Journal, April 30, 1976 AM

I was doing well, not spending any money yesterday, until I got back from Santa Tecla last evening. I had had only a sandwich since breakfast, & went out & ate “arroz valenciado” {a rice casserole} and a Hardee’s milk shake. I got back to the hospidaje {guest house}, and Fred was back & hungry, so I went & had a beer with him while he ate. On the way back we ran into Diego (also coming back from Santa Tecla), and we went and had 2 more beers. I didn’t spend much, but I had vowed not to drink any beer. I can’t say no to those guys though. It would be like refusing their company. I don’t only have that problem with Salvadorans!

But I admit enjoying my beer, too! Our times together are numbered now. Ron & Nancy go home Saturday, the rest of us in the fall, and work season (invierno {rainy season}) is starting for the pastures & forages extensionists. All too soon our little group will be terminated (The government word for ending Peace Corps service fits the context so well!). And so on!

Today or tomorrow Chico {Rodriguez} & I will talk with Padre {Father} Serrano - if we can catch him (& he deigns to talk with us unclean heathens!). Lord, I’ll be happy to have things with the {Episcopal} Church clarified, whatever the outcome.

Journal, April 28, 1976 PM

Again more beer & more money spent than I needed. <I got the mochila {shoulder bag} & a letter off to Sofia, though my #1 accomplishment turned out to be a well thought out & very honest letter, no glossing over my doubts.> I really have to sit down & think, to sift the essentials from the bullshit when I write her. It would be so much easier to float with the current of the euphoric feeling she gives me, but alas I’m too practical, too pensativo {thoughtful}.

I spilled to Chico {Rodriguez} about the situation at CREDHO, and we’re going to talk to Padre {Father} Serrano Saturday, with some luck. I hope we get the thing settled one way or another. I want to either get some firm assurances that the cattle will be provided for, or get out of El Maizal. Shit or get off the pot, as Gary Fritz would have said.

We saw “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” tonight - Diego, Fred & I. We had all read the book, so we were a highly critical audience. The movie was good, maybe even deserving of the 5 Oscars, but it couldn’t match the scope, the depth, or the unique, all important style, of the book. It was a story written in novel form, and couldn’t be adapted to the screen without losing a lot. Diego thought the movie could have been better. maybe a little, but never equal to the book. There’s no substitute for a well-written book, if you want to let your mind run free instead of just your emotions.

Journal, April 27, 1976 PM

Whew, I was as stoned tonight as I ever remember being. At the home of our Spanish instructor, Ramil Zepeta, Diego & I got wiped out on his dope. I was having flashbacks to Friendship, Wisconsin like mad, and antsy & paranoid about Ramil being the son of a colonel, all at once. Diego just put on some music, & broke that train of thought.

I’m “living the life of Riley” yesterday & today, and not getting the things done I set out to do during my week in the city. I like to drink beer too much, and dope can give me such an illusion of total calm & insight! They are dangerous for me. <If I’m going to get my life together enough to pursue my dreams, & have Sofia with me, I’ll have to control these two most tempting intoxicants.> So much time you can let slip by while “drugged” (Oh! that has a brutal sound!).

Tomorrow, none of these two, & I’ll try to cover a few “tareas” {tasks} that are in need of doing.

Journal, April 26, 1976 PM

I didn’t have to wade to the bus stop, & I’m in San Salvador, a little blurry eyed & fuzzy headed after 4 beers with Jaime & Diego. I downed 2 aspirin to head off the hangover. I wonder what kind of havoc that causes my system?

I had an interview in the morning, & started Spanish class this afternoon. I’m in the most advanced class with Diego & 2 other guys. We’re going to work mainly on conversation.

<I mailed all my letters & bought Sofia a mochila {backpack or shoulder bag} today - now to mail it. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Diego I’m planning to marry Sofia.> He was questioning me about how I plan to keep in contact with her when I go back to the U.S. I just fear his reaction, Jaime’s too, for no real reason. It has all happened fast, & nothing is formal yet, but still I should be able to confide in close friends.

Fred is sick tonight. It started as a sore throat, now chills & fever, & he’s coughing. Poor guy’s miserable, & the medicine the Peace Corps doctor gave him hasn’t seemed to help.

Journal, April 25, 1976 PM

How beautiful, it is raining, a real downpour. It looks like the start of the wet {rainy} season. This is about a month before it started last year, hard to believe!

