Postcard, December 29, 1975

Description: Group of typical dancers in the touristic center “El Castillo”, Heredia, Costa Rica

{ Translation of this postcard which was sent by my Costarican “family” to my family. }

An affectionate greeting to all of your family and desiring that you have had a happy Christmas and a happy New Year. We are very happy to have in our house your son Dean. Although we only know you from photos, we have come to have great regard for you.

Until soon, Greetings,

Familia Castillo Murillo

Journal, December 29, 1975 AM

Another day of quiet domestic life in San Antonio. Went & had a couple beers with Jaime down at Skip & Neil’s {bar named La Terminal}. I pimped him out with a note wishing him “felicidades” {congratulations} on Día de los Santos Inocentes (sort of a Costarican April Fools Day) & took Pilar a card for her birthday the 27th. <Talked with Jaime about taking Sofia and her mother or someone back to the states for 3 weeks or a month to give her a chance to get to know my folks, and get a taste of the climate. I caught him by surprise that I was thinking in those terms already after I’d been pooh-poohing his ribs about my bringing Sofia back to the States to keep Pilar company.> I’m glad he’s going to get married before I plan to, so I can take notes and avoid a few pitfalls! God, I don’t even believe the heavy stuff I’m talkin’ after 9 days of knowing this little chic!

I rapped with Doña Carmen’s Dad a little about the problems of the world. I never cease to be amazed at how similar are the ideas and preoccupations of common people I’ve met everywhere I’ve been – women, their kids, their health, work, cost of living, sports, politics. Only names and dates & places change. Like Pilar’s Dad who believes a man with responsibilities should not get drunk, & that religion is not that important beyond the point of living a moral life, & taking care of your kids. I can close my eyes and hear Dad or Dale {an older cousin} or LeRoy {a friend of Dad’s} or any number of other men saying about the same thing.

<I went to mass in the afternoon (2 weeks in a row), with Sofia & Pilar & Jaime. I told Sofia I really was turned off by all the feelingless ritual in Catholic churches, but don’t know if it sunk in.> She didn’t say anything. We played spoon, made more popcorn, and took a (walking) lap around town. {some text not transcribed}


Journal, December 28, 1975 AM

<I cut it off, and was more than adequately rewarded by Sofia!> {some text not transcribed}

The rest of my day was anticlimactic (to have a stab at the year’s most conspicuous understatement!). <I didn’t arrive on Sofia’s porch until about 6:15 PM.> Went to San Jose in the mornin’ to get Pilar a birthday card {some text not transcribed} & some more popcorn. {some text not transcribed}

I went cuttin’ banana leaves for tamales with Fabio Alberto & Orlando in the afternoon, & never did get the card to Pilar.

<It hit me on the way home last night – how am I going to begin the process of telling my family about Sofia?> We are a family that absolutely never talk among ourselves about love or openly show love one for another among ourselves. Even Jan, who is the most open with me, and close to me, will only write that she has a friend named Jerry – not that she loves him or anything, just that he exists. My sisters never clung to my Mom, or put their heads in her lap {some text not transcribed}. We are emotionally deprived in that we feel love strongly, (if unemotional Dean does, the whole clan must!) but are inhibited from and embarrassed to express it openly. What frustrated beings it causes us to be! <Maybe I’ll write to Jan about Sofia for starters.>

Journal, December 27, 1975 AM

<I still have Sofia on the brain this morning.> {some text not transcribed}

Stopped by the Campos Gonzalez house after getting back, and went for a drink with Jaime & Felipe. We got talking about what strange people PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} are, about Miguel, Russ, Diego, Fred {PCVs in our group in El Salvador}. Turns out Felipe’s a pre-med. student who couldn’t get into medical school. He wants to practice medicine in Spanish Harlem, a very noble ambition. He may try to get into medical school here, & then transfer back to the States after a couple years – hope he makes it. He’s a pretty intense and well disciplined dude, though you don’t notice it at first because he’s so friendly and seemingly easy-going. Great to see that being a black Puertorican in New York {City} hasn’t scarred him with racial hatred as it has so many people.

We went to see Jan & Mike Galbraith {Costarican PCVs who trained with us at Basico} last night. Jaime and Mike (& I to an extent) talked sports as always, & Jan talked with her Mom leaving poor Pilar isolated, and trying to understand all the English flying by. We went over to their place, & had some of a “contrabanda” {contraband} cake Jan’s mother got through customs (all the way from a Chicago bakery). It was white cake with a layer of strawberries & one of bananas and cream frosting, incredible! Mike’s going back to school in Milwaukee in August so we’ll probably see him again up there. Says he wants to live somewhere between Chicago & Milwaukee, his two favorite cities.

Well, I think the goatee goes today. <Sofia tried it & didn’t like it (very abrasive).> I’ll decide when I look in the mirror!


Journal, December 26, 1975 AM

<Well, Sofia’s done it, wiped everything else so completely out of my mind I don’t know if I’ll be able to write anything that makes any sense this morning.> {some text not transcribed}

So what else did I do yesterday? Fabio was still flying high, & I rapped with him about life. He says you come into the world barefoot and without clothes, so everything you get from there is gain. Also told me you have to forget about death, and just live life from day to day seeking its pleasures – a real fatalist. Seems like a common attitude among heavy drinkers I’ve known.

I spent some time with the family & their relatives who dropped by. It’s really nice the way families go around seeing each other on Christmas Day here, much more in the spirit of the holiday than the football game back home in Wisconsin. But it’s almost all women that do the visiting & receiving, the men are off drinking or sleeping it off with few exceptions. We made more popcorn, & the kids were less bashful about digging in this time (or hungrier as Doña Carmen suggested), and it was great.

Finished off the night by making popcorn with Jaime, Pilar and her folks. It’s all so new to them to see that little bunch of grain make a pot full of “palomitas” {popcorn} that they make you feel like a real chef! I swear I eat about half of every pot I make though! Jaime and Pilar are planning ahead, said they were going to teach Spanish to their kids by speaking only Spanish in the house – a great idea if they can keep it up. <Jaime got in his customary jab about me bringing Sofia back to Wisconsin to give Pilar someone to talk to, so I’m back to Sofia where my mind will be most of today.>

Journal, December 25, 1975 AM

Well, I never had a Christmas Eve like it, and may never again! In the afternoon Jaime and I stopped by Basico to say ‘Hi’, and drop off a card from the Campos Gonzalez family. Skip invited us for a drink with the staff who were still around, and afterwards we picked some oranges and grapefruit, & got a lift to La Terminal with Ed Stoll. We drank & B.S.’ed with Clarence, a new Spanish professor from Limón, and with Tom and later a friend of Clarence’s as well. They kept buyin’ and we kept drinkin’, and shot the whole afternoon. I was feeling really buzzed when I got home! Clarence is a “humanist” (his word), and an insightful social observer – fascinating to talk to – and he spent some time in Appleton, Wisconsin near Jaime’s home! He says El Salvador’s gotta just explode some day – when and how who knows, but he’s as incredulous as us over the situation there.

So about seven we ate supper (No. 1), and we made some popcorn (of which I ate three-fourths, and Rita most of the rest!). I was hungry & still flyin’ high & even a shower hadn’t helped. The head was just startin’ to settle down when Don Fabio showed up with 3 bottles of liquor, half buzzed himself, and started pouring us rum with Champaine chasers! He was funny drunk for once, and we had a good time B.S.’ing. About 9 or 9:30 we had our Cena Santa {Holy Supper} (No. 2) of rice, chicken & tamales – delicious but I was getting full!

Then we got invited over to the neighbors to dance, the place Nat Leisure {a Peace Corps trainee in my group} used to be, and drink all kinds of weird stuff that never tasted the same two glasses in a row. Talked with two more trainees, & danced a little. Felt amazingly straight, but I knew it wouldn’t take much to put me over the brink again! Doña Carmen and Don Fabio were dancing & having a good time together – que raro {how unusual}! They’re arguing again this morning! The family went on home but Rita was gettin’ into the music so we stayed, & they gave me the key. Felipe had dropped by on his way around the neighborhood, so when everyone was asleep on returning home, Rita decided we should truck over to Jaime’s (at about 1 AM). We found them up and lively, and gettin’ ready to eat! – God forbid! So we ate a little more (No. 3), and had a decent Guatemalan wine. What great people! That little bit of wine put me over the brink, & my head was spinning. Along with being dog tired it was a weird feeling. About 3:30 we stumbled on home. Merry, merry Christmas!

Postcard, December 24, 1975

Description: Monument to Juan Santamaria, Alajuela, Costa Rica

Hi folks,

Yup I’m back in Costa Rica. I wasn’t planning to stay in San Antonio while here, but my Costarican Mom wouldn’t have it any other way, so I’m livin’ cheap and really taking it easy! It just stopped raining here and the flowers are blossoming & things are really fine. Am passing a very sedentary vacation so far; no journeys to see hard-to-get-to “wonders”. Just enjoying the climate & terrific Costarican people – they’re friendly to a fault, I swear!

