Highway 60: Four Days in the American Interior: Day 4 Nowata, OK – Fort Wayne, IA

You can read the first three installments of my October 2011 road trip here, here, and here.

Complimentary coffee and supermarket sweet rolls, then on to Vinita where I join the Interstate. The best is past, and I can only look with longing at each exit.  Lots of slowdowns for construction as the two year old stimulus proceeds.

Late Autumn in the Ozarks of Missouri, and Arkansas stations coming in on the radio. A field filled with pickups where a cattle auction is in progress.  On the hills, billboards for “Erotic Superstores,” fireworks, gun stores, Indian gaming. And churches, particularly as I approach Springfield, known for its piety and confessional diversity. Sex, loud bangs, weapons, and God.  If there is a message here, I don’t get it.

A rest area is handsomely themed with icons from old Route 66.  I’ll take route 60, largely intact where I drove it.

Oh St Louis! Long ago Gateway to the West, now firmly in Middle America.  A commanding height on the great river, choke point and gathering place.  History. Approaching the center, a bluff with old brick houses on streets still thick with autumn foliage.  Across the river, East St Louis, another history, an unfortunate one of urban decay, where Chevy Chase had his ride stripped in “National Lampoon Vacation.”  Funny.  I guess.

Some of the old factory buildings are being sold as loft condos.  A sooty dark bridge crosses the river.  There must be a lot of old iron down there, a great place for a little urban archaeology, a black and white photo shoot.  I guess I’d be afraid.  And that’s not funny.

The Interstate splits, North to Chicago, south to Memphis.  On my own, with no obligation, I’d take a hard right, right now.  Memphis, Interstate roads signs to conjure with, each trigger for memories and dreams.

Again those imaginary but so real lines on the map.  Illinois and the clean straight sweep of fields and windbreaks.  White houses and grey barns and silos, very different from those of Oklahoma and Missouri.  Near new Zurich, a country cemetery, nineteenth century grave still tended, sheltered in a copse among the ripening corn, a barn and silo rising behind.  And so it has been, around every corner, over every rise, past every bend, the human geography that shows not only a particularity of place but the traces of great waves of settlement and economic change.

Later, with the luxury of the internet (something I did without those three days) I saw that what was to me no more than an interesting road sign with a tiny population number, was a place built by generations, still cherished, histories remembered.  Not histories of great battles and famous men, but an early settler, a successful farmer, a pioneering business, a champion sports team recalled in yellowed clippings and black and white speed graphic.

At dusk, Terre Haute, and I remember a long ago summer visit there with cousins, lazy days of swimming in the Wabash, bicycling the streets under the green arch of trees in full summer leaf, and out into the open country side. Dinner at the back yard picnic table most evenings. Hot dogs, watermelon, and corn so sweet that butter was superfluous.

Construction delays, and well past nightfall when I pass though Indianapolis, the brightly lit glass towers much the same as in any of scores of midsize American cities. At last skirting the outskirts of Fort Wayne, past dark office parks and brightly lit auto dealerships, into the rural suburb where my daughter lives.

That moment of both solid satisfaction and mild regret when the journey is done.  The lights go on and I am home, because, as was once said, home is where they have to let you in, to which I would add, where they are glad to see you. How fortunate I am to have so many.

HIghway 60: Three Days in the American Interior: Day One: Phoenix, AZ – Socorro, NM

Last October I had the opportunity to spend three days on the road in the U.S. taking one daughter’s car from Arizona to her sister in Indiana.  As an expatriate, and someone who has fancied himself a world traveler, I’ve spent a good deal of my life seeing what there is outside our borders. Of course, I’ve been to many the major cities, know my native state, California, well,and have seen some of the big draws that bring visitors from around the world -Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier and so on, Since I was a kid in the 50s and got interested in rocks, Indians, archeology, the way a lot of boys did then through books written just for them, I’ve had a hankering to visit the Southwest, another region that has a following world wide, so I was excited about my passage through Arizona and New Mexico. Beyond these, a  previous trip to Fort Wayne had opened my mind to the states so dismissively labelled “flyover” by us coastal types.

What this trip showed me was that America is vast, not only in size and population, but in the infinity of natural features, untouched areas, regional variations in architecture and food, in a word that trope, diversity, means something here. The homogenization of America is much overstated.

