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.

March is Readers Month

Greetings Dear Readers –

March is National Reading Month, a time to venerate reading, writing and literacy. One way to participate is to read aloud to children for 15 minutes every day through-out March; this can be the start of an appreciation for literature and an enjoyable habit in the years to come.


I want to take the opportunity to say thanks to all of you who read my novel and especially to those who took the time to write a review. Your notes and comments from different corners of the world bring me joy.

Pictured in the slide show below are readers from as far away as England and Japan. I’d love to have you be part of my fun Pinterest collection (when you get there, click on “Readers” to see more); if you would like to be included, contact me below (your information is confidential and not stored) and I will “pin” your photo with a book.

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I get a thrill almost every month to see (very) small electronic deposits from Amazon, via Smashwords, or my publisher – however tiny! OK, I’m not making a living as an author, but A Place in the World was published a several years ago and yet someone somewhere is still reading it – I can’t tell you how gratifying that is!

Book launch_0287pscrp

Truth to tell, I found the publishing and talk circuit grueling (and hence didn’t do near enough of that or other marketing). Thus although I am working on two projects, I’m doing it because “I must”  write, not because I have to publish. Readers (yes You – you have remote power over me) – may make me change my mind .

By way of saying thanks I offer a short story as a pdf to anyone interested this month (well, in case there is a stampede of interest, to the first four people who request it).

It is entitled “Life in A Flash”  and told through the eyes of the younger daughter Sandra Jacinto, chronicles a multicultural, dysfunctional family. The cold experiences in young Sandra’s life are balanced by the warm relationships she embraces later in Latin America.

The story is set primarily in Costa Rica, but also Paris and London.  In spite of an unusual lifestyle, there are universal themes of sibling rivalry and adult-child conflicts; it may especially appeal to Expats, TCKs*  or those who embrace other cultures.  It did win “Honors” in the literary journal “Glimmertrain.” (Contact me here at https://cindamackinnon.wordpress.com/about/)

Keep reading – so many books so little time!

Kind regards, Cinda MacKinnon


*TCKs= third culture kids.  The term was coined for children who grow up in places other than their parents’ homeland; the first culture refers to the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the cultures in which the family resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these cultures. There are many TCKs these days!




Love of Rainforests – growing up global

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Waterfall in a Rainforest

I grew up overseas, first as an “air force brat” and then as an (embassy) attache’s daughter. We lived in Europe and Latin America and after college I moved to New Zealand.  So you can see why I am attracted to various cultures and settings.  These places have beautiful natural scenery and fostered my love of nature and inclination for conservation.

When I was a kid, my father told me  “they will never conquer the jungle.”  He was a pilot and this was after yet another fruitless search and rescue mission for a plane that went down somewhere in the tropical forests between Costa Rica and Panama. I wish they had found the plane, but I also wish he had been wrong about de-forestation.

Resplendant Quetzal

The rare Resplendant Quetzal ( lives only isolated jungle spots between Guatemala and Colombia)

I remember flying over emerald forests in the 1960’ and 70’s that looked like endless crumpled velvet. Thankfully half of Costa Rica’s existing forest cover today is under the protection of national parks or biological reserves, but 80% of their original rainforest was already gone over 15 years ago.  The primary cause of deforestation was cattle ranching. (You’ve heard of the “hamburger connection”?)

Brazil and Colombia are the two most biologically diverse countries on Earth due to the Amazon rainforest.  The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world covering over a billion acres (stretching into parts of Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela as well).

exotic flowers_7604ps

Colombia lost 30% of their forests to diverse causes – ranging from logging, mining, development of hydro-electricity,  agriculture to cocaine production. The primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazonas – like in Costa Rica – was cattle ranching.

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Most of the pictures in the slide show above( unless they have my initials) come from people who share their wonderful photos on Pinterest (for more see www.pinterest.com/CindaMac/ ). This is a rehash of a post I wrote over two years ago when I first started this blog. I figure I can do this as most of you who now follow this blog didn’t “know” me  back then. (And I hope those of you who did and do won’t mind – at least there are new pictures!)   Still valid today.

Where Are You From?

