Living Poor

Moritz Thomsen


Living Poor

Moritz Thomsen


At the age of 48, Moritz Thomsen sold his pig farm in California and joined the Peace Corps. For the next four years he lived in an impoverished village on the coast of Ecuador; its inhabitants were so poor that six chickens represented wealth, and cigarettes were bought one at a time, on credit. Thomsen discovered how difficult it was for an outsider to help, and most of his attempts were a mixture of tragedy and farce. This did not prevent him from entering into the hearts and minds of an alien people, becoming ‘just another person in a poor village, working out my own problems and frustrations, making friends and enemies like one more citizen of the town.’

‘A superb book that puts Thomsen in a class with W. H. Hudson.’ - Paul Theroux
‘Thomsen’s style is simple but eloquent, intensely moving, but humorous too.’ New York Times Book Review
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Living Poor: An American Encounter with Ecuador
ISBN: 978-1906011-25-3
Format: 336pp demi pb
Place: Ecuador

Author Biography

Moritz Thomsen was born in 1916 to Charles Thomsen, himself the son of a nineteenth century American robber baron. Charles tormented Moritz throughout childhood and into his twenties. When the Second World War broke out, the younger Thomsen was drafted into the army, transferring to the air force after Pearl Harbour. He served as a bombardier in a B17 squadron and completed the regulation 27 combat missions, spending the remainder of the war in Texas.

From 1945 to 1965 Thomsen ran an ultimately unsuccessful pig farm in California, selling up to join the Peace Corps. He travelled to a small town in Ecuador, and was to spend the rest of his life in Latin America. His body of work comprises four volumes of memoirs: the last, the posthumously published My Two Wars, covering his early life and experiences of World War II, and the other three dealing with his time in Latin America. The first Living Poor tells of his first three years in Ecuador, the second The Farm on the River of Emeralds is based on an unsuccessful farming partnership Moritz established with an Ecuadorian and the third The Saddest Pleasure details his travels around Latin America in the wake of this disillusionment. He left one currently unpublished manuscript, Bad News from a Black Coast. Moritz Thomsen died in 1991, from a combination of emphysema and cholera.


Extract from Chapter One

I got my peace corps application at the post office in Red Bluff, California, put it on the table in the kitchen, and walked around it for ten days without touching it, as though it were primed to detonate – as indeed it was – trying to convince myself that the idea of Peace Corps service was impractical and foolhardy for a forty-eight-year- old farmer.

I had read that a Peace Corps Volunteer would live at the level of the people with whom he worked and that they would be poor. Well, I could do that; I had been living poor for years. I had read that the Peace Corps was desperate for agricultural people. Good. That’s all I knew. I had raised pigs, corn, alfalfa, beans, and pasture, had laid out orchards, leveled land, and put in wells. And I liked farming. I liked being outside; rows of growing corn, cattle grazing on green pastures, the dusty excitement of a grain harvest – these things were like music to me.

Finally I filled out the application and sent it to Washington. And I was accepted; Sargent Shriver wanted me to go to Ecuador.


Peace Corps training is like no other training in the world, having something in common with college life, officer’s training, Marine basic training, and a ninety-day jail sentence. What makes it paradoxical is that everything is voluntary; the schedule exists for you to follow if you wish.

At the State College of Montana at Bozeman where we trained, there was only one rule, at first: it was illegal to bring liquor on the campus.

Later, toward the end of the training program, they made another rule: it was illegal to throw cherry bombs at the P.E. instructor. This one was promulgated mainly for Joe Burkett, a twenty-year-old Texas goat farmer who had a wild sense of humor and who, in the old tradition of the wide open spaces, wanted to do funny things like stealing the latrine we made and putting it on the lawn in front of the girls’ dorm. I don’t know why he wanted to kill that certain P.E. instructor, but he almost blew his head off more than once. When you were talking to Joe, everything was as funny as ‘a turd in a punch-bowl’.

And you know how funny that is.

