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Memories of a Philippines Peace Corps volunteer Don Beaudreault
Memories of a Philippines Peace Corps volunteer Don Beaudreault
Memories of a Peace Corps volunteer (Jolo, 1969-70)
1st part of a series
By Rev. Don Beaudreault
SARASOTA, Florida -- I felt that I was the most fortunate one of all those who were in my U.S. Peace Corps group (# 31, 32, or 33 - I can’t remember). I felt fortunate because I was assigned to a beautiful place. In addition, I had a chance to teach in an inter-religious setting - at a Catholic institution run by Oblate Fathers called Notre Dame College where most of the students were Moslem. And I lived with one of Jolo’s finest families, the family Suarez, the owners of La Jota Hotel, in the very heart of Jolo, a couple houses from the beautiful cathedral.
I was 24 years old and had never been more than 600 miles away from my home town of Washington, D.C., so this was, indeed, a great adventure for me. Having had a couple months training in Hilo, Hawaii, in Tagalog, Cross-Cultural Studies, and Teaching English as a Second Language, our group went on to Notre Dame College in Cotabato City where we had one more month’s training. Unfortunately, I contracted a very bad case of amoebic dysentery there - something which plagued me throughout my time as a Peace Corp Volunteer (PCV).
Despite the Tagalog training, I rarely used this knowledge because the major language of the Joloanos was Taosug. Fortunately, in addition to speaking Taosug and Tagalog, the Suarezes spoke Chavacano - a form of Spanish that I, with five years of formal training in Spanish, could somewhat understand. Naturally, most people also spoke English. Still, I often never understand what people were saying to me when they were not speaking English!
I remember the city and the people with great fondness, although I also recall on the very first day I arrived, and during the welcoming party for me at the college, I heard gunshots. I was to hear many gunshots during my time in Jolo, and even witnessed the aftermath of the murder of three men (a teacher and his two students). I must have been in a daze at the time, because after hearing the shots from my vantage point at La Jota, I ran into the streets with my camera and started taking photos of the men who had been shot. Two were dead, and one was almost dead. I remember talking to the latter, and saying something like, “Can I take your picture?” which was obviously my shocked self talking - rather than my sense of charity. It was also very foolish for me to be in the streets at all - since the gunman was still on the loose and I with my white face and reddish hair really could have been an easy target among all those who looked so different from me! I still have those photos - which are part of the slide show I used to give to whatever person wanted to learn about my experience as a PCV.
Living with the Suarezes meant living with seven children, the youngest of whom, Michael, was in his terrible twos. Being one of two children, I found it both intriguing and difficult to have so much “family” - which meant not just “Lolo” - the grandfather (Judge Suarez) who was 89 at the time, but also Lola - the grandmother, Josie (their daughter who ran the hotel), her various siblings, and numerous in-laws and friends.
I do remember how wonderful a Christmas it was in 1969 when there were so many people at the festivities. I also remember the food - and not just at Christmastime, but at all the parties. I loved the fresh fish and fruits that were so distinctly Joloano - except for Durian! I still remember with great fondness all the mangoes, papayas - and lanzones! Perhaps that is why I had dysentery! This was the first time I ate squid - something that was to become very popular in the fancy restaurants in the US but was not in 1969! However, I refused two things: any part of the fish head (most especially the eyes); and what I thought was chocolate pudding - but turned out to be liver in a chocolate sauce. But how I loved Josie’s sizzling steaks! I have to say, that I did not “suffer” the lot of some of my Peace Corps colleagues who lived in sparse situations! Still, the room I lived in at the hotel was not one of the eight or so air-conditioned ones! So, all in all, I considered myself a fortunate fellow!
Truly, La Jota Hotel was a hub of activity. The locals used it as a meeting place - and the tourists from all over the world stayed there, including some famous Filipinos and Americans. I remember having cocktails on the hotel’s balcony overlooking the street with Minnie Osmena, the famous beauty queen who was the daughter of Vice President of the Philippines. I met the son of the Senator Peter Dominic of Colorado and his girlfriend. I entertained the son of Cliff Barrows, who was the American evangelist Billy Graham’s right-hand man. I met well-known anthropologists and scholars and government people who had come to Jolo because of its historic and cultural interest - everyone who was anyone in those days stayed at La Jota.