Expat File #16 (In answer to South African writer-expat Charlotte Otter)

I am from Costa Rica. I am from eternal spring with blue skies and billowing clouds that sometimes rush in from both coasts and clash in the middle in a torrential downpour.   I am from green slopes of volcanoes and hot beaches that were once deserted. I am from coffee fincas, gallo pinto (rice and black beans) and beautiful birds. I am from warm smiles and friends. (My high school classmates have dinner together once a month and I am invited whenever I am in town – which isn’t often, but I am on the mailing list nevertheless.)

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Clase de  67 ps -crp 033Photo of my HS reunion a couple of yrs ago (I’m in 1st row, 2nd from R). We were always a small class but half of us have moved away.

I am from Costa Rica…that is what I used to say as I had no state or other place in the world to claim as my own. I grew up as an expat with American parents. I lived in Costa Rica longer than anywhere else… from earliest adolescence and into my twenties. I went home to visit until my parents left Costa Rica in my thirties (they had lived out of the country by then for forty years).

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Resplendant Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal








I might say I am from Greece where we moved when I was but weeks old.  And my first sentence was   “Thélo̱ pso̱mí” (I want bread) – or so I’m told.

white tower thslnk_crp0815

The White Tower in the background was originally built by the Ottomans, but it has long been a symbol of Thessaloniki.  My parents hung this painting on the walls of our houses wherever we moved.  My mother and I returned to Greece in the 1990’s – and to my great delight –  the harbor looked much the same as this watercolour I know so well.  I remember the blue water where we went to the beach …or do I just imagine it? …because we moved to Germany before I was three.

My mother said I spoke German before English, so I dutifully studied it for a semester in High School. That was in Costa Rica where the teacher, Frau Marin really was  German (and spoke Spanish, but not English) – but I didn’t speak it any better than anyone else. But I am from Germany… Because when I was twenty-five I suddenly found myself singing” Baa Baa black sheep” in German – lyrics hidden in the recesses of my mind for a quarter century.  I know all the words to a nursery rhyme I learned as a preschooler:   Mäh Mäh Schwarzes Schaf, Haben Sie Wolle? Ja, ja, ja drei Mal voll.…

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Old timbered house.

I am from Colombia … I am from cool mountains with orchids and flower farms, hot beaches and lowlands… I remember flying over jungles and snow peaked volcanoes; I remember“onzes” (snack-time), kind  people, and colonial villages.  My elementary school had a reunion last year and I went with my sister and ate ajaico (wonderfully seasoned chicken stew) and danced the cumbia.  It felt like home – from a lifetime ago.

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… And now I am from California. From warm days and cool nights, egalitarian people, incredible spring wildflowers, tall redwoods, beaches, and deserts  … the Sierras, Monterey County and Yosemite.

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 Panoramic photos above of the San Francisco Bay Area seen from Mt. Tamalpais.

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Finally I could pretend to be from Hawaii where I’d love to retire .

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

My siblings are scattered like the wind as are my children, but we are used to traveling for family get togethers. It has always been that way. We are from everywhere.

Disclosure: the idea for the post came from a South African expat-writer, Charlotte Otter. She is the author of a crime novel, Balthasar’s Gift and her blog can be found at Charlotte’s Web.

Where are YOU from?

My (Nomadic) Writing Life – and various day jobs

I wanted to write by the time I reached middle school.  Even before that I was a story teller, making up tales for my little brother.  When I was 12 I wrote my first short story, a ghost story.  I sent it off to a girls’ magazine and didn’t tell anyone in spite of my pride, or perhaps because of it – I didn’t want anyone to make fun of my aspirations.

Being able to write lucid essays in high school and college, I suspect made me look smarter than I was.  In fact I repeatedly got A’s in Geochemistry even though I didn’t understand much of it.  I listened carefully when Prof. X repeated anything or otherwise indicated that a phrase or equation was important and regurgitated the verbiage back on exams. (I shouldn’t tell you this. I’m setting a bad example and they could revoke my geology degree!)


carretas on beach in Costa Rica


I took a creative writing course by correspondence when I lived in Costa Rica.  That may have been the first time I heard “write what you know.”  I was trying to write about themes and settings from well known books.  Really would anyone want to read about my life in Puerto Limon?  Could anyone relate to the mold growing in my carpet, the woman who removed sand from my toddler’s eye by licking it off his eyeball with her tongue, the landslides that closed both the road and the railroad for months during the rainy season or my two-hour siesta-lunches which I spent body surfing before rushing back to resume teaching my bilingual class to a group of third graders*?

