A Memoir of Life in the US Foreign Service : Expat File #23

My guest today is Judith Crockett Faerron who was born and raised in Latin America. She and her sister honored their father recently by editing and publishing his memoir, which I can highly recommend.  I met the family when I lived in Costa Rica, but reading the book gave me a fascinating insight into their lives and allowed me to reminisce about my own diplomat father and our lives in an overlapping time period.

The children of US expats, my siblings and I grew up primarily in Mexico and Central America.

Cayuco ride to Barra Ahumado, Guatemala 1958

Foreign Service officers are typically transferred every two to four years. Our parents—Mary and Kennedy Crockett—always presented the prospect of moving on as an exciting adventure, and for the most part we bought into that notion. In retrospect, their itinerant lifestyle interfered with our education, shattered friendships, and deprived us of relationships with grandparents and extended family.

The Crockett family station wagon and luggage trailer on a railroad flatcar in Mexico, bound for a new assignment in Guatemala,1958.

And yet, we wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world.            

The benefits were immense. We grew up bilingual and bicultural. Because our parents were avid outdoors-people, we got to explore and enjoy a beautiful part of the world while it was still pristine. As my dad’s career advanced from shipping clerk to US ambassador, we got to meet and interact with people from all walks of life—humble country folk to powerful heads of state. And each of us was imbued with a passion for travel, adventure and Latin American culture.

Favorite camping spot on Playa Pochomil, Nicaragua

I ended up living in Costa Rica for 17 years, where I married, raised two kids, and worked for an English-language newspaper. My brother lived and worked in Central America for many years. Two of my sisters stayed on in Nicaragua after our dad retired and became a cattle rancher near the southern border—until the Sandinista revolution forced them all to flee the country.

Our dad realized early in his career that he wanted to write about the experiences he was determined to have living abroad as a US diplomat. He kept detailed journals, copies of letters, official reports, and hundreds of photos. Wading through it all after his retirement, he produced a 170,000-word manuscript that I eventually edited into a 327-page book—The Diplomat: A Memoir of Life in the US Foreign Service (1943-1970).

The new US ambassador presents credentials to Nicaraguan president, Anastasio Somoza, 1967.

As often as possible, Dad liked to keep his stories short and amusing—often self-deprecating. He wrote about the business end of a foreign service officer’s duties—from interviewing a wide range of visa applicants and assisting US expats in trouble, to identifying an interim leader for a Caribbean nation in crisis and brokering an informal peace agreement between a Central American dictator and his political nemesis. He also wrote about his personal interests: camping, hunting, fishing, exploring jungles and beaches, and fitting in as many adventures as he possibly could.

Dad ended his narrative with his retirement at age 50, but when I finally tackled the manuscript 30 years later, I couldn’t resist adding an afterword about his subsequent ranching venture and final years back in the USA. My sister, Terry Esquivel, wrapped it up with an epilogue about her 2002 trip to revisit Nicaragua and the various places the family called home.

Dad takes a break with Pancho the parrot. Nicaragua 1969

While our goal was to honor dad’s wish to publish his memoir, it’s rewarding to hear from readers who have enjoyed his story and to know his legacy will endure.  Judith Crockett Faerron

Judith would be glad to read your comments and to answer any questions you may have.





Here’s to 2021

Sometimes a year has been so disastrous and bad that January 1 inevitably means entering a Wonderful New Year! I don’t usually stay up until midnight to see the New Year in, but I may stay up to make sure the old year leaves!

By Greg Evans

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I hope you had a quiet holiday and helped stop the viral spread… so we can celebrate the new without fear or dread.


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Here’s a toast to the future and to my friends, far and near.

Cheers to new beginnings! The USA not only welcomes a New Year, but a fresh start and hope for a better future domestically and globally.

For last year’s words belong to last year…..And next year’s words await another voice.” —T.S. Eliot

”Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.-Oprah Winfrey

Here’s to a bright New Year. 2021… the world welcomes you.

Patriotism and Democracy

July 4th is Independence Day for the USA. Patriotism isn’t just waving the flag, it is about supporting democracy. It may not be a perfect system, but it is the best foundation we have for peace, harmonious societies, and stable markets.

Illustration by Christoph Niemann; Animation by Olivia Blanc

In this time of hyper-partisanship, this is a nonpartisan call for a concerted effort to invest in all of the institutions of a transparent democratic society:

  1. Recognition of the worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Faith in majority rule and
  3. Minority rights (equal rights and opportunities)
  4. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press
  5. Respect for the balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative.

It seems that last one: respect for a balance of powers – executive, judicial and legislative – holds up all the rest of them. When one branch seizes power from the rest, it threatens all of our rights and freedoms.

 

from: International Idea

 This is not just an American institution; activists and leaders around the world are fighting for basic freedoms every day.  If the standard falls we must rally to pick it up. As the U.S. flag waves this week, I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman expressing the ideals on which democracy is built.

Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name? I say democracy is only of use there that it may pass on and come to its flower and fruit in manners, in the highest forms of interaction between people, and their beliefs – in religion, literature, colleges and schools- democracy in all public and private life.

