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Nikon D3

Capture Date/Time:January 3, 2008 15:20
Aperture/Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec, f5.6
Focal Length: 85 mm
ISO: 400
Flash: None

Greetings from the island of Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago!

Well, I managed to find an internet connection right here at my cousin’s house. After spending a few minutes on this island I thought the chances of me finding a connection at all, much less consistent power, would be nil. However things here continue to surprise me.

If you have never heard of Jolo, it is an island in the southern part of the Philippines. Mention this place to any Filipinos that you might know, and right away they will say “Jolo? Are you crazy? Don’t ever go there! Very very dangerous!!!”. Indeed, most Filipinos scattered around the world are from the northern areas, especially the largest city Manila. They are not thrilled with the idea of traveling to the South. I have been very leery about coming here for my own safety, and I have been that way for years. But for some reason I have recently wanted to explore and get to know my family, and Mrs. MikesRightBrain told me to suck it up and come over here or I’d always regret it. She was right, as usual!

A quick bit of Philippine history: The northern 2/3 of the archipelago was colonized by the conquistadores centuries ago. They brought with them Catholicism, and a great majority of the Philippines is now devoutly Catholic. The southern regions, however, have always been a stronghold of Islam. This island, Mindanao (where I’m traveling to tomorrow) and others down here are now mostly Islamic. There are also sects of terrorists that are based down here and who seek independence from the northern Philippine government. That is the violence you hear about here and sometimes in the North.

My mom’s family, however, lives here, and this is the island where my mom grew up. Her father was ethnic Chinese from a town just outside of Xiamen (where we visited just the other day for the first time). He traveled here to the Philippines and met my grandmother, who was from this area. At the time, the island was sparsely populated, and to make a long story short, they settled here and the family became well-known in the town. They had seven children including my mom. When my mom was little the island was occupied by the Japanese during the war, but despite the atrocities that occurred in other regions my mom’s family got along fine with them and the island was pretty much left alone. Her father and uncle invented some kind of machine that would rapidly roll cigarettes, and they made their fortune growing tobacco, curing it with sugar and selling cigarettes to the occupying Japanese soldiers. At the end of the war, that fortune in Japanese scrip became worthless. But they all stayed here.

As you can see from the photo, to say that there is abject poverty here is a huge understatament. There are slums everywhere. But between those areas there are groups of homes in “compounds” with heavily armored gates. Inside some of the compounds, which are guarded often by armed guards, are my relatives. I am staying at the compound of my mom’s sister who also has seven children. Just about all of the children, (my cousins) are now my age and live in this compound or in their own very nearby on the island. Like we did in Xiamen, we spent the day traveling from home to home having food, greeting relatives and catching up. We even visited the Mayor’s office, which was again heavily guarded. My mom said the population has increased many times over since she was small.

This pic was taken out the car window as we were traveling up the main street. Though very poor, the people seem to be very happy; lots of children playing, people chatting and farmers selling food. But the conditions around them do not appear to be ideal. Thankfully, and the locals are very thankful, with the help of the U.S. government, there are improvements being made.


01.04.08, 01:52 AM, Navin Harish:

Well whoever said money can't buy you happiness was right

01.04.08, 09:37 PM, Pieter:

you are on a wonderful journey. thanks again for sharing it with us

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