Happy New Year,


P.S. My Costarican family wants a photo of as many of my family as you can corral. Help?


Journal, December 24, 1975 AM

They really weren’t kidding in El Salvador when they told me tamales were the big food for "Navidad" {Christmas}. Same thing here! I had three yesterday & believe me there’s no tamale like a homemade tamale!

Ah, what a life! We went to Ojo de Agua yesterday morning & really enjoyed ourselves, just relaxing, swimming, swinging & boating. I was really feelin’ my oats, as they used to say way back in Wisconsin, and even did a yoga headstand and a backbend! {some text not transcribed}

Journal, December 23, 1975 AM

Went into San Jose yesterday, & was floored by the prices of stuff. They are about as high as I remember prices being in the States a year & a half ago! Felipe, the current Peace Corps trainee in Pilar’s house, says prices have shot up incredibly in the U.S. since we left though, so maybe things are a little cheaper here than there. You can’t tell the Gringos {North Americans} from the natives in San Jose, and some of the Gringos are adopted ticos {Costaricans} too so the central part of town has a very North American atmosphere. I bought a couple gifts, & had a banana split for old times sake.

<Got a bus to the San Antonio turn off {from the main highway between San Jose and the airport}, so decided to look up Sofia’s house.> I asked directions of the right dude apparently, because I found it with no problems! {some text not transcribed}

Got my presents wrapped, & set to go last night, and then went for a beer with Jaime & Pilar. Pilar is such a fireball it’s unreal. She doesn’t say anything so profound or even humorous, but her laugh is so infectious you can’t help enjoying being around her. She just can’t quit ribbing Jaime about the fact that my eyes are bluer than his! Hit him with it on the way home, “Dino, no traigas tus anteojos mañana!” { “Dean, don’t wear your glasses tomorrow! }

Journal, December 22, 1975 AM

Haven’t officially started this thing, & I already missed writing in it one night, but maybe mornings are better anyway!

Read some more of "Cien Años de Soledad" yesterday morning. I’m getting so I can read through it at a semi-reasonable pace, & don’t look up so God awful many words. Lucky it’s a funny book, & thus keeps the attention.

Poor Rita {current Peace Corps trainee living here}, Doña Carmen came down hard on her ‘cause she’s going over to Pilar’s house, & have a drink with Felipe on Christmas Eve. <She got the whole line about how Sofia (my penpal) was from a bad family whose kids make fun of the Castillo Gonzalez family.> Small town scrapping at its worst, & they try to put her (& me) in the middle. But I just won’t let it excite me at all.

Beer has really gone up here – to 4 or 5 Colones from 3 to 3½ when I was here 14 months ago. Jaime & I had a good talk over beer – same themes as usual, how things were & are back home, & how much he likes Costa Rica & his future in-laws. Going to set the wedding date while he’s here this time. Hope it’s early in November ‘cause I’ve pretty well promised to come but will be anxious to hit the road by then!

Bullshitted with Rita about pot, religion & a bunch of other stuff last night. Nice chic, but I almost think she’s got the same problem I got; went into the wrong field, & doesn’t really want to go back to school to change. Or maybe it’s just general restlessness – bummed out by the idea of taking on a steady job, & just watching life fly by without doing all the things (some you haven’t even found out about yet) that you’d like to do before you’re too old. But folks like us should be fun to talk to at least, right?


Journal, December 20, 1975 PM

So why write a journal in the first place? I hope I never get to the point of going back and reading it all over again – what a waste. That means I must be writing for someone else to read some day, & share my ideas or experiences or whatever. Maybe if my need to communicate in some way what goes through my brain day by day will keep me writing.

Went to my first church service in a long time today, a Catholic mass in San Antonio de Belén. The ritual really bums me out, always has. Reminds me of zombies or robots when people mumble answers to mumbled questions without thinking about what they’re saying. However, it’s really not as bad as all that, because they don’t take it too seriously. My tica {Costarican} sister and her friend giggled next to me through it all. Constant ritual indoctrination just becomes a routine, boring but cherished for its sentimental value. It doesn’t take over our minds.

{some text not transcribed}

Journal, December 19, 1975

Wow, is all I can say about my reception in Costa Rica today! Pilar and her mother met us at the airport, and Doña Carmen had come to meet me too, but missed us somehow. She was real upset, & came over to Pilar’s to take me “home”. We talked like never before, & she stuffed me with food like old times. <Then I went to Pilar’s & Sofia’s graduation party (typing school).> These Costarican girls are so fresh & so direct they’re really refreshing. If they like you they say so, and they aren’t on as tight a leash as Salvadorans are.

But you have to watch out because they’re marriage minded, and what in hell would I do with a wife, going back to school like I plan to?

This morning I’m still impressed with the extreme amiability of the Costarican people toward Gringos {North Americans}, they almost fight to be your special friend, & get more attention, & are so emotional! As Jaime said last night, his fiancé’s family treats him so well, it’s better coming home to them than going home to Wisconsin.

Images, December, 1975

Fabio Castillo, Marielos, Fabio Alberto, Orlando and Carmen de Castillo, plus {Peace Corps trainee} Rita Kluzusji {back} at the Castillo Murillo house {in San Antonio de Belén, Costa Rica}.


Journal, December 18, 1975

Since I have not yet officially begun this journal, I feel no obligation to be consistent in what I write as yet. But on the other hand there’s no reason to wait ‘til January 1 to begin when I’ve already bought the book. I am in Managua, Nicaragua tonight, on my way to Costa Rica with Jaime Olson. Going through Nicaragua, and seeing immense, well cared for fields of cotton, sugarcane & banana trees has brought up an old internal conflict. Unquestionably, big haciendas {farms} can employ the latest technology, & if well managed, out produce the same amount of land in "minifundia" {small} holdings, but that still doesn’t justify people like the Somoza family, virtual owners of a country. Medium, commercial size farms use land most efficiently, but what do you do with all those extra people? Same problem as in El Salvador, & no solution short of political upheaval followed by land reform. And no assurance land reform will be a panacea if it leads to generalized minifundia. On to Costa Rica, and a little respite from such heavy stuff! Jaime’s fiancé has found me a penpal, & now Jaime is foreseeing a blossoming romance before I’ve even met her.

On the journal, I hope to carry on indefinitely (beginning January 1). I take a healthy dose of cynicism from Mark Twain who said that a completed journal was of great value. (I have begun journals before, twice, unsuccessfully.)

Letter, December 8, 1975

Hi folks,

Thanks much for the fotos {photos} of the Indian corn. They made a big hit with Morena’s family (look at the fotos to find out who Morena is) because our "Indian corn" looks a lot like the white or flint corn they grow here. The corn here is characteristically very tall and often has purple {coloring} in stalks or ears! The native or "indio" corn here (which I’ve seen once in the mountains) looks just exactly like ours, with multi-colored kernels & everything. They say it makes good tortillas, so maybe I can make tortillas from Indian corn when I get back (once I learn the trick to it)!

How did hunting come out? It’s about time someone in the family landed a deer considering all the hay & corn they mooch off us! We had a good Turkey Day football game with campo {rural} PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} beating city PCVs & embassy Marines 25-24! Afterwards we proceeded to eat & then drink too much, but it was great! After eating rice and beans, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, biscuits & pumpkin pie are just unreal!

Before I forget, I got your film & from the last film I sent home, I’d like two copies of any pictures of my Chinese friends & I that turned out, one for each of them. I’m going back up to Atiocoyo to see them some weekend & will take them up. The tall Chinese guy is a real philosopher, says if a person wants to have the best of everything he should have an American (U.S.) home, eat Chinese food, have a Japanese wife, and keep a French mistress!

I’m sending home a bunch of photos I took here & had developed (mainly because lots of folks wanted copies of some. Never again! As you can see the quality of some is rotten. Some where I had them make more than one copy came out in different colors in the copy, & then they didn’t give me the same copies I requested in all cases! I explain each picture on the back.

Sounds like the corn was pretty good, and $8.60 {per hundredweight} sounds incredible for milk, though I’m sure all of your costs have been climbing even faster. The rainy season stayed until the end of November this year; much different than last fall when it hardly rained after Oct. 15. Actually, so much rain hurt the bean crop, which in many cases sprouted on the vine due to the dampness, & the coffee producers were crying because the downpours were knocking nearly ripe coffee beans off the trees. I never feel sorry for the big coffee producers any more though since I learned they don’t pay income taxes (which producers of other crops do) even though coffee is the country’s major export!

