gets up and carefully puts on shorts and a shirt; his mother and sisters are still sleeping. He goes to the kitchen, finds a rice pot, scrapes leftover rice from the bottom of the pot, puts it and a small piece of dry fish in a plastic bag for his father’s lunch. The father smiles and kisses him on the forehead. They both go out; he jumps into the lepa-lepa boat where two other men are waiting for him. The father waves at his son, and the boat slowly depart.

After his father leaves, Fuaad dives into the sea. The water is warm and clean. He dives deep under the water and sees a large group of small bluefish passing by. There is also a sea turtle; a gray scary-looking fish who always hovers on the bottom of the sea and moves slowly; a red octopus who swims away as soon as he sees Fuaad. He stays underwater for a minute. Swimming in the sea gives him joy, and he feels deceptively secure and confident; he knows that he is a sea child. It shaped his body and soul, gave him a fearless heart and passion for life. The sea blessed him with unexplained faith in himself, taught him the universal idea of love. It also taught him how to value the straightforward simplicity of existence. The sea serves his family humbly, and its beauty and sometimes cruelty is an enigmatic mystery for him. He trusts the sea; he knows it, and it lives in his heart, like inscrutable faith in a worshiper’s mind.

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