Jay’s back & strumming on his banjo. He’s already trying to talk me out of leaving El Maizal to work somewhere else. He always messes with my mind, because he doesn’t care if he does anything useful in Peace Corps, and he makes that sound like the most reasonable alternative. But 20 cows with no pasture, Lord that’s no situation for a guy who wants to take it easy either! I just have to tell the folks at the {Episcopal} Church they are insane if they bring cows into the present situation at El Maizal. With the rabbits & goats just getting by the best they can, how are the cows going to make it?

Jan wrote to Jay. He says it was a real good letter. He really values “good letters”, and takes pride in those he writes. Who knows what this could lead to!

And the rain goes on & on. It started about 7:30 and it’s 9:15. <I wrote Sofia a letter today.> Just a punch-clock letter - I still care, how ya doin’, etc. I put in my morning appearance at El Maizal, no Marques. I figure to stop by the Church in San Salvador tomorrow, after Spanish classes. If this rain doesn’t stop, I’ll have to wade to the bus stop!

Journal, April 24, 1976 PM

Again, Mr. Marques didn’t show up at El Maizal. I studied verb tenses & snacked. I tried cooking up some corn for tortillas in the afternoon. It’s simple to cook it, just put the corn in water, add a little Ca(OH)2 and boil it for about an hour. Smells good too! However, grinding the corn up to make “masa” {dough} is no small task without a “molina” {mill}, so I gave it up & ate some of the corn just as it was. I got filled up on it so will give the rest to some starving chickens or something. Anyway, now I know I can make tortillas if I just have a corn grinder available.

I napped the rest of the afternoon (took a swim & a run up the beach while the corn was cookin’!), & it was after supper before I did any physics problems. I finished Chapter 2 of Bueche, and started reading #3 - the first chapter in which he really starts talking physics.

<Tomorrow I’ll compose a letter to Sofia.> Wish she were here now. But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride! And where would western civilization be without delayed gratification, the good ole protestant ethic! And we used to make fun of the Catholics!

Journal, April 24, 1976 AM

Notice how my entries get smaller when I’m in Metalio? It’s because I’m not doing anything! Marques didn’t show up yesterday either, & I spent most of my time reading “Scientific American”, and studying Spanish grammar. My butt got sore from sitting on the hard wooden benches in the front of the school building.

At 4 PM I finally left. I came out to Kiklita {the beach house where I sleep}, shaved and made my oatmeal with powdered milk for supper. I swiped a little corn from El Maizal, and bought some “cal” {calcium oxide or lime}. I plan to try cooking up some masa {corn dough} today in the afternoon to see how it goes.

I wrote the folks last night, & sent them a roll of film to develop. <I told them just about what I told Jan, that Sofia & I would probably get engaged in December & marry in August of next year.> I don’t know what motivated me to write them about it while we haven’t even made it official or anything. It all came out rather trite and Mary Worthish, but I did it. Now Dad can recognize that the worst is already coming to pass & start accepting it!

Letter, April 23, 1976

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

How is everybody? I imagine you’re all busy as heck with spring planting and all the school functions that pile up at this time of year.

I am sitting here sweating, even though it's nearly 6 pm. April is when the sun passes over El Salvador and we'll be lucky if it doesn't fry us all! I got back from Costa Rica Tuesday night. <I spent the week of Easter visiting Sofia.> It was cooler there, and rained hard three different days – but only for an hour or so in the afternoon. That’s the way it should rain – an hour or so at 3 or 3:30 to cool things off & let you sleep well! <Sofia and her family are all fine, as are Doña Carmen and her family. Sofia has started classes at the university {Universidad Nacional, Heredia, Costa Rica} and seems to like it O.K.> On Monday she started working as well. She has a full-time job days & is going to the university at night, so she is one busy little woman right now.

I’m sending the roll of film Jan started during her visit. I just finished it off while I was in Costa Rica. I don’t know what the first 12 pictures are on it, but I'd like one copy of each of #13 through #20 to give to the people in them. Thanks much for the photos from Christmas, they made a big hit with people in San Antonio {San Antonio de Belen, Heredia, Costa Rica}. Cameras aren’t as plentiful (or cheap!) there as in the U.S. so they prize photos even more than we do.