I’m leaving Dec. 18 for Costa Rica. I’m going down with Jaime (Jim) Olson, a fellow PCV & Wisconsinite who has his fiancé down there. He met her during training, & just kept liking her company more and more! She’s a native Costarican and a secretarial student. Anyway, I’m going to keep Jaime company, see the family I stayed with {in training}, & meet a girl Pilar (the fiancé) & Jaime buffaloed into writing to me. I’m looking forward to the trip. Costa Rica is going to look even more beautiful after being here a year. Hard to believe they have no army there when the army is so big & brazenly evident here!

Well, hope your holidays are happy!


P.S. - New Year’s resolution for Donna, Bruce, Tom, Carla & Merna. Write me once a year to prove you’re alive!

Letter, November 18, 1975

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

I sent y’all a “surprise” package November 10 by ship & land, so thought I’d better get my butt in gear and write you what I sent before I forgot. They told me it would take about a month to get to you, so hope it arrives before Christmas! Well here goes with the mailing list { The package included gifts for my 7 sisters, 2 brothers and David, my sister Mary’s spouse }:

There are 2 Guatemalan handycraft shirts for Bruce & Tom; they can fight over who gets which. There are 2 wool carrying bags, also from Guatemala for Donna & Carla.

The Don Quijote & Sancho Panza, which are wrapped in the shirts (careful), are for Jan. Watch out for Quijote’s spear, it would be easy to break.

There are 4 handbags; the 2 plain ones I intended for Merna & Marcia; the one with brown trim & shoulder strap for Mary, and the really simple woven one for Joyce. Tell them I won’t get mad if they swap. One thing though, the 2 necklaces made from coffee beans & other native fruits go with the simple woven bag since it was cheaper. Don’t remember where I put the necklaces, but you’ll find ‘um, hopefully in one piece.

The piece of hand-woven cloth from Guatemala is for Mom. (If the other women of the family like it & want some, I’ll take orders, ‘cause it’s not that expensive & I live only a half hour from the Guatemalan border.) Be careful, because there is a fragile shell necklace wrapped in the cloth. The lady at the market where I bought some of the stuff gave it to me special for my mother, so hope it don’t break in transit!

I got leather belts for Dad & David, the longer one being for Dad. Hope they fit, as I’m pretty skinny right now, I may have underestimated the waistlines of people eating good Wisconsin food!

Hope those trinkets get there in good shape. If so I may send some more stuff before I leave here. It’s pretty cheap sending stuff by boat, providing they arrive & in one piece!

I’m getting psyched up right now for Thanksgiving. We are going to have a big feast, with all the stuff us “gringos” eat for Thanksgiving. We’ve also got a touch football game planned between the rural (campo) PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} and the city PCVs, and will probably get in some volleyball, softball & basketball as well as “highball”. Do you realize I’ve only played with a football once in the last year, incredible!

Just got through with my annual medical checkup from Peace Corps. I have some protozoan swimming around in my intestines that the doctor gave me pills to kill. I also have round worms & will get wormed next time I’m in town {meaning San Salvador}. Other than that I’m O.K., no tuberculosis or malaria, although some friends tell me it looks like I’m starting to lose a little hair from taking malaria pills every week. I think they’re just kidding, but once the dry season starts, I’ll stop taking the pills since the danger of malaria is less then.

Saw a guy from Janesville {Wisconsin} off last week at the airport. He put in 2+ years in the same program I’m working with now & now he’s headed back to Wisconsin. Hopes to earn some money & buy a little farm. Maybe I’ll visit him when I get back.

Another Wisconsin guy leaves this week. He’s from Osseo and his father grows Christmas trees, so he’s been to Skyline {A local ski hill near my family’s farm.} (for some tree growers convention), and knows the Ginters { The Ginter family owned Skyline Ski Area and a farm near ours where they raised Christmas trees. }. I expect to see him some day as he’s going to be studying at UW-Madison {University of Wisconsin – Madison} next year & I plan to go back to school when I terminate with Peace Corps.

You meet some really fine people in Peace Corps, but they sure seem to come & go in a hurry! Will send you folks some pictures I’ve taken recently once I get done showing them around here. They include one of what’s left of the group I trained with.

Happy Thanksgiving,



Images, November, 1975

Working on the silo {at El Maizal demonstration farm}, taken from {the} ajonjolí (sesame) field.

Me with my beach bum tan, in front of some awful short & pathetic looking sorghum {at El Maizal}.

Old silo filler like Dad may remember. We used it yo fill our silo at El Maizal. The crop in the background is called ajonjolí and is the plant sesame seeds come from.

The three-quarters filled trench silo, before we put dirt on it. That's my water jug on the side, & the bare field below is where we cut the sorghum from.

Don Tin (short for Augustín) and Jay Hasheider, a fellow PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer} in the "comedor" {small restaurant} where we usually eat in Metalío. Don Tin is a real character, & has been all over El Salvador & Honduras working.

Peace Corps office in San Salvador. University students had painted the slogans before we moved in, so they aren't aimed at us especially. ANDES is a radical student organization, & UR-19 stands for 19 persecuted leftists in Uruguay.

Brand new market in the capital {San Salvador} into which hundreds of venders moved from the streets last summer.

Letter(2), October 24, 1975

Hi Jan,

You are fourth & last on my list of letters for tonight, so I’ve run out of fresh & clever things to say (as if I ever had any!). That book about the campaign in ’72 sounds interesting. I haven’t got the book you’re sending yet, but will sure find time to read it. Right now I’m reading my second book on the history & current political & economic situation in El Salvador. It’s really informative, but dense & thus slow going. Unlike the other {book}, it offers no historical solution to El Salvador’s present problems. However, it points to a cool headed & cold hearted ruling oligarchy of hacienda {farm} owners & industrialists, who very rationally manipulate the country’s politics (with help from the, so far, very cooperative army) to suit their interests. In a small country like this with no inaccessible “hideout” areas for guerillas, such a “marriage” between oligarchy & army could last a long time unless the army officer corps “radicalizes from within” such as happened in Peru & Portugal, and no one here is optimistic even about that.

Where did you come up with the name Jerusalem Cherry plant? I called those plants Christmas Candle plants, but Mom started calling the fruit cherries, & now you’ve derived a whole new name for the plant! Even if it is more appropriate, I refuse to accept it, but am glad to hear the plants are doing well!

Some day when I get my butt in gear I’m going to send Mom a piece of woven cloth I bought in Guatemala! If you like it I can get some for you & Joyce. It isn’t really expensive, & I will get up to Guatemala again when things aren’t so hectic. Really hope you make it down in February. We could run up to Chichicastenango, Guatemala on {a} Sunday for their big market day. They really have some beautiful stuff, though it is heavily visited by tourists so things aren’t so cheap.

I’m trying to get my sorghum chopped, & the silage made, but there is so much hassle involved! I guess whenever you have to depend on others in a job, instead of doing it yourself, it’s like that! God save me from being a manager of other people!

I really do incredibly little swimming in the ocean, but I did climb a coconut tree the day before yesterday (da-dá!). It was small, but it was a start. Went fishing in the ocean & a river mouth Monday night with some friends. It was just past full moon & beeeeeautiful, just like early morning. I went in just my undershorts, & nearly froze my butt off! I don’t see how Salvadorans sleep in hammocks without a blanket or anything. The difference between the boiling heat of day & the brisk nights is really noticeable now that I’m sort of acclimated here. We didn’t catch much fishing, but it was great to see how they throw the nets & all.

Wishing you well,



Letter, October 24, 1975

Dear Mom, Dad, & all,

Glad to hear things are going along on schedule there. I’m sure going to have a lot of catching up to do when I do get back up there, what with ya’ll changing cars and selling cows & replacing them, and the remaining family at home dwindling fast. I haven’t really pictured in my mind yet what Bruce would be like as a college student & he’s already well into his first semester (shucks I couldn’t even picture him as a highschool senior!)! [If you show this to him, I bet he’ll write me.]

Things are moving along here too. That sorghum we planted is ready to cut & the silo isn’t done yet (because my boss insisted on making it out of brick & that takes time). We plan to fill silo Tuesday if everything works out. We are going to use a chopper loaned by a government experiment station & make a demonstration out of it (hopefully). It’ll be a relief to get that silage made & get on to buying cows & building the milking setup! Things go so slow, but enough problems come up to make life hectic anyway!

Day before yesterday I finally succeeded in climbing a coconut tree! It was a short one, but my pride of accomplishment was not diminished! I drink quite a bit of coconut milk to boost the nutrient content of my diet. It quenches the thirst & comes in a vacuum sealed container untouched by human hands (extremely rare for food in El Salvador).

