This is a blog, constructed from the journal entries, letters, cards, photos and other images I have from my 3+ years (nearly 41 months) in the Peace Corps, August 3, 1974 to December 21, 1977.

If you wish to read my whole story, as recorded, you should navigate to the blog archive and begin with the post “Letter, August 3, 1974." All of my posts, except the last two, contain either complete or partial dates, and they are in chronological order. So you can read all 561 posts in order, and have the complete tale!

If you are curious, but less ambitious, and in particular if you are a visual learner, I recommend you start by browsing those posts with titles that begin with the word Images. Navigate to the blog archive and start with the post “Images, August 1974.” The “Images” posts contain photos and other images I’ve preserved. Each image has a short description with it. Like all posts, they are in chronological order. There are 41 “Images” posts, one for each month of my Peace Corps service.

Of course you can also use keyword searches to find all posts related to a place, person, or other thing that interests you. Happy browsing and reading!

Note: I began the process of transferring my letters, journal entries, photos, etc. to blog format in August of 2014 (40 years after the start of my time in Peace Corps). So, to get to my first entries, you must first click on the node for the year 2014, if it is not already expanded, and then on the month of Aug. (August).


We left El Salvador December 21st and entered the U.S. at New Orleans. Sofia received her permanent resident visa or “Green Card” there. We spent a day and night in Nashville TN visiting my sister Marcia and her husband Rendy. We flew to Madison on December 23rd and made it to the farm near Friendship WI just in time for Christmas.

El Salvador endured a terrible civil war in the 1980s. Though it officially ended with a ceasefire in 1992, the effects still linger.

The Atiocoyo Irrigation Project was completed. A 1998 report by Jack E. Farmer, PE indicates that management and technical issues still existed and were being addressed at that time.

El Maizal still exists as a community sponsored by the El Salvador Episcopal Church, near Metalío. I have been unable to ascertain whether the demonstration and training farm I worked at is still operating.

CIGRAS (Centro para Investigaciones en Granos y Semillas), the Grain and Seed Research Center, still exists at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro.

Journal, December 20, 1977 AM

<Sofia is keeping a very complete diary since we left Costa Rica.> At least she writes in it often. She is at it again, just paused to tell me she wants to eat a pineapple pie at McDonald’s today. Last evening we had a pizza at the Pizza Nostra and then a pineapple pie & a Coke at the neighboring McDonald’s. It appears she enjoyed it.

<El Salvador has been tough for Sofia to get used to.> It’s been just as tough as it was for me when I first arrived. She is extremely observant. She sees and deplores the pushing, the hustling, the brutalizing, the lack of concern for the welfare of the other guy and the poverty. It was good to bring her here. As Chico Rodriguez says, this is what Costa Rica (and the rest of the world) could become if people don’t take the warning & work to prevent it.

Journal, December 19, 1977 PM

I told Chico {Rodriguez} ‘no’ today and he didn’t make any further effort to convince me. I really respect Chico. He’s a hard-worker, a very useful person & perceptive, intelligent. Knowing he has a good deal of respect for me made it harder to refuse him, but I know it’s time I must start taking charge of my life.

<Sofia and I encountered a veritable Peyton Place among the Peace Corps volunteers in Santa Tecla.> It turns out Fred Tracy really went home for Christmas because he is all broken up over Marlene {Johnsjoy}. She dumped him & is now playing the field. She seems to be enjoying being a “Gringa {North American woman}” here, and the popularity that affords her with Salvadoran men.

One of Marlene’s roommates, Susan, separated from her PCV {Peace Corps volunteer} husband, and now lives with a local man. And the third girl in the apartment is presently in Belize with a member of the British mission in El Salvador, with whom she has been living for some time. All three of the girls are clearly dragging down Peace Corps’ image here, but what I really would like to know is if they were venturesome types when they entered Peace Corps or whether the Peace Corps El Salvador experience did it to them.

In the guys’ apartment in Apartamentos San Francisco we have three dudes who like to go whoring, never wash a glass or clear the table, and generally live like fraternity boys. Dave Quarles is still here, though he’s left Peace Corps and joined AID. He hasn’t changed any. He’s still good for an argument, and still reads books about the political situation here, & talks about how fucked up it is. The other two guys I knew from before, but just barely. They are still with Peace Corps.

<Poor Sofia had a rough plane ride up here.> Actually, the plane ride wasn’t bad, but she had a queasy stomach due to a combination of it being her first day taking the pill after her menstruation and the fact that we drank a lot of beer the 14th. <Anyway, we decided to discontinue the contraceptives (they’ve given Sofia a very hard time), and cut short a series of injections she was taking, in the interest of salvaging our vacation.> It has worked well. The 16th she was pretty good, and she’s been normal ever since. However, it does mean we’re back to the Russian roulette with the prophylactics!

Journal, December 18, 1977 PM (Sunday)

I can’t sleep. It is a case of Salvador paranoia. I remember that in my first weeks here back in 1974 I experienced it. If anything I’m even more scared now. The situation here seems even more intense than I remember it. <Sofia has something to do with my greater nervousness, partly because she depends on me, but mostly because she is a very sensitive, very observant person.> She causes me to notice more the suffering and the brutalizing of the people. She is awake & writing too. She just asked if it was possible to leave here before Wednesday the 21st.

Many things have occurred since we boarded the plane December 15th in San Jose. Definitely a bombardment on my disturbingly sluggish mind.

(Continued at 12:45 AM, 12/19/1977)

<I still can't sleep, and unfortunately I woke up Sofia.> I would like to go walk the streets, but San Salvador is dangerous, especially for a couple.

Chico Rodriguez has made me a job offer, as training coordinator for a soil conservation group. I don't want the job. <It would be just another tangent from the goals I have set, and a substantial sacrifice for Sofia too.> I’ve decided to say no and no and no, but I haven’t said it. My timidity or lack of character or whatever inhibited me from telling him yesterday.

We were with him most of the day. He took us to La Libertad in his old jeep "commando" in the morning, and then took us out to eat in the afternoon. Is he trying to bribe me? No, he just knows me, knows that if he is around, showing the fact that he’s waiting & hoping, the chances are better I'll not be able to say no.

Journal, December 8, 1977 AM

It wasn't until yesterday that we sent the box of clothes, books & other stuff off to Wisconsin. Yesterday I had to wear my suit pants, because the other 3 pairs of pants that are still available were all dirty.

<I bought Sofia’s ticket Monday, so she could prove to the people at Seguro Social that she really was leaving the country.> Otherwise they wouldn’t let her stop paying the "voluntary" insurance she's been paying. Little hassles. I'll buy my ticket when I get the cash coming to me at Peace Corps termination.

Today is a holiday, so I wrote my Christmas cards - most of them. I’m sending a bunch to people who haven’t written me for 6 months to see if I get a response. If not it's the last effort to keep the tie. It's tough to keep contact by mail, easy to lose interest.

<Tragedy has befallen Sofia's oldest sister. Her baby, who Sofia & I were to be godparents to, was born dead.> She was in critical condition for a while also. She is here {at the family home} now. Her husband got drunk when he heard about the baby, then went to the hospital and got them to give him the body. Last night he sent someone by to take their kids to "velar {look after}" the body. The 4 kids were brought to Sofia's parents' home when he left them alone. <Sofia's family sent the 16 year-old, but wouldn't hear of having the other, younger children take part in the "funeral." They buried the body today and the other 3 kids are still here {at Sofia's parents' house}.> Everyone here says their father turns crazy when he drinks. <They're lucky they have Sofia's goodhearted family to look after the kids.>

<Sofia's oldest sister is out of the hospital already, & arrived here about 11:30 AM.> She may spend the night or a few days. <Poor woman, about 35 years old and looks like 45.> She's been given a tough life, but wonderful sisters!

The 15th we leave for El Salvador. There's little left to do. I go to the dentist on Friday & should get my Peace Corps money. We kill the pig Saturday for an old-fashioned Costarican farewell feast Saturday & Sunday. <Tuesday we (Sofia & I) plan to go to Sarchí, to the ox-cart factory, to buy gifts & a small carry-on bag.>

I won't get to see Fred {Tracy} in El Salvador because he's home for Christmas. I wrote a letter with his Christmas card, trying to say some of what I'd hoped to say to him in person. Still there are people to see in El Salvador, and goodbyes to be said.

Letter, December 7, 1977

Today I sent off a big box of clothes, books & stuff by airfreight. I thought I’d send you all a copy of the freight bill so that if the box arrives before we do, & they call or write from the Madison airport saying, “Get this *!# box out of here quick!” you could do something about it. On the back of the bill I put a note authorizing family members to retrieve the stuff. Anything they charge you, I will reimburse of course. If there’s no problem with leaving the box at the airport a short time, I’ll retrieve it when I get home. OK? It’s all used stuff, so there shouldn’t be any customs charges.

