October 18, 2008
Here’s to share about Bontoc: It was the year 1965 when I graduated elementary. I was supposed to go to St. James in Kin-iway (Poblacion for Besao) to start high school but then my lolo (Mr. Tomas Batnag) who was into education said, “go to the Mountain Provincial High school so you can start first year right away.” In St. James, I would have had taken 7th grade. I never heard of the Provincial high school - our Elementary teachers never told us - all the iBesao kids know of a high school beside schools in Baguio City at that time was St. Mary’s. St James only had up to the 7th grade. So I was hesitant and was very anxious to go to the Provincial High School.
So my grandpa and I went down to Bontoc via the old Dangwa Bus - there was a Bontoc-Besao bus at that time. Reaching Bontoc, I was disappointed, it was gloomy and blackened - I thought ay sha obpay di Bontoc na (so this is Bontoc.) It was my first time to be in Bontoc but I of course heard about it a hundred times, it being the capital of the then Mountain Province before it got subdivided. Then I heard later on that Bontoc just had a big fire.
At the Mountain Provincial High School, we took the entrance test, a test classified students according to colors. I thought now: wow imagery-white, blue, green, pink, and red. I was in section White, the supposedly brightest group. Our adviser was Mrs. Francisca Valencerina. Retrospectively, I did not think it was fair to classify students into such groups. If I was in the Red, which was the last section, and per the test classification, was the dullest, I would feel inferior and won’t be able to learn as much as I want. We in the White section, my classmates anyway, had the superior attitude over the others.
My classmates in section White were Aida Macli-ing, Eulalia Mayaco, James Fuchay, Wilfred Falag-ey, Lolita Tudlong, Rhonda Bacwaden, Joyce from Nakagang, Raymund Carino, Charles Carino, can’t remember the others. This Joyce was very bright, always the test topnotcher. Rhonda was a board mate and a town mate but she was not friendly to me and would care less if I was around. I was not athletic and perhaps was an ugly duckling and very shy, that’s probably why. Lolita Tudlong was very nice and generous, always giving me chocolate. I heard her family had a store, a little candy store in the corner which was a big one before the fire. She would sneak me some chocolate kisses even a class was ongoing. Aida was nice and thoughtful, always including me in plays and would be genuinely interested in what I was doing. She introduced me to her other friends, like Joyce Peyes, a girl name Rita and others I can’t remember. She’d lend me the Illustrated Classics like “Les Miserables,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” and some others. She was bright, tenacious and very focused.
Section White’s classroom overlooked the Chico River, and my seat was by the window. I never paid attention fully in class because I was always day dreaming. My eyes would wander to the gushing waters of the Chico River, and to the shining rice fields along its banks. I watched them rice fields change in colors: gray, when the fields were being plowed and smoothened for planting. At rice planting time, I would watch the women bent, planting rice seedlings all day. Then the fields would soon become uniformly green. Then the time when the rice grains start to sprout and eventually ripen into amber and golden. This time they’re ready to be harvested.
In Math, our teachers were: a Peace Corp, Mr. Thomas Storer and Miss Julia Owek, who later on got married and moved to the US. I remember Modern Math as taught by Mr. Storer - sets and sub sets. I paid attention to the way he talked for the most part. We would all imitate how he talked, his accent, and I think that was my first practice of talking English the American way. He was fun, he’d bring his guitar and would teach us a song. He taught us “500 Miles away from Home” and we would all sing it with him strumming his acoustic guitar.
After classes, my playmates were Aida and some of her friends. I boarded with my cousin Arsenia Dougui-es at the Wagnagans, a neighbor of Aida’s family and not far from All Saints Mission - in fact I walked through All Saints compound to go to school. I would hang out with Aida and her friends in the weekends or after classes. But Aida was a very good kid like all her siblings, doing chores after school, and would come out to play for a little bit in the afternoons.
On weekends, I remember going with my cousin to the river to bathe and wash clothes. Yes, the river has a very a strong current. Talking about all the drowning victims, it’s no wonder. I could feel how heavy and strong the current was. It’s like that of the river in Suyoc. Mother said, they originate from Innodey that’s why. And she told me that the current is stronger in both rivers than the river we have in Besao.
I witnessed Fagfagto. At first I could not believe because I thought why would people deliberately throw stones. But then when the season came, we went to watch one, my first time. Staying at the outskirts of town along the rice paddies not far from the river, we, along with a lot of people, were ready to watch. Just like a sport, like watching football, we were so enthused for the game to begin. We would then watch stones being hurled. Team One stays at the bank of the river and the other team at the opposite bank. I have not witnessed anyone being terribly hurt as a result though. But I imagine, there are near fatal injuries from the way they throw the stones.
In my second year, I was still in section White. This time, they picked the students per their first year grades. I remember Algebra under Mrs. Evelyn Dimas. It was a breeze to me because she taught very well and I could understand her. I would get perfect scores in a subject that is supposedly difficult. There were back subjecters coming to sit in her class. I remember Eugene Bagwan, a backsubjecter, in test I would generously share mine and let whoever wants to copy it do it. And Eugene was one of them. Later on, this generosity was reciprocated - in 4th year high, in Easter School, I used to copy James Ambasing’s physics’ answers and he would let me.
Many times, I used to wonder how places beyond what my eyes can see: places where the Tabuk Bus and the Kiangan Bus would disappear to, and wished to venture there but I never got the chance. So, this last April, when we took the jeep from Bontoc to Banawe, I remembered those days of wondering and wishing.
I said goodbye to the place at the end of my second year. I was just tired and wanted a change.
Yes, having spent years in Bontoc, it’s a place I would like to visit again and again.
About the Author
Jocelyn Noe was born in Besao, Mountain Province but grew up in the mining towns of Balatoc and Suyoc, both in Benguet Province. She finished primary school from Besao Elementary School, high school from Easter School in Baguio City, and pre-nursing from the University of Baguio. She received her nursing diploma from the Baguio General Hospital School of Nursing. Jocelyn currently works as an admission nurse for JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, Florida.
Jocelyn (or Juice as IGO [Igorot Global Organization] friends call her) came to the United States as a nurse in 1979, met her husband four months later, and married him a year after that. They live in Wellington, Florida with their 22-year old son.
Jocelyn is a poet at heart and she is actively involved as secretary with the Poets of the Palm Beaches, a non-profit organization in Palm Beach County for the advancement of poetry. She authored a poetry book called “Serendipity: a Poetry Collection” published by Outskirts Press in 2006 as a self-published book.
At the 6th IIC, in Melbourne, Australia, Jocelyn was elected as one of the Council of Elders, the governing body of the IGO. Shortly after this, she was appointed by the Chairman to chair the Scholarship Fund Raising Council (SFRC) of the Igorot Scholarship Program (ISP). She no longer holds any position with IGO but she has always been willing to help in any way she can.
N.B. Jocelyn Noe sent her letter to the Mountain Province forum. It was meant to be printed in “Lang-ay Magazine” as one among other stories in “Igorot Episodes: Memories in Mountain Province,” a Readers Digest type of documenting stories about growing up in the Mountain Province. Her letter remained with the Mountain Province forum. ICBE would like to thank Jocelyn for granting permission to post her letter cum story in the ICBE website. (Y. Belen)
8 July 2014