Our schedule began at 5:45 each morning and lasted until 9:30 at night. After that, if we so desired, our Spanish instructors were avail- able to work with us. Actually, though, by 9:30 we were so tied up from being run around all day that we usually headed for the nearest tavern where we drank pitcher after pitcher of beer and sang songs.

It was a fantastic schedule – what they called a ‘structured program’ – and after the first three days we realized that it was planned that way on purpose. If there were any psychotics who had sneaked through the Washington screening and the Treasury Department investigation (and there were a couple), the Peace Corps wanted to find out fast, and if we were breakable they wanted to break us in the United States. They told us the story about the Peace Corps trainee who had come to Bozeman the year before and who had learned the first sentence in the Spanish book – ‘The students arrive at the door’, ‘Los alumnos llegan a la puerta’ – and who had become deranged almost immedi- ately from the pressures put on him. He went around repeating ‘Los alumnos llegan a la puerta’ in answer to all questions put to him and screamed it all night in his sleep. We laughed at this story, but it was uneasy laughter because by the end of the first week we were all dream- ing horrible stunted things in Spanish and screaming them in our sleep through those short, short nights.

We started taking psychological tests, and the laughter got a little raucous. ‘Have you ever talked to God?’ ‘Do you think your private parts are beautiful?’ But these damned things went on for weeks, tests so long, boring, and complicated that toward the end we were too confused and punch-drunk to lie. We listened to an endless series of two- and three-hour lectures by experts from all over the world who flew into Bozeman and crammed us with information – the geogra- phy, the history, the politics, the religion, the customs, the attitudes. It was interesting, but it was hard to keep our eyes open, and we felt that perhaps we should be spending more time in practical pursuits, like learning how to make a chicken coop or a latrine out of bamboo; unfortunately, there’s very little bamboo in Bozeman.

We began to learn Spanish under a system based on tapes, a system so intense and concentrated that by the end of the first ten weeks we were using a vocabulary roughly comparable to that of Cervantes (1547–1616) and using it practically twenty-four hours a day. What was amazing was that with this tremendous vocabulary about all we could say with any degree of confidence was ‘Los alumnos llegan a la puerta’. We twisted and mauled that beautiful language into a million distorted shapes and watched our instructors, sensitive and dedicated people all, wither and age before our eyes.

The training program was broken into three different phases. At the end of each period, in a ritual compounded equally of drama and torture, we were handed envelopes, the contents of which held our futures. One envelope contained a mimeographed form which read: ‘Congratulations. You have been selected to continue training.’ The other envelope said something like this: ‘Good try, old man, but will you please report to Dr. Peabody.’

Dr Peabody was the dragon in our lives, a Peace Corps psychiatrist who evaluated all of the information about us and whose opinion was final. He was the only one at the college, for instance, who, theoreti- cally, ever saw the Treasury Department reports. We did not especially like Dr. Peabody, resenting his power and feeling that if we were psychotic it was the Peace Corps’s fault. Hell, we were all O.K. when we first got to Bozeman.

In all three phases of our training we were studied and appraised like a bunch of beef-cattle about to be entered in a state fair. Men standing behind trees watched us; dark figures hidden in the grand- stand at 5:30 in the morning as we staggered, groaning, around the track watched us. Our instructors watched us and filed daily reports; the psychologist and the psychiatrist watched us; mysterious little men from Washington in black suits whose names we never learned appeared from time to time and broodingly watched us. Each week end we went on camping trips where we were watched by our camp leaders. Boy, were we eager; we hauled in firewood by the ton. The doctor and his nurse watched us; our discussion leaders watched us; our athletic coaches watched us. Even the kitchen help watched us, and we were so naïve at first that we even thought that they, too, filed daily reports on our eating habits, or whatever it was they were watching.