I got Bruce’s form letter & will comply with the new Christmas gift policy. I’m not sure if I’ll come up by plane from Nashville. Marcia may drive up & if she does we’ll go with her, probably. I plan to call from Nashville when we’ve decided our mode of transportation from there on north.

Everything looks good for our trip, just about set to go. <Sofia finishes school this week.>

Take care, see you,



Images, December 1977

{ Me picking coffee near Sofia's family's house in La Asunción, Costa Rica. }

{ Gerardo Chavez and Maria Teresa de Chavez, in the doorway of their home in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. }

Journal, November 27, 1977 AM

<I’m sitting on the edge of the bed watching Sofia sleep.> A minute ago she was making faces like a child before a mirror, or a person illustrating how a third party looked in the situation being described. She did it again. I suppose she’s dreaming. She remembers her dreams much more frequently than I do.

My cold had me down yesterday, but I feel good this morning. It certainly is misery when you feel so rotten that you don’t want to do anything but loaf around. You can’t sleep. If you could it wouldn’t be misery! Yet you feel disgusted with yourself because you aren’t doing anything but loaf.

Friday the money order I’d asked Mom to send finally got here. The first time she sent it, it got lost or stolen in the mail, so this is a new copy of the money order. Mom calmly noted that she had to sign a bond in case I cashed both money orders. That’s Mom, she leaves you wondering if she distrusts you, or just was being very economical with words.

<I can’t seem to get Sofia interested in helping make a list of what we should send by airfreight and what we’ll put in the two suitcases we can take with us.> It’s not really important, just my passion to not leave things for the last minute. Maybe we should just wait ‘til next weekend, throw everything in the box, make a list and send it off.

Card, November 23, 1977

Dear Mom, Dad & all,

Description: Music Kiosk, San José, C.R.

This time the check got here! I’m in the process of changing it at the bank. Sorry I didn’t write sooner about the first one not coming, but my mind was on other things & I just didn’t think of it.

Anyway, as before, we expect to arrive in Madison December 23rd at 1:40 PM. If there are changes we’ll call. Dean

Journal, November 19, 1977 AM

<Little Ronald is on my case again.> The poor little guy wants to do everything I do at the same time I’m doing it - like Dennis the menace “helping” Mr. Wilson.

<Sofia is typing a paper for her sociology course.> I typed a couple pieces, but I’m so slow . . . <Poor Sofia had morning sickness again today, from the birth control pills.> The first month she had it over a week, and this is the third day she’s been sick this month. I fear the new pills aren’t going to be acceptable either. We’ll probably give up on them after 3-4 months, like we did the other ones. <Sofia is so sensitive to drugs.> I wonder how the male contraceptive pill is coming along!

I ran from La Asunción to the airport and back today. I don’t know how far it is, but it took me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I’ve been running about half an hour’s worth every morning since we moved here, and wanted to make a longer run to see what kind of shape I’m in. I think I’m in fair shape. I made the whole trip running & there are some pretty good hills.

I was thinking this morning about ideological traps, how true it is that any absolute ideology makes the person adhering to it absolutely dangerous to society. Examples: The conservative can fall into the trap of valuing order & the status quo more than justice & the rights of human beings. The liberal can fall into the trap of pushing social welfare at the expense of the vital work ethic and the dignity that comes from a belief that you are earning your own keep. The socialist can fall into the trap of tearing down all the counter-balancing institutions in a society in his haste to achieve greater economic equality, thus leaving the way open for the fascists in socialist clothing to gain a strangle hold.

It’s a truism that the theory of relativity applies to social systems, but it is ever so difficult to develop it at the practical level, especially because there are so many golden throats around who nimbly envelope their self-interest in eloquent ideological pronouncements. Social science has advanced tremendously from a technical standpoint, but remains tethered by the short rope called point-of-view.

Journal, November 12, 1977 PM

<November 4th Sofia & I moved out of Lolita Gonzalez’s “Casita {little house}” in Santo Domingo and into her family’s house.> She and her mother wanted it this way and economically it’s a help. Ni modo {Nothing for it}! I’m discovering, however, that the situation demands tremendous self-control.

<First of all it must be noted that I have to be wary of expressing displeasure, or anything that could be so interpreted, to anyone but Sofia.> They are very sensitive & I’d hate to upset or offend them.

<Then there’s Ronald, who lacks a playmate his age and therefore drives everyone crazy by trying to interact with everybody all the time. Ronald has been dedicating generous amounts of his time to Sofia & I since we’ve arrived, since we are “new” and have lots of strange “tiliches” (playthings) to check out. At times Ronald is fun, but he is so used to having his own way & so full of the devil, that he tries the patience.> I’m tempted constantly to try to teach him some discipline, but I can’t. His parents “spoil” him & I am not ready to try unilateral disciplining of a kid who’s not mine.

<Sofia’s folks get up at 4 AM without fail & sometimes start talking in bed as early as 2 AM. Sofia's dad reads the newspaper aloud.> He is doing so now. I can’t blame him since the fact that he reads at all with the formal education he received is amazing. Our presence in the house makes sleeping accommodations inadequate, though no one complains of course. <One of the girls has to sleep in the same room with Sofia’s parents. The other night it was her next older sister, and her dad was giving her a hard time, calling her names (affectionately) that she considered beneath her dignity.> The exchange reminded me of Dad & Merna squabbling as they always used to when he tried to “bring her down to size.”

Letter, November 9, 1977

I’d been expecting you to write & send me the $500 from my bank account, but since nothing has gotten to me I decided to write to see if by chance you’d sent it & it got lost in the mail, etc. More likely you’ve just been too busy to write, but it’s also true that Costarican postal employees aren’t always honest & someone may have ripped off the letter to try & cash the check. So what-say if you let me know by return mail if you sent out a letter with the check more than 2 weeks before the date on this letter?

<Sofia & I went to the embassy today & presented the papers for her visa. Apparently everything was in good order because the woman just notarized Sofia’s application form & said we should come back Friday to pick up the visa. All told we spent about $70 getting it, at a time when we don’t have that much money, but once Sofia has permanent residence we can live in the U.S. as long as we want. Also, Sofia can live here & keep the visa by entering the U.S. once a year.> Anyway, whatever happens, the visa should be useful for a long time.

I’d hoped to hear from you concerning when Dad will be operated on, to decide when we should leave for the States, but since that wasn’t possible, we made our decision. As it turns out, Costa Rica had a border incident with Nicaragua & the two countries may break diplomatic relations, so we can’t count on being able to go through that country by land in January. Also, we’re getting the itch to go, so we decided to make the trip by plane & leave here December 15th. We’ll spend 6 days in El Salvador, and leave there December 21st for New Orleans and then Nashville. We plan to spend a day there to visit Marcia before leaving for Madison at 1:40 PM, December 23rd on Northwest #739. It looks like we’ll make it just in time for Christmas.

<Sofia & I are living with her family for the rest of our time here.> She & her mother wanted it that way, & it makes it easier for us to sell stuff, & send stuff ahead that we don’t use much. My job is not slacking off at all yet; looks like I’ll be working right up to the end. I just got put in charge of collecting a pair of corn samples (from test plots) just a week before we leave.

My nervousness is probably groundless, but the thing about my check getting ripped off in the mail is really on my mind. Please let me know what’s what as soon as you can.

Take care,

<Dean & Sofia>


Images, November 1977

{ A Guanacaste beach view, just before sunset. }

{ Another Guanacaste beach view, just before sunset. }

{ A Guanacaste beach view, at sunset. }

{ Another Guanacaste beach view, at sunset. }

{ A third Guanacaste beach view, at sunset. }

{ A Guanacaste beach view, just after sunset. }

Journal, October 28, 1977 AM

I just trucked over to the CNP drier {government grain drying station} and talked to an old fellow about where they plant corn around here. He gave me some good advice, I think. You can never be sure they’re not B.S.’ing you. He said we should follow the roads to two cantons {political entities similar to U.S. counties} near here, and that the corn farmers all live along the road. Also, I found out that they grow some rice in the zone.

I slept pretty badly. At about three this morning one or more truck drivers left, making all possible noise in the process, it seemed. Then at five the dog in the lot directly below me began to bark. Así es la vida {That’s life}.

We’ve been lucky in one thing. The always rainy Atlantic zone is dry as a bone right now. Apparently it has been for about a week. I hope it stays that way all day. The horrendous road we came in on would be much worse wet, especially the river crossings.

Journal, October 27, 1977 PM

One month later I read over for the first time what I wrote concerning my reaction to finding out about Dad’s imminent operations. Since that time I’ve heard nothing from Friendship {WI}. I wrote my brother Bruce a strong letter in which I poured out my ideas about the situation at home. I’m unsure whether he’ll sympathize with my views. Perhaps he’ll write it off as a strange over reaction to a trivial matter by someone too far from the farm to even see the top of the silo. Perhaps he’d be correct, but I’ve not changed my ideas in any substantial way. I’m calm, in certain moments of mental unemployment I consider alternative strategies for solving specific problems on the farm or dream up future scenarios of what the farm could become given alternative modernization strategies. I don’t know why the farm is so important to me right now.

