joe crownoverBy Joe Crownover
50 Stories Contest Submission
1990 Participant – Ecuador
1991 Project Supervisor – Costa Rica
1992 Project Director – Ecuador
National Office Staff – Houston, TX

Thinking about my AMIGOS days, so many stories to tell… I’ve been involved with AMIGOS since 1990, as volunteer, field staff, IO staff, IAH Board of Directors and most recently supporter from afar. I have lots of memories and wonderful connections from all these years. The summer that truly transformed my life was the summer of 1991 in Cost Rica. I was a route leader / field supervisor – whatever they are called today. I remember in particular a community near Los Chiles in the very northern part of Costa Rica quite close to Nicaragua. Jud and Molly were my volunteers there and they were working with the community to build a house for the schoolteacher. My memory tells me the community was about 10 miles off the main (think small paved) road. I would take a “bus” (think open-air milk truck) from the main road along the dirt road for a bumpy 10 miles to reach Jud and Molly when the weather was good. When the weather was bad and summer is rainy season in CR I would walk it. I bought some special rubber boots in a market in San Jose as I did lots of walking through muddy roads that summer. I’m combining days, but have several standout memories from this town with Jud and Molly.

On one of my walks, I was about halfway to the town trudging through the mud, pack on my back when the sole of my boot came off. “Problem?” as Doug Alexander would ask. Yes, no other boots. Actually, no problem. I tie the sole back on with my tennis shoe laces. As I’m stooped over, I notice a terciopelo (“fer de lance” a highly aggressive, venomous snake) coming towards me. Problem? No problem. Run! I escape and continue my walk with the mud sucking on the flapping sole of my shoe with each step.
Finally arriving in the community, I stopped first at Jud’s house as his was on the outskirts. After the obligatory cafecito, Jud and I decided to go see Molly. It was quite a distance still and since I didn’t have functional boots any more, Jud’s host father suggested “Porque no andan a caballo?” Why don’t you go by horse? Sure, no problem. Jud was from Texas so a natural cowboy, and I had ridden a horse once or twice in my life. We get on our horses, bareback, and start toward Molly’s house. My horse, which was apparently in a hurry, begins to gallop. Gallop, gallop straight past Molly’s house, and I have absolutely no control but am trying to just hold on for dear life. I guess the horse just wanted me to first see how the work was progressing on the schoolteacher’s house, because it stops in the “center” of town – 1 school, one shop where you could buy Coke, crackers, and laundry soap and a few houses. I dismount with relief and wait for Jud and Molly to stop laughing and come to my rescue.

As the summer wound down, Jud’s host father wanted to offer me a “despedida”, a celebratory meal in honor of the work we had done and the relationships we had built. We agreed on the date and time and I planned my travel week accordingly. Now basically, the only thing I ever ate while visiting my communities in Costa Rica was black beans and rice, gallo pinto (fried rice and black beans) with cafecito for breakfast, beans and rice with cafecito for lunch, and beans and rice with cafecito for dinner. That suited me fine, as I was in a phase where I was experimenting with vegetarianism at least not eating meat besides fish or eggs. When I arrive at Jud’s house, Jud and his host father were waiting for me. Jud’s host father grabs a sledge hammer and a big, long knife and we head up to the front of the property where the pigs live. He jumps in the pig pen, eyes a pig and slams it in the head with the hammer while simultaneously slitting its throat and putting a bucket under its neck to catch the blood. Oh, we’re having pork tonight…

So host father picks up the pig. I don’t remember who takes the bucket of blood and the instruments of death. We head back to the house, where he hangs the pig upside down from one of the railings on the back porch. Turns out the next job is for Jud and me. We first have to pour boiling water over the entire pig and scrape the hairs off with a knife. Once that’s done, we peel the pig, carefully removing all the skin, which ends up being the appetizer for the despedida meal called chicharron, fried pig skin. I don’t really remember the rest of the process, mainly just Jud laughing at me as he knew how painful this was for me and later we sat down to dinner. I gave up vegetarianism after that.

This is just a taster portion of the AMIGOS memories I have. What I didn’t know then is how big an impact this particular summer would have on my life. This was the year I met my future (and now current) wife, Jennifer Langdon, who was also a route leader in Costa Rica. It was the year I met my bestie, Steve Hinitt not in Costa Rica but in Austin, TX, as he had worked and lived with Marc Lavine, my Project Director, in Costa Rica the year before. And it was the year I made some of my closest friends, including Erin Weltzien and her parents who came to visit Costa Rica at the end of the summer. Erin wanted to visit her communities once more and so I offered to tour guide her folks, Mike and Joan Weltzien, around the country for five days or so. Those adventures are another story, but I treasure now being part of their family as well.

AMIGOS changed my life in so many ways over so many years, but this particular summer was a special gift.