The directors referred to their training program as a period of training and selection, but it might more properly be described as a period of deselection. Our group started out with thirty-eight trainees and ended up with twenty-four – almost a 35 per cent cut. It was cruel but efficient. In one sense the training period was basically not concerned with training at all; rather, it was a period of structured tension, of subtle and purposive torture in which it was calculated that the individual trainee would be forced to reveal himself. The purpose of the program was not to change your character but to discover it, not to toughen you up or to implant proper motivations for Peace Corps service but to find out what your motivations were. Many potentially good Volunteers have been eliminated from the program, a lot of them because they never figured out what it was trying to do.

The training was designed not only to reveal you to the Peace Corps but to reveal you to yourself. At any of the three deselection days, therefore, while the majority of those deselected felt the most terrible and guilty sense of failure (like the washed-out cadets of pilot training just after Pearl Harbor), a few felt relief. At Montana the sadistic little drama was arranged so that deselection letters were distributed on a Friday morning at 6:00 a.m., directly after thirty minutes of violent physical exercise, as we returned, panting with exhaustion, to our dorm. The girls must have arrived a moment or two before, because as I was handed the envelope with my name on it someone over in the girls’ dorm began to scream. It was a scream of terrible heartbreak and disbelief, and though I had never heard this girl scream before I imme- diately identified her. She was one of the older trainees, a schoolteacher who, without realizing it, had brought a batch of personal problems with her.

The scream somehow made everything real; we were all trembling. We crept into corners and tore open our letters. ‘Congratulations, you are invited to continue’, etc., but someone had locked himself in the toilet and begun to cry, and Gary from Oklahoma, with a feeling of relief, I think, silently handed us his letter and gave us back a blank look. While the winners ate breakfast and went to the first morning classes, the losers were whisked away like corpses in the old-age ward of the county hospital. No, it was more complicated than that, since we knew what was happening. We were a tightly knit and involved group, and when we lost one of our members it was like surgery; it had a crippling effect.

We were subjected twice more to the deselection process – once at the end of our training at Bozeman, and again in Dallas, Texas, as we disembarked from a jet after a final month’s training in Pátzcuaro, Mexico. The system in Dallas was pure Grand Guignol; as we walked up the exit ramp some were told to walk right and some left. I was sent right just behind Ron Dudley, one of the biggest screw-offs in the group, and for a few minutes I was really shaken by the uncertainty of my position. But I was still with the winners. We were herded into a little office where, still tired from the trip and dazed at losing more of our friends, we raised our right hands and were sworn into the service. Talk about emotion! We were Peace Corps Volunteers at last.

We said goodbye to Dr. Robert Dunbar, our director of training at Montana, and then, having been told to report in ten days to the airport in New York for our flight to Quito, Ecuador, we scattered to our homes all over the country. We had ten anticlimactic days to rest and let all of those Peace Corps-training-engendered neuroses gradually drain away.


Our group, Heifer 3, the third group trained for service in Ecuador – twenty-four agricultural specialists, as we were laughingly referred to – left New York from Kennedy International Airport one midnight and awoke about eight hours later as we landed on the Quito strip. Five minutes before disembarking we were all secretly struck with terror, not because of any hardships we might be walking into or because of fear of homesickness or loneliness, but simply because we knew that as part of the welcoming ceremony we were expected to sing as a group the Ecuadorian national anthem. We had spent endless hours in training sessions singing this song, at first with the help of recordings of the Ecuadorian Army band and a background chorus of about three thousand voices. Then later, for at least five hours a week, we sang as a group, memorizing the words line by line. The Ecuadorian people have an almost religious respect for their national hymn, but it has so many verses that it is only slightly less wordy than the Old Testament, and I seriously doubt if anyone but its author has ever read the whole thing through to the end. Now, there is nothing wrong with the Ecuadorian national anthem except for its length and the fact that, like our own ‘Star Spangled Banner’, it contains an impossible range of notes, high and low. The truth of the matter is that we never did get it down so that we could bring it off with any degree of aplomb. We trooped off the plane convinced that in our first five minutes on Ecuadorian soil we would precipitate an unhealable international incident.