(*Maria Luisa, Raul, Brian, et al my third graders – you are all grown up now.  If you happen to read this: I remember you fondly and hope your lives are turning out nicely.)


At my next job, as an assistant hydrologist in New Zealand, I discovered that my colleagues didn’t like to write (what?) and I offered to write their reports for them.  My boss** soon had me writing and researching the potential for gold in Otago in the South Island, because there were tentative  plans to flood an area for a new dam.


that’s me in front of an old Gold Dredge

  (**Mr. Owen Borlase – I didn’t know how lucky I was to have a boss who valued his employees.  Thank you for your support!)

In the evenings I kept a journal and wrote stories – just for myself and all long since discarded.   I tried to continue this pattern after we moved to the States and my third (or was it my 4th ?) job as a hydrogeologic consultant.  My “big break” came when my boss*** (the same one who once caressed my bum when I bent over a lower shelf for a report) called me into his office to tell me that he was giving my biggest client to an engineer (engineers were “superior” to geologists in the consulting world – at least if your boss was one).  In fact it was the largest account our office had and I was rightly proud that it was mine.  I told him if so, I would have to give my notice – which I did the next day after he said, “Now, now Cinda, don’t be difficult. You can assist him.  You’re such nice girl and we all like you. ”  (I was an 36 year old “girl” with two adolescents at home by now – and about to be downgraded.)

(*** Mr. Watkins – shame on you, on more than one count.)


The reason I say this was a “ break” is that that job was stressful with long hours, no appreciation – and little time for writing.  Writing had become regulated to vacations. So I started consulting on my own and worked the same long hours to run a business, but I was in control of my time with less stress, more pride.  There were periods when work was slow – but “What me worry?” – there was a cash flow problem, but I could write. Eventually I had all the work I wanted and had to turn down clients.  A MBA friend pointed out that in the classic supply-demand situation, I could start charging more ….and perhaps working less (OK that part was my idea, not hers).  As the possibility of early “retirement” materialized (or should I say blossomed?) I became very picky about clients. I was always too busy to schedule jerks.  I worked half-time, taking only interesting jobs that paid well – and the rest of the time I began writing in earnest.  Over the years I pretty much priced myself out of the consulting business.  You may think me spoiled, but believe me I paid my dues to get to this point!

Here I am a few short stories and an awarding winning (I have to plug it don’t I?) novel later.  What excuse do I have not to get the next one down on paper? (Can I ever retire?)

Saying “you” three different ways in Spanish

In my youth it was acceptable to address most everyone (except children) with “Usted” but the reverse usage of “tu” was not true; this  appears to have changed. Language seems to have become much less formal and I find everyone addressing me as “tu” and I have to remember to do the same. Do you and Alicia agree? (Alicia…what a great name… tell her that is the name of the heroine in my novel!)I first learned Spanish in Colombia and then moved to Costa Rica where they use “vos”. I have dropped it as “tu” is more common, but didn’t realize it IS so widely used.
I’m a language lover myself and would like to repost this.
Saludos, Cinda

Fine Roadkill Cuisine

As a linguist, and having grown up reading the King James Bible and Shakespeare, I get extremely irritated when ignorant people goof around with “thou” conjugation and add “-eth” or “-est” to adjectives, nouns, wherever they think it might be funny. There is a mystique associated with “thou” because of its use in the King James. But its use was not complicated, although its conjugation can be. “Thou” was originally the singular form, and “you” plural. With time, “thou” became the familiar form and “you” the respectful form. By the late 1600s, “thou” fell into disuse, and now we use “you” for everyone.

Spanish has a more complicated pronoun history, and remains more complex than English. In school you were taught “tú” and “usted” for “you”. “Usted” conjugates with “él/ella” and is the respectful form, “tú” is the familiar, paralleling “you” and “thou”.

However, in real life, vast sections of…

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The Winner of the Short Story Give-away

The Winner of the Short Story Give-away for November is Jan aka jttwissel for her clever and supportive comments.
The story, Life in A Flash, is about a multi-national, dysfunctional family told through the eyes of daughter Sandra, now an adult; it is set in Paris and Costa Rica.

