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.





The Expat Files #14: Iguanas on my Roof

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua - once Somoza's beach house.A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.

I stumbled across an interesting book this weekend; Iguanas on my Roof – Funny, Sad, and Scary OVERSEAS ADVENTURES of a Foreign Service Family in Third-World Countries during the Vietnam War and Watergate Era  .I immediately recognized the title – we had iguanas on our roof. I remember when we first moved to Nicaragua trying to sleep with some tremendous racket overhead. I crept outside and leaned a ladder up to the wall, climbing up to find out what it was. There were a half-dozen huge iguanas and an equal number of cats all chasing each other around on the corrugated galvanized roofing. I couldn’t tell who was chasing who – but it was a mess. After I learned what it was up there – it was easy to ignore the cacophony and sleep.

Most of what was in the book was familiar to me, even the sections from the Philippines and Nigeria. There are certain stock scenes common to life in any poverty-cursed tropical place. Every incident brought back memories of similar episodes and adventures from my own youth…

The final chapter is titled, “We Went Back Home.”  Where is home? I don’t understand the concept. People talk to me about being “homesick” – I have no idea what they are talking about…  You see, It felt differently to go through a journey like that as a kid. When you are young… it is simply how things are. You don’t know any better… For me, for example, the place and time where I had the most trouble adapting was when I went to college in the states. My nickname for a couple years was “Banana Boat” – as in, “Bill, you’re an American like the rest of us, but you act like you just fell off a banana boat.”

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

It’s late, so late. I think I’ll pour a little Flor de Caña (I was so happy when that became available in Dallas), get my writing in, and call it a day.