As it turned out, though, our terrors were groundless. We were met by a bunch of sweet 4-H Club kids who welcomed us with incompre- hensible speeches and great bunches of slightly wilted flowers, and were greeted by all the Peace Corps brass, some semi-high government officials from the Department of Agriculture, and the old group of Volunteers who had arrived from all parts of the country to look us over. Or, at any rate, to look the new girls over.

Then we huddled together like a bunch of sheep about to be slaughtered, took a deep breath, and swung into the Ecuadorian national anthem. Actually we knew the words much better than the Ecuadorians, whose lips we were trying to read. We were magnificent, rolling out the emotion, swelling in volume, gasping for breath in the ten-thousand-foot altitude. Halfway through the song we discovered with a feeling of exultant relief that the Ecudaorians were trying to read our lips. After that everything was pure anticlimax; we had conquered the only obstacle to successful Peace Corps service in Ecuador.

We spent two days in Quito being introduced to the country, the Peace Corps staff, our doctor, and various officials from AID, CARE, and the Departments of Agriculture and Development. The doctor was the most fantastic character of all, chiefly because of the stories that the other Volunteers told us about him. He was a New Yorker who had never driven a car in his life, but when he arrived in Ecuador, the Peace Corps had given him a jeep so that he could check out Volun- teers in their villages. The roads in the high Andes are, of course, the crook-edest, most spectacular, and most dangerous in the world, but Dr. Kaplan, with all the innocent nonchalance of a Barney Oldfield, began setting new records for getting from place to place as he began to learn how to drive. ‘Whatever you do, don’t get in a car with the doctor,’ we were all warned. ‘He just cut forty-five minutes off the Tulcán-Quito run.’


We were interested to meet these people, of course, but our primary fascination was with the older Volunteers. They knew things that we didn’t know; things had happened to them that we couldn’t even imagine yet. We wanted to know what it was going to be like, what it was really going to be like, but actually they couldn’t help us much. Peace Corps Volunteers are no more articulate than any other group, and the essence of the experience is as hard to describe as a Beethoven symphony.

They tried to give us hints. We went to a party one night, for instance, and one of my new friends, pointing out three Volunteers, intimated that they symbolized the whole thing. The three included Gary Kinnett, who had just arrived with my group and who was off in a corner giving an English lesson to a young Ecuadorian. Another Volunteer who had been in the country for one year was dancing a bolero with a pretty Ecuadorian girl; he was dancing close, eyes closed, very intense and romantic. The third Volunteer was about to termi- nate; he had put in his two years. He was standing on a chair with a glass raised to the ceiling giving a toast. He was toasting Guayaquil. ‘Viva Guayaquil!’ But the party was given to celebrate Quito and Quito’s independence. After only two days in the country I already realized that there was a brutal and uncompromising competition between the two cities and that the third Volunteer was mocking this irrational Latin attitude.

Before being assigned to a permanent site, we were each sent to live in the village of an experienced Volunteer for two weeks. Our permanent sites remained a secret, not, I think, through any desire to confuse us, but simply because no one knew yet where to put us. I was delivered over to a Volunteer named Byron Bahl, a twenty-three-year-old fellow from Lake City, Iowa, who had been working for the last year in Caria- manga, a town of about five thousand people near the Peruvian border. Not only was he charged out with me, but he was also taking back two eighty-pound feeder pigs, four hundred pounds of hog concentrate, and a cageful of rabbits. All of us together constituted a transportation problem that would strain the Ecuadorian bus system, so Byron went to the Department of Agriculture, where he was promised the use of a pickup for the trip.

Two days later, swathed in red tape like an Egyptian mummy, he gave up and took the problem to the Peace Corps office, where he was promised a Peace Corps pickup. A day later the offer was withdrawn, and we prepared to settle down in Quito for the duration. And then by chance Byron met a Staff Sergeant Billingsley from Chehalis, Wash- ington, in the Bongo bar. He was working with the Ecuadorian Army in Accion Civica building roads in the southern part of the country. He was leaving the next morning in a 6×6 army truck for Loja, and he said that he would be delighted to give us a ride.