I rode my bike to Acajutla (18 kilometers) 3 weeks ago. You can really go distances on a 10 speed & it doesn’t wear you down because you shift down going uphill & take advantage of downhills by putting ‘er in high {gear} & pedaling like mad! Acajutla has modern port facilities & a few modern homes & the rest of the town looks like any other campo (rural) town, except for a disproportionate number of curtain-fronted bar doors & “street ladies”. The port used to use a lot of labor, but they have mechanized it all now, putting another section of the population out of work. They seem at times like they’re trying to take the industrial and export-farming sections of the country & make them just as modern & mechanized as the U.S. & Western Europe, and leave the peasant farmers, the unemployed & under-employed to fend for themselves (& there are a lot of them). I really don’t know what’ll come of it all.

We have pepinos (cucumbers) now at El Maizal and I’ve been eating my share. They put them in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator (peeled), then eat them half frozen with salt & lemon-squeezings on them. Pretty good, but hard on the teeth if you get a well frozen one! Tonight we had fried fish for supper (another PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer} & I bought it at the next town & the place we eat at fried it up) and boy was it good. I also get small shrimp from the marshes near the ocean at the place where I eat now & then. I’m really getting into seafood, great protein source!

Well take care,


Images, October, 1975

One year in country celebration at Ron & Nancy Shiflet's in San Salvador (October 11, 1975). Back row: Nancy, Ron, Charley, Diego & Russell; Front: Mike, Dave, Jaime & Fred

Fred, Russ & Mike feeling pretty buzzed at our celebration for being in country one year.

Silo at El Maizal with the 2 "engineers" plus Rufino & Adán. { The field of forage sorghum that will be used to fill the silo is in the background. }

Letter, October 12, 1975

Hi folks!

Yup, I finally got around to sending you another roll of pictures. This roll stretches over a long time span & I didn’t keep a record so it’ll be pretty much “pot luck”. The last 3 pictures are of the farm where I am working now: First some people threshing rice by hand, them me & another guy working in the trench silo we’re building, then a shot of the main set of buildings at “El Maizal”. The thing that looks like a sawed off vertical silo, isn’t. It’s a water holding tank for irrigation. You just don’t see vertical silos here.

I also tried to take some pictures while I was in Guatemala, but it was cloudy & I doubt whether many turned out. The first part of the roll, if memory serves me, should show some pictures of a party in San Isidro shortly before I left there. Any thing else that turns up in those pictures you’ll have to ask me about!

Tell Carla I’m sorry for accusing her of being 15 years old. I was thinking about something else when I wrote her that card & somehow I got it in my head she was turning 15. Tell her she’s got another year of childhood left before she has to start husband hunting! A friend of mine in San Salvador also celebrates her birthday the 19th, so we’ll see if we can’t celebrate a little for Carla & Dad as well.

Last Saturday the 9 people from my training group who are still in El Salvador got together to celebrate being here a whole year! Actually it won’t be a year ‘til the 17th, so we were anticipating a little, but as one cynic commented, you couldn’t get a plane ticket home before then anyway! Really doesn’t seem like I’ve been here that long (but my grammar has sure suffered!). We did some drinking & talking and had a good old time.

Got a letter from Marcia letting me know she’s still alive and working again. { My sister Marcia was badly injured in a car accident, but had mostly recovered by this time } Seems like it’s mighty hard to keep a Jefferson off his or her feet very long! Only person I haven’t heard anything from in a long time is Merna, but Jan wrote me saying she seems busy & happy; guess that’s a good way to be.

When you get to picking corn, let me know how it yields, etc. Corn is such an important crop to the small farmer here & such a staple of the people’s diet that they’re always asking how the “cosecha de maiz” {corn harvest} looks back home. I’ve told them, of course, we grow corn too, which always seems to reassure them that the world isn’t so different elsewhere.

So long now,


Letter, September 28, 1975

Hello Jan,

I’m approaching the halfway point of my 2 years in El Salvador; October 17 I’ll have been here a whole year. God it don’t seem like it! Looking back, the time seems to have gone awfully fast, possibly because most of what I’ve done is so forgettable! Anyway it’s all downhill now, or so they tell me!

I bought myself a bicycle to use on my work site. It’s an English made ten-speed, and it really goes on the paved road. Not quite so good in loose sand & gravel though because of the thin tires.

Sounds like Joyce has got herself a real machine there! My boss has a ’56 Austin, and he spends half his time monkeying with one thing or another on it to keep it running. Hopefully hers is in a little better shape!

If you are really serious about losing weight, I have the perfect solution for you. Come to El Salvador, & live in the campo {rural areas}! After eating rice, beans & cheese 3 times a day for a few weeks you start losing weight for pure lack of interest in food! I weighed myself yesterday, & only weighed 167 pounds. I haven’t been that light since I graduated from highschool, & I feel real good (except when the diarrhea gets me now & then).

We are building a milking shed for the farm at El Maizal, as soon as I can get the plans laid out properly. Some guys from New Zealand, who work with the Agricultural Development Bank, gave us the idea for a neat & relatively inexpensive system. It will be a help to them if we build the shed with their plan also, because then they will have one in the country to take folks to, & show them how it works, etc. Also we’re goin’ a be makin’ silage soon, & I’ve gotta get the people going to finish the silo so we have a place to put it. The sorghum plot is really poor though, very spotty, due to an excess of rain, & poorly drained soil among other things. Oh well, you have to just plug along anyway!

Looks like the Badgers {football team} got their balloon busted right off the bat! Maybe that’ll mean Elroy Hirsch will pack up and head for Hawaii, & Wisconsin can look for a more modern minded athletic director (I understand Jack Scott is available!). College (semi-pro) athletics are so messed up I think maybe they should try starting over from scratch, with no scholarships, & emphasis on student body participation.

Well, that’s all for now.

Take care,



Letter, September 21, 1975

Dear Mom & Dad,

It started raining here late in August also, and it’s been raining pretty regular ever since. They call the 5-7 day periods of almost constant sprinkling or rain “temporales” here & we’ve had a couple now. I got your last letter by way of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It must have been put on the wrong plane somewhere along the line. Anyway it arrived and the pictures of the oats & the combine were really beautiful. However, I hesitate to show my Salvadoran friends that big combine. They’ll be sure to think I come from a family of “ricos” then!

Did you get my card from Guatemala? Was up there for 3½ days over the weekend of Central America’s independence day (September 15). It was so much cooler there than where I’m used to, that I wore my denim jacket almost all the time I was there! I shudder to think what it will be like coming home in mid-October (1976) if it already seems cool in Guatemala! Actually the main difference is the altitude, Guatemala City is up in the mountains and the climate reminded me of a mid-western U.S. city in the spring. People wear jackets & sweaters! You almost never see sweaters in El Salvador.

They grow apples up in Guatemala, which made me feel even more at home since apples in El Salvador are a strange foreign delicacy only the rich can afford in any quantity.

The rural people in Guatemala still use a lot of homemade woven clothing, much like their ancestors, the Mayans, used. I talked to a PCV {Peace Corps Volunteer} from Guatemala and he told me most of the rural women speak little or no Spanish, using only the Indian {Mayan} tongue. He says he has learned to understand the Indian’s language somewhat, but doesn’t try to speak it. What a difference from El Salvador where everybody speaks Spanish, and seemingly everybody wants to learn English!

I want to go up into northern Guatemala and see the ruins of Tikal, the very best of the ancient temples of the Mayas, when I get time. Tikal has only been unearthed by archaeologists in the last 30 years & is being acclaimed as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. I’ll let you have my expert opinion when I see it!

Am trying to buy a bicycle to use in my job. Another PCV is selling one for ¢275 ($110) and I intend to buy it if possible. It is a 27 inch ten-speed like Tom’s, but not built quite as “heavy”; it’s a Falcon. It’s a good deal considering the price of bikes here (they tax them heavily for some reason), and it will save me a lot of time. Work is going so-so, with much to get done and little time to do it.

How about letting me know what the balance is in my Golden Passbook account {a type of savings account offered by the local bank in Friendship, WI}? I was taking stock of my present financial situation the other day, and what it’ll be when I get out of Peace Corps, and I couldn’t remember what I had in that account when I left (It has been over a year so I guess that ain’t so terrible). Well, take care of yourselves & get some work out of Tom & Carla when you can!



Postcard, September 16, 1975

Description: Ruins of the old city in Antigua, Guatemala

Hi Folks,

I finally got up to Guatemala this weekend and went to visit the old capital city of Guatemala and thus of all Central America under Spanish rule. Now they call it simply “Antigua”. The streets are all cobblestone & even many of the recently built buildings in the town are of colonial design, so it is really worth seeing. Most of the ruins aren’t as “ruined” as the ones you see here! Can’t believe Guatemala, it’s so cool I’ve worn a jacket all day today, what a change!!


Images, September, 1975

Taking the cruise across Lake Amatitlán near Guatemala City {, Guatemala}.