Present time: I’m spending the night in Guacimo with Carl Reed and his wife Susan. It took us 7 hours to get here from San Jose, and we only managed to do one interview. Carl did the interview and all the driving today. The poor guy’s beat! And then he’s got to take special care of Susan, because like most “Gringas {North Americans}” she’s not accustomed to the distinctly shitty sanitary conditions of rural accommodations in Costa Rica (i.e. spiders & webs, rats, toilets that don’t flush). One toilet here has fresh diarrhea in it. She’s bearing up with true American spirit though. <I’m sure Sofia would be more volatile (ready to tell off the manager, etc.).>

Poor Carl, he’s doing all the thinking and all the pushing on this grain storage survey. What we’re doing at this point is testing our questionnaire. Between the bean cooking, which takes up so much time & leaves my brain fried & my disposition which is generally sullen, and my natural (if insidious) tendency to be passive and let the initiative be taken by others, etc. I’m of little more good to him than Fred was to Super Chicken. I have to offer to drive tomorrow. It’s too little & too late, but it will also help break my present mental block against driving.

I’m a most peculiar creature. I am capable of developing a mental block toward doing almost anything that I haven’t done for a while. I’ve yet to experience a mental block against lovemaking, but it may become possible as I get older & less virile.) Anyway, with the driving, I’ve been nervous about it since I had the accident in El Salvador. However, I drove while in the U.S. last year, with no reservations. I drove for the first time in Costa Rica about a week ago, & managed to make it from San Pedro to Santo Domingo without hitting anything. I did stall once & remove the windshield wiper knob (which I later figured out how to put back on correctly).

Carl, Susan & I just went out for a beer. We got lucky & a guy bought us a second round without even coming over to talk at us (or breath on us!). It was good. I felt it relaxed all three of us. We talked about experiences, even religion. Carl’s father is a preacher. Knowing that fact makes him more comprehensible. Susan takes change for her dollar from the collection dish. She’s irreverent, practical, and very likeable. Susan is the first person I’ve seen since Linda Carr who has double-jointed elbows. Linda Carr is an acquaintance from grade school & high school who repeatedly returns to my conscious memory because of a particularly weird role she played in those years of my life. In grade school she was the special outcast of my class. In high school, the anonymity of a larger universe let her develop a more normal role. She eventually married a very popular local guy.

<Sofia invited two of her sisters over for tonight, rather than go to her parents’ house.> She says they’re going to raise hell since I’m gone. <I would’ve liked to have brought Sofia along to see the new country I saw today, but she’d never have stood the grueling ride in here from Siquirres.> After we went to Orotina in this same International Scout II with the loose & banging back window, she swore she’d never again go anywhere in said machine.

We went to the {U.S.} Embassy yesterday to see about the visa, and for a morning’s waiting were repaid with a new form to fill out and an appointment with the vice-consul in two weeks. I was angry at the time, but such is bureaucracy, whether it be Joe Tico’s or Uncle Sam’s.


Images, October 1977

{ A rural produce stand featuring fresh coconuts. }

{ A young coconut palm plant. }

Letter, September 28, 1977

Dear Mom, Dad and all,

Thanks for the farm value statement. <Hopefully it’ll meet with approval in the embassy here and make the processing of Sofia’s visa easy.> The vice-consul said the important thing was to demonstrate that the farm was of sufficient size & worth to support us as well as yourselves, & I think the statement definitely does that.

As far as taking the money out of my bank account, yes, October 1 will be plenty of time. I miscalculated my quarters-of-a-year, sorry.

I would like to know when Dad plans to have his operations. Bruce wrote about the same time you did saying they would operate on Dad over Christmas vacation.

<Sofia & I talked it over and decided that if the operations were going to take place in late December or early January, we would try to leave here as soon after I finish Peace Corps service as possible so as to be there to help out.> I finish December 14, so if we go by plane, and only spend a couple days in El Salvador en route, we could be there in time to cut the Christmas tree!

We’d also like to make a stop in Nashville on our way north, if flying by way of that city doesn’t boost our fares too much. Anyway, please let us know for when the operations are being planned, so we can plan accordingly.

There’s not much new here. <Things are going well for Sofia & I, though we are a bit bored and starting to anticipate the big move coming up.>

Looks like we are going to become godparents before we leave. <Two of Sofia’s married sisters are pregnant, and one of them, who expects to give birth in early November, has already asked us to be the little one’s "padrinos {godparents}.">

Take care,

<Dean & Sofia>

Journal, September 27, 1977 PM

I’m in the process of cooking beans as I’ve been all too often in the last 5 months. It’s the closest to assembly line work I’ve ever been, and I sure don’t wish I ever get closer!

<Mom wrote to say there will be no problem with Sofia & I living at the family home for a few months after we reach the states.> She said Dad needs two operations for a double hernia he’s developed. She suggested he might wait until we were there to have the operation so that I could help out with the work.

All well & good. <As Sofia put it, that way we are there to help instead of being a bother (ayudar en vez de molestar).>

However, Dad’s condition started my brain speculating as to what would happen if his recovery is less than complete, and in general, what will happen to the farm as Mom and Dad become too old to run it? <Whatever the outcome of the operations, the time will be ripe to discuss the fate of the farm while Sofia & I are in residence there.> We will enter a potentially high-pressure situation down on the farm!

Everyone knows Dad’s favorite choice for his successor, and with Tom likely to go away to college next fall (leaving only Carla to help with farm work), I’m certain he’ll find the time ideal for #1 son to start taking over. I’m not afraid of the pressure. I can cope. The truth is my mind is bubbling over with ideas about what needs to be done to make the farm a viable enterprise in the next generation.

I’m not willing to give up my academic goals to farm full time just now, but I am willing to adapt my studying strategy to help out on the farm if it’s really necessary. I believe that at least 3 of the second generation (Bruce, Jan and I) are determined to keep the farm in the family. That’s important. If we take looking after the farm as a communal interest, we can probably meet personal goals, and keep the farm truckin’ no matter what happens to Dad’s or Mom’s health.

Letter, September 8, 1977

Dear Mom, Dad and everyone,

How is everyone? <Sofia & I are fine, looking forward to a 4-day weekend starting September 15 (It is Central American Independence Day).>

I’m sorry to hear about Belle, but it was to be expected that she wouldn’t last much longer. Did you exhibit any cattle at the fair?

<Sofia & I presented our papers at the U.S. Embassy to apply for her visa, and they told us to come back some time in October.> You have to enter the U.S. within 4 months of the date your visa is approved it turns out. I don’t need my birth certificate (sorry for the hassle!) because they’ll take my passport as evidence.

Since I am a Peace Corps Volunteer they require me to demonstrate ability to support my wife before I can take her into the U.S. One way of demonstrating support is a job offer, which I consider pretty difficult for me to get after 3 years of being outside the U.S. Another possibility is to say I am initially going back to work on the family farm. In that case I would need a statement of the value of the farm & of personal assets from you, Mom & Dad, to demonstrate that the farm can support more than one family. I don’t like to ask you to do this, but I am asking because it will be a lot more secure than trying the job offer route. Please let me know if you are willing to do the statement of farm value & assets, so I can get busy on the job-hunt otherwise.

The statement of farm value (estimate) and other assets needs to be notarized, the vice-consul informed me, in order to be acceptable to her. That’s the extent of what she told us. We have all the other paperwork in order to get the visa. I’m glad I started on it early to find out about this support business before the last minute!

We haven’t tried the baked beans yet, mainly because I’ve been staying out of the kitchen lately!


Journal, September 6, 1977 PM

<Yesterday Sofia and I celebrated 6 months of marriage. It in no way seems like it’s been that long.> I skipped out of work at twenty to four to take a bus downtown & buy roses. At 5 PM I was received at our apartment door by a vision in yellow. <Sofia had a candlelight dinner on the table, and was waiting for me all pretty & perfumed.>

I felt like a bum with 6 kilos of rice in a bag under one arm, my shoulder bag of odds & ends over the same shoulder and flowers in the other hand. I had on a grungy blue T-shirt with stretched out neck & a pair of well-worn blue jeans. Still she treated me like royalty, so I couldn’t complain.

The meal was excellent and we had both wine (domestic) and beer (a bottle for the two of us) to go with it. <Sofia’s “inventions” nearly always turn out delicious (and always are at least edible), but her roast beef in beer sauce was especially fine, with rice, garbanzo beans & tuna.>

We made several toasts to ourselves & our future together.

<Sofia’s mother is starting to lobby against our going to the States, not to me but to Sofia.> She has gone as far as to say she looks on it as a punishment from God for sins she’s committed, having her daughter taken far away from her. <She tells Sofia she should try not to get pregnant because it could be hard on her if she goes to the States pregnant. She adds that if Sofia should become pregnant she should do everything possible to convince me that it’s better to remain here. I think she’d almost rather see Sofia pregnant & near her.>

So far we’ve been lucky as Irishmen with the prophylactics. <Sofia has an appointment with a gynecologist September 26, and we’ll try to get pills prescribed again.> Even if she does, she won’t be able to start taking them ‘til late October. So it goes.