And so, four days behind schedule, we assembled at 5:00 a.m. on a lightly frosted street in Quito and began to pack the truck. What went into it included fourteen tremendous truck tires, three rebuilt truck engines, seven hung-over Ecuadorian soldiers, one hung-over Amer- ican staff sergeant, two Peace Corps Volunteers, two complaining pigs, three uncomplaining rabbits, four hundred pounds of fish meal, a great bunch of freshly cut alfalfa, and our own personal luggage. To any ex-GIs who believe this is impossible, let me add that before the trip was over we also picked up three more soldiers, who were vaguely wandering around in the high paramo country south of Ambato, and the head truck-driver’s brother-in-law from Latacunga, who decided to come with us just for the hell of it.

The Pan American highway from Quito in the north central part of the Andes to the Peruvian border is perhaps the most spectacular three-day automobile trip in the world. It has this in common with a great musical work: although it begins intensely with magnificent views of snow-capped volcanoes, ruggedly serrated chains of moun- tains, and spreading panoramas of farms and haciendas, it builds in intensity with each mile. About two-thirds of the way to the border, south of Alausí and into Cuenca, in a crashing climax of changing views which the eye can scarcely accept, the country opens up, explodes in ferocious splendor, as though, after countless subtle vari- ations, the main theme were now being set before you. At the same time you become aware of a new motif in the bass section, a black, keening theme of desperate hopelessness, as the whole history of the Andean Indian begins to stab into your consciousness.


Hour after hour you twist and wander through three or four different worlds, each one separated by a layer of clouds, gazing para- lyzed into bottomless chasms or across fifty-mile stretches of valley being farmed in small checkered squares with Japanese intensiveness. Or above the top cloud layer you are suddenly confronted by a series of mountain ranges – ten, fifteen, twenty mountain ranges – each one higher, more brutal, fading away from baked reds and browns to blue, purple, and violet. You become convinced that if Ecuador, like a crumpled handkerchief, could be spread out flat, it would cover the whole South American continent. Watching all this I thought of a story that one of my new Ecuadorian friends had told me. It seems that when God was making the Western Hemisphere He started out in Alaska and worked south; when He came to South America He went down the east coast with His building materials to the southern tip and then worked His way north again. But when He got almost to Panama He discovered that He had too much material, and in a fit of pique He threw it all down in a great pile. And that’s how He made Ecuador.

It took us almost three days to travel 250 miles; the Ecuadorian soldiers were typical GIs, twenty-year-old crew-cut kids who giggled, wrestled, punched each other, and incessantly whistled at the girls as we sped through Indian villages scattering livestock and children out of our path.

We climbed to eleven thousand feet over cold, barren, paramo plateaus where thin pastures supported a sparse sheep economy, and an hour later we would have dipped down into valley bottoms – lush, green, and steaming – a country loaded with bananas, sugar cane, pineapple, and papaya. Two hours later, freezing, we would be putting our sweaters back on as we crawled up some mountain face toward another pass, the palm trees having given way to eucalyptus, and the eucalyptus finally to the heather and the coarse clump grasses of the high country.


Superimposed like a black shroud over this mountain area of natural splendor is the situation of the Indians who, since the time of the conquest, have been robbed, murdered, and exploited; now, centuries later, their situation is basically unchanged. Little by little they have been forced off even the second-rate land, and they have moved out of the valley bottoms onto the slopes. Their little plots of two and three acres cover the mountainsides on slopes so steep that sometimes animals cannot be used, and the men must tie themselves to their fields as they hoe or harvest. Working this land, which is in no sense agricultural, has speeded the erosion of the slopes to a suici- dal rate; great ugly gashes cut through the fields, and the streams are a dirty red, saturated with the mountain topsoil.

