I WILL BE THE ONE: LARRY FARMER
Told in the first person narrative you hear the voice of James telling about his experience in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. But, what you are really hearing are the words of author Larry Farmer as he relives his time in the Philippines during a turbulent era marked by the Marcos regime. Finding his way from the Marines to the Peace Corps James not only learns more about himself, the history of the Philippines which he shares with readers, their customs, their mores but he just might even find love. I Will Be the One will enlighten readers into the lives of two Peace Corp Volunteers as both James and Lois share their thoughts, fears and reasons for living in conditions that are difficult and most would shy away from. The added friendships they make, the people that help and the language barriers they overcome all help to bridge an understanding among many different cultures.
Relating his personal account of his days in the Peace Corps in the Philippines author Larry Farmer allows readers to experience the turbulence, violence and the People’s Power revolution. As both Lois and James find their own special place he working in a bank helping staff becomes acclimated to working on computers and hoping to make their jobs easier, Lois was tutoring students and teaching English in a high school. Both attracted to each other yet acting with dignity and respect, which adds a special dimension to the novel. Added in we learn a lot about James, his Jewish heritage which strikes home and the bridge he hopes to close among the people within his new community and the Muslim or Moslem history that seems prevalent in the Philippines. Cultures clash, language barriers have to become overcome, danger is always there and two people find each other within their struggle to help the people in the Philippine without losing sight of themselves and their own wants and desires. The vividly described areas and scenes help bring the story to life and allow readers to understand the poverty endured by so many, the different levels of poor and the reasons why the Peace Corp makes such an important difference when they come into to help.
This might be a romance of a different kind as we listen to the many different political, economic and religious viewpoints held by Lois and James. Each one assigned a different location and James a bank and Lois as a teacher both witnessing poverty, greed, power struggles and danger. Cotabato City is where James was assigned and where the bank he worked for was located. The author vividly describes the airport, the surroundings, his manager Mr. Rancon and his job. Hoping to computerize the bank and the staff would not be that simple. Different languages and dialects were spoken as he wanted to learn Tagalog. Race, religion, difference in viewing people the true definition of poverty and an understanding of loans, price points and much more provide interesting history lessons and revelations about the Philippines and their culture. But, there is always an undercurrent that persists and many places provide danger and often gunshots are heard in Lois’s village and at times entire huts or houses are bombed or destroyed. Safety is paramount but not always without lives being lost.
Lois and James moved into their own creative rhythm and each one followed their own goals. She called him her Mississippi as everyone else did and his or her religious differences at first did not seem to create a wedge. Going places required either taking a bus, walking or renting transportation. Lois’s Nipa Hut was on the edge of the village near the home of her Principal for security purposes. Living without electricity or running water was challenging and where he lived he had some modern conveniences. As the author describes her small hole in the floor for the shower and the shower spout you begin to wonder just how so many would adjust. The discussion at times gets heated when an agency from Australia comes to give money for an earthen dam on the small river nearby her village. The need for irrigation is great but the problems stem from those who get the loans not using it for what it is intended and not paying them back. Rice is their cash crop and having irrigation would boost their income every year and even allow them to plant mongo beans. The author describes the situation and the economics on pages 55-61 when you hear the voice of the loan officer and why when providing a loan for the school they would be held more accountable and why. Explaining how the money was shared for “personal use by several of your village leaders.” This led to a more in-depth discussion over how the loan would enrich the community and the drawbacks from previous ones. When the Aussie finished James and Lois got into a heated discussion and differences of opinions come to light.
Listening to James try to help out some of the staff members with the computer was challenging. Then we meet an elderly woman named Lola who provides more insight to the people and the customs where both Lois and James work and live. With his dietary restrictions and the fact that he would not eat anything not Kosher it is amazing that she would make a dish that he could eat and that he respected tradition. Growing up orthodox Jewish I can relate to what he wanted and I understand many of the reasons behind his actions and beliefs.
The story centers on their romance but even more on how they both sought out helping the people of the Philippines in their own way. One scene that brings it all together as the author describes how James goes into her classroom and interviews her students for a loan for college. The questions are all the same but the answer as to why he should give the student a loan and their qualifications something students hear could learn too. LBJ’s programs, differences of opinions and answers that both might not want to hear from the other. A long distance relationship that could turn out to be permanent or not as other friendships are formed and we meet Rhonda, Margaret and several other women that both Lois and James befriend. What does James promise to do for the children dying in the barangays as we learn more about his reasoning and his heritage within Chapter 11?
Something would alert Lois that she was being followed and speaking to one man would not only change things for her but would put her life in danger. Deciding to marry was not so simple as the Peace Corps requires informing your parents, having them attend if possible and other formalities. Two people from diverse backgrounds each with strong religious convictions and differences yet determined you will see to make it work. But, when a stranger comes into the village and her home is bombed and destroyed will that be the breaking point to change things for them both or will they withstand the horrors of the truth? Added in we learn about the People’s revolution, why James felt compelled to be a part of it and why Lois would join him.
When the parents meet the cultures are discussed and a decision is made as to whether they will marry or not. The discussions continue with an understanding about Muslims and the refugees in Mindanao. Explaining the poverty, the need for money and help form the UN and America or Japan is what keeps them alive but they are left alone by the military. So, why do they think that Aquino’s wife is the future? What happens when she challenges Marcos? An ending that you won’t expect the final outcome of the revolution will help readers understand more about the people and why James wanted to witness the overthrowing of a dictatorship. Just what was James ordered to do? Who would get the money that was in the bank vault?
The promise they made and the vow spoken: I WILL BE THE HOME! Understand the meaning and the significance when you join Lois and James and read this outstanding book filled with hope, love, friendship and history.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews