MANILA— Aboard a Canadian Navy ship, a Filipina is among those preparing meals to power sailors through daily duty.
Filipino-Canadian Cpl. Kristel Arcal, a native of Tanza, Cavite, is one of six cooks on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Winnipeg of the Royal Canadian Navy, currently on port call in Manila.
Arcal, among 11 sailors of Filipino descent on board the ship, is a cook who has been detailed at HMCS Winnipeg since May of this year.
“'Pag nasa navy base, may kitchen po. Anytime pwede ka nilang ilagay sa ship, made-deploy ka, parang ganun ang mindset mo so you always have to be ready na made-deploy ka. Wala naman masyadong training na ginawa. Parehas lang po ang trabaho. Ang pagkakaiba lang nasa ship ka, ganun,” said Arcal.
(The navy base has its kitchen. They can deploy you to a ship anytime, so you’re mindset is you always have to be ready for deployment. There was not so much training to do. The work is still the same. The only difference is you’ll be on board a ship.)
Arcal has been with the Canadian Navy for 5 years.
“Nung pumasok ako sa military sila nagturo sa akin habang binabayaran po ako ng wage. I think 'yun ang deciding factor, you get free schooling and you get paid to study and learn the job,” she said.
(When I joined the military they were the ones who taught me and paid me my wage.)
This deployment is her first assignment on board a ship, and luckily one that took her back to her roots.
Arcal was 11 years old when she migrated to Canada 21 years ago. Her parents and two siblings are in Canada, she said. Her family is in Vancouver while she stays in Victoria where the navy base is located.
While she was growing up and embracing the Canadian culture, Arcal said Filipino values and traditions remained alive in her.
“Sa bahay nakakapag-Tagalog po ako kasi sabi ng mga magulang ko 'wag daw kalimutan, so Tagalog pa rin po sa bahay. May Filipino values pa rin po. May Filipino tradition. Nagpipiyesta kami dito, nagsisimba ganun. Nandoon pa rin 'yung Filipino values, culture sa bahay po,” she said.
(I speak Tagalog at home because my parents told me to not forget it so we still speak Tagalog at home. We still have Filipino values and tradition. We celebrate fiesta and go to Church. The Filipino values and culture are still there and we practice them at home.)
Having been away from her home country for over two decades, Arcal said she has missed Filipino food and, of course, her family.
“Kasi nandito po sila lahat. Nasa Canada po kami lang po, like pamilya ko lang po pati isa ko pong tita and then lahat po nandito sa Tanza,” she said.
(Because they are all here. My family, and an aunt, are the only ones in Canada, then all of them are here in Tanza.)
LIFE ON BOARD
On the ship, daily work usually starts for cooks at 6 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m. to make sure the 262 personnel on board get proper sustenance.
“Meron specific jobs. Nagluluto kami breakfast, lunch, pati dinner. May 4-week cycle menu po kami so every day there is something different pero in 4 weeks you’re gonna eat the same food po,” she said.
(We have specific jobs. We cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We have a 4-week cycle menu so every day there is something different, but in 4 weeks you’re gonna eat the same food.)
Has she tried preparing Filipino food on board?
“Hindi pa po ako nakakapagluto ng Pinoy na food. Nagre-request mga tao dito. Ita-try ko po pero hindi pa nangyayari,” she said.
(I haven’t tried cooking Pinoy food. People are requesting. I will try but it has yet to happen.)
Arcal said she uses her free time to rest and hit the gym.
Arcal last visited the Philippines 5 years ago, prior to entering the navy. Even as she and other sailors can't leave the ship while docked because of pandemic restrictions, it does not mean Arcal won’t be able to satisfy her cravings for Pinoy food.
“Papunta na dito 'yung Lola ko pati isang tita at isang kaibigan. Magdadala ng pagkain. Bawal po kaming bumaba, hindi po kami makakalabas,” she said in an online interview Tuesday morning.
(My grandmother, an aunt and a friend are on their way here. They will bring food. We're not allowed to disembark, we can’t go out.)
“Nagpabili po ako ng Jollibee pati mga chichirya para ibibigay ko sa ibang tao, share-share,” she beamed.
(I asked them to buy me Jollibee and some snacks which I will share with others.)
PORT VISITS IN A PANDEMIC
Lt. Amelie Leduc, Public Affairs Officer of the HMCS Winnipeg, said the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the challenges of deployment as crew members are limited to the ship.
Normally, Leduc said, sailors have a rest period during port visits where crew members could go out to try the food and experience the country’s culture.
“It has been very difficult, like the port visits we’ve done so far we haven’t been able to go anywhere. And this port visit, we haven’t been able to play sports down the jetty and it’s hard on a small ship to play sports. I would say that has been the biggest challenge that we’ve encountered so far,” said Leduc.
HMCS Winnipeg is deployed to the Indo-Pacific region from August to December 2021 to conduct forward naval presence operations in the region, as well as cooperative deployments. It will also participate in international naval exercises with allied and partner nations.
Manila is the fourth of seven port visits the ship will make during its deployment.
The ship’s namesake is the City of Winnipeg, capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba. Winnipeg is where some of the very first Filipino immigrants to Canada arrived in the 1950s and '60s. Today, Winnipeg is home to the third largest Filipino community in Canada.