Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
Jason Boog

An interview by John Coyne

LARRY LIHOSIT HAS LIVED in Madera, California (which is about 20 miles north ofPrinter friendly version Fresno) since 1995. It is a small farming community and county seat with a population of under 50,000. Married to a woman he met while studying Spanish in Mexico City just before joining the Peace Corps (Honduras 1975–77), Larry and his wife Margarita have two sons. The oldest is beginning his second year in college, the second boy is a senior in high school. Larry’s wife is a teacher; Larry is an urban planner. But what Larry does mostly is think about and publish his writing. He had been a successful self-publisher for fifteen years and this summer spoke about self-publishing at the Fort Collins Peace Corps reunion. (We have an edited version of his talk in this issue of Peace Corps Writers. I urge anyone who is interested in writing and publishing to take a look at this useful essay.) We emailed Larry recently about his Peace Corps career, his published works, and his views on writers and writing.

Larry, first of all, where are you from and where did you go to college?

I was born in the southern suburbs of Chicago, known as the Southside. At the age of twelve, my family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona where I graduated from grade school, high school, and Arizona State University. Later, I completed master’s coursework in urban planning at La Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (U.N.A.M.) in Mexico City, studied art and creative writing at Skyline College in San Bruno, California, and most recently earned teaching credentials at California State University Fresno.

Why did you join the Peace Corps?
My first travel book, South of the Frontera, describes the crazy travels that led me to the Peace Corps. It started with losing a job. When our boss opened the birdcage at our local city planning department, my buddies and I formed our own company. It didn’t pay that well nor did it take that much time, so we began to have adventures, most naturally. We went so far that the twang became a rolling rrrrrrr. Racing south, we rejoiced because we instinctively knew that premature middle age escaped us. Never having studied a foreign language, I was lost. My father had been a salesman and I had been taught to speak up, look ‘em in the eye, and shake their hands. Soon, I had a paperback Spanish/English dictionary, a used tape recorder, and some used tapes. Within weeks, I was travelin’ south of the frontera solo and learning Spanish. One of my buddies suggested the Peace Corps. I applied and within months, flew to Miami, Florida and on to Tegucigalpa, Honduras in 1975. I already spoke about 100 words in Spanish when I arrived and could get around just fine.
What did you do as a PCV?
Larry Lihosit - 1976
Luckily for me, I was an urban planner in the Community Development contingent, Honduras Group 35. Because there was no new job to learn, I was able to concentrate on language skills. The first year I was assigned to La Ceiba on the Atlantic coast. A national planning agency was responsible for preparing that city’s first general plan and I was assigned to the local city government as a liaison between the two. The best part of the Peace Corps is that you contribute as much as you want. This is also true in Bush Alaska. In places where technology is scarce and educated people rare, you become a resource. People actually care about your dreams and encourage you to follow them.
     In my case, I wanted to understand the nuts and bolts of a city; infrastructure. Within days of arrival in La Ceiba, I was mapping land use, water lines, sewer lines, and electric lines. I was interested in housing and was able to convince the mayor to lend me two city assessors for a day or two a week. I created a random sample of homes, and with the help of the assessors, we surveyed housing conditions. This became a report which I wrote in Spanish and we presented it, along with the general plan, to the city. Later, I made recommendations about changing the city’s method of garbage disposal from an open land dump to a cellular land fill as well as changing the location. After a major flood, I brought the national planning agency employees back for a tour and suggested an earthen dike reinforced with broken concrete and/or rocks near the city’s high school to avert future flooding problems. I understand that this was eventually built with an A.I.D. loan. What the hey.
     Once the plan was prepared and formally presented to the city at a meeting, I was reassigned to the Ministry of Government and Justice in the capital. This was the equivalent of our state department. They invited me to be a member of an elite Honduran team to begin a pilot program of plans for smaller communities. Our first project was Cedros, a mining town located about 25 or 30 miles from the capital city. My contribution was infrastructure analysis and economic recommendations. Unlike the bustling port of La Ceiba, the third most populated city in the country, Cedros was a tiny hamlet of less than 1,000 people. The government had only recently bulldozed a one-lane dirt road from the capital to Cedros and the town’s mayor had donated a diesel generator and a few miles of wire only months before, introducing electricity for the first time. All of the children in town had swollen stomachs and flaxen colored hair, signs of malnutrition. This was quite a challenge. Everyone on my team lost weight. I came back to the capital city so skinny after the first three-week tour that the Minister of Government and Justice actually stopped me in the hallway to ask if I had been sick. I explained that I had been in Cedros. He asked what he might do to help me. I told him I needed a drafting table. Within two days he not only supplied a drafting table, but a fully equipped professional draftsman and a fancy German machine to copy our maps. If only the Minister could have followed me for the rest of my life.
One of those visits Did you travel much as a Volunteer?
I was a very fortunate Volunteer. La Ceiba’s mayor was an understanding man. When my Mexican girlfriend showed up with her mother in tow, for example, he thought it correct for me to accompany them around the nation. He promised that if the Peace Corps office should call, he would explain to them that I was incommunicado in the field, por supuesto.
During their first visit, we traveled to the Bay Islands to snorkel, to Copan to explore Mayan ruins, and to San Pedro Sula to eat fancy. The second trip was trickier. I no longer worked in La Ceiba. My Mexican flame and her mother wanted to go to a beach in El Salvador and I couldn’t get a visa! So I stormed up to the Minister of Government and Justice’s office for the first time. He asked me to sit down and ordered in a silver tray with hot coffee and cookies before asking how he could help me. Once he heard that my sweetheart was a Mexicana, his face lit right up. He got on the black telephone and told the visa clerk to have my papers ready within the hour.
     I also made two trips overland from Honduras to Mexico City where Margarita lived. Each time I took a different route and was able to see parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, and southern Mexico.
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