I was pleased when a friend told me my pictures from the trip made America look exotic. What he did not know was that I did not have to “make” the country look exotic using photographers’ tricks or a particular vision, but instead merely snapped what I saw to the best of my limited equipment and even more restricted ability, both technical and artistic.


  1. Intriguingly unusual or different; excitingly strange:

America is full of the exotic

And my expatriate eye helped me see the wonder in the familiar. “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”
Thomas Wolfe,
You Can’t Go Home Again

Sometimes I shouted out in joyful wonder at what I saw; at others near tears I quiet gratitude for what we have.

Day One Phoenix, AZ to Socorro NM

Dawdling, I make a late start, around nine, having been warned that this is the height of rush hour. Arizonans, apparently make an earlier start than that, as traffic is flowing smoothly. It is a lovely morning, a few tufts of cloud here and there, but the sky overwhelmingly a desert blue, There is no hint of haze or brown smudge on the horizon,and I reflect on how clean the air is in America.

Route 60 is here for a few miles part of I-10, but at the Superstition Freeway exit, I part company with the interstate, and will stay off for the next two days, with the exception of a few miles in New Mexico.

In Superior, AZ, a hint of the hidden gardens of Andalucia.

Closed Superior Copper Co. mine and smelter

The masonry chimney rising to the blue sky. Historic in this context doesn’t mean anything important ever happened, but that there will be a downtown with old buildings and small businesses trying to find a niche in today’s

Remember high schools with windows? So different from the supermax facilities we build today.

Sprouse-Reitz five&dime, once a mainstay of western small towns

economy. This is seen all over the country,

Copper may be returning to the Superior Area as enabling legislation makes its way through Congress, and local pro job people and environmentalists square off. In the meantime, Superior is a picturesque place, with many shuttered small businesses of a very Old West flavor, and a few that someone is attempting to revive. It’s mid day, but there is almost no one in the streets, and the only place open seems to be the post office.

The town is dominated by an eroded peak, Apache Leap. Its economic history

Apache Leap

is encapsulated in a series of murals, which while appearing ancient, date from the 80s. The mines closed in 1981, and is only staffed by a security post, The murals are in the political and

Rivera inspired style I’m familiar with from San Francisco’s Mission District. One sees miners of a distinctly mestizo cast( and perhaps Apache as well). The word “Aztlan” which has come to represent Mexican irredentism, is displayed in large, but flaking letters. Whether these murals were a protest at the mine closing, or a simple memorial to a lost way of life, the militant spirit behind them is no where evident in Superior today.

Aztlan, the "Lost Territories."

Wednesday, noon, Superior, AZ

The most notable structure is McPherson’ s Magma hotel, dating from 1912, which once hosted business men and politicians, but is now derelict, with the structure on the National Register of Historic places, but there are no plans to renovate or reopen,

There is a small cafe, and I think that a quick cup of coffee and a chat with locals might help me learn more about Superior, but the place seems to have been first renovated, then closed. All along the highway, I will see people trying to make a go in fading small towns, by opening businesses dependent on passers by. It’s a dicey proposition at best, but I can understand the appeal of living in places that are quiet, safe – and cheap. On the same street workman are renovating another building. I suspect it may have

been some kind of emporium. A very large open space is dominated by a handsome hanging clock and a glorious hammered hammered zinc ceiling. There is no sign as to what the plans or the place might be. The workmen nod when I ask to photograph the clock, but seem skittish even though I’ve spoken in Spanish.  This is Arizona, and its understandable why they. legal or not, might be wary of strangers,

Reminds me of the low riders in SF Cinco de Mayo parades.

A quick turn around side streets discloses another mural, this one not political but a whimsical picture of Chicano culture, from traditional Mexican dances to low riders. The homes are mostly tiny clapboard structures, but up a rise toward the copper plant, a large, newish and rather eccentric two story house stands out, The desert attracts people with their own very special visions of how they they wish to live.

Back on the main street, I find the one business that while not then open still seems to be functioning, a cantina, Even here the smoke Nazis are in charge, as the outside bench and butt cans attest. It just seems odd so far fro anywhere, that locals who want to drink Tecate and shoot pool find the state attempting to protect

their health. 

At the end of the street is a county office and a high school, in good repair, but fenced off and not used. So that’s Superior -post office, county office and a couple of guard statons at a closed school and copper mine, Leaving town, I congratulate myself on my immense good fortune in finding the place, fortune that will appear at almost every turn in the next days.

