December 5, 2003 - Jerusalem Post: Philippines RPCV Carl Hoffman writes a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories and meditation

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Philippines: Peace Corps Philippines: The Peace Corps in the Philippines: December 5, 2003 - Jerusalem Post: Philippines RPCV Carl Hoffman writes a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories and meditation

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Philippines RPCV Carl Hoffman writes a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories and meditation

Philippines RPCV Carl Hoffman writes a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories and meditation

Back from Borneo

Dec 5, 2003 - Jerusalem Post

Author(s): Laura Pater

SOMETIMES I wake up astounded that I'm living in Israel with a kippa on my head, says Carl Hoffman, author of Lovetaps, a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories and meditations.

I have a big past and I'm not ashamed of it. It would seem a surprising statement from one who bears all the hallmarks of a religious, modern orthodox man: kippa, glasses, beard and evidence of a healthy appetite spreading round his waistline, were it not for the sprawling tribal tattoos that cover his inner forearms and reveal a glimpse of his life story.

The tattoos came way before the kippa. I have a big past and I'm not ashamed of it.

Hoffman, 51, a grant proposal writer for a child welfare charity, now living in Ra'anana, grew up in Quincy, a working class suburb of Boston. His family were ethnically Jewish, with lots of Yiddish expressions, but not observant. As a young boy, he would pour over old issues of National Geographic, mesmerized by pictures of people with bones in their noses and feathers in their hair.

After graduating high school, he majored in anthropology at NYU, progressing to a masters at the University of Pennsylvania and finally a PhD, which led him to Indonesia, to study nomadic hunting and gathering groups in the Borneo rainforests.

I was this little Jewish kid from Boston who'd never been camping, running around with jungle natives. I'd never even slept in a tent and suddenly I was living in these little lean-to huts in the middle of a howling forest in pouring torrential rain with guys in loincloths holding blowguns and poison darts. But for some reason it felt like: this is me.

That's where these are from, he says noticing that I've spied the tattoos. Some of the groups I visited left little mementos on me, he adds grinning fondly.

AFTER two years he returned to the US. His thesis: The Punam: Hunters and Gatherers of Borneo (which he says with mock solemnity) was published but has never been read by it's author.

I can't face reading my notes. Those years in Indonesia were the happiest times of my life. I just want to remember it being wonderful.

His return to the US was brief. My mind was in South East Asia and I decided that if I didn't get back there I would erode.

After a year in the US, he joined the Peace Corps and disappeared into the Philippines,' living with the Mangyan tribe in the mountains of Mindoro and working as a trainer for other volunteers.

It was during this time that he met his Filipino wife- to-be, Agnes, who was a volunteer social worker for a non- profit organization, based a mere six hour trek from Hoffman's site. He explains: I had to walk by her house to start my trail. One of the elder Mangyans felt it was time she got married, and since I was walking past, he shouted, Owhy don't you invite the American in for coffee? so she did." Despite the six-hour mountainous trek, the two dated: going down to see her was no problem, but going back up was the schlep. They were married a year later in a tribal ceremony: Everyone wore their best loin cloths.

Hoffman spent the next six years working in a refugee camp in Batan, before the couple moved to Manila where he led a government education project.

It was in Manila that he discovered the only synagogue in the Philipines.

It seemed like the furthest place from Judaism in the world. My only intention was to find the thing and look at it like an interesting museum exhibit. But it drew me in. I had a sense that part of me had come home.

After several visits accompanied by Agnes and their two young children, Daniel, now 16 and Rachel, 12, Agnes decided that she wanted to convert to Judaism and bring up the children in a Jewish home. In 1997, the family moved to Israel, landing in Ra'anana's absorption center.

After a year of study and a religious conversion, the couple remarried, in Bnei Brak, this time everyone wore their best shtreimels, he grins.

Hoffman began writing in the late 80s: as a way of amusing myself during long Philippine nights and later as way of coming to terms with life in Israel. His stories stretch from Philadelphia, the Philippines to Herzliya, illuminating pockets of his former lives and reflecting a deep sensitivity to human nature that is punctuated by a rueful wit of one who has seen a lot of life.

Hoffman insists the stories are not about him, but explains: "There are characters in the stories that I wanted people to meet and I have used pieces of my life to create these guys."

He is particularly fond of the story He and She, in which he muses on the life shared between an elderly Israeli man and his Filipino care giver. It's something people see here every day but don't really think about. I wanted to show who these ladies are.

One of his favorite memories is of sitting in a Borneo bamboo hut at two am, as the entire tribe gathered to celebrate his arrival.

His eyes widen as he recounts the scene. The whole place was lit by the eerie light of resin torches. Everyone was drinking native rice wine, there was dancing and yelling, people were banging drums and metal gongs. Some people were falling over drunk and the dancers were just stepping over them. There was a lady pounding on a huge gong inches away from a man who had fallen asleep on the floor. A few feet away from that there was me: squatting, with my notebook open, talking to the tribe's chief. Every now and then someone pulled me up to join a dance or drink some wine but mostly I just watched, taking notes.

Lovetaps by Carl L. Hoffman is published by iUniverse Available at: <>, <> and <> Priced: $11.95

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Story Source: Jerusalem Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Philippines; Writing - Philippines; Humor



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