Letter, September 1, 1977


How’s things? <Sofia suggested that since I missed your birthday I could send you one of these special air letters with scenes of Costa Rica. This one even includes a shot of Sofia’s hometown, San Antonio.>

In the last 3 years I’ve only been around you for a month - it’s kind of incredible. 5 years ago I wouldn’t have anticipated that it was so easy to lose contact with the members of my family. So it goes.

You are a senior this year if I’m right (& just turned 17). Do you have plans to enter college next fall? I’m planning on re-entering college as an undergrad. again to pursue a “technical” career in math. & physics. <Sofia has a strong desire to study too, so we may all 3 end up as students at the same time.> Weird, but interesting!

Best of luck Tom, & try to write me some time, huh? Last chance before I come up north!


{ Photos and text on air letter: }

Aerial view of the beach and the Tourists' Promenade in Puntarenas.

Traditional colonial Costarican costumes.

View of a Costarican countryside.

San Antonio de Belén, Heredia, Costa Rica

Banana plants


Images, September 1977

{ A beach view in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. }

{ Another beach view in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. }

{ An iguana sits on a stump just above the beach. }

Journal, August 17, 1977 PM

The king is dead . . . Elvis Presley died yesterday at 42. I find it incredible and sobering, though I was never a really avid fan.

If I die at 42 that means I have 17 more years to live. Sobering, yes, sobering!

Another thought: During my three years in Peace Corps and outside the U.S., I have missed many landmarks. Nixon was still President when I left. I missed the whole Ford presidency, the 1975-76 recession, several grand international incidents . . . and now the untimely death of rock & roll’s undisputed monarch. What great changes in my native land. Presley was a symbol of something, but I haven’t got it defined yet. Perhaps it was the emotional shout in the dark of his largely un-political, un-vocal generation (emotional but not political).

On the other hand, Ronald Jimenez, a fellow worker at CIGRAS and recent visitor to the States, says college students still crowd into dormitory TV rooms to see old, old reruns of Star Trek. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

<Is this the month Sofia will turn out to be pregnant?> In the past month we had no grave accidents with prophylactics, but even so my most beloved woman will soon be a week overdue for her period. President Carter has said (as did President Kennedy and who knows how many of us peons!) that life isn’t fair. <If Sofia really is pregnant this time I will never again question the inherent injustice in human existence.> I may cry also!

Journal, August 11, 1977 PM

Fred {Tracy} and Marlene {Johnsjoy} came July 31 and left August 6. <For a while I thought Sofia and I were going to be responsible for completely ruining their vacation, but as it turned out it wasn’t so bad. Our landlady Lolita had convinced Sofia & her older sister that it would be ideal to take Fred & Marlene to the Nicoya Peninsula, & take Lolita & herself along as a “third couple.”> About the time we found out that the accommodations Lolita had reserved for us in Santa Cruz had bats as well as mosquitoes, noise and communal sanitary facilities, I was figuratively kicking myself in the butt with my boot for not summarily quashing the plan. This was after Lolita, walking on a level street, had fallen on her face, bruising her nose & cutting herself inside her mouth. It was obvious that I was the key person, the one who should have known better.

We did finally arrive at Tamarindo beach & spend one much-needed afternoon & evening living first class (in an $18 per night motel with pool, etc.) on a fantastic, unspoiled beach. Marlene’s face at last ceased to resemble that of an unwilling (but determined to endure) traveler through hell, & brightened to enthusiasm.

On their last night here we went to Chalet Suiza {Swiss} for a very tranquil meal. The food was reasonable considering the quality & the place’s uniqueness, but they nail you for drinks and desserts!

Fred is working hard, enjoying it and talking about spending as many as five more years in El Salvador. He can see the growing dangers of the radicalizing political climate there, but apparently puts them aside and concentrates on work. I hope he doesn’t get shot in the back by either leftists or an increasingly paranoid government - rightist coalition. It worries me more than it apparently worries him. He’s very practical. I hope his is the right approach.

Marlene is an unlikely mate for Fred. She’s strong, yes, and loyal & good, but she’s a musician and music teacher, and likes petty luxuries like taking a dip in the pool at midday & worrying about keeping her tan even. She’ll “rough it” for Fred, but ‘con nada de gusto {without enthusiasm}.’

<Sofia & I are now definitely committed to living within the means afforded by my salary.> Reason: We shot all our extra funds during Fred & Marlene’s visit. <And we have to buy a “Dia de la Madre {Mother’s Day}” gift for Sofia’s mom and there are festivals in La Asunción this weekend!>

It’s time to get serious about my Scrooge role, but my heart’s not in it. <Sofia jawbones stricter budgeting, but forgets her own advice when she sees (or thinks of) something she wants or “needs.”> So it goes.


Images, August 1977

{ Fred Tracy and I taking a nap on a grassy hillside. }

{ Two tiny islands in the Gulf of Nicoya. }


Journal, July 27, 1977 PM

<Friday night Sofia decided she wanted to get drunk on guaro {Costarican rum-like liquor}, just to experience it.> It was an experience I will never forget. She’ll not forget it soon either, though there are parts the liquor spared her memory.

{some text not transcribed}

She drank a third of a beer Monday night and decided she had developed a revulsion for all alcoholic beverages! She claims it may be a year before she takes up drinking socially again.

Fred Tracy and Marlene Johnsjoy are due to arrive in Costa Rica Saturday night. They’ll be here a week. We’re overjoyed and have been sporadically making plans how to help them spend their vacation.

Journal, July 13, 1977 PM

<Monday night Sofia’s period began.> Two months running we have won at Russian roulette! I felt great relief. <Sofia admitted she really hadn’t wanted to become a mother so young.>

We are in for another month of the game though - at least one more. <Sofia visits the gynecologist at Hospital México the 24th, and if he OK’s it she’ll try another type of contraceptive pill.> ‘Til then we’ll be relying on the workmanship of Arkwell Industries to keep those sperm from their goal! I hope to reinforce Arkwell with contraceptive foam if I can buy it reasonably here.

My almost 3 years in Peace Corps have been excellent training in anxiety tolerance, but even so birth control with condoms is a whole new test of nerves.

An old theme again drew sparks last night. <Sofia still resents the fact that I was Jaime’s {Olson} best man in spite of her fight with Pilar {Campos Gonzalez, later Olson} & Marita {Pilar’s mother}.> I still believe that I did no wrong in keeping a promise to Jaime which I couldn’t see breaking at the last minute because of something I didn’t know much about, much less understand. I assumed it was a personality conflict.

<Sofia is definitely a grudge holder, perhaps more so than anyone I’ve known well.> To her, a social slight or personal insult is sufficient reason to hate a person perpetually. It’s a bit frightening. When she spoke frankly, she said she felt I had walked all over her dignity by participating in the wedding, and causing her to go to it. She said at times she thinks she’s capable of seeking revenge, given a proper opportunity. My mind wandered & wondered. I found no guilt in me and speculated: How often can we return to this same difference of perspectives . . . with no possibility of resolving it?

Journal, July 6, 1977 PM

{some text not transcribed}

<My diabolical mind is considering alternative strategies if Sofia really is pregnant.> I’ll first try getting a decent paying job here, doing my job hunting on the side and not quitting Peace Corps until & unless I get something solid that looks attractive. If I don’t find anything I’ll finish my Peace Corps term and we’ll go to Wisconsin, where I’ll have to get hold of something fast & start saving up for the doctor bills. <As Sofia says, it is something that had to happen sooner or later.> But I’m still clinging to a wild hope that perhaps it won’t be sooner!

<Sofia is having all kinds of strange pains.> Last night she said it all: “O me va a venir una tonelada de menstruación, o es que tengo tu hermanito adentro {Either I’m going to have a ton of menstruation, or I’ve got your little brother inside me}!” I guess I could handle her being pregnant. It may indeed be a positive thing if it gets me out of this melancholy Peace Corps rut and into something more interesting.

Today I’m fantasizing what it would be like if I got a job as an ABS (American Breeders’ Service) representative here. I think I could handle it for a couple years if the money was good.

<Sofia and I had a real drinking good 4th of July.> First there was the American Community picnic at the {U.S.} Ambassador’s residence, with free beer, hot dogs, etc. I entered a pie-eating contest to get a shot at a blueberry pie. I lost, but still got my fill! We drank 5 beers each, plus lots of hot dogs, ice cream & other crap. Then there was the Peace Corps bash at the Tropical Brewery. It was 25 Colones apiece for all the beer you could hold. We got our money’s worth, 7 beers each plus bocas {snacks}!