Back on the road and immediately into a twisting canyon road, which unfortunately has no pull outs anywhere for photography. Past the summit is a level area with a few homes called “Top of the World,” that looks like it might have bee a recreational destination long ago there are abandoned cafes and motor courts, and a few houses and trailer here and there. Before air conditioning, this must have been a summer refuge from the desert heat below.

Leaving Superior, headed east

Then a descent to a long arid dry plain,with mountains blue in the distance, This reminds me of a drive to Sedona from Phoenix the previous week: You can count on Arizona to produce something new every few miles: immense vistas, abrupt and complete changes in geology and vegetation.

In Miami, more old smelters,

Active mine and smelter, Miami, AZ

but active extraction as well. Freeport McMoran has a big establishment here. And my first fill up offered two surprises. The first shouldn’t have been a shock: A bit over 50 bucks for the fill up. I make the tank to be around 13 gallons, The last time I spent that much was in France, in 1998.

And a momentary bit of panic as the pump asked me for my zip code…I don’t live America and have a collection of addresses for various purposes. I was able to remember, but this was one more in a string of momentary bewildering confrontations with technical advances in retail services.

Signs tout the upcoming town

Old time atmosphere in Claypool

Claypool, as an antiquer’s paradise so I pull in for a look. Just as in Superior, an old smelter dominates the town from a height, as one did also in Globe down the road. There must be some technical reason as to the consistency in siting. Claypool is doing better as a tourist draw than Superior, but again, just as one entrepreneur is busy renovating and old building, his neighbor  is having a going out of business sale.

Claypool is a bit more lively that Superior

Inactive mine, Claypool

All over small town America one finds fine old buildings such as these. Each in its time represented the pride and enterprise of its builders and owners, the fulfillment of a dream.

Boneyard, Claypool

You can only easily get decent Mexican food in two places: Mexico,and the United States. In other words you need Mexicans. I grew up in southern L.A County, and the highlight of the month was when my father, on payday, would stop at the tortilla factory and bring us homemade Mexican that the ladies sold out the back door of the plant.  Then we moved to the wilderness of New York, Mexican food speaking. If you love Mexican food( and if you don’t, well – I just think soothing is missing from your life) then you know the ache of deprivation if you been long without it. I once met a young guy doing a Fulbright in rural Java.  He was on a weekend toot in a bar in Surabaya, a big city there.  From Phoenix, he asked me what I missed about the States.  I said the food, especially Mexican.  “Is there any other kind?” he said.


A fine combination plate : the tamales are made on site. That soft, but solid hand shaped masa, and the delicious reward of spicy meat in the center. Salsa flecked with fresh cilantro.  Fire and herbal coolness. The red and green of the the Mexican Republic’s flag, in your grateful mouth.

The lunch crowd includes a lot of older people – this is Arizona – and they are

Globe, Arizona

clearly regulars greeting the waitresses by name. On the walls, many framed pictures of the family running the place, their parents and grandparents, back to sepia prints. As well as with local pols, and certificates of appreciation for contributions to various civic causes. Immigration is such a confusing issue. I’m glad these people are here, not just for the excellent lunch they provide, but because they have clearly not only made their own lives over generations, but have built the community as well.

When I come out, the bikers are still at it.

Past Globe the road climbed again. Then came wonder. A great canyon extended to the West and the way climbed and followed it towards the North and east. This was the Salt River canyon. I had never heard of it.

Salt river Canyon, looking Northwest. Of curse I had heard of the Salt River Project, providing hydro power for Phoenix and irrigation for the vast fields of cotton in western Arizona, but this was a revleation

Suddenly, I find myself shouting out loud: Holy shit! This is better than an unexpected check in the mail. An immense winding gorge, eroded rock strata piled in colored ribbons, twists away to the northwest. Again, Arizona delights, surprises, and this time, overwhelms.

There weren’t any turnouts for a while, but a road crew was working and I was able to slow down and take some one handed shots. A glorious spiral of switchbacks brought me down to the canyon floor and a bridge across the river. Then a climb and a pullout. From here the most spectacular part of the canyon was in line with the sun, so with a point and shoot and no filters, there wasn’t much I could do but shade the lens with my hand and hope for the best, but the view in the other direction where the canyon narrows and

This is Apache country.

disappears into the mountains was perfect.

There was another guy there, about my age, and oddly enough also an expatriate, working in the Philippines and Thailand. Having seen much of the world, he decided that it was time to see something of his own country. He too was astonished by what lay before us.