A man had his goats tied along the sidewalk, and would sell fresh milk. You told him how much you wanted, & he milked a goat. This is Antigua {, Guatemala} before the earthquake in February 1976.

A patriotic parade in Antigua, colonial capital of Guatemala.

Ruins in Antigua. The city has been destroyed by earthquakes several times.

Garden & fountain in a private home built in the colonial era, & still owned by the original family. It is the most authentic museum of colonial times in the city {of Antigua}.

Letter, August 31, 1975

Hi Jan,

Harry Brokish, a guy I knew from Madison, and who helped get me into my present Peace Corps job, left for the States the 29th. Don’t know when or if I’ll see him again. My year in Peace Corps seems to have been an endless stream of departures and arrivals. In that respect, it’s a lot like college was.

You scooped everybody with the announcement about the baby { My sister Mary and her husband David had a baby boy who they named Bryan. }. Everyone else in the family has been delinquent in responding to my letters lately (or maybe my letters aren’t getting there, always a lingering doubt!). That news made a big hit with people here, they’re really into having babies as the population growth rate indicates. Considering that they’re already the most densely populated country on the American continent, & that the average age of the population is about 17 years, I can’t help but think all hell is going to break loose here when those kids start growing up. One of the Peace Corps secretaries (a Salvadoran) surprised me though. When I told her that my sister had had her first child, she immediately asked how old she was & I thought, “Here it comes, 28 and only having her first?” But she said she thought that was the right time to have children, & that she was only going to have one or maybe two herself, and that was that!

I’m glad to hear that Joyce is taking the “plunge”, and trying to get into a field more in line with her major interests. Hope things go well for her; greenhouse work can be really interesting if you put a little effort & imagination into it. The supervisor I worked under in the Horticulture greenhouses {at the University of Wisconsin} in Madison was very inventive & into his work.

Don’t let your reactionary superintendent get you down too bad. Living under this government is a little like what one might have imagined in the States if Joe McCarthy {Wisconsin Senator in the 1950s} or General Douglas McArthur had been elected president. Any opposition to the government is labeled Communist & the newspapers are so afraid of the military, who run the government, that they only print what they’re sure is safe. July 30th the university students {at the University of El Salvador} & some supporters held a “manifestation” {demonstration} in which they marched down one of the main avenues in San Salvador (It goes by the U.S. Embassy and Peace Corps office among other things.). When they got to a certain crossroads the National Police blocked their path, & when they turned onto another street the police opened fire on them. Estimates of the number killed range from 7 to 40, except in the newspapers where it is reported that 2 were killed. The newspapers also carried a lot of B.S. about how the students had opened fire first, & how they had caches of arms placed all over the city. No one I’ve talked to buys either of those “ideas”. One of the confirmed dead used to work at the school & farm near Metalío where I work. He was a university student, but devoted his spare time to organizing pre-coops {groups preparing to apply to the government to be recognized as cooperatives} & community self-help groups through CREDHO, the organization formed by the Episcopal Church for this purpose. He was well-liked by all the local people I work with. Kind of bums you out because he doesn’t sound like a violent radical, just a very concerned & involved person.

So anyway, the shooting of the students lowered {Salvadoran} President Molina’s popularity to low tide & he’s reacted by calling it all a Communist plot to steal the elections from his PCN {National Conciliation Party} party in 1977! You might call that a slight overreaction considering that the only other legal party, the Christian Democrats, have only 3 representatives in the national Congress. Veteran PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} & staff expect “something to happen” in the next few months. That could mean a coup d'état by other army people, increased action by radical & revolutionary groups, or who knows what. The government is in a real repressive mood for the time being.

Remember that girl who goes to the University I mentioned some letters back (#261, B)? We’ve had some real lively phone conversations about the political situation here, & what should be done about it. She vacillates between putting the blame on the military & the big hacienda {farm} owners & industrialists, and blaming U.S. corporations & foreigners in general who exploit the Salvadoran people. I argue with her, mainly over the all-inclusiveness of her condemnations, but it sure is refreshing to talk with a concerned & thinking person – especially here where so many women are only concerned with finding their breadwinner, and getting started on those 6 or 8 kids! Even so, she’s from a very tradition-minded family. I got her to go to the show {a movie} with me on Sunday afternoon, and not only did she bring her sister as chaperone (standard procedure), but she had told her parents they were going to church. I found that out when I insisted on escorting her home, & she was forced to explain why that was a no-no! Knowing that 20 year old women really are chaperoned on dates makes it easier to understand why going whoring is so common among Salvadoran men over 15 years old. It would be a real bummer to be forced to play that game for a lifetime, but I’m having fun right now (with the dating part, I’m just not the type to get too heavily into whoring), sort of like being in 7th or 8th grade again, but having the advantage of being able to see how ridiculous it all is, & laugh at yourself!

Well, so much for the local report. Hope you have a good semester. Bouncing back and forth between the liberal university & a conservative highschool on a daily basis, should give you some good perspectives on the relative realism of the two worlds, & their relevance to what you’re seeking in life. A lot of games are played in both places [OPINION], so a person has to find a place where he or she can seek goals that are real & important, and go.

Leaving you with that piece of very questionable wisdom, I remain,


Card(2), August 25, 1975

{ Translation of message inside card. }

Enjoy, my brother
the happiness
that your birthday offers you
because you deserve
joy on your day.

Happy Birthday!

Hi Bruce,

I guess you must be getting about ready to head out to River Falls. Good luck in your first semester at the U. { Bruce was starting college at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. } Did you guys take any cows or other stuff to the fair? I’d really like to hear about how you did if you took anything. Well, happy birthday, and remember not to get too drunk the first night, (it’s better to build gradually for a real whoopin’ & hollerin’ drunk!!).

Take care,



Card, August 25, 1975

{ Translation of message inside card. }

Wishing that the salute
For this, dear brother
Might be a ray of human love
That lights up your heart
And that this venturesome day
That marks another year
In your life is remembered
As full of peace & joy.

Hi ya Tom,

As you can see from the translation I made, birthday cards are pretty formal here, but all I really wanted to say was Happy Birthday and stop growing so fast (nobody will be left to be my “little brother” in another year or so). I sure get a lot of mileage out of your name down here. In a town called Sonsonate they have a secondary school called the Thomas Jefferson Institute, so a lot of people know Thomas Jefferson was a president, etc. When they find out my last name many people ask if I am related to him, so I say sure he’s my brother! That usually slows them down a minute so I can think of something to say. Some Spanish speakers really rattle along {talk fast}, not even pausing between words. Because of the rhythmic nature of the language you can do that and be understood, but the faster ones still leave me a few words behind sometimes. It helps to be able to throw in a remark which makes them stop & think, ‘cause it gives me a breather!

Are you going out for football or cross country or anything this fall? Boy you’ll be busy now that Bruce is going away, lots of luck! If Bruce forgets, let me know how things came out at the fair, with the cattle & all.

I’m sending along a card with new emergency numbers for Mom & Dad to call in Washington if they think I’ve left the face of the earth or caught a boat for Australia or something! Just recently a volunteer got badly burned in the face working with chemicals & another nearly cut his hand off (both were flown to Washington for treatment), so emergencies can happen. Also, the political situation here is very tense right now since government police killed somewhere between 9 & 40 students in a student demonstration. A security guard has been murdered in San Salvador and the government has had a shoot-out with suspected guerillas in which 2 people were killed and (according to government claims) a bunch of terrorist weapons were confiscated. The military government is worried about a coup or other action aimed at ousting President Colonel Molina whose popularity has nose-dived after the incident with the students. So far all is calm, but it could be the calm before ______.

Anyway, hope you’re doin’ well. I’m keepin’ busy & not complainin’.

‘til later,


Images, August, 1975

A view of the beach at low tide, looking toward Acajutla {from in front of the beach house at Metalío}.

The beach house where Jay Hasheider & I lived part of our time in Metalío.

Sunset on the Pacific {at Metalío, El Salvador}

A haystack we made at El Maizal, featuring Jay Mathes, 3 CREFAC {a San Salvador community organization begun by a Peace Corps Volunteer} kids and 2 mozos {farm workers}.

Don Adán plowing with a wooden plow & oxen. We planted forage sorghum on this land. In the background 2 men are digging the trench silo in which the forage sorghum would eventually be stored.

Threshing rice using an oil barrel. Cheap labor makes it feasible, that and the lack of small, portable threshers at a reasonable price.

A worker & I digging a trench silo at El Maizal.

View of fields & buildings at El Maizal (school & demonstration farm for peasant farmers founded by the Episcopal Church). Behind the fence row is some upland rice. The second field has doubled-over corn with ajonjoli (sesame) planted between the rows.