Among the PCVs {Peace Corps volunteers} at the bash, I only knew about 4. I met two more from Wisconsin. I do believe my state contributes a disproportionate number. All in all they weren’t much different from Peace Corps El Salvador as a group. <Sofia met another tica {Costarican} married to a PCV and had a good rap with her.>


Images, July 1977

{ The Guaria Morada orchid is the national flower of Costa Rica. This one is being transplanted by Sofia's grandmother. }

{ The painted ox cart is a Costarican national symbol. This painting of a man with his oxen and cart is from a 1970s postcard. }


Journal, June 27, 1977 PM

<Beware world, there is a distinct possibility that Sofia & I will be parents within about 9 months.> {some text not transcribed} I’m ‘afeared’ it could be the real thing this time!

Journal, June 23, 1977 PM

<Studying has become a vice with her, Sofia says.> She expects she’ll always be around universities, all her life, because she receives little rushes of pleasure from gaining new insights. Any resemblance to me talking to myself was purely coincidental, but did not go unappreciated.

My wife really opened her mind up and let me share some of her most carefully guarded secrets. It happened last evening as we were returning to our place after having a beer at El Ranchito. Walking the nearly deserted streets of Santo Domingo at about 8 PM, she told me I was the first person she’d ever been close enough to to be able to express her barest perceptions of life and society to. She never could openly admit her hunger for knowledge to others, even in her family, for fear of it becoming the subject of subsequent jokes. I know the apprehension well. God, how parallel run our minds. She credits me with being the inspiration for her to strive to show herself a truly good person through her acts and relationships.

That’s a heavy responsibility to shoulder. But her irrepressible, insatiable love for me gives me a confidence I’d never known the like of. She says she’s done nothing for me in return for what I’ve done for her. She doesn’t realize what an intense, comforting warmth she’s brought to my soul.

Poem, June 22, 1977


nahuatl? ya no!
Tierra de la Infancia? ya no!
The country with a heart? YA NO!
(pero, sí, tiene corazón.)

Sí, tiene corazón, SÍ TIENE!
Como no va a tener, pues?
Echó sangre en el parque, no es asi?
En ... el ... parque ... de ... la ... LIBERTAD ...

Y en Santa Tecla, en Aguilares, en San Miguel ...
En Tacuba, en ’32,
una generación de hombres ...
(se perdió!)

Se perdió?
Dicen que fueron comunistas,
bajo influencia extranjera,
inflamados en contra sus patrones ...

Se sacrificó
una generación de hombres
fue sacrificada

Para la lucha anticomunista?
Pues, por un lado, sí, tal vez,
porque resulta que desde entonces
los militares tomaron el mando acá.
(y son unos fuertes anticomunistas ... según dicen.)

Miren! es que yo fui anticomunista ... vaya!
Así nos enseñaron, pues!
Que el comunismo era la esclavitud.

Pero, Ustedes saben que se ha ido metiendo aquí.
La oposición politica a los militares, pues,
siempre era obra del comunismo
La organización syndical, también!

La Universidad, los intelectuales, los estudiantes (nuestros hijos!)
se han ido infestandose con ideas comunistas de tal manera que ...
han tenido que ...
sacrificarse (perderse)

Se sacrifica
una generación de estudiantes y intelectuales
es sacrificada

Para la lucha anticomunista?
Para mantener el orden en la sociedad?
Pues, tal vez, les digo yo
porque es que hasta los sacerdotes son comunistas hoy!
(varios, la mayor parte)

Para mantener el orden más que todo.
Digo yo, pues ...
el ... orden ... economico.
el café, el algodón, el azucar, la ganadería

La gente?
Es que gente siempre se consigue,
y barata!
La mano de obra es el gran recurso que tiene este país.

El gran recurso que tiene el país!
Es que, patrón, ya no somos anticomunistas

Mire! es que en el parque ... mataron a madres y a niños!
EN ... EL ... PARQUE .. DE ... LA ... LIBERTAD!

Es que ya, todo lo que vale lo llaman comunista!
Seamos comunistas, pero lucharemos

Para que nuestros descendientes
tengan los derechos
de seres humanos.
Para la dignidad del pueblo Cuscatleco

El pueblo, sí, tiene corazón!
Y con su sangre ganará la libertad y la dignidad!


Letter, June 14, 1977

Dad, Mom & all,

I hope all’s well up in the north country. In the last few days we’ve been getting a short break in the rains, it clouds up in the afternoons, but only a few drops fall. <Sofia’s Dad planted some corn in the little lot by his house about May 1st and it looks like it’s almost ready to tassel.>

It sounds like Mom is really getting heavy into the gardening & landscaping this year. I always liked the yellow raspberries we used to pick across the road before urban expansion wiped them out! The blueberries will be nice to have near the house too. I haven’t found a name for blueberries in Spanish yet. <I guess Sofia will have to wait ‘til she gets to Wisconsin to find out what they are.>

<Sofia and I kicked the intestinal parasites, and things are going very well for us.> She’s been doing very well in the university, and her scholarship has been renewed, meaning she won’t have to pay any tuition. Also, she’s been talking with her professors and they’ve promised to give her summaries of her course work last year, which will help her get credit for her courses here if she studies in the U.S. She has a month of vacation starting June 24th.

Pilar and Jaime Olson are in Wisconsin now. Pilar’s brother says they just got word recently that they had arrived up in Neenah. I guess they had no hassles in El Salvador.

I’m becoming an expert bean cooker! These days I spend two days a week cooking beans all day at work! (It’s for the bean storage experiment we’re doing.) It has it’s rewards though, I take cooked beans home and we only have to add salt, onion & a few other things, & warm them up.

Carl Reed (the other Peace Corps guy where I work) made baked beans one day, so the Costaricans could try them. He made them with a lot of brown sugar, and they didn’t go over real big! They were good, but because they were sweet, you couldn’t eat very many before you got sick of the taste. If you think of it Mom, could you send me your recipe for baked beans? I’d like to try it with the beans here. Also, I could use a good basic white bread recipe. I made a “no-knead” bread from my beginner’s cookbook, & it wasn’t too bad, but I’d like to try regular bread & all I have is a recipe for whole wheat.

That’s about all I can think of. I hope the crops continue to do well there. Let me know if Belle has a heifer. It would be nice since the old girl isn’t going to be limping around too much longer!

Take care,

<Dean & Sofia>

Journal, June 3, 1977 PM

Yesterday was the day for vulgar discussions at the “kitchen table” in the CIGRAS café. Ramón and Carlos Chavarría agreed that a man’s only companions were his testicles, and his only friend his penis. Ramón took great pleasure in telling me how you have to lick a woman’s clitoris until you get it up, etc., etc. Later the topic was venereal diseases and how to treat them. Carlos C. said he once had a case of gonorrhea it took him six months to cure. Almost all the ticos {Costaricans} had had crabs and many had had gonorrhea. Venereal diseases {V.D.} must be rampant in this country, due in part to the male custom of going whoring frequently. <Sofia has told me about a few grotesque results of untreated V.D. - deformed kids, sores around the mouth, etc.> How lucky I was not to pick up anything in my few experiences with prostitutes.

Journal, June 2, 1977 PM

Today is the second in a row that I’ve played soccer with the CIGRAS boys. I think I’ll take tomorrow off to get my head straight. Yesterday was a pretty clean game. I only got the sore on my leg reopened, which is inevitable when I play. I vaguely remember that I was bemused by my observation that “ticos {Costaricans}” are incredibly prone to blowing their own horns. Gerardo Arce and Ronald Jimenez are the “stars” in this activity, but all my “compañeros {companions}” take their turns.

Today the game got heated because the other guys (We seem to always ‘randomly’ divide up into almost exactly the same teams.), who always beat us, were down 4-1. Since they simply couldn’t bear losing, we played until nearly 1:30 PM. I finally gave up & left, and shortly afterward the rest followed. Apparently the other guys put in two quick goals, because they were down 7-6 when I left, but claimed to have won by a goal.

I got my anger up in today’s game. Carlos Chavarría nailed me in the genitals with a hard-kicked ball and ran off gleefully calling “hand” (in accented English). When the jolt of pain subsided, & after uttering a few random oaths in mixed English and Spanish, I hollered, “Me dió en los huevos y dice {He hits me in the balls and says} “hand!” Ramón will never get over it. For the next week he’ll be asking me where the ball hit me! I haven’t yet learned to take it well.

Anyway, I started playing hard after that, like the rest. It’s dangerous in a game like soccer where you continually leave your body vulnerable while feet are in the air. Somebody could get seriously injured. I feel like I’m learning how to play though.

Journal, June 1, 1977 PM

My bean cooking experiment is now in full swing. Question to be answered: Why do old beans take longer to cook than new beans, and what can we do about it? No enlightening finding yet. The beans at 13% moisture were as fast-cooking after a month as they were at the beginning.

<Sofia is getting her teeth fixed by a dentist in Heredia that she has confidence in.> I’m crossing my fingers and leaving it all to her. Her family has had work done by this dentist before and have been satisfied with it.