Walt Whitman

Rating the Risk for Activities

The San Francisco Chronicle (6/13/2020)  asked infectious disease experts to rate the risk of some popular activities as we begin to get back out into the world. Here they are on a scale of 1 (lowest risk) to 5 (highest risk). I think it is worth sharing.

1. Staying home!


2. Swimming in a Public Pool – low, but more risk comes when you’re out of the water: are you using a crowded locker room? Are people congregating on the stairs and hall?


2. Running, Hiking or Cycling – low risk when you’re outdoors with more space between people. Give them a wide berth and carry a mask to put on as soon as you’re within 30 (!) feet of another person, on a narrow trail.


3. Picnicking with Friends – a moderate risk. You’re outdoors, but if eating, you won’t have your masks on. The risk goes up in crowded city parks. Avoid sharing food, utensils etc.


3. Staying in a Hotel – moderate risk. Wipe frequently used surfaces. The experts advise against travel as you will come into contact with more people, putting yourself and others at risk. They worry that travelers will transmit the infection to lower risk communities.


3/4. Attending a Zumba Class – high risk if exercising indoors – should be avoided. If outdoors, the risk is lowered, but physical exercise can induce heavy breathing which increases respiratory droplets as well as inhalation. Most people do not wear masks during cardio exercising so you need to double the recommended 6 foot radius.


4. Getting a haircuthigh risk but varies depending on how many people in the room, how large is the space and how long will you be there? There’s no way to have safe distancing while cutting someone’s hair. To minimize risk, avoid conversation wear a mask(!) over your nose and mouth and sanitize your hands.


5. Going out for Dinner -they rate this as the highest risk. People won’t be wearing a mask while eating and you may be sitting there for a while. Experts advise you keep your mask on while talking/listening, time your meal to avoid the crowd and sit outside!


5. Attending Large Events – another activity rated in the highest risk category, especially if indoors, talking to others or unable to maintain social distancing. Avoid.

I’m sick of staying home too but, hey I’m just the messenger.  What do you think?

What to Read While Social Distancing

We will soon be beginning our sixth week(!) of sheltering in place with no definitive end in sight. I thought I would have gotten through my spring cleaning and buckled down to serious writing, but I’m not getting as much done as I intended to. What I am doing is reading and missing our library, but making use of my Kindle and the local bookstore (who will run books out to your car for you). Here are a couple of suggestions to read while you’re confined at home.

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It’s been years, okay decades, since I’ve read Walden by Henry David Thoreau and this is a perfect time to pick it up.  An ode to solitude, he found joy in living a simple existence, free of the distractions of ordinary life. This was in 1854, but certainly sounds familiar today. He built his own cabin and raised his own food, while relishing introspection. He called it his personal experiment, observing the seasons and nature around Walden Pond.

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The Martian by Andy Weir is about an astronaut stranded on Mars during a giant sandstorm who must use his ingenuity to survive. You would think he was a goner when he gets knocked out, his spacesuit is punctured…. and he is presumed dead. Highly intelligent, he perseveres by thinking creatively how to grow food and obtain water. I‘ll give away no more – it is good read about imaginative solitary confinement! The Martian was made into a movie starring Matt Damon.

Or maybe you’re ready to tackle those long novels on your to-read list by the likes of Tolstoy or Follett? If you are in to fantasy… I leave it to you dear readers to make suggestions below for everyone.

Happy Birthday Justice Ginsburg!

I guess I dropped out of my blog recently, while trying to decide whether to  keep it up.  But it is Women’s Month and I am watching  a CD of RBG so I am inspired to salute two women I admire.

“I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Happy Birthday Justice Ginsburg! (born March 15, 1933 ) And wishing you many more!


RBG is a fascinating biopic exploring Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s exceptional life and career. Her early legal battles changed the world for women; she also took on a case for a single parent father and won “widow’s rights” for him. This from a tiny, soft-spoken women who somehow made her voice heard and became a justice on the Supreme Court. Here is the official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biIRlcQqmOc

Professor & lawyer RBG, 1977 by L Gilbert

Rosalind Franklin

 Like many women scientists of the time, Franklin was robbed of recognition throughout her career. Her story is a web of sexism and rivalry.

Since I first heard about Rosalind Franklin I’ve been mad that she did not get the credit she deserved when Watson and Crick published their findings on DNA.  She was the person who “photographed” the double helix structure of DNA by x-ray crystallography.  A colleague, Maurice Wilkins, showed Watson and Crick her x-ray without consulting her. They could not have built their model without her x-ray – yet shamefully they did not acknowledge her work. In 1958 at age 37, Rosalind Franklin died of cancer probably due to her research with radiation. Maurice Wilkins was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 along with the two men.

Franklin’s x-ray showing the double helix

There was a PSB special on Rosalind Franklin last year, but I wonder how many people have even heard of her. For more information on her life and other scientific contributions go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin

This is a short tribute to these courageous pioneers in their fields, but I encourage you to delve deeper – the details are fascinating.

Who do you admire? Who are your heros?