I remember the first time I set eyes on a polar bear. It may have been from afar and through a telescope, but it was memorable nonetheless, realizing that I was taking in the same icy air that this magnificent creature was. Surely only a handful can say that they’ve seen one in the flesh—not just a depiction, as in a famous soda’s Christmas ad, but a living, breathing polar bear in its natural habitat.
Although that was my fourth expedition aboard the Arctic Sunrise, it was my seventh with Greenpeace. I started as an assistant cook in 2000, not knowing that it was just the beginning of an adventure with the various Greenpeace ships. At the time, though, I was less concerned with the campaigns than I was with adhering to all recipes, methods and instructions from my supervisor.
Prior to working as a Greenpeace ship crew, I worked in a cruise ship for four years. The 10-hour shift schedule helped to hone my skills despite my lack of formal training in the culinary arts. True enough, I learned the value of being service-oriented and of strict food preparation. However, my determination only went as far as keeping the crew and customers happy and fed.
Setting sail with Greenpeace activists was different—it made me feel that I was part of something bigger. To this day, I’m still proud to have been crewmates with members of the “Arctic 18”— the group that was arrested for boarding Cairn’s oil rig to ask for their secret Oil Spill Response Plan. It has been a pleasure to be in the company of those willing to risk their freedom to defend our planet.
Above all, it’s seeing places that most people rarely have a chance to visit that has made me think of how easily we take our Earth for granted. It’s seeing the Arctic and its grandeur, and realizing that all of it could disappear if we stand by and do nothing. I’m sharing this story to nudge you, my fellow Filipinos, so that you may be more involved and conscious of how the things that happen elsewhere in the world will eventually affect us.
Besides, I have been to the Arctic, and I’m telling you, it’s far more beautiful than I ever imagined. And while it’s true that not all may get a chance to visit the North Pole in this lifetime, wouldn’t we want to keep the possibility alive?
Willie Ferrer is a cook for Greenpeace ships. He started as an assistant cook in 2000. This year, he will go on board the Rainbow Warrior III in time for the oceans campaign in Southeast Asia.