<Sofia is also treating a uterine infection with douches, oblets & neomycin cream.> The douche applicator head looks enough like a penis to be an A-1 dildo. I couldn’t resist. <I taught Sofia the word “dildo” and now that’s what she calls the applicator!>

<Last night Sofia skipped her douche because she felt a flu attack coming on and didn’t want to risk an extra chill.> We are a sickly lot. I’m boiling the water now in Santo Domingo to cure stomach problems. It seems to be working. I’ve got a nasty cold that started yesterday.

It’s raining hard. The rainy season is well underway. <Sofia and I have four corn plants and a bean plant growing in our little patio.>


Images, June 1977

{ The break room at CIGRAS. Left to right: Fausto, Enrique Villalobos and Ronald Jimenez }


Journal, May 25, 1977 PM

<It’s going to cost 2,100 Colones to get Sofia’s teeth fixed up right.> We’ll really be living on a shoestring after we pay that bill! But I knew those “plastic teeth” she had in front would have to be changed. Really, it’s a relief to know the problem’s going to be taken care of. She has confidence in the dentist who’s doing it. I hope her confidence is well placed. I wouldn’t want a shoddy job done for $250 and have to go through it again.

Tomorrow I’m going to Orotina with Ramón and Renán {from work} to plant a corn trial. Ramón had one of his vulgar spells today. All he could talk about was the 14-year-old chics with short hair on their little c***s, and all the beer we were going to consume on the trip. Ramón is a tremendously good person. He’s a Red Cross volunteer, helps out fellow workers by loaning them money, and is the wit who keeps things from being unbearably boring at CIGRAS. So who can fault him for reveling in obscene language and gestures? After all, he is a lone & aging male. The only sticker is that I’m repelled by it.

I really let Ramón down today. I told him I couldn’t touch alcohol tomorrow because of the cure I’m taking for my amoebas. It’s pop & “frescos {natural fruit drinks}” for me.

<Sofia went to the gynecologist yesterday and came back with a ton of medicine, condoms, and lots of info. on family planning.> We tried out the condoms (colored ones like AID gave out in El Salvador in its family planning drive), and they were much better than the Sultans we bought recently. Live and learn!

Journal, May 24, 1977 PM

I have a wife who is no easy keeper. Last night she told me she has to get a new bridge put into her mouth. She had her 4 top front teeth pulled a few years ago by some half-wit dentist. Seguro Social {the national healthcare plan} put in a temporary bridge for her, but if she wants a permanent one she has to get the job done privately. A dentist told her a year ago that it would cost about 1,500 Colones. We have the money, but it’s the only economic cushion we have. Still it has to be done, the sooner the better, and it’ll surely cost less here than in the U.S.

I’m playing soccer at work. Today I received two good licks to the face with the ball, both courtesy of Renán {Molina}. But both were clean plays. Just the chance to get outside & to run is tremendously exhilarating. Why do I want to be a physicist all closed up in a lab, when I was raised on fresh air & sun, and nothing exhilarates me more?

Journal, May 23, 1977 PM

Nothing heavy this time. <Wednesday Sofia & I had a farewell party for Jaime & Pilar {Olson}.> They were scheduled to fly to El Salvador today and go by land from there up to Wisconsin. <Sofia did not let even a glimpse of her extreme distaste for Pilar show. Sofia’s sister’s boyfriend brought three of her sisters to make it a party.> I made cookies & corn bread. <Sofia made the punch, “dulces {sweets},” potato salad and arroz con pollo {chicken & rice casserole}.> Lolita Gonzalez {our landlady} joined us for a while. It was a “twanis” evening, to use Costarican slang.

Journal, May 17, 1977 AM

Why socialism? Where did Daddy fail? Why didn’t I absorb his undying faith in the free market, and his reverence for pure capitalism unhampered by government intervention?

I’m coming to believe that socialism is where the world’s nation states are headed, of necessity, though indisputably they are heading there at varying rates of speed, with accelerations, decelerations, backpedaling, the whole shebang!

Capitalism is a very fine system for exploiting abundant resources. You turn some reasonably sharp and self-interested folks loose in an incredibly resource rich & undeveloped piece of real estate like North America was in the 1600s, and you ought not be surprised when they build the most powerful and rich capitalist state on Earth. Even in this, the most nearly ideal situation pure capitalism has had to develop on the planet, its inherent vices have been manifest. Man as entrepreneur is not content to only exploit land with his own labor or machinery. He must have other men beneath his power, and he will go clear to Africa to bring to his capitalist paradise men who he can have as completely under his power as the animals he keeps. Man as entrepreneur so easily becomes insatiable in his greed!

Capitalism is wrong-headed to begin with. According to capitalist philosophy the whole society gains by each of its members pursuing vigorously his own self-interest, stoking the fire of his own greed. Some mysterious invisible hand was supposed to make it all work. Actually government has always had to have its hand in the “free enterprise system” in order to keep the greed of powerful men or groups from getting completely out of hand. As resources have become more limited, and as technology has become more complex, government has had to stick its (far from invisible) hand into the economic system clear up to the armpit.

Socialism starts with the central idea that society’s function (and thus government’s function) is to equitably distribute available resources among societal members. It shows its hands right out in front, manipulating the economy for the social welfare of the people. Sure we still need the entrepreneur, but perhaps we can reward him with a “people’s hero” medal, national acclaim and security for his family instead of with an empire?

Journal, May 16, 1977 PM

<This month Sofia has taken to keeping her own record of our spending habits.> She’s determined that we’ll come out 100 or 200 Colones in the black this month. We’ve had no big flings this month. I don’t believe we’ve even gone out for a beer! If we don’t break even this month we probably never will on my salary.

<Sofia says she’ll start working part-time if we don’t make money this month.> Certainly we wouldn’t have to be as uptight about money matters if she could work without undue stress.

I’ve decided recently that I clearly prefer socialism as a form of government, among the types of governing systems I’m familiar with. I’m not for it as a dogma or even an ideal type. I just think it’s the most workable way to equitably distribute scarce resources among members of a society. I’m even toying with the idea of becoming active in a socialist leaning political party when I return to the U.S.

Letter, May 9, 1977

Mom, Dad and everybody,

It looks like the rainy season is setting in here. It rained both yesterday & today in the afternoon. We’ll be fortunate if it continues to rain regularly, as water is being rationed in many parts of San Jose and the central valley. It’s been so dry in the western part of Costa Rica that there wasn’t much of an avocado crop. Other fruit trees gave meager harvests also.

<Saturday Sofia, three of her sisters and I went to visit an aunt of theirs in Orotina.> Orotina is on the western side of the country, in the lowlands and it is hot! It reminded me a lot of my first worksite in El Salvador. Despite the drought, there were oranges, mangos, “nances” {a local fruit, also from a tree}, and avocados, and we carried a lot of fruit back with us. <Sofia’s aunt and her husband have a little farm where they raise a little bit of everything.> Most of the land is in pasture, and they have a few Brahman cattle.

<Sofia was born near where her aunt and uncle live, and some of her older sisters lived most of their childhood years there. Sofia showed me the house she was born in.>

May 11: I’m so busy running around these days, I got torn away in the middle of this letter & didn’t get back for 2 days. Would you believe the people at the church somehow screwed up in copying Mom’s name and it ended up Patty Jean Geise in the official records in the Register of Deeds Office in San Jose? So it goes. Today I took them a copy of my birth certificate and they promised to correct the error. I hope they get it straight this time!

I’ve been doing a little cooking lately. I made banana bread in the electric fry pan twice, & it came out excellent both times. I made 2 batches of cookies without burning a one! I had bad luck with my first attempt at corn bread, but the second time it game out good. (I got some pre-ground corn that they had done a toxin test on at the lab!)

I’m sending 2 rolls of film in a separate package. I don’t know what all is on them, but if there are some particularly interesting shots, send me a copy. Otherwise, hang on to them & we’ll see them when we get up there.

<Sofia & I got stomach parasites on our honeymoon!> So it goes. She has got some medicine & is curing herself, but I have to take 3 more stool samples before Peace Corp’s doctor will give me medicine for mine. Such is life under government bureaucracy.

Take care,


Journal, May 3, 1977 PM

It just began to rain. It’s coming down hard, could be the “aguacero {downpour}” that marks the coming of the rainy season. But then again, no, it just slowed down a bit!

Things are going well with the marriage, except for the financial picture. We spent 460 Colones more than my Peace Corps living allowance last month. <Sofia offered to work half days. I’ll have to accept her offer if we don’t fare better this month.> She’s promised to economize seriously. I don’t know if it’s possible for us to live on 1,900 Colones per month without incredibly spartanizing our existence. With her studying & me working, it’s tough. We both travel daily to & from, have social functions, etc.

<Sofia’s doing well in sociology & really likes it.> Now she’s getting into methods & statistics, and has taken a liking to it, even though it involves math. She is taking karate seriously too. She says she’s going to get her first colored belt soon!