The Indians have gathered together in tight little family villages and live their lives out in hopeless poverty, suspicious of outsiders, traditional, conservative in a resignation that would be noble if it weren’t so tragic. Since in the past all change has been for the worse, they resist all change now.

A few weeks after this trip I asked a fairly important Ecuadorian agricultural technician what he thought was the best way to solve the problem of the Sierran Indian. He made machine guns out of his hands, swept them around before him, and said, ‘Da-da-da-da-da-da’. When he noticed the expression on my face, he said with the bitterest sarcasm, ‘What are you looking so shocked for? Isn’t that how you solved the Indian problem in your country? And don’t you think we would be a rich country today if we had followed your example?’

At sunset on the first day as we crept up the mountainside, we passed what looked like a football field cleared out of the pasture. It was a day of fiesta, and several hundred Indians from that rural area were gathered on the field. The men and the women were dressed in pure black – black dresses, black ponchos, black hats; they stood in groups or individually, scattered over the field. Parked by the highway, an ancient Buick rigged up with a sound system blared out an incred- ibly sad song in the Sierran manner, orchestrated for hand harps and native flutes; the trunk was filled with bottles of aguardiente. Two Indi- ans lay unconscious in the dust by the car, their wives kneeling at their heads and fanning the flies away from their open mouths. Everything was motionless, frozen, as though the group of villagers had been standing this way for a hundred years, as though those two patient women had been waiting for a hundred years for their husbands to awaken from this joyless celebration. I found out later that these dark- clothed Indians were of the Cañar tribe and that they had gone into a perpetual mourning four hundred years ago when the Spaniards murdered their emperor, Atahualpa.

More than four months had passed since I had started Peace Corps training in Bozeman, and at last I was getting to see a Volunteer in action. I began what turned into about a two-month internship. We had studied for the different projects in which we would probably be working – the construction of latrines, hog pens, calf stables – an endless list. But there was a difference between studying a latrine and coming upon one suddenly in the high Andes, its proud adobe walls glistening in the thin sunshine of altitude, proclaiming progress. It was a heart-lifting sight.

I spent the next ten days with Byron in his border town. I followed him around as he worked in the village and in the small rural centers in the hills, where the farmers gathered at the church or in a classroom on the days when they were to meet with the agricultural extension people. We inoculated pigs against cholera, introduced new types of vegetables in community gardens, and Byron gave talks on sanitation and animal nutrition. We visited small farms and a boys’ club on the rocky slopes above Cariamanga. There we showed the farmers how to delouse pigs with old crankcase oil and how to treat sick baby pigs with penicillin. We hauled some bags of coffee out of one mountain valley for a farmer who had neither a wagon nor a horse.

In the background of all these activities, the small boys of the town followed us in crowds, chattering and kidding. The girls, who were too shy or too well-bred, stood in the doorways of their houses chanting Byron’s name, ‘Meester, Meester Byron, Meester By-ron’, as we passed.

We spent a morning at a community garden that Byron had started after the hardest kind of sell. Finally, not because they believed in the garden or saw the need of one, but simply because they were tired of the pressure and because they liked Byron, the villagers agreed to plant a small plot of onions, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and cabbages at the bottom of a piece of steeply sloping communal land. Everything grew beautifully; the farmers were delighted to have a change from the steady diet of rice, yuca, and potatoes. They had tripled the size of the garden at the next planting. The day we were there bringing them new seeds from Quito, about twenty farmers and their wives were working in the beds, weeding or staking tomatoes up on rows of string. Another group was breaking sod and prying boulders out of the ground to make the garden even bigger.

They were very excited and proud; they planned to raise enough cabbage so that they would have a surplus, a cash crop to sell in the market at Cariamanga. Byron, listening to them, decided that they were on their way at last, and instead of giving them the seed this time, he charged them one sucre, a nickel, for each package. Strangely enough, now that they had to pay for the seed they even bought a package of a new type of lettuce that they had been unwilling to try when the seed was free. This involved a conference of about five lead- ers, who argued together for twenty minutes about the risks and advantages of such a dramatic innovation. The seed was from CARE; Byron turned the money over to one of the newly formed boys’ clubs to apply toward the purchase of a volleyball.