I have Spanish workshop next week, so I am doing a little grammar study today. <Since I met Sofia, improving my Spanish has become even more important.> She never criticizes, but it's a bummer when I can’t express a thought or feeling I have. She knows only a few English phrases so far, so Spanish it is!

I only have 6 more months to go in Peace Corps. That's good because I feel like I'm ready to move on. Peace Corps is tolerable for 2 years & you learn a great deal, but it’s not a career. I plan to go to Jaime Olson’s wedding in San Antonio, Costa Rica after terminating with Peace Corps in late October. <I'll spend a month or so there helping with the wedding and of course spending some time with Sofia. Sofia & I have talked about getting engaged about that time – don’t be too surprised.> I'll be back in Wisconsin in early December. Hope you won’t all disown me & someone comes to meet me! Hope to find a job in Madison & go to school at least part-time next spring. I plan to study Physics so will have to start with the basic courses. <If all goes well I could be getting married next year in August & bringing Sofia to Madison to live.> No formal commitments have been made yet, but formalities don’t mean much to me & we’re talking about it.

I guess I spilled the beans all over the floor didn’t I! I really had meant to keep all my thoughts guarded, but there they are in blue & yellow. <Sofia’s a very nice person, really.> There’s more chance she’ll say “no go” than I will. She has very strong family ties, never been far from home, and it'll be a big adjustment for her. So we'll see, right?

I plan to get about a pound of some Salvadoran red & black bean varieties to send home so I can try raising them when I get back. Are there any red or black beans commonly grown in Wisconsin? Here & in Costa Rica they are a staple of the diet, and I’d like to see if I can produce them there.

Take care,


Journal, April 22, 1976 PM

I waited all day to talk to Marques. he didn’t make it out of San Salvador yet. Oh well, I read all about their experience with double-purpose cattle at CEDA, and found out what all alcohol can do to your liver, independent of indirectly leading to malnutrition (“Scientific American”). I’ll have to show Jaime that article on the effects of alcohol. He’s always talking about its nutritive value. The author says even moderate consumption leads to increased fatty tissue in the liver. Alcohol is metabolized, but apparently you can’t gain weight on it like you can carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

I composed a letter to send to the City of Madison & the State of Wisconsin requesting employment. I’ll type them up in San Salvador next week. <I wrote to Jan, telling her I figure on marrying Sofia and about when.> I’ll be very interested in how she reacts to that information.

Letter, April 22, 1976

Hi Jan,

Your letter didn’t get here before my trip to Costa Rica, I found it in the mail box when I got back. Thanks much for the pictures, the 3 from San Antonio are all gems! I gave away copies of all those Christmas pictures to everyone in San Antonio when I was there, so they are satisfied. I’ll enjoy these pictures for a while myself. {some text not transcribed}

While in San Jose one day I picked up a copy of the Tico Times, and there was an ad in it for an elementary school teacher! Country Day School has an opening. That guy at Costa Rica Academy said it: If you’re there looking, you’ll find a job! Have you written to any of those schools yet? I hope they’re still short a teacher in August!

At last my subscription to “Scientific American” has started coming. I applied for it last September. But it was worth the wait! The March issue has an article discussing theories of the origin & destiny of the Universe - theoretical astrophysics. I find myself eager to absorb dense scientific language. Even Peace Corps El Salvador has not deadened the insatiable student in me!

I may leave El Maizal and try to do some more social consultant shit for my last 6 months here. I am feeling restless since I got back from Costa Rica. I feel I need to do something more intensive & at least potentially useful. I hope to lay it on the line to the El Maizal director before I lose my nerve, or my initiative, and slip back into the routine & just keep letting it ride. Jay’s not here right now to tell me how foolish I am to want to do something “meaningful”.

I asked at the U.S. Embassy & they said I could bring bean seed into the U.S. if it is treated and certified. So I think I’ll try to send a little home & plant it next year in the spring. Have you found any red or black beans up there? What about ready-made tortillas? Have you tried making tortillas? Did you find my mystery trunk with the McGovern sticker on it? How did your hemorrhoids come through the plane ride? Phew! I guess that about ends my spasmodic attack of questionitis. Please feel free to answer or not!