Then up again, and at the summit I looked down into completely different country. Low mountains and pine forested mesas, rising dark green above shadowy canyons. Country that could hide a kingdom, and that did shelter the Apache for so long,

The road headed northeast with the high country to my right, a grassy plain on the left.Then a  sign, “Mangas.”  42 miles up into the mesas. Mangas Colorado? The great warrior? Too far to peel of the high way see what it was about. I’ve since been unable to find any trace of this place on the maps I find on the net,but I would love to go back there and take that right turn.

A anybody who grew up in the 50s could not resit a sign saying "Ft. Apache 22."

Then, another sign, one I could not resist. Fort Apache. For anyone my age, the 44 round trip mile detour was mandatory. Fort Apache was the 50s television home of Rusty and his dog Rin Tin Tin. Off the highway and on to a reservation road, the speed limit dropped ten miles. The road followed the White River with the mountains to the west. Gentle, empty country, a crossroads gas station half way, and then a descent into autumn gold White River, center of the White Mountain Apache Reservation.

I had one of these.

Decent looking homes, some clearly government issue projects going up ,with Interior Department contract numbers and funding information on signs. The town is clean and orderly with a handsome setting on the river bank.

Fort Apache itself is another mile down the road.

Not at all the palisaded wood stockade of the TV show, but a rectangular layout of buildings centered on an Indian school from the late nineteenth century.  One log structure remains, the home of General Crook, the Indian fighter, whom the Apache called Nantan Lupan, “Grey Wolf.,”and having defeated them worked for their benefit. I pay my five bucks at the visitor center, a well run place with more interest the ten minutes I had to give it, and walked around the grounds. I was the only visitor and there was no sound save the soft wind rustling the late season leaves.

General Crook's home, oldest structure at Ft. Apache

Back to Highway 60.

To the North a plain dotted with eroded mesas and ancient volcanic cones, one can see eons here. A light rain begins to fall.  To the Northwest the land slopes and mist fills a great depression, above which in a golden break in the weather the late evening sun shines on a distant power plat that seems to float above the greyness.  There is little traffic.  Occasional gates for ranch roads. 

Show Low, that oddly named town, then Springerville, the gateway to the White Mountains as it advertises itself.  As I enter, something flashes in my eyes.  It’s one of those portable speed registers, and this one take pictures.,  Another, and unwelcome innovation over the time I’ve been away. A quick tap on the brakes  and a slow ride through town.  A likely looking place, but it’s not yet 5 and I elect to continue.

New Mexico

Welcome  to new Mexico somewhere on the rising plain.  Darkness falls and the road rises. Rain and the dark loom of tall pines on either side.  A cleared area, gas station, two motels and a liquor store.  Had there been a bar and cafe, I think I would have stopped.  I’m hoping for a bunk within walking distnace of a country western bar.

Two darkened towns Quemado and Pietown.  Later I will find that there are indeed pies in Pietown.  A sign for the Continental Divide, the beginning of the  long slope to the Mississippi.

Magdalena has a number of motels, a steakhouse and bar, and a sign for a an old hotel, renovated, along with a lot of weathered looking houses and old time businesses, some shuttered, some still running,  and of course, a Dollar store.

The motels  are all full, with many military vehicles parked..  My guess would be National Guard or reserves on maneuvers.  Patriotism and service are very real in the southwest.

So it’s on to Socorro, down in the Rio Grande Valley.  The radio is now heavy on religious stations, in  both English and Spanish.  This will continue all the way through Missouri.

Curves, and extensive road work.  TARP, I wonder?  The distant oasis of light that is Soccoro nears painfully slowly,  When the road work ends, the first sign for a ten mile reduction in speed appears.  These continue at intervals, until I am crawling at 35 with no traffic, and the town still far away.  This reminds me of the yellow caution signs for a two inch step into an aircraft you see in the U.S.  Safety is important, but we carry it too far sometimes for infinitesimal, or non existent gains,

I’m doing 25 and still haven’t entered the town, and the roadsides on both sides are still empty.  Finally, I’m in Socorro , navigating by dead reckoning, and end up at the central plaza.  It looks like exactly you would expect in one of New Mexico’s oldest towns.  There is a cheerfully lit western style bar, and I tell myself that I might come back once I get settled.

