Title: I Will Be The One
Author: Larry Farmer
Genre: Travel Adventure Romance
There is political turmoil in The Philippines during the last years of the Marcos regime in the mid-1980s. And America is embroiled in Cold War intrigue as a part of it. A Marine veteran is restless. He joined to serve before and still needs fulfillment. He joins the Peace Corps. Little did he know what lay in store with his assignment to The Philippines as a volunteer. And little did he know the life he would share with his new friend Lois in the process.
When I arrived at the Manila International Airport in February 1984, in a group of prospective Peace Corps Volunteers, and looked out the window at the miles of ghetto around me, it took every ounce of idealism I had to stay.
But other things were brewing that overshadowed that view. The airport was under military control, cordoned off. Some fifty thousand demonstrators stood outside protesting the murder of Begnino “Ninoy” Aquino. Murdered, in fact, right at this airport where we now were, six months before. “Please don’t worry,” a representative of the Peace Corps told us at customs. “I have a diplomatic clearance to get all new Peace Corps personnel out of the airport despite the military lock down,” she assured us.
To the right of the airport was a chain link fence surrounding the lower open perimeter of the building. The fence was covered with hundreds of protestors, silently waiting. At the top of the fence was a small open space, just big enough for protestors to crawl over after climbing the fence. On the left, adjacent to us, were a hundred or so riot police, fully encased in protective riot gear, large shields in front of each man, and each wielding a long wooden club. An eerie silence surrounded us. I could hear only heavy breathing as each side waited for the other to make a move.
A Peace Corps bus took us to a section of Manila called Malate, which was near a beach where the hotels were for tourists, a huge step up from my first impression. I was even a tad disappointed, actually. I had come to live among the downtrodden. It bothered my conscience to so quickly experience much comfort.
I already had a best friend in our group. A girl I’d met back at the staging area for Peace Corps prospects in San Diego. A graduate of Ohio State named Lois. We sat together on the plane to Manila and got quite chummy, even sharing shoulders to take naps along the way. She was cute, with long, frizzy, light-brown hair, and had a nice figure. It made being friends appealing since we probably were going to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere after we finished training. It was good to know someone would be out there with me, or near me, wherever “out there” was. A place I could run away to during free periods. R-and-R we called such times in the Marines. Meaning rest and relaxation. A smart, robust, good-looking girl with some sass filled the order perfectly for me.
There were dorm-like areas for us to stay in while being processed in Manila. They were clean and tidy, but the Peace Corps was already limiting how much they were going to spend on us, not wanting to spoil us before dumping us into the squalor where we’d probably soon be living.
Right off, my cohorts dubbed me the Mississippi Redneck, which shortened to Mississippi, which soon became my name to them instead of James. After I got assigned to the Central Bank of the Philippines, some of these same associates viewed me with contempt, as if I came to foreclose people’s farms.
I don’t know if it derived from being one of the few Jews in Vicksburg, Mississippi -- one of the few Jews in or around anything about Mississippi, actually -- but I never enjoyed just hanging around with whomever. I need companionship and interaction, but I don’t enjoy small talk, or trying to fit in. I never was a loner, but I preferred spending most of my time by myself.
Lois, however, was a different story in my eyes. I don’t know why we hit it off so well, but we did, and it was instantaneous, almost with the first hello in San Diego. She sought me out, to be blunt. Who was this guy from Mississippi? Those were almost her exact words. That and openly wondering why I didn’t have a hooked nose, you know, like Jews are supposed to have. Or why I stood six foot tall, which didn’t fit the bill in her eyes, since Jews were supposed to be short. She was at least satisfied I had brown eyes and brown wavy hair like I was supposed to have. But her questions seemed more curiosity than anything hostile or skeptical. Maybe she wasn’t as blunt about it as I’m portraying, but I determined she was subtle only to keep from being perceived as someone who stereotypes. Stereotyping was supposed to be my department, since I was from Mississippi.
She never thought she would meet anyone from such a place as Mississippi, and surely not with the same agenda as serving in a culturally sensitive organization like the United States Peace Corps. The fact that I was Jewish answered some of that for her, but it still seemed an oxymoron to her that the same mindset could inhabit both a demography of Peace Corps and the heart of Dixie.
Lois and I paired off on our first afternoon in Manila, while determining our skills and desires in how to best serve the Peace Corps mission. If we separated for an interview with someone, or for shots, or with a distinct discussion group, we immediately sought each other out afterwards to compare the experience and information.
When released for the day to discover what we chose of Malate, we checked out the sights together. As in: together we two, apart from the others in the group.
It was hot and muggy on the streets of Malate, even at night. It reminded me of Mississippi in the summer. Manila Bay, part of the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and the South China Sea, was barely a block away, but the buildings and the density of the compressed human population all but offset any moderating breeze there might have been.
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I Will Be The One is not just a story or novel. It is history as lived by a real person. I was enchanted in my boyhood when President John F Kennedy introduced a new way to share America as a world superpower. Not only would we have military bases overseas, but we would now have field a force of educated idealistic volunteers living among the more challenging areas of the world. A way to share America with the masses and for Americans to share other cultures and bring that back home to share further with others. This story is a day in the life of two such Peace Corps Volunteers, both a male and female prospective that entailed an inevitable romance while living these challenges. But it is more than that. The 1980s Philippines experienced a Cold War, and with the Marcos dictatorship, a Communist insurrection, and political assassination. And from it all came one of the most unique revolutions in World history. With the help of the Catholic Church, a peaceful overthrow. None of these world events was projected for these two PCVs, but it made their experiences all the more worthy.
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I was born and raised in Harlingen on the border with Mexico on the southern tip of Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico. I was raised with old school values on a cotton farm. After high school I went to Texas A&M and was in the Corps of Cadets there. I quit in the middle of my senior year to join the Marines in the hope of going to Vietnam. I also served in the Peace Corps in The Philippines. I travelled around the world between these two events in my life and saw enough to need to relate it. I worked for eleven years in Switzerland. I married there and raised two of my three children there. I now work for Texas A&M. And finally have time to reflect on my life and its meaning. And write about it.
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