Letter, October 1, 1974

Hola Jan! (Notice how I’m practicing my Español.)

I was very glad to hear from you since it’s been about 3 weeks since I’ve gotten any mail. I imagine by the time you get this you will have seen the letter I wrote Donna, so I won’t rehash any of my adventures. What you said in your letter about (Here I just took a break to bump off an “avion” {literally airplane}, they are big flying beetles which are very clutsy & bump into walls & people all the time; ironically, while I was writing this note I spotted [in my shadow] a spider on my head & got him too!) missing the liberal atmosphere of Madison really struck a nerve. While studying at the U. {University of Wisconsin – Madison} I tended to kind of pu-pu the “great liberal university” idea because it sounded to me like a lot of back-patting and besides, the great majority of students are interested in getting a good-paying job more than anything. However, down here it really comes home, what an extraordinary opportunity it is to be able to study at an institution with the resources and political independence of the University of Wisconsin. In Costa Rica only a few of the very rich can send their kids to the U.S. or Europe to study, and then, because their preparation is inadequate, they often end up getting degrees that aren’t worth the paper they are written on. And Costa Rica is a very wealthy country for Central America. The schools here are good, and the literacy rate is supposed to be higher than in the States. In El Salvador the militaristic government has tight control over the public university, so I’m sure things are a lot worse. Also the population there is something like 40% illiterate. I’ve been reading through a book of statistics on the people in the {region of the} irrigation project in which I’m going to work, and some of the facts are very depressing. The population is growing very fast, and I would guess that a minimum of 70% of the people are functional illiterates. The book is also humorous, however, because because they collected data right down to what the walls of the houses are made of!

On the subject of oppression of women, wow, women here are socialized into a straightjacket! Once a girl reaches 15 years of age (This birthday entails a special significance here, sort of an induction into womanhood.) she is supposed to intensively try to land a husband. A girl who doesn’t succeed by 19 is an old maid and (seriously) most girls who are single then never marry. Two of our “professoras” {female teachers} at Basico are in this category, highly educated, but social “misfits”. I am told that wife-beating is very common (although I haven’t seen any in my house), and that after 6 months of marriage the husband most often starts whoring around, leaving his wife to her A-#1 purpose in life which is bearing children. Apparently a lot of male PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} like this trip (It is called the “Macho” trip down here.) enough that they marry local girls. I don’t know the figures for Costa Rica, but 9 of the last 10 single guys who went into El Salvador got married there. I guess the saddest part is that there is no realization of being exploited (or very little) here. Asi es la vida (That is the way life is.). They aren’t aware of alternatives.

Sinceramente la tuya {Sincerely yours},


P.S.: Happy hunting! {Jan was looking for a job at the time.}

Special Note: My address changes October 17 when I go to El Salvador. The new one is:

      Dean Jefferson, PCV
      c/o United States Embassy
      San Salvador
      El Salvador

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