The strip leading out to  the interstate turns out to be not far away, and I stop at the first motel I see that that is south of 50 bucks,  Curry smell in the lobby and  the usual Mr. Patel.  I thought this so odd when I stumbled into an Indian motel in Moab, Utah back in 78, but now I expect it, and seek these guys out if I want something a little cheaper than the chains,

After years in Southeast Asia enjoying lodging from 30-to 50 dollars in real hotels with room service, great cable, swimming pools and whatever, I knew I was in for a let down.    How does one describe the smell of a cheap motel?  It’s not a lack of hygiene; these places do get inspected,  Its the smell of old furniture, the smell of transience, the odor of a thousand lives passing though, none staying long enough to make the place home.

It’s late and instead of hitting a bar, I settle for snack food and Dos Equis  from a liquor store conveniently across the street., and check out the cable,as the advertised WIFI is non existent.  Not much.  Even in first class hotels in the US the cable selection is nothing like you get in Asia, but it is fun to watch local TV, see how the high school team is doing, and learn how people make a living from what is advertised.  This is cattle country, and there also seems to be a lot of trucking,.

The bed is clean and I drift off easily, with images of all that i had seen playing a retrospective of a wonderful day, content, knowing that tomorrow would b the same or better.

Desert Wind in the Southern Philippines

(From time to time, I will write about happier times in my wanderings and residence in Dar ul Islam.)

The PhilippinesPhilippine gunmen snatch US citizens on Tictabon (BBC) 13 July 2011
“Two Filipino Americans kidnapped by “Islamic insurgents.”  This is another skirmish in a very old theatre of the oldest war of all.  I’ve been thinking of these two Filipino Americans, and the southern Philippines since I read the headline.  Long ago, I traveled the area where they were taken.

Over a long life things change, and not always for the better.  In 1969-70 I was twenty, and spending a year in the Philippines going to classes at Ateneo University, living with my parents in Manila.  My father managed a fertilizer plant  on the Bataan peninsula across the Bay.

During school breaks I took trips around the islands. At the time of the last free election before the Marcos regime became semi-permanent, I went down south to Mindanao and Jolo.  Before living in the Philippines, my family had been for many hears in Indonesia, and later Costa Rica.  In the Southern Philippines  I found the Muslim Malay culture that I remembered from my Indonesian childhood and still longed for, and remnants of the Spanish colonial era.  It was a fascinating and satisfying blend,

I flew to Davao where I was the guest of a an old mestizo  family I knew from Manila.  They had extensive plantations and copra processing works.   And a cute daughter, but very well watched over. These old families were very Iberian, with the young girls strictly chaperoned, and now I wonder if this in itself is a remainder from Moorish Spain.

After a few days of huge meals, beach parties , and  what little  light flirtation was allowed, it was time to go further west and south towards  the last islands of the  Philippines, and the beginnings of the Malay Archipelago.

It was a tough journey over dusty roads, crammed in with passengers whose main hobby was spitting, and a boat that became a sweatbox when the crew sealed it up at night.  Like many in Southeast Asia, Filipinos fear the night air.  Unhealthy they say, and home to unseen things that mean people no good.

It was a relief to reach Zamboanga, stretch my legs and enjoy a shower and a walk about town,  “The monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga,” the old navy song goes.  I saw no monkeys, but instead a  sleepy town, streets of white sand and crushed shell lanes off the few bits of macadam.  Venerable trading hoses built of coral block with signs saying  “Hnos Gonzales Manila – Zamboanga – Madrid. “And there were Moros, the Spanish for moors, Muslims  of various groups, the biggest the Taosug and the Bajo, the sea gypsies found there and in Indonesia ,and as far as the Mergui Archipelago in SoutheastBurma,  Small compact men with turbans, short flapping trousers,  buttoned tunics, leather belts, and small short curved swords.  The sultan of Sulu, on Jolo Island, not far away, had once been suzerain of a good part of Borneo.  I had to go there.

1969 Philippine Military outside Jolo Great Mosque. From the time of the Spaniards, through the American occupation, and on to the present, Sulu has never been pacified.

Waiting at the airport for the small island hopper, I ran into an American guy, a Peace Corps volunteer.  He recommended a hotel, and said he’d show me around.  He was working in malaria control, still spraying DDT in those days.