Congratulations and thanks to Jan!

6. july 09120px-Super_G_ConstellationMy sister Carolin at the entrance

Happiness around the World

“Human beings come equipped with the pursuit of happiness impulse1” … the urge to find lusher land, a better job, more security is essentially part of the US Declaration of Independence.  Americans work long hours and suffer mood and anxiety disorders in spite of the relative wealth and social well-being compared to other countries; in the last 40 years only a third describe themselves as very happy.

A World Happiness Report published by Columbia University shows stark contradictions. The U.S. ranked 23rd out of a 50-nation survey – far behind these countries :

#1 Iceland  (!)

N LIghts Iceland 1032

N. lights in Iceland ( by Dreamstime)

#2 New Zealand and

#3 Denmark …

..and trailing Malaysia, Tanzania and Vietnam”.


(photo by Dreamstime)

Iceland has long hard winters and a crippled economy and yet strong social networks and a sense of community.

New Zealand farmer

New Zealand farmer

Australians also have a tight sense of community in spite of the widening gap vs. rich and poor.  Canadians score high and Ireland reports high levels of cheer in spite of the poor economy.  War torn Afghanistan has 3 times as many people reporting they are happy than those who are not. Even Finland, once the suicide capital of the world, has a high level of people saying they are happy.


Guatemala (photo by K Horner)

Costa Rica is “up there” (no surprise, right?). Guatemala has endured decades of war, violence and poverty and yet its people are among the sunniest in the world.  Likewise Brazil, in spite of high levels of violence, their people (notably the women) are among the happiest in the world. Panama comes in near the top as well even though a third of the population lives below the poverty line.  Mexicans also boast high levels of happiness in spite of the drug wars.  Ditto Colombia. From my own experience I’d say Latinos have a capacity to enjoy themselves in spite of adversity.  People may work hard and even those who exist near the poverty level, party and laugh with friends and family come the weekend.


On the other side of the scale falls Singapore with the world’s least optimistic population, although they have one of the highest per capita GDPs.  China has actually experienced a decrease in satisfaction in conjunction with their economic boom. Botswana is one of the saddest nations with low levels of life expectancy (yet one of the higher ranked sub-Saharan countries economically). That many of the sub-Saharan Africa countries score low is not surprising.  Can we even discuss happiness in countries where basic human needs for food and shelter and security, are not met for a large part of the population?

Health, wealth (or at least freedom from debt or poverty) and happiness are intertwined.  Women report being happier than men, but this does not apply in less developed countries or those with “poor gender equality”.

What else contributes to happiness? 

april 11 (2yrs old)_9392


Pets, exercise, yoga, meditation; acts of kindness (happy people are generous and volunteers are more satisfied with their lives); education; faith; and of course a sense of community and supportive friends or close family ties.

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Multi-generational family dinner

Ralph Waldo Emerson sums it up:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. “

1.Time magazine July, 2013 article on happiness.

What do you think?  Is happiness cultural, circumstantial or genetic?

you can tell you are from costa rica when…

You can tell you are from Costa Rica (_____ write in your own country) when ….. you have gallo pinto for breakfast.

(Your turn: You can tell you are from.……..)

President Obama in Costa Rica

President Obama is visiting my  home country of Costa Rica.   To my knowledge – the last US president to visit was JFK with Jackie.  Two popular presidents ( with popular wives) – both well received.

Why Costa Rica?  Well 1) it was high time for a Latin American courtesy call and Obama  met with several Latin American leaders and 2) CR is probably one of the safest places in this hemisphere with their strong tradition of peace and democracy – unique in this part of the world.  (Exemplary in any part of the world).  Costa Rica also holds the pro tempore presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA = Sistema de la Integración Centroamericana, -it might make more sense if it was still named the Organization of Central American States), giving Obama the excuse of not playing favorites.

But who wouldn’t want to go there? (Well there was a strong earthquake last week but gracias a dios no serious injuries were reported).  I hope Obama gets to see something besides traffic clogged San Jose.  The natural beauty of countryside might remind him of Hawaii – with even more diversity of habitat and climate in a country the size of West Virginia.