On the serious side, I had a very pleasant & mellow time in Costa Rica - even the weather was refreshing. It rained 3 days in a row, but only in the afternoon (for an hour or so). What a pleasant respite from now scorching El Salvador. It is 8:30 PM as I write and I am sitting here in just my shorts! <Sofia and I talked some about getting engaged in November - before I leave for Wisconsin.> Her whole family believes I will go back to the U.S. and never be heard from again, though they don’t show an inkling of that to me. <A ring will make it easier for Sofia to keep the faith too!> I have every intention of marrying her, you know, unless something happens to change one of our minds. (God, the blunt statements I am capable of lately!) Yup, we’ve even talked about when - a year from August holds our favor as “best bet” at this time. <It gives me the chance to get going in a job & in my studies, and it will be a beautiful & not too cold time for Sofia to get her first look at Wisconsin!> I’m itching to find a job & have it waiting for me when I get back in December, would you believe? Perhaps Dad’s first assessment was correct, I’m crazy!


Journal, April 21, 1976 PM

Let’s see, what was on my list this morning? <I got a letter off to Sofia of course.> Most important things first! I found a pleasant surprise in my mail box this morning, the March issue of “Scientific American” (SA) - at last it has come! So I’ll count the article on the perpetual expansion of the universe theory, which I read in SA, as a start on getting into physics. I talked to Freddy Salguerro, and, as is his habit, he passed me off to someone else. He did say they are expecting delivery of the scale and silage chopper, & that they have the money for the cows (20,000 Colones)! Marques (Profy Gomez’s replacement) agreed to talk to me, tomorrow. So that is the new “showdown” time. I’ve got to be very blunt, & tell him I am not going to even attempt to help them manage their cow herd unless I receive firm assurances that they are going to make the necessary investments in facilities, equipment and labor. They have no corral, no pastures, no milking facility or equipment, and nobody in the whole organization that has any experience with cattle, except me. I am all through donating free moso {manual} labor. They’ll have to hire a full time herdsman plus the workers to plant pastures & sorghum, put up fences, & build a milking shed. I don’t think they have any intention of doing it, & I have no intention of staying around to watch 20 cows suffer needlessly! Perhaps my quitting will give them pause.

I had better luck at the {U.S.} Embassy. they said that if I get seed that is certified & fumigated by CENTA, I will have no trouble taking it into the U.S. Next step is to get out to CENTA and see what they charge for the service.

I got a letter from Jan with some pictures - some of El Maizal & some of Costa Rica. All came out nice. Jan says she’s working hard and trying to learn Spanish - has found an instructor. I have to write her about that job opening at Country Day {School}. She should have written them by now.

I made myself some oatmeal for a snack tonight. First time in a while, & it tasted good.

Reading about the fact that the universe is expanding (so they say), I wondered if it might not be illusionary. It’s substantiated by the Doppler effect - which even I had read about previously - so if the accepted “laws” of physics hold universally, it must be so. But motion is all relative, so if everything is moving away from everything, only relative distance is changing, so mightn’t it all be an illusion, and does it make any difference? My words don’t have the ring of cogent scientific thought, but reading the article made me believe physicists haven’t really got the creation figured out yet. Maybe not even as nearly as they believe they do. A “big bang” theory doesn’t say why the bang occurred, what formed the “pre-bang” universe, etc. The article said it was meaningless to ask what came before the bang. Smells like a cop-out!

Journal, April 21, 1976 AM

We had a pretty good smooth trip up in Tica Bus, talked with a girl from New Zealand who was on the bus. Jaime got off in Jocoro, & I got into San Salvador about 7:30 PM.

I really have a tough time taking Jaime sometimes. He’ll get into minutely analyzing some trivial thing, & go on & on. He’ll explain to me exactly what he’s going to do when he gets off the bus, & all his contingency plans if something goes haywire! And he’s always got times and distances down to the minute or kilometer, but still throws in an ‘about’: “Yes, it’s about 172 kilometers to the border, and if we keep going at about say 60-65 kph. {kilometers per hour} we’ll be there about 1:15, etc., etc.” He’s a nice guy - unquestionably one of the most decent people I know - but sometimes I’d love to say, “And so what, Jaime, who gives a damn?”