Aside from him, I never saw another westerner.   It was the election of1969, the one in which Marcos won a second term, the first in Philippine history to do so, and than stayed on indefinitely,  I had been warned that elections were a dangerous time to travel, but encountered no trouble.  Danger would have come from being caught in a crossfire between rival parties.  Local races, dealing  with matters of power and influence were particularly hard fought, and still are.  Islamic terrorism was an unknown term

Grand Mosque, Jolo Town, 1969

The Mestizo population of Jolo has a unique language, Javocano, a pidgin Spanish without much in the way of grammar, very easy to understand,  So I was in a town with wet markets, a waterfront where the Moro sailing craft, vinta, unloaded plenty of fresh seafood, ready for feasting on at the restaurants built out over the harbor on pilings, and all centered on a grand mosque,  Perfectly exotic, and exactly what I was looking for.


Jolo Island coastline

A malaria education team arrived in a jeep at my hotel the next morning, without the Peace Corps guy, who was at a government meeting. We took of into the hills, climbing switchbacks until we could look back at the city, the fringing islands and the sea glittering to the blue horizon.  Then on into the interior valleys, small holdings hacked out of the jungle, and tiny hamlets, the little stands selling food and sundries, just like the ones called warungin Indonesia.

Moro village headman with wives and children, malaria team right and left.

Village snack stand Jolo Island, but it could be many places in Southeast Asia, to this day. Borders dont always mean a lot.

We stopped at one for lukewarm cokes.  The young man in charge  suddenly gestured for silence.   In the distance up ahead we heard some popping.  Gunshots, from two directions.  He went over to the jeep and tapped out a sequence of long and short toots,

Smuggler with son and a tool of the trade.

The shooting stopped, and we heard a jeep coming down the road towards us. It was a unit of the Philippine Constabulary, a paramiltary police force founded by the Americans in 1901, and which had been mixing it up with the Moros off and on ever since.  This bunch had been having a little shoot out with men they described as smugglers.  The team leader bought them cokes and handed out some literature on malaria, and then they drove off towards town.

Philippine Constabulary after a morning's exchange of potshots with smugglers.

After a few minutes,  another, and different signal on the horn.  And a quarter of an hour later, men in civvies, carrying M-1s  ambled down the rod and we had another round of cokes,  which they bought,

Islam's prohibition of gambling clearly ignored

Was my guide a Muslim or a Christian?  It didn't matter back then.

Was my guide a Muslim or a Christian? It didn't matter back then.

These guys were, in my guide’s words, respected men in the community, who preferred to conduct their business on their own, without interference from the authorities.  The constabulary and the government never showed up when they were needed, except at election time, to hand out favors, and hang around with guns at the polls, he said. In discussing the local politics and economy, religion never entered the talk.  I don’t remember if my guide was a Muslim or a Christian.

An old man came up to me.  I could only understand that he was asking if I were Amerikano.  He said, the team leader translated, that he liked Americans.  His father told him that the moros hated the Spanish who were sneaky fighters, cowards, and cruel to prisoners.  The Americans  they liked “ We killed them; they killed us,  Good sport, and good fun!” he said,

Later, walking around the town, I found a small brass plaque set into a concrete plinth.  In1902, it said, a number which I don’t’ remember of “brave Americans” had given their lives fighting “bandits“  The plaque had been erected in appreciation by the  business community fo the town, with the names of the subscribers being mostly Spanish, and a few American.

I met the Peace Corps guy that night in one of the waterfront restaurants.  He looked over his shoulder before having a San Miguel. As we tucked intoheaps of chili crab, he explained.  Although a Maltese Catholic from Queens,  he had married a local girl, and converted to Islam.   I’ve since wondered how he fared.  Many smitten young men take conversion to Islam – which is easy enough, especially if you are already circumcised – quite lightly.  Just words, they think, but find out that it is, as I did year after this, taken very seriously. His wife was at home, not comfortable with foreigners, he siad.   Thinking back, I’m not sure if I spoke to a woman the whole time I was there.

These village women put on their best sarongs to have their picture taken

I traveled around the island for the next few days

Sandy white beach and the usual friendly kids

by local bus and jitney.  I can understand why the kidnapped Americans would want to open a resort in the region,  The beaches were gorgeous, almost painfully white, dazzling, and stretching for miles.  The sunsets were nightly theatrical displays as the last rays illuminated the cumulonimbus towering above the sea into the stratosphere.  The people were courteous.  Sabah was not far away and many had some Malay, and there was usually an old man in any village who could speak Spanish.  I wished I had time to take on of the boats to Tawi Tawi and Jesselton in Malaysia, and the on to Indonesia.  One day, I thought, but returned to Manila and have never been back.

Village market. Plenty of fresh fish.