I guess the most touching event was when we delivered the two feeder pigs that Byron had picked up from our Heifer Project organi- zation in Quito for a group of farmers who lived about ten miles outside of town. Months before the pigs were delivered, the group had been coached in a series of weekly meetings on the necessity of a balanced diet and a warm place for the pigs to live. The farmers had organized a pig club and had agreed to build a proper shed. They had done a good job, much too good a job, I thought, constructing a two-room building with five-foot-high walls and an outside pen, all of it of adobe and tile and plastered with cement. It had a cement feeder and a cement waterer, and it must have been built at considerable sacrifice.


We drove out one morning with the extension agent in his jeep, the pigs tied in gunny sacks with just their heads sticking out, both of them furious at this latest indignity. About forty families were waiting for us at the pigpen. It was not a town we went to but simply an open place on the slope of a mountain – a one-room schoolhouse, a football field slanting away toward the valley floor ten miles below, a couple of farmhouses, and a small cabin where the schoolteacher lived.

Wow, what excitement! What exclamations of disbelief as we dumped the pigs into their new home. Eighty-pound pigs at four months? It was incredible; they were as heavy as year-and-a-half-old native pigs, and their backs were broad, and there was meat on the hams. They were the first decent animals these people had even seen, and owning them now, the people lost their cool. Actually, they didn’t own them yet. The two pigs were being loaned to the members of the community. The farmers had agreed to feed them properly and care for them according to rules set up by Byron; they were to be paid for by replacing pigs of equal value after the gilt had farrowed. These new pigs in turn would be loaned to another group or another farmer under the same conditions. In a nutshell this is the basic plan of Heifer Project, a nonprofit corporation maintained by private and church donations in the United States. This organization administers the agri- cultural projects of Peace Corps, Ecuador. Its plan is designed to get pure-blooded animals onto farms all over the world and into the hands of farmers who otherwise, because of poverty, would be unable to upgrade the quality of their animals.

Heifer animals are a powerful tool for a Volunteer, for they can be used to demonstrate the importance of breeding and diet in this protein-starved country. It is much easier to capture the passions of the poor when the Volunteer can bring them fine animals which mini- mize the inherent risks of the innovations that he constantly preaches. When Heifer–Peace Corps is most successful it expands into the areas of human nutrition. For instance, a campesino who feeds his hog a ration that meets the needs of that animal and for the first time sees normal growth can more easily accept the necessity for changing the diet of his children. The stunting of children through protein starva- tion may not show up for years, and then only after it is too late to do anything about it; the stunting of animals is sudden and dramatic.


My ten days with Byron, ten days in another world, were altogether fantastic, but I wasn’t sorry to leave; it was his town, not mine. I was more uncertain than ever of my own role, but in spite of that more anxious than ever to get assigned to a site and start working on my own. There was also a sadness in this cold mountain country that depressed me; early-morning fogs lay fat and heavy in the dry valleys below us, and the thin-soiled rocky slopes, submarginal at best, gave no promise of production no matter what was done to change agri- cultural techniques.

Early one morning Byron left me at the bus station. ‘So long,’ he said. ‘I’ve taught you everything I know. Now go on out and save Ecuador.’ He was a good kid, but he was enveloped in the sadness that brooded over that dark country. As I waited for the bus to leave I suddenly realized with a stab of panic that for the first time there was no one sitting next to me who could interpret my needs to the restless natives; now I was going to have to start learning Spanish. I sat there rolling verbs around in my mouth. An Ecuadorian farmer sitting next to me said something; I didn’t want to be rude, so I did the best I could. ‘Los alumnos llegan a la puerta,’ I told him, smiling.