My beans arrived for my “endurecimiento de frijoles {bean hardening}” experiment, and I’ve been busy getting the thing going. I’m learning how to do a fungus test, germination, and a test of seed vigor along with the cooking tests. I feel I’m learning & so am quite content at work.

<I’m enjoying being witness & advisor in Sofia’s intellectual growth.> She continues to impress with the cleverness of her insights, & her honesty & openness in discussing ideas.


Images, May 1977

{ Front view of the house on Sofia's aunt's farm near Orotina. }

{ A pair of calves on Sofia's aunt's farm near Orotina. }

{ Me with a burro on Sofia's aunt's farm near Orotina. }


Letter, April 27, 1977


No I haven’t forgotten you, it’s just taken a while to find time to write. <My job has been intensifying at least insofar as quantity of work and Sofia keeps my off hours filled with all kinds of stuff - most of it very pleasant.> All in all it means I don’t often have one of those hours of complete inactivity in which to let the mind float & invent - something I had in such abundance back in Metalío. Something lost & something gained; I really enjoy my present situation too, but must make more of a special effort to find time for letter writing.

<Sofia is taking karate lessons as a special activity at the university.> It’s great to see her taking pride in her physical condition and gaining confidence in her ability to go places alone, be able to defend herself, etc. So many, many women are handicapped by their fear of physical assault, robbery by force, etc. It’s a psychological handicap (though the dangers are real!) that pushes them toward the sheltered life of the house (bound) wife. Now if she just doesn’t get ornery and break me up some day! I’m helping her practice at home & picking up a few tactics too!

Jay wrote a letter for the two of us. It arrived shortly after you and Barbara left. He has an apartment in Belmopan, the capital of Belize, about halfway between Benque Viejo and Belize City. He invited either of us to drop in, too bad the letter missed you. Anyway, you can write him c/o Ministry of Agriculture, Belmopan, Belize, Central America. He’ll be there 2 years. Perhaps you’ll get another chance to pass through there. <Sofia & I hope to go through on our way north in January.>

Money really is tight, being married on a Peace Corps salary. Living in rural El Salvador, alone, I had more money than I knew what to do with earning $165 per month. Now I’m earning $229 and wonder how we’re going to break even in the long run. (Right now with wedding gifts & money I brought from the States we’re fine, but that will trickle away.)

I sold my bike. A friend wanted a bike real bad & I planned to sell it before leaving here, so what the heck. <I have little chance to use it since Sofia & I go places together nearly always, & with school activities she hauls me to & family stuff, etc. I wasn’t riding at all.> The guy’s buying it on the installment plan so that means ¢100 extra coming in per month.

Things are really tense in El Salvador. The foreign minister was kidnapped and will be killed if President Molina doesn’t release some political prisoners. Molina is stalling for time, while searching house to house in San Salvador. I bet that means some poor folks get roughed up! It’s very different reading about a political crisis like that after having lived in the country. It is so much more real, not just something that happens in some obscure place on the map. El Salvador could be close to a military coup. If Molina and his protégé General Romero lose face in this thing, they could lose the support of both the military and the rich oligarchy. Indications are that Borgonovo, the foreign minister, is from a well-heeled & powerful family & he is getting praise from all over the diplomatic community. Heavy situation!

Bruce wrote me about the incident with Donna at the Edgerton Hospital. Sounds very f***ed up; she better beat the wrap if she wants to continue working as a dietician. (Boy I talk tough!) Seriously, I find it all very strange . . .

I read a Time {Magazine} article criticizing Carter for not playing Washington backroom political games & for being impulsive and overly idealistic in foreign policy. Northeastern intellectual snobbishness I call it. Carter has made a lot of friends among freedom oriented Central Americans with the human rights “impulse”. I think he could push it farther, like cut off military aid to Nicaragua, Guatemala & El Salvador maybe. I hope Carter doesn’t listen to Time. He gives the impression he’s a moral person; I hope it’s so. I think maybe the press prefers a wheeler-dealer like Johnson, more exciting.

Enough B.S.,


Journal, April 18, 1977 PM

This journal has converted itself from a daily affair into a weekly. I always expected that I would end this diary as abruptly as I started it a year and 4 months ago. It appears I was wrong. I continue to write occasionally even though my former obsession of writing daily without fail has become absurd to me.

<Sofia & I went to a cattle show Saturday morning.> It was the Costarican national livestock exhibition, and took place in a facility behind Bonanza Restaurant near the Herradura Inn hotel at the crossroads where the San Antonio {de Belén} - Heredia road crosses the divided highway between San Jose and Alajuela. <My passion to evaluate cattle & talk about cattle was reawakened, and I bored poor Sofia with the relative merits of animals we saw.> I’m only interested in dairy cattle, other breeds of cattle and other species don’t interest me as much. <Sofia says she could be happy on a dairy farm.> I guess I could be too if I’d let myself. Not yet though. I’m not ready to resign myself to that life yet!

<I struck Sofia a brutal emotional jab Friday night, half unwittingly.> I arrived home first and put myself to straightening up the kitchen & warming beans & rice for supper. <I knew Sofia had class until 5 on Fridays, and she’d left a note explaining that the striking resemblance our apartment bore to a rat’s abode was due to the fact that she had spent the entire morning typing an assignment for “Human Relations” (& washing 2 pairs of my jeans, I was out of clean jeans), and had not had time for anything.>

What happened was that when she arrived & found me in the middle of household tasks, she began to tell me all about her day, like a traditional husband boring the wife with office chit-chat. I suggested she could help out by setting the table. She began to do so. She looked over what was on the stove (rice, beans, empanadas and milk for hot chocolate) and said abruptly, “You could have cooked up eggs.” Without 2 seconds hesitation I replied, just as abruptly, “Why don’t you go to the devil, huh?” I had intended only to play the frustrated, overworked wife to her dissatisfied husband, being more than a bit amused by the turnabout, but she took it directly to heart and went to the farthest corner of the apartment (which is located in the shower of the bathroom) to cry.

I didn’t realize she was seriously wounded, assuming it a playful maneuver, her leaving the room. I sat down to eat at least part of my supper, since it was at optimum eating temperature and would surely be cold by the time I returned from making love to atone for my imaginary crime.

<When I went into the bedroom and did not find Sofia lying in ambush there, I realized something was amiss.> I found her huddled against the wall of the shower trying to look small & not wanting me to see that she was really crying. She sent me to eat, claiming lack of hunger, but was not above telling the story from her angle in which she was ‘just about to fry up the eggs’ when she “suggested” that I “could” have made eggs, and I turned on her in mad rage and fairly screamed that she ought to embark immediately for Satin’s domain. Who ever said marriage was a piece of cake?

Journal, April 12, 1977 PM

Life continues. <Sofia and I are still enjoying each other’s company, “still checking each other out.”> We had a pretty active Semana Santa {Easter week}. We went to Orosi and to Lake Fraijanes, and also on a picnic in the pastures near her folk’s house in La Asunción. She likes to go places & do things, and I find it entertaining too, although at times a wave of boredom & guilt sweeps me away. I need purpose and direction to be content. If it is that I’m capable of being content! <Sofia notices when I’m even a little bored or distracted by thoughts beyond the immediate.> It can’t be helped. It’s the way my mind works.

I am busy nearly every waking minute, and yet I feel like I’m not doing anything of worth. <I only feel genuine & complete fulfillment when I make love to Sofia, and when she snuggles up beside me and places her head on my chest to sleep.> The tremendous emotional attachment we have developed in our month of living together, and the thorough understanding we have of each other’s inner motivations, does not cease to amaze me. I feel like part of an epic love story, and as a character in the tale, incapable of describing adequately its power and many facetedness.

I feel insecure in my work situation. Carlos Reed seems to be doing something very worthwhile, budgeting his time, playing the complete lab technician. I’m dabbling in things that interest me but little. I have to be careful not to let my ‘give a damn’ attitude surface. I read dull research articles to pass the time and possibly find a tidbit of useful or interesting data. I help Renán {Molina} with any routine lab task that comes along. In terms of personal or technical intellectual development I accomplish precisely diddley-squat.

On the political scene, 3 bombs were set off in Costa Rica yesterday. The intelligent guess is that they protest the killing of Carlos Agüero Echivería, a guerilla of the Sandinista liberation movement, by Nicaraguan authorities. Agüero E. is the son of an exiled Nicaraguan and a Costarican woman. Born in Cartago {Costa Rica}, he was raised here and studied here before entering law school at the Central American University in Nicaragua. After a trip to Cuba he joined the Sandinistas. Apparently he had friends here. I saw his picture in the paper. He looked like an intense idealist. I’ve seen Fred Tracy with a similar set to his jaw, and a similar stony look in his eyes.


Journal, March 31, 1977 PM

I’m losing interest in this journal. It seems like just another chore writing in it. I’m not doing anything at all unique or especially interesting. My work is boring. My love life is fine, but who needs another love story?