I’ve thought of that trip from time to time when there has been news from the Southern Philippines.  The news is uniformly bad, and at times shocking.  The violence by the Moro Liberation Front and Abu Sawwaf is nothing new.

After seizing the islands from Spain, the US fought the Philippine insurrectos who figured that since they had pretty much rolled up the Spaniards before eh Americans arrived, they had a right to an independent country,

The war in the south was quite different,  The Moros had never acknowledged Spain, and had always warred on Christians and animists, with rape, pillage and slave taking incidental in benefits in defending and advancing their faith. Jihad by sea, much like that of the Barbary corsairs, and in the Arab and Turkish tradition of razzia..

There the Americans encountered the juramentado,a moro warrior sworn to kill

"Institutionalized Suicide"

Christians until killed himself. In other words, a shahid, a Muslim martyr, a suicide slasher rather than bomber,  The .45 revolver with its massive stopping power was developed to replace the .38 which often had no visible effect on these enemies, just as asymmetrical wars with Muslims now push among other developments, drone technology.

The Americans did prevail, but the violence never disappeared entirely, and continues to this day.  The Philippine government has granted some autonomy,and continues to attempt to negotiate with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Jolo 2007. The mosque has been renovated or replaced.

2007: A Muslim woman in Jolo. Centuries after Islam appeared in Southeast Asia, arabization is eradicating local customs. The hijab began appearing in the eighties. This picture from the Navy Times, 2007, taken during US Philippine joint operations. Plus ca change...


Jihad  began in Seventh Century Arabia. The great tide surging from the desert wastes a few centuries  later had already reached the islands of equatorial Asia.  Today the hot desert wind blows again where the trade winds rustle palm fronds on coral strands.



(On October 3, 2011, one of the Filipino Americans was released, the BBC reported, on Basilan Island, not far from Zamboanga.   Her son and nephew remain captives.)

Paranoia and Intolerance in Central Sulawesi

Sunset, Prince John's Dive Resort, Donggala, Palu Bay, CentralSulawesi, Indonesia

From the Jakarta Post, Sunday, September 18, 2011 13:47 PM

US family in Palu evacuated over rumors of proselytizing

In this story you have all the elements behind both the truth and the wishful thinking behind the phrase “Moderate,  modern Indonesia.”

The Central Sulawesi Police have evacuated a family of four American nationals from their rented house in the BTN Bukit Kabonena Permai residential complex in Palu to the local immigration office, allegedly because they were in danger due to rumors they had been proselytizing to locals.

The Graeff family, including father David Ray, 41, mother Georgia Rae, 41, and children Benjamin David, 12, and Daniel Earl, 14, were evacuated on Sunday evening reportedly after locals had begun to question the family’s presence in the region.

Locals then burned the family’s car after they were evacuated.

Palu Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Deden Granada said that David Ray Graeff, who had been in Kabonena for two weeks, was a teacher at Uwera Theological School in Marawola, Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi.

“We had to evacuate the family for their own safety,” Deden said.(more)

I’ve been to Palu,  the capital of a region of stunning natural beauty, three times.  The town lies at the head of an lovely mountain girded  bay, so long that the sea is not visible from the city.  The first time was in in 1975, when I  flew over from Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan, to buy and sand and gravel for the LNG project I was working on.  Then, there were no hotels, so I stayed in a dirty boarding hose with light so weak I had to supplement it with candles.   Now there is a Swiss Bel-Hotel.  In 1994 there was a decent small hotel in town with air conditioning and hot water, and cable TV. Later in that trip  I stayed up the bay at a  German run dive resort, and returned there in 05.  During my first two visits, Islam never crossed my mind.  The last time I flew up there I was struck that every woman on the flight, including small girls, aside form two Chinese and the stewardess wore a hijab,  By that time, I had read that a local cell of  the terrorist Jemaah Islamiah had met at the Hotel Central..

In the thirty years between my first and last trip, communications, and the standard of living had increased immensely, and the natural beauty, and tourism potential was still evident, but little more exploited in 05 than it had been in 95.  The material culture was greatly advanced, but something ancient, and foreign has seeded the minds of many with distrust and hatred.

The story quotes Habib Saleh , a teacher at an Islamic boarding school, as saying he had heard rumors of foreigners engaging in missionary activity, and being transported by helicopter.  These schools, called pesantren, are often hotbeds of extremism, and sometimes incubators of terrorism.  The public can be rather volatile in Indonesia, and rumors spread by both the traditional gossip network, and nowadays, text messages, are often the source of violent incidents, as in Ambon last week.