Letter, August 9, 1975

Dear Jan,

I called home last night for Mom’s birthday, and from the sound of her & Dad the Georgia doctors really scared the shit out of them with their reports on Marcia’s condition. I guess the Nashville doctors and Marcia’s friends were a lot more reassuring since they didn’t seem to be overly concerned when I talked to them (Mom & Dad). I sent Marcia a get well card & am sending her a gift with a guy I met here who goes to college near Nashville. Keep me posted on her condition. I’m still not clear on how serious her injuries really are, and if some may be permanent.

It was great to talk to Mom & Dad & Donna & Bruce & Carla. I dialed them direct & it was just like calling from down town (except the bill!). Carla’s voice has changed some I think; at least I had trouble recognizing it, & they tell me Tom is getting taller and thinner by the day. Bruce sounds like his same old self though. Sounds like Donna may be getting things together with vocational school and all; I hope so.

We had a fantastic meal last night at a friend’s home, in honor of a guy who is leaving today. We had big T-bone steaks like you only have at home, even in the States, with baked potato, French onion soup, salad and garlic bread, plus strawberry cheesecake for dessert. The food was so rich compared to what I usually eat, that I had the runs this morning. I don’t get that much meat in a month in the campo {rural areas}.

I’ve been making hay, & digging a hole for a silo, & planting forage sorghum all this week, in spite of the fact that half of it was Salvadoran vacation time. I am down to 170 lbs., & in the best shape I’ve been since I entered Peace Corps. The work doesn’t always go well, but being busy keeps me from getting restless, and thinking about going home. Swimming in the ocean after a day’s work is really great too. I found out last week that the place I swam the first few days (right in front of the beach house) is a big “hole”, and thus the most dangerous place on the whole beach. Now I go to one side where there is a sandbar, and the beach slopes off very gently out to where the waves break. It is much nicer riding the waves, & the undertow is nowhere near as strong. Today someone told me there were lots of sharks near the beaches of Metalio (my town), so I guess if it isn’t one thing it’s another.

Hope you enjoy those blueberries & blackberries. I try not to think too much about foods I can’t get here since it makes me homesick! Last night another Volunteer from Wisconsin mentioned fudge, and my stomach twinged. I had forgotten even to miss fudge until he brought it up. Oh well, it’s a big, bad world out there!

Hang tough!


Letter, July 21, 1975

Hi Jan,

I am going to stay & work on the cattle feeding trial, as of right now. I make that qualified statement because there have been some unbelievable hassles in connection with getting this project started, since I last wrote. The Peace Corps Agriculture Coordinator and the guy who devised the project & got it pretty well set up (a Volunteer) have had a personality clash about how the Volunteer went about setting it up (both agree on the value of the trial). The whole heated business struck me as very ironic, because no one even showed enough concern about the job they brought me down here for to see that they had something concrete for me to do when I got here! And now they are arguing about procedure when they have a project everyone agrees is valuable, and where there is all kinds of work just waiting to be done. Tomorrow we will have another meeting between the Episcopal Church, the government agency concerned with cattle and Peace Corps, which hopefully will get things off the ground. I have requested use of a vehicle to move my shit out to the experimental farm. Some farm, we have to build corrals, put up fences, make feed troughs, and make some silage, before they get their cows later this year! I will be staying at a beach house with two other Americans for the time being (Oh the hardships of Peace Corps!). I haven’t seen the house, but have heard it’s really nice. Now you’ll have to be sure to come down to visit since there’s lots of room for a tent on the beach, & they say that they sell good lobster at Acajutla, which is near where I’ll be! Did I ever tell you? A former Volunteer in my program who was terminated for “alleged” marijuana use hitchhiked back down here from northern Minnesota in less than 2 weeks (and his Spanish is very poor). I think you could make it just hitching and taking buses, but you should have at least one guy along. (Latin men get really strange ideas about women, especially “gringas” {female North Americans} traveling alone.) It would also help to have someone who spoke a little Spanish, obviously!

I still haven’t finished the report on the survey I did in San Isidro, things have been too hectic. Tonight for sure I have to finish, or very early tomorrow. “Mañana” {tomorrow} is getting to be one of the most overused words in my vocabulary!

Have you seen the pictures I sent home? I am just as ugly as ever, but at least down here I am tall! That isn’t much of an advantage though because all the buses here are Salvadoran size, which means you can’t stand up straight inside them, and in the seats your knees are wedged against the seat in front of you.

I really miss the chance to play a friendly game of softball or touch football. I just never get a chance to here. You never see guys and girls playing together here either. The guys play soccer and the girls sometimes play a little softball, but more often don’t play at all.

All in all, things are looking up though. Looks like I’ll be busier than hell for a while so I won’t have time to complain.

See ya,


P.S. – It just hit me that I didn’t say a word about Miss Universe. They blew off a bomb in front of the tourist bureau in protest against it. I thought it came off well, but they’ll never get back the money spent on it, so maybe the bombers had a point.


Images, July, 1975

Tacuba, El Salvador; Patti Peña & I in an old church ruin believed to have been destroyed by earthquake about 300 years ago.

Ismael Peña, his wife and daughter on one side of the ancient church in Tacuba, El Salvador.

Baptizing a young Catholic in Tacuba, El Salvador.

Ismael Peña, daughter, wife and their new God son at shrine near the church.

The proud parents of the child we went to Tacuba to help baptize in front of a shrine beside the church in Tacuba, El Salvador.

Don Chepe & the family he heads inside the church ruin in front of his house.

{ The mountain village of Tacuba was one of the centers of a revolt against the government of El Salvador in the 1930's. According to local people, every man and boy 12 years old and older living in the village at the time was slaughtered by government troops. }

Letter, July 15, 1975

Dear Dad, Mom & all,

You can’t realize how heartening it is just to hear that you are having a reasonably normal growing season in Wisconsin. The growing season is so messed up here this year that at times it leaves me wondering if all those theories about the world’s climate becoming unstable in the near future aren’t true. We don’t really have a normal rainy season this year, it will rain 3-4 days in a row & then we will have a week or two with no rain, which with the heat here dries everything right up. Some of the corn I’ve seen in the drier areas is absolutely pathetic & farmers are talking of plowing it up & planting a crop of sorghum in August for the expected rains of September & early October.

Glad to hear you got all that painting done. It’s been a while since everything got a good coat of paint & it was badly needed. You’ll have to send me a picture of the house in bright sunlight to show off the paint job.

I could sure go for some home-made strawberry or raspberry jam! They grow strawberries in the higher altitudes here, so there is some (although Salvadorans don’t use jam since they eat little bread except sweet breads), but the quality just isn’t there.

I’m glad to hear that black walnut tree made it. One came on slower than the other last year too. Next spring before they start growing you ought to trim them back some to give the roots a chance to “get ahead of the tops” and really get established.

Thanks for depositing the money and sending Marcia’s address. I’ll get around to writing within a month or so!

Am sending some pictures from my site and a trip I took with a friend to baptize a child up in a mountain village named Tacuba. I think you’ll be impressed with the ruins of the old Spanish church, I sure was. The walls are 2 meters thick.

No certain word yet about whether I’ll get onto this feed response project or even if it will go. It is bogged down in administrative infighting. The Peace Corps agriculture coordinator feels that the volunteer who set it up went over his head to do so & so he refuses to give it more than minimal support (while recognizing the value of the project) and only assigning one instead of 2 volunteers. It almost seems like they want to set it up so it’s sure to fail, & then say I told you so to the volunteer who did all the planning & leg work. It sure has gone a long way to shoot down my last vestiges of idealism about Peace Corps. It is steeped in bureaucracy up to its ears & the administrators feel they have to “stick together” against volunteers who try to get around some of the red tape. I think the project will eventually go anyway though. It’s too good an opportunity to let go over some hurt feelings.

Well, I hope that inch & a half of rain puts some ears on the corn!

Dean J.

Letter, June 29, 1975

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

I’m really getting ambitious, huh, writing before I received your reply to my last letter! Actually, the major reason for this letter fell out when you opened it up. The check is not from the John Jones which you know up in Friendship, but from another John Jones who is the Peace Corps Director here in El Salvador! (His address is listed as Peru because he came here from there only a few months ago when Peace Corps was kicked out of Peru.) The story behind the check is very simple: I had ¢1,000 ($400) in a savings account in a bank here because I had managed to save a little money from my living allowance since I’ve been here. Presently there are rumors going around that they may devalue the Colon (El Salvador’s currency) relative to the dollar. So naturally I wanted to convert any spare money I had into dollars. Now the Salvadoran banks are reluctant to change money, only change it in small amounts, and charge a service charge. Mr. Jones gets his salary put in his bank account in the U.S. in dollars, so it was easy for him to trade me $400 in a Washington bank for ¢1,000 in cash. That way he too avoids the service charge & the hassle of spending 2 hours at the bank. If you can get it in by July 10th I should get interest for the next quarter.