I don’t know. I feel like a lackey stuck in another of an endless series of ruts. Keep at it even though you’ve forgotten why, some day . . . I should be writing something creative if I’m going to write!

I should be reading, investigating, cataloging facts & experiences, codifying my philosophy of life. But I’m a lackey. Who knows if I’ll ever stumble out of my series of ruts and onto an idea?

Journal, March 29, 1977 PM

Things usually manage to royally cross up our expectations. Reading over my entry for March 24th, I note that the expectation of dining with Steve Pamperin was not fulfilled. He and Jaime {Olson} had a fiesta {party} at work and came back late. <I didn’t wait for them because Sofia was feeling sickly.> I had left her at her folk’s and didn’t want to hang around the Campos Gonzalez house too long alone, knowing how fiestas with PCVs {Peace Corps Volunteers} often last into the night. <My expectation that Sofia was better was blown to bits too.> She didn’t feel normal again until she finished taking the Ampicillin pills.

Steve & Jaime showed up red-eyed & drowsy to have a drink with us and talk a bit. They’d kind of expected I’d wait longer. It was better I didn’t. <It spared them seeing Sofia vomit supper.>

Saturday I went to La Guacima to visit Jaime & Steve. I had to take a bus because I was too late to go with Neil {Dingot}. <I let Sofia set the alarm & she didn’t realize that you have to pull out the stem.> I made it and met a few of the trainees. I also rapped with Neil a bit, and saw the hole for their silo.

We went to Alajuela on Sunday, ostensibly to show Steve around, and walked into the middle of a “Festival de las Flores {Flowers}.” We went by Skip Baker’s place. It was good to see him again. He and Neil Dingot are such a pair of sharpies, but not just sharp, really intelligent, business oriented types. Skip is headed to the States (New Hampshire) with wife Ana & baby sons Michael and Alexander. Looks like he’s giving up the life of the petty wheeler-dealer a la Costa Rica to go up north and look for something more stable & settled. Skip’s got the education, experience and brains to do miracles in some company’s international division. He’ll have no problems.

He’s into raising kids through the difficult years right now. Long, lanky, red-haired Skip with his huge handlebar below the long, pointed schnoz is a loving father (in his semi-cynical, tongue-in-cheek way). He doesn’t care if his son is an athlete he drawls, just so he’s President of the U.S. or something! With tiny, petite, teeny-bopperish-looking Ana they make an unlikely pair of progenitors for two robust, healthy little boys. But it is so. <I hope Sofia & I have as cute a pair of offspring (but not for 5-7 years).>

<Sofia was back in the pink of health Sunday.> She out ate everyone (Jaime, Steve & I included) at lunch, and was full of energy and antojos (impulsive desires). Last night we went to a bachelor party for Renán {Molina} (my lab partner at work), and I believe she out drank me! She had more energy left this morning too! {some text not transcribed}

Journal, March 24, 1977 PM

{some text not transcribed}

<I believe Sofia is getting over her vaginal infection.> She didn’t vomit up lunch or dinner yesterday, and even went to karate class for the first time. Monday we paid 70 Colones for a doctor’s appointment and 110 Colones for Ampicillin pills & some antiseptic ointment. I think he was a good M.D., though he gave her a “Pap” test and advised her to go off her Yermonil birth control pills for a month after taking them a year, etc. The darn pills are so strong they upset her delicate stomach. Tuesday she threw up after every meal! Apparently by taking the pills with bananas and limiting her diet primarily to fruits, milk & soft-boiled eggs she has resolved the problem. Last evening she seemed so vibrant & energetic I can’t help thinking she’s nearly back to normal.

Tuesday my “Scientific American” {magazine} arrived. Today I read an article on the moons of Mars. <Sofia said she wishes she could read it since it looks so interesting.>

Today we go to San Antonio {de Belén} to take Steve Pamperim to dinner at her family’s house. <It should be a stimulating evening, especially with Sofia’s older sister’s romantic interest in Steve.> She ought to make a good meal!

Journal, March 21, 1977 PM

<Sofia is still feeling sore in the abdomen.> She has some kind of infection in the urinary tract, I think. She urinates often and it is painful for her. Whatever it is has been building up since our trip to {Playas del} Coco. Today we’ll make our third attempt to consult with a doctor about it. <Sofia tried in Heredia Friday, and we tried in Alajuela Saturday. Sofia is being strong, but I’d like to see her cured quickly.> It’ll be expensive since we have to go to a private M.D. Not until Saturday will the Seguro Social {Social Security, the national health care plan} inspector be in Santo Domingo so we can see about getting health insurance for her. I’m feeling the weight of my responsibility to her. Right now I have a bit of cash in reserve, but what if I didn’t? I may not 6 months from now!

When I run the calculation through my head, starting with the 1,953.40 Colones I make per month, I just shake my head & wonder how we’ll come out! <Take off 700 Colones for rent, leaving about 40 Colones per day we have left to spend for everything else, including the electric bill, food, clothes, Sofia’s study expenses, etc.> I picked up a 44 Colones check for beer last evening! I see lots of home-cooked rice & beans in our future.

Steve Pamperin arrived yesterday by plane from El Salvador. <Sofia & I just caught him at the bus stop. We were late.> Jaime {Olson} didn’t meet him because he was in Guanacaste with his charges {Peace Corps trainees}. We drank beer & caught up on “old” friends and the political situation in El Salvador. Things are extremely tense there. The church has apparently come out quite openly against the government due to a priest being murdered near Aguilares. Steve is glad to be leaving in June. I’m glad to be out. He shares my preoccupation for Fred Tracy.

Letter, March 20, 1977 ?

{ Thank you }

Mom, Dad & all,

Just a note to say thanks for coming down, and for the pressure cooker, too. <I read the instructions & showed Sofia how to use the thing to make beans, works good!>

Things are going all right here. <Sofia has some kind of urinary tract infection & the pills for it are hard on her stomach, but she’ll be through taking them in a couple more days, and should be back to normal.> She’s started classes at the university {National University, Heredia} now, so it looks like from now on we’ll both be bustling around.

I sure enjoyed your visit, & hope you got back in good shape! <Did I tell you Sofia’s parents had never been to the airport until they went to see you off?> It was a big deal for them!

Take care,


Journal, March 18, 1977 PM

I abruptly ended my epistle yesterday when the beer truck arrived. I didn’t even put a period to the last sentence until just now.

Today I should recap my folk’s visit, since I’ve neglected everything concerning that week except our lovemaking! It was a good visit. <Mom & Dad approved of the kind of folks Sofia’s family is, and they approved of my family (not just my parents, but Jan & Barb, and Mary & David as well).> The little ones were, as expected, a big hit with everyone. They enjoyed the serenade and wedding, though the communication gap left them a bit frustrated. Dad danced! I never had seen him dance before, but at the reception he pranced around light-footedly with both Mom & the new bride.

Mary had all she could do with the little ones & David took lots of pictures. Jan danced a bit. She’s thinner, in better shape than in years & she was burned from her visit to Ojo de Agua {swimming resort}. She caught a lot of lurid looks from the Costarican males, but didn’t seem to mind. Chito (Pilar’s brother), half bombed, tried to hustle Jan & Barb, calling on all of his limited English!

<When Sofia & I got back from Playas del Coco {Coco Beach}, we took Dad, Mom & David to visit her grandparents.> Mary watched the kids. The folks enjoyed the visit, but the highlight of their week, at least for Dad who was always the most vocal, was the train trip to Puerto Limón, which they took Wednesday.

<In the evening my entire family delegation, and Barb Walsh, got together with Sofia’s family to have supper in the family home.> It was a genuine Costarican feast, but I couldn’t do it justice, having eaten a monstrous lunch at El Cencero in Alajuela with my folks.

Jan & Barb left on the morning Tica Bus, and the others on a 3 PM plane. <Sofia’s parents made their first trip ever to the airport to see my folks off.> It was not showy, but a deeply emotional farewell. I felt the same lump in my throat I’d experienced when Jaime’s {Olson} folks said goodbye to Pilar’s folks. Only the lump was bigger, I almost choked on it. They were all my people!

Journal, March 17, 1977 PM

I hope this is the last time I have to wait on a beer truck for a while! I’m at El Ande, for I hope the last time in my life, waiting for the Cervecería de Costa Rica {brewery} to come get their damn cases of empty bottles and beer, and leave me in peace! I don’t even like the music they’re blaring over the sound system here. Some Latin Donny Osmond!

What a life I lead! This morning I measured the last 100 of some 700 grains of rice for the replication of a weird experiment Dr. Mora thinks is “muy buena {very good}.” I’ve been sitting here adding up the pages in my account book & reading La Nación {newspaper}, things I can’t seem to find time for at home now that I have a wife to occupy my time. <Last night Sofia was feeling sore in the abdomen and cold, but wouldn’t go to bed alone, & let me catch up on a few things.> She hung around in her flimsy nightie rubbing her body against my shoulder and shivering.