I didn’t read at all on the bus yesterday, instead I was mulling over ideas for getting a job in Madison. I think I’ll write to the city government and state government, and get applications. I’ll try to give them an idea of my situation and qualifications in the letter, so maybe they’ll channel me into something that fits my needs. I’ve also thought of writing Merna about the possibility of working as a waiter or bartender at Hoffman House. I would just ask about the prospects, not ask for help. A decent job would sure take some worry out of my life. I could carry about 10 credits, & just slide through slow if no scholarship help was forthcoming. <And marry Sofia, on schedule in August, que bien {how nice}!>

I also need to get into studying physics now more than ever, to get my mind oriented. I want to read another novel in Spanish to improve my command of the language. I have to talk with the Padre {Priest} and/or Freddy, to find out if there’s any future for me with CREDHO, & if not maybe spend my last 6 months working with the Cerron Grande dam project. I want to ask the U.S. Embassy about importing a little bean & corn seed into the U.S. Plenty to do, and I better get at it before another case of the El Salvador blahs hits me!

Journal, April 19, 1976 PM

Here we are in Managua again - back to the source, where this journal began! And so?

We got pretty well primed for the trip this morning when, as we were drinking 2 beers in our now customary pre-departure bar, some guy started buying us beer, & bought us 3 more. It was just as well, since the bus didn’t leave ‘til 11:30. 10 AM was scheduled departure time. We gave a shit!

<I showed Jaime the picture I extracted from Sofia last night. Sofia’s sister and her boy friend had showed it to me.> It is a picture of her at about 10 years of age with short hair, very boyish looking, but she still has those eyes. {some text not transcribed} So I showed it to Jaime, & he was unimpressed.

It’s late, & we’re due to “madrugar {get up early}” tomorrow so, that’s all.

Journal, April 19, 1976 AM

{some text not transcribed}

Jaime & I played some cribbage in the morning yesterday. Sometimes he gets so involved in a card game I don’t believe it! He’ll sit there looking over a completed game, & giving me a sportscaster-type recap: “Well, let’s see, at the start I was just playing along, not doing well, but staying in the game, not getting much “pegging”, and that kept you in the lead. Then I had a couple good hands, & some real fine pegging (12 points one time), and took the lead at about midgame . . ., etc.” I’m sitting there trying not to show my infinite boredom & impatience too openly (just enough to get him to wrap-up and play his cards!), because Jaime is so sensitive, & can’t begin to comprehend that anyone would not be interested! He’s the same way with sports, he’ll read a Miami Herald sports page, and then give an impromptu rundown on pro. baseball, college basketball or whatever. And the next tidbit of news he gets, he’ll revise it all for you. I’ll grant I often enjoy it ‘cause I used to be a sports addict, but down here, away from it all especially, I’ve become aware of the superficiality of it all. And he’s just gotten more addicted.

<All for now, I expect Sofia at 7:30 or so to say goodbye, & I catch the 8:00 bus into San Jose, & the 10:00 Tica Bus for Managua.> Away from this tranquil scene!

Journal, April 18, 1976 AM (Easter Sunday)

I decided to finally give Doña Carmen the towels I brought her from El Salvador. Easter Sunday seemed like the most appropriate time. I set them out on the table at 6 AM and am waiting for her to find them. She’s up & around so it shouldn’t be long.

I also decided to leave the 100 Colones I want to give her in an envelope on my bed when I leave. That way she or Marielos will find it, & she won’t be able to refuse it. I hate scenes like that!

<I spent all day yesterday in the house here; until 6:30 when I went up to see Sofia.> I was reading “Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins, and went through over 200 pages. I only have 15-20 pages to go to finish, but anticipate an anticlimax. I’m afraid the book itself will fit the Johns Hopkins professor’s description of Marx Marvelous’ Ph.D. thesis: “brilliant. but frivolous.” There are some fine insights into such things as authority, identification with symbols instead of the morals they purport to represent, and mysticism. It is really a study of religion more than anything, terminating with an indictment of Christianity for separating spiritual & natural man, & thus being largely responsible for our present state of existence, which Robbins contends is frustrated, callous and self-destructive. I think he comes down a bit heavy on well-meaning little Yeshua, but I say ‘right on!’ to his indictment of the Church’s authoritarian structure.

Being in the house all day I was made painfully aware of the really tragic state in which the Castillo Murillo family lives. They either watched T.V. or gambled all day long. They play a game where you divide the cards into piles, & place your bet on top of one. Everybody bets against the dealer (usually Don Fabio who of course has the most money). The entire family, down to Mauren, gets into it, and they yell at each other & bicker but apparently enjoy it. The poor kids. They are good kids, but they’re being taught to gamble & waste time away, instead of reading, playing sports, or caring for animals. They’re being molded in the same mold that produced Don Fabio & Doña Carmen. Too bad! Too bad for Marielos, 16 and a real charmer with eyes as big as saucers. Too bad for Mauren, 5 and a blonde, green-eyed skin-flint with the quick wits and playfulness of a healthy young animal. Children are so brand-new and malleable - such potential, such potential!