Boy it took a lot of space to explain that! Jan wrote me recently & said your cows did real well when you classified. { Classification is a program of the national Holstein Association which gives a score, on a 100 point scale, to cows according to their appearance relative to an ideal established for the Holstein breed. Dad was participating in this program as part of a sire (bull) proving program through his artificial insemination cooperative. } If you haven’t done so already, let me know how Belle, Lisa & some of my other favorites did!

Mary wrote & said that they had been getting lots of rain lately. I hope you’ve been getting some too. The last I heard (from Jan) was that things were awfully dry early in June.

We had a conference of all Peace Corps people in El Salvador this past week. It was held at a beautiful crater lake called Lake Coatepeque (I sent a couple pictures of it home before when I spent a night there). It was very cool up there & the water was really nice. We also had U.S. style food including such things as ginger cookies, chocolate cake & banana bread. I talked to the girl who made the banana bread & she said you have to use old, nearly rotten bananas – I remember that’s what Mom always says. It was good banana bread too! The conference was a good chance to find out what other PCVs are doing & what problems they have. Also we got to know the new country director (John Jones) a little better. He seems like a very open & frank person with a real commitment to his job. That is encouraging after some of the stories I’ve heard about the old director.

There’s a chance I’ll be changing jobs within Peace Corps El Salvador. I may have the opportunity to work with a feed response trial Peace Corps is trying to coordinate with land and cattle of the Episcopal Church & financial & technical help from the Salvadoran government. I told my program director that if I don’t switch jobs I’ll quit my present job & go home in August, so I think he’ll take my request for a change seriously!

Wishing you all a happy 4th of July,



Letter, June 26, 1975

Hello Jan,

Hope you & Joyce are getting settled into your new house & neighborhood now. Do you play ball in Madison& if so, how do their teams compare with those you played on back home? You could probably come down here & be a women’s softball coach if such a perverse desire ever struck you. We already have PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} coaching swimming, diving & water polo, and Costa Rica’s national team baseball coach, a couple years ago, was a former PCV. I guess man can not live by tortillas alone, but it sure is a contrast between campo {rural} PCVs teaching people how to raise more & better food, & some of the music & sports people.

It sounds like that band Berry Riese is with is really getting their music together, maybe I’ll get a chance to hear them when I get back, or maybe they’ll cut a super-hit & it will reach the stations here. I still am practicing guitar, but the wooden fingers which never typed faster than 15 words a minute will never make me a great musician, I enjoy playing some fairly simple melodies & singing along though. Stuff like “Oh Susana”, “Tom Dooley” & “It Takes a Worried Man”, I can more or less play, & I try to keep learning more chords, & learn to change chords faster. I don’t know how long my interest will hold up. It comes & goes with how I feel.

I just returned from a 3 day conference of all Peace Corps people in El Salvador. It took place at a resort on a crater lake (Lago de Coatepeque) up in the mountains. It was cool & the scenery was beautiful up there. We had real gringo {North American} meals cooked by our own people. We even had banana bread like Mom makes, & gingerbread cookies. It was a good chance to find out what other volunteers are doing, & what kinds of problems they have. It did wonders for me to hear others voice the same frustrations I have been feeling. However, it has made me more instead of less dissatisfied with my job. It seems those volunteers who are really getting something done, & thus are happier, have much more autonomy & flexibility in their work than I do. I think I am just being stifled where I am, helping the Irrigation Agency {DGRD, Dirección General de Riego y Drenaje} keep on muddling along as they are accustomed to doing rather than giving them any new direction.

I almost hate to tell you about it, for fear it could fall through, but I may get another chance to change jobs. A volunteer who has been working in crop & livestock research here wants to set up a feed response trial comparing the common Salvadoran feeding system with feeding a balanced ration based on silage. He appears to stand an excellent chance of getting the land & cattle he needs through the Episcopal Church here, & he wants 2 volunteers to run the thing. Because I knew him at school in Madison {at the University of Wisconsin} I have an inside track for the job. I also have a background working with cattle, & was trained in pastures & forages. The second guy would be one of two guys I trained with who also have farm backgrounds. I’m going out Saturday to take a look at the experimental farm, & so will know more then. I hope this comes through because it is a worthwhile experiment, & we would have enough autonomy to keep it going 5-6 years, & get some meaningful long-term results. But there’s no use getting excited yet.

I should tell you (It had momentarily slipped my mind.) that I got the application blank from U.W. {University of Wisconsin – Madison} and filled it out. Sorry for putting you to the trouble of sending another (If you haven’t sent it, don’t.). As it turned out, they sent it by airmail, so it was just bureaucratic red tape that had held it up. Now if this job comes through I may be staying on the full term, so at this moment I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.

I will try to send a photo some time. I took some of a Salvadoran friend’s little girl, & he was going to make copies for me of the ones with me in them, but he hasn’t yet. However, last weekend I went with him to a town in the mountains near Guatemala {Tacuba}, & we took more pictures, some with me in. I am going to develop them myself here so will send a copy of one with my mug if they turn out. That little town in the mountains was really great. They have a ruined old church from Spanish times (well over 200 years old), and they can grow almost anything there because it is a cool temperate climate, but never gets cold. This old couple we stayed with had a garden that looked like a greenhouse, all kinds of flowers & fruit trees and everything. It also, however, was a center of the revolutionary uprising in El Salvador during 1932. According to my friend (a staunch conservative) communist inspired local men killed an army General, beheaded his body & hung his head on a post. The national dictator (He was initially an elected president, but stayed after his term expired.) sent in troops and they massacred about 32,000 local men. That must have meant nearly all the young men in the whole area, since the town is not all that large, even today.

Well, so much for old war stories. I hope nothing even vaguely similar gets stirred up by the elections coming up in 1977.

So long,


Images, June, 1975

Lake Coatepeque is a beautiful crater lake in the mountains near Santa Ana. Peace Corps El Salvador held conferences on this lake the 2 years I was there.

{ Another view of Lake Coatepeque taken in June, 1975. }

Lake Coatepeque conference center where Peace Corps conference was held.

{ View of a meeting of Peace Corps Volunteers inside the conference center. }

{ Traditional Salvadoran dancers at the 1975 Peace Corps Volunteer Conference. }

{ More traditional Salvadoran dancing. }

{ More traditional Salvadoran dancing. }


Letter, June 15, 1975

Dear Jan,

Just had an after thought so am writing a second letter on top of the last. I sent to the U.W. {University of Wisconsin – Madison} for an application for admission about a month & a half ago, & it hasn’t arrived yet. They must have sent it by land mail. Talked to a guy who sent in a financial aid application to Stevens Point {University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point} in March & just got word back that he needs to get a self-support statement filled out. If it takes me that long to get an admission application I can forget about getting in {meaning admitted} in the fall. I was thinking you could pick up one, & send it to me. I need one for undergrad. or special student reentry into the U. I have made up my mind to give college one more round, & see where it takes me.

I figure if my job situation continues to stagnate (I see no light at the end of the tunnel.) then I’m wasting my time & ability here. Some people can just ride along like that. Guess it’s a matter of what they would be doing in the states – riding along in a 9 to 5 job they care even less about. I can’t. I have to believe I am either doing something useful or bettering myself intellectually, preferably both.

At the least, I want to have the option of being able to get out of here, & into something else immediately if I decide to take off in July or August.

Sorry to keep hitting you for favors, but what are sisters for, right?

Take care of yourself,


Letter, June 14, 1975

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

Thanks much for the pictures. That one looking out over the back 40 from the machine shed is really something, and the one of the farm in winter will certainly freak out some of my Salvadoran friends. I hope you’ve finally gotten some rain up there, Jan said in her last letter you were awful dry. That’s all you need on top of the alfalfa winterkill & the atrazine carryover!

Dad, I showed that test sheet you sent me to the extensionist {meaning an agriculture expert hired by the government to work with local farmers} I live with. He was real impressed with the production of the cows & the ages of some of them. Cows don’t live as long here because of the terrific stress they undergo each year during the dry season with no green feed & often insufficient water as well. The only thing I dislike about telling people about your farming operation is that by the standards of the peasant farmers here, our farm is really big & they start thinking of me as the son of a big rich “ganadero” (cattle farmer). One guy has already hinted that he’d like to come to the States & work on my big “hacienda” {large ranch or farm}. It’s hard to convince them that one family can work that much land all alone. They are used to working with oxen & wooden plows, short-handled hoes and machetes rather than modern machinery. I never know how much of what I tell them they really believe. Let me know how the classification came out, especially Lisa, Margie & Belle. { Classification is a program of the national Holstein Association which gives a score, on a 100 point scale, to cows according to their appearance relative to an ideal established for the Holstein breed. Dad was participating in this program as part of a sire (bull) proving program through his artificial insemination cooperative. } Belle should have been in good shape for the classifier having just about time to milk the fat off her back. Hope you get a chance to buy a couple heifers at the Willard Nehls sale, maybe with the economic situation like it is they’ll go pretty reasonable. It would be good to get a couple to help fill the gap when you were getting all bulls.