The helicopter story is an example of  paranoid fantasy apparent not only in matters of religion here.  Despite the internet, cable TV, and more frequent travel abroad, many Indonesians believe there are dark forces ranged against their country.  I had students tell me that the US was working to break up Indonesia in order to seize its resources.  I tried to explain that a breakup  would be a security nightmare for America, but to a little avail.

Habib Saleh wondered why the seminary would import English teachers.  Having made a living as such in Indonesia  for more than ten years before my retirement, I can easily answer his question.  Since independence, English  has always been the second language of the Republic, and with the economic expansion the country has enjoyed the past few years, the thirst  for competence in English has become universal.  Even isolated villagers speak of globalization, and ask for a quick lesson or two.  The more progressive and modern pesantren have incorporated English competence into their curricula. It is clear that Mr Saleh is unaware of this, as he as quoted saying,  “What was going on? There must be some other agenda.”  The Indonesian phrase here for “must be”  is likely pasti ada, used in both a kind of conspiratorial subjunctive( “9/11 must have been an inside job,” widely believed here), or to express a fond, but unsupported hope( “There must be a gas station up ahead, I really have to go.”)

So were the Graeffs proselytizing?

Proselytizing is not illegal in Indonesia.  The Constitution  acknowledges one god, but there is no state religion.  The state officially recognizes five religions, a stricture introduced under the Suharto regime.  Atheism is not outlawed, but all citizens must state one of the recognized religions on their identification cards, and religion is recorded in all kinds of transactions, such as school registration, where it would be prohibited in the west. In theory, all are free to change religions, but bureaucrats make it very difficult to change a registration in Islam for a different belief.

Nevertheless, preaching Christianity to Muslims  In Indonesia, as in any Muslim majority country,  is extremely risky.

I don’t doubt that the Graeffs are dedicated Christians. Such schools as the seminary offer little more than a work visa and a token salary of perhaps two or three hundred dollars a month at most.  Like many I have met, they mostly likely financed their sojourn largely from their own resources. The province is almost 25% Christian, so their would be more than enough scope for pastoral work without proselytizing. Local Christian institutions are well aware of their inferior status, and would not encourage open preaching.

Indeed, all versions of the story, both in English and Indonesian, refer to rumors, and provide no proof.  The headline in the large circulation Indonesian Islamist newspaper, Republika,  took the proselytizing as fact, and only deeper in reported it as suspected.  Readers’ comments were uniformly incensed at the evidence of “Christianization,” and complimentary to the police for handling the situation.  Some were angry that the government had not dispatched the crack U.S. trained Densus 88 anti-terror brigade to capture the missionary terrorists,  seeing this as a sign of systemic discrimination against Muslims by the central authorities, and that the Jakarta government is subservient to Washington.

The religious school  teacher found it suspicious that the family lived in Kabonena, rather than in town. In Palu, as all over Indonesia, new suburban housing estates and satellite towns with modern facilities are springing  up to meet the needs of a growing middle class. Republika reports, but doesn’t comment on the fact that the Americans rented their home from a member of the provincial assembly, H. Nasir Djibran, clearly a Muslim name, and a person of some substance locally. The housing estate is one kilometer from the city center.  The seminary is in Wera ( not Uwera, which is in Uganda), near the port of Dongggala( where Joseph Conrad met Olmeijer, the protaganist in his first novel, “Almayer’s Folly,” so that Palu could add literary tourism to its already considerable attractions!) halfway up the western shore of Palu Bay, a reasonable and very scenic commute on the quite decent road, which I have traveled, in the large and comfortable Toyata Kijang the Graeffs no longer have.

This story summarizes all the difficulty caused by the insidious spread  of a dry, desert ideology, call it wahabism, salafism, or what you will, that threatens to overwhelm and supplant the syncretic forms of Islam that worked well for so long here, and reflected the reality of the archipelago’s cultural and religious history.  Palu, a region with immense potential for investment, tourism and recreation, and a decent life for its inhabitants of all faiths, could lose its chance to progress further and succumb to ”religious tensions.”

As has been seen many times on Java, the authorities do not punish attackers, and consider their work done if they merely prevent grave harm to those attacked, reflecting a greater malaise, and dangerous inertia, as the government  of a secular republic refuses to acknowledge its subversion.