<Sofia was telling me last night about a neighbor of her married sister in Heredia. The battle-axe had the nerve (balls?) to tell her that when her husband goes off to the mountains Saturdays hunting, she should refuse to fix him lunch when he returns. The bitch apparently doesn’t hesitate to fight with her spouse, & yell at & hit her own kids liberally, so she figured Sofia’s sister ought to follow suit!> There is no other combination of traits quite as disgusting in a human being as naked, callous brutality and supreme self-assurance. How ugly some of God’s children let themselves become.

Journal, April 17, 1976 AM

“Sunshine, lollipops & rainbows, everything that’s wonderful is what I feel when we’re together. Brighter than a lucky feather . . .” I think it’s an old Petula Clark song, and it somehow sifted to the front of my mind this morning as I shiver, & gaze out into the bright early morning. It rained late yesterday afternoon, & the freshness has remained in the air. That’s also why it’s so chilly. I’ve even got a little cough this morning.

Yesterday was like a breath of fresh air - no hassles, no heavy talk or worries. We went up near a town called San José de la Montaña (which as you might expect is up in the mountains). It was cool, green & fresh up there, & we snacked on watermelon, mangoes and oranges in a cow pasture. <Sofia brought me a pair of special tamales (yum! yum!). Sofia went flower picking, & I was following her when we were spotted by the management & ordered out of the cattle’s private sanctuary.> They even tried to order us off the road in front of it.

Relegated to roadside, we took a walk along the narrow & winding road. Up above the heights of the coffee plantations, there were only dairy farms (with Holsteins) and vacation homes, & these not piled on top of each other as they might be in El Salvador.

<We had some weird tamales at the house of a friend of Sofia’s family (they were sliced like bread, & about the texture & consistency of banana bread), after the rain washed out our game of “hot potato”. On the way home we visited Luis’s house, and Sofia, as usual, got her mitts on the baby.> The kid got so attached to her, it wouldn’t leave her for it’s own granddad! That’s an all too common occurrence. When we’re at her house I always have to share time with her sister’s child. And so it was last evening.

<I had a good meal at Sofia’s, & left early since we were both tired. I had some more to eat at Doña Carmen’s.> Making the blunder of saying I was a little hungry still, & wouldn’t mind a tamal, I ended up with soup & rice as well!

Today, I have officially been in Peace Corps El Salvador for a year & a half. May the last six months go by quickly!

Journal, April 16, 1976 AM

The old romance is at a critical stage right this minute, another crisis. God I'm sick of crises! <Last night she {Sofia} told me ominously to go home, & think about what I was going to do with her.> It seems she’s got it in her head now that we should be married in November with Pilar & Jaime. She whimpered about losing her best friend & her fella both at the same time. I felt like saying, “Life is tough all over!” Sometimes when she comes on with her spoiled little girl act I just can't take it.

She’s scared to death I'll forget her when I get back to Wisconsin, & she also has doubts about her ability to adjust to being without her family, friends - possibly without countrymen. No question it’s goin' to be tough. It was one of the first things I said when she took the initiative to get this thing started. But there are long range advantages if she’s willing to endure, & work at it.

I can smooth her entry into the culture if I’m already established there. I can seek out, & make contact with Latin student organizations & Spanish House. I can start growing Costarican varieties of beans. I can have us a place, & me a job which will permit me to study at least part-time, whatever she decides to do. I’m just not willing to take her back to nothing, & be forced to latch onto the first place & job I can, and probably defer the studies. I've told her over & over but either it doesn't register or she's starting to realize for the first time what life she'll be getting herself into! I hope it's the former, but maybe she is just another soul that is too attached to break the ties, and discover the world beyond.


Journal, April 15, 1976 AM

I wonder if Dad’s planting oats today. I’ve told so many people here in Central America that we plant oats around April 15th in Wisconsin, that I’ve come to believe he has to plant right on the day, almost.