Mom, in case you’ve forgotten the name, the official name for my plant is a streptocarpus, if that means anything to anyone. I wanted to ask you what ever happened to those other little plants I left at home (in the dining room window). I got a letter from Gert, the cook at DTS {Delta Theta Sigma agricultural fraternity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison}, and she said the plant of that same kind (Christmas candle) which I gave her had grown well, produced flowers & some “miniature oranges” and was blossoming again. Did you have any luck with the ones I left with you? That streptocarpus really thrived when I kept it on my sereo speaker too, so it must really be a music lover!

I realized a childhood dream last weekend. I got my first pair of genuine cowboy boots & walking around in them I felt like Roy Rogers & Gene Autry all rolled into one! I also discovered why cowboys ride horses all the time; it’s darn near impossible to walk at a good pace in cowboy boots! I had the boots hand-made by a shoemaker here and they cost me the equivalent of $24 American. A Salvadoran friend told me you can get them cheaper yet, but for me it was a steal.

I’ve been feeling awful run down lately, don’t know if it’s just the heat (& humidity, whew!) or something more. I’m not alone though most of the volunteers who live at lower altitudes & eat “campo {rural} food” are complaining too. This is a rough climate to keep up ambition & initiative in, always hot, humid in the rainy season & dusty in the dry season. My survey is progressing though, I’ve done 105 interviews with small landowners in the area of the irrigation project & have about 60 more to go. At least I have an immediate goal to work for!

June 23-26 we’re having a big get-together & series of meetings for all volunteers in the country. It is going to be held at Lago Coatepeque, a crater lake up in the mountains, so should be a nice vacation & a relief from the heat of the lower altitudes! It will be like a summer camp having about 100 Gringos {nickname for people from the U.S.} all together in cabins. That’s what we call “roughing it” in the Peace Corps.

Have you heard that the Miss Universe Pageant is going to be held right here in El Salvador this year? Yes sir, they’re going to bring all those skinny, long-legged women from all over the world right down here, with all the attendant publicity & press people. The Salvadoran tourist bureau, which is sponsoring the contest, will be trying to show only the very best side of the country of course since their big goal is to increase tourism & rake in foreign cash! Even so you may get a chance to see some of the same sights I’ve seen through the T.V. coverage in the States. The Miss Universe candidates are scheduled to visit the town where one of my friends is stationed so maybe he’ll get a chance to meet some of them. I’ll have to go to the tourist agency & see what tickets cost for the night of the coronation (July 19). Afraid it’ll be out of my price range & they’ll expect black tie & tails, but it’d be fun to know what they sell for anyway.

Speaking of Marcia (since you did in your letter), I’ve been meaning to ask you for her address for at least 3 months. Just goes to show you how well acculturated I’m becoming down here. If you send her address in your next letter maybe I’ll at least be able to send her a birthday card!

Wishing you health,


Letter, June 11, 1975

Dear Jan,

Thanks for sending me the loan deferment forms with the bill. I sent them notice of my change in address when I entered Peace Corps, and again a few weeks before the bill was due to make sure, but sometimes the message just doesn’t penetrate to the proper level of the bureaucracy. I changed the address on the bill too so maybe they’ll get the next bill addressed right. I have to get a form signed by the Peace Corps director every time they send a bill, to certify I’m still here.

Sorry to hear about all the problems Dad’s having with the crops. All he needs is a poor crop year on top of this recession! The crops here are growing like mad. The rains started coming about the middle of May, and the corn that was planted early is already knee high! Most of the corn is shorter of course, but it really is amazing how fast things get started once the rains come. They will be harvesting the corn by early August when your corn back home is just setting ears. They have tremendous insect problems though. All the farmers are either cultivating or applying insecticides to their corn and rice right now.

My study is coming along, slow but sure. I have interviewed 97 of the small land owners in the area here, and have about 70 more to go. My motorcycle is in for repairs again, & it is very hot when it isn’t raining so I’m not working at a very fast pace. I would like to get most of the leg work of the study done this month so I can get it analyzed & write up my ideas on the relocation plan next month. Depending on how my ideas are received, & what more they have lined up for me to do, I may terminate in late July or early August. It would be different if I could see what I was of benefit to the peasant farmers, but what my bosses really want is for me to help them “manage” the small farmers so the project comes off more or less smoothly, & they can keep their well-paying jobs.

Have you heard yet that the 1975 Miss Universe Pageant is going to be right here in El Salvador? The big show with the crowning of Miss U. is to be held July 19 with other public-attended affairs leading up to it. I wonder how much of El Salvador will actually be seen by the outside world through their T.V. sets. I imagine they will confine it to a tour of some of the tourist attractions with June Lockhart or someone! Even those will need a facelift if some of the “other” El Salvador is not to peek through the curtains. They ought to show the tin, straw, mud & cardboard shacks where the servants live, often within a block of middle class U.S. looking neighborhoods. It will be hard to miss showing some of the shanty town which surrounds San Salvador since you pass part of it on the road in from the airport (Maybe they’ll use a helicopter!). The candidates are scheduled to visit Gotera (which is getting a new road for the occasion) where a friend of mine is stationed, so maybe he’ll get a chance to see how they manage the situation. The Miss U.S.A. is from California, as is my friend, so maybe they’re old childhood buddies, & it’ll make good human interest stuff (just kidding). Anyway, watch the contest July 19th, & maybe you’ll see a little of the country I been hanging out in for 8 months.

Take care,

Dean Jefferson

Letter, May 31, 1975

Hello Jan,

Since you asked me about “adventures” I will have to tell you about the Fiestas Patronales {Patron Saint Festivities} which took place in my town, San Isidro, on the 15th through 18th of May. The Fiestas Patronales or Festival of the Patron Saint are THE BIG TIME in every little campo {rural} town in El Salvador (and much of Latin America). It is sort of like the county fair, Fourth of July, the junior prom and Easter Sunday all thrown in together! About a week before the Fiesta was supposed to start a big truck came into town & they set up a portable whore house right across the road from where I live. The next morning at breakfast the lady with whom I eat & the social worker told me what kind of establishment it was, and asked me if I was going to patronize it! That took me aback just a little.

They also brought in some carnival rides. Most were hand operated, but they had one whirling job which was motor powered. They had games of chance and lots of thatched-roofed, quickly put up food stands with sweets & pastels {pastries} & pupusas {a kind of filled tortilla, where the filling is cheese, meat or refried beans}. The center of the thing was the corner of 4 streets nearest my room so the loud “alegre” {happy} music made it hard to sleep at night.

After the whore house got established, people started celebrating even though the Fiesta wasn’t due to start for a week. The drunks would be shooting off their pistols in the middle of the night & that with the music made sleeping a challenge.

I steered clear of the festivities as much as possible until the weekend (17th & 18th), then I went to the big soccer game. The home team won of course; I don’t think any away team would have the guts to win knowing that in the crowd were several drunk local campesinos {peasants} carrying pistols (which they sometimes discharged when the home team scored)!

The granddaughter of the lady with whom I eat came out from San Salvador to go to the big dance Saturday night the 17th. She was an AFS {American Field Service exchange} student in Ohio and speaks pretty fair English. She is also 19 years old & very good looking. I had met her once before, but this time we had a good chat about the political situation in El Salvador. Her perspective is so much broader than that of any Salvadoran girl I’ve met that it was really good to talk to her. She told me more about the last presidential election here in which the most popular candidate was robbed of the presidency by the all powerful army. She is somewhat of a feminist for a Salvadoran (Most women here never seem to question male authority or superiority.). She is going to the national university & is going to be an Agricultural Engineer. As you would expect, that field is even more male dominated here than in the U.S. She hopes to do graduate work in the U.S. & I hope she makes it because she impresses me as very intelligent, but her concept of the world outside El Salvador is still pretty simplistic & conservative. For example she was taken aback to learn I had smoked marijuana, & the first time I met her the second thing she said to me was, “I know you’re rich.” I went to the Fiesta & danced a lot with her, & so now the local folks think I have a “novia” {girlfriend}. I do have kind of a crush on her (as you may have guessed), just because she has so much potential, & I would really hate to see her get put down by the neo-fascist political norm here or the male chauvinist social norm.

Well I kind of got stuck on one track this letter. Was glad to hear about the trees you planted; didn’t know olives grew so far north. Got a real good letter from Bruce about what he’s been doing & his plans. I told him to get a technical specialty for job security to fall back on. Agriculture firms like the technical training & agriculture background, and look on the economics & business courses as useful, but secondary. Never can stop giving advice.

Take care,