I also had a wonderful afternoon with the old Moslem man who had showed General Douglas MacArthur around the Philippines during World War II!
Indeed, the hotel was a beautiful place - what with all the antiques that Josie had collected from all over the world (she had been a world traveler, indeed). I remember the ancient Chinese pottery, the Moro knives called “bolos,” the lovely cloth hangings known as “Pis” and the numerous brass pieces - as well as all that incredible jewelry Josie possessed: Sulu pearls, especially!
Although my official “job” as a PCV was to teach English as a Second Language and direct a college choir (I was able to obtain a new piano for the college through US Government funds), I also was a tour guide for all the many people who visited Jolo. So I got to see much of the island that way - and to constantly revel in the beautiful beaches, lush vegetation, majestic mountains.
I still have a photo (slide) of me and about a dozen of my students on top of Mount Tumantangis - what I was told meant “The Crying Mountain” because the rain would come from behind the mountain and then land in Jolo Town. I realized that it was kind of a dangerous thing to go up the mountain - because of what my students called “the bandits” - still, they had guns, with which they said they would protect me if we were attacked. The photo shows me in the center of the group - the white guy with the reddish hair (and a very thin physique in those days). There I am smiling and looking straight out at the camera, not knowing that for a joke (supposedly), one of my students had his rifle pointed at my head!!!!!!
I think some of these students went on to be part of the so-called “rebels” of Jolo. I especially remember Amboy - “American Boy” (perhaps because his hair had a reddish tint to it?).
When much of Jolo Town was destroyed by the Philippine military in the mid 1970’s I saw a photo of Notre Dame College on the front page of the “San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper” - and with a story about Amboy as one of the “Moslem insurgents” - that was the newspaper reporter’s term for him.
In the summer of 1970 I served as the Choral Director for the actors who appeared in one of the early productions of the Philippine Cultural Center - “Man of La Mancha.” It was then that I met Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. What I remember of that experience was that she was much taller than he - even with his “platform heels”!
(Rev. Don Beaudreault taught English and Music at the Notre Dame College of Jolo from 1969 to 1970, as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He is now a unitarian minister in Sarasota, Florida).
|By Luz Eugenia S. Camesa (220.127.116.11) on Tuesday, October 21, 2008 - 11:24 pm: Edit Post|
iit was so nice to have come across your article on jolo. it really brought back all the memories of my hometown. ..and La jota. so much has happened over the years and we all have moved out of jolo after the "war". my family came to settle at my mom's home province,in Imus, cavite. while auntie josie lives in zamboanga to this day. Lolo and lola were both burried there.
my name is jojie castaneda suarez ( now mrs. camesa), i am one of the grandchildren of Judge Eugenio suarez and niece to josie suarez. my father was Eugenio (jim) suarez, jr. he used to be chief of iimigration in jolo that time and our house was the one near the airport, remember? i was in my second year in highschool at Notre Dame Girls High at that time but I remember you vividly, you were like a family to us. you must remember maria catalina or marie castaneda? she was my cousin and she was one of your choir member at Notre Dame college, also my cousins who lived in la jota, the sisters henny and Lily? they are all in zamboanga. auntie josie is now 86 years old. by the grace of God she is still very healthy for her age. They have chosen zamboanga to be their next home because it is my lolo and lola's original hometown. Aunti jose lives in a beautiful house with younger brother, uncle dick. hope you can visit them one day. I am sure they will all be very pleased to see you after such a long time. I willbe writing them about your article.
thak you for bringing back the memories Don, reading your article made me teary eyed. you really know jolo ( and La Jota ) by heart. until then, God bless and mabuhay!
|By joan mckniff (18.104.22.168) on Saturday, May 25, 2013 - 6:15 am: Edit Post|
I am amazed and delighted to find you and this. I visited Jolo 3 times in 70 - 71 and stayed at La Jota. Loved both. I'm also RPCV Colombia 63-64 and live in Sarasota! I'd love to talk with you.