Yesterday we were on the move so much I only got one meal, breakfast. <We went to Ojo de Agua {swimming resort} in the morning, & to visit Sofia’s married sister in the evening.> Afterwards I had a beer & a half. <Sofia had the same as part of her policy, and with so little food in me it was enough to make me sleep like a baby.>

That water at Ojo de Agua was so cold I would come out of it shivering. <No one else was affected by it, not even slender, frail Sofia, and she’s worried about Wisconsin weather!> It’s so invigorating though, cold spring water from deep in the Earth to bring goose bumps to your flesh and then that hot tropical sun to warm you to your bones. The man who saw that giant spring, envisioned it all, & designed the system of falls & pools was a genius. The cold water keeps flowing through the system so the pools are practically self-cleaning.

I got back to the house in time to watch Doña Carmen make some tamales. They heat up the banana leaves so they fold around the tamal without cracking. The whole process doesn’t look too tough. You just need corn “masa {dough}” with lard & spices mixed in, and the meat, white beans, potatoes and/or “picadillo {chopped meat and vegetable mixture}” to put inside. Just package the filling in the “masa” and wrap it in the leaf. They cook them in a pressure cooker now. I wonder what they do in El Salvador where not too many folks can afford pressure cookers.

<About 4:30 we got off to Sofia’s sister’s & her husband’s house in Heredia. They live in a little colonia {neighborhood} of cement “boxes on a hillside” on the very edge of town. Actually, it’s very quiet & quite nice, except for some as yet unidentified shrill sound which kept piercing our tranquility. They have a parrot and 3 smaller birds out back. One of the 3, a finely featured, medium blue beauty, was restless, and moved with incredible speed from one to another of the 4 perches in his cage. It reminded me of a Roadrunner or Speedy Gonzales cartoon, because you only see a blur when it moves, & then there it is, perfectly still, looking at you from the other perch. We had some warm & superb raisin cake & some pasteles {pies or turnovers}. The filling was the color & consistency of pitted & mixed up prunes, but the flavor was distinct. You never really find out what good “postres {desserts}” they have in a country until you get invited into private homes! It’s true here, El Salvador, Wisconsin. And you need to find the good cooks of course!

Journal, April 14, 1976 AM

Jaime & I got our visas & reservations all set yesterday, but killed the whole day in San Jose in the process. In addition to the $3 we had to pay for our visas for Nicaragua, they’re going to rip us for $2 to leave Costa Rica on Monday. Everyone is on the take for the Easter holidays. We are commemorating the triumph over death of the savior of the world, so pay us off if you want to go anywhere. What brotherly Christian countries are these!

<Sofia was in a doubting mood last night.> Me vas a olvidar cuando se va {You’ll forget me when you leave}. Apparently her whole family has been telling her this is what likely will happen when I go to the States in December. I can’t be positive, I told her, but I didn’t expect I would. I finally gave her the other half turn of this perpetually circular argument - that she could be the one to change her mind & call it off. Nothing can really relieve the doubts when they set in of course. It’s a feeling not a reasoned idea, so after a while we had to let it lie.

Journal, April 13, 1976 AM

<Sofia & I did some serious talking last night.> {some text not transcribed} We talked about the details of the marriage ceremony here. She claims I don’t need a baptism certificate, but Jaime said he had to have one, so I still am in doubt. She says you have to promise to educate your children in the Catholic Church. I don’t think much of making that promise! <But for Sofia & her family a civil ceremony - or any ceremony outside THE church is not valid.> I can handle going through the ceremony. I see it as essentially a community certification of our relationship. But I’m not ready to embrace the Catholic religion (or any other institutionalized church) blindly. <I see the advantages of education in the Bible & the general system of moral values that a church advocates, and I don’t think Bible teachings can be that different in the Catholic Church than they were in the Congregational Church, but I don’t like Sofia’s single-minded belief that the Catholic Church is the only proper way for her kids.> I guess it’s because the Catholic Church has been the central institution of Latin American communities so long, the symbol of order & propriety. I should remember the power a church can have after the research paper I did on the Negro Churches in the South, when I was at A & T {North Carolina A & T State University}.

<Ironically, Sofia is only a lukewarm Catholic, but the marriage in the church, baptism & education of the children in the church, etc. is such an essential and invariant part of the community life here, I really don’t think she could imagine it any other way.> It’ll be interesting to see her reactions to a predominantly Protestant society, where religious activity & community activity are not so tightly intertwined.

We even talked about timing of the marriage. We’re both excited about an August wedding. The canicula is such a green, beautiful time here & we would get back for fall in Wisconsin. That would fall into line with my education schedule since University {of Wisconsin} classes start around the end of August. <Sofia could take semester courses only & thus break her studies in August without losing credits. Sofia has God’s own fear of Wisconsin winter - probably my fault - so this would give her a chance for gradual acclimatization.> Lord I don’t know how we’ll swing it financially, but I’ll work full time (at something!) and study when I can, if necessary. A semester & summer at school before she joins me should give me plenty of time to get something reasonable worked out.

The whole morning yesterday was a washout. Jaime & I couldn’t get visas or tickets confirmed, & must go back today. A couple of tactical errors in the Easter week rush, & you are out of luck!

We got back late for lunch, & I ended up eating at Pilar's 'cause Doña Carmen had an urgent errand to run. I just hung around there the whole afternoon then, & played cards & B.S.'ed. Don was over twice, & he's always got local gossip to spill. Jaime’s planning to have his folks stay at the luxurious Irazú Hotel, since its prices are not bad, cheaper than most other tourist hotels. It’s one of the best. His folks should find it to their liking. I’ll have to try to help him manage things. That wedding is going to be a big project!

Journal, April 12, 1976 AM

<I can’t really say anything of substance has changed between Sofia & me from yesterday morning ‘til this, but my mood has. I guess it’s just being around Sofia for a while, the worries slip away.> I did get some verbal reassurance from her as well. She knows we must wait a year & a half, and accepts it, regretfully, like me. She’s honest enough to say it’ll be hard, & she’s not sure, but she’s confident she can make it. That’s probably what’s heightened my spirits - she’s so confident & assured right now.

One negative note though. She says the folks held a family conference on whether she could go up to Wisconsin for a visit, and went thumbs down on the idea. Pshaw! Thwarted by the family autocracy again! But it may not be the final word yet.

<We went to “dar una vuelta {take a walk}” with Jaime & Pilar, and 2 of Sofia’s sisters last night, & Sofia had a beer in the Soda {local restaurant}.> But she had the waiter put it in a glass instead of bringing the bottle, so no one would know! Some secret, she should have asked for a colored glass!

Journal, April 11, 1976 AM

We made it of course, & I am in the Castillo Murillo house where I spent the night. The family is bustling around, & something is frying for breakfast with a constant crackling of lard. The super romantic tones of a Latin love song are coming over the radio. I think that’s part of what’s got me upset & tense this morning - the women here just live on that crap. They never seem to find a realism somewhere between that unattainable (& really undesirable!) dream world, and their own men who generally drink too much, & chase anything in a skirt. But how different is it really from a small town in the States?

Yesterday we had the company of the Guatemalan Girl Scouts ‘til we hit the border in Peñas Blancas {Costa Rica}. They were met by their Costarican hosts. <After the 2 beers we drank at the border wore off, I began intensely, almost feverishly to read “You Can’t Go Home Again”, feeling somehow that I had to finish it before seeing Sofia. I was engrossed in Wolfe’s thoughts, and also had some (half absurd) feeling that if I finished, I would find some thoughts which would help me resolve my own dilemma with Sofia.> Wolfe’s insight into who our “enemy” is in America & indeed in the world(!), was a gem, but he never felt the need for or sought a lifelong companion of the opposite sex. Indeed, he had a rather chauvinistic attitude toward women, though I’m sure most women of his time period fit his description (due to their socialization into it of course). Wolfe was an accurate & vivid describer of life, above all else that he was.

<So all yesterday & still I am drifting in this attitude of discontent with my relationship with Sofia.> She’s a beautiful person - loving, honest, pure of soul - but her perspective is so closed in in this infernal little town. And she can’t see it, & has no will to break the bonds. Last night she was teasing me gently about marriage again: “Si algun día nos casemos {If some day we should marry} ...” And a good little San Antonio girl has to marry in white to show she’s pure and wear a crown of flowers, etc. She says it’s necessary for her parents, not her, but you can see the glow in her eyes that says it will fulfill all she was taught as a wee girl about the good, the proper & the beautiful.

A frank private talk is in order. When we talk in her house I can never tell if she is giving me her sentiments, or what she knows the people on the other sides of thin walls want to hear. I too hesitate to talk frankly in that situation. <The whole process is so tied into the family in San Antonio, but it ain’t Sofia’s fault!>