February 9, 2003 - Purdue University: Greetings from El Salvador

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 09, 2003 - 1:56 pm: Edit Post

Greetings from El Salvador

Greetings from El Salvador

Editors Note: Ben Hasse was named outstanding male student at Purdue prior to graduating in May with degrees in forestry and Spanish. Hasse is putting his forestry and Spanish degrees to work in El Salvador as a Peace Corps volunteer. He also volunteered to write about his experiences for Connections readers. –Connections Editor

From: Ben Hasse
Organization: Peace Corps
Date: November 2001

I´ve been here a little over two weeks now, and all goes well. I´m living with a couple in their 50s (I think) named Josefa and Elías. They are wonderful people, with four children in the United States and one here in Santa Clara, a village of about 600 people about 30 kilometers east of San Salvador.

I have my own room at their house, so it is pretty posh. There is no running water or flush toilet, but we have electricity. In all honesty, it is very comfortable, and Josefa is a very good cook! The food here is much better than in Honduras.

If you ever have a chance to try a pupusa, the Salvadoran food, try it. It's basically a thick corn tortilla filled with beans or cheese or pork, etc. It's eaten with tomato sauce and what's basically hyped up sauerkraut!!!!

I'm just finishing up the second week of Peace Corps training. The 27 volunteers in my group have nine weeks to go. We have class from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. We don't have much free time, but I have managed to keep up with my e-mails, swim, play hacky sack and hang out with the locals as much as possible.

The people here are pretty friendly. I've had few basic communication problems ... I've got a lot of local slang to learn.

Next week we'll be going out to stay at a volunteer site for four days doing fieldwork and seeing what the Peace Corps is really like.

Training consists of Spanish, cultural and technical education. There are really only two of us in the group with a forestry background, a few with agriculture or agronomy backgrounds, some with biology/environmental science, and a good number of history, social work, or other degrees. I'm surprised there aren't a few more people with forestry/agriculture degrees.

The 27 volunteers have been split into eight groups by language ability. I'm in the highest group, but the other two people in that group, Casey Miller and Rebecca Wheeler, definitely speak Spanish better than I do.

We three live in Santa Clara. The other groups live in other villages around San Vicente.

I was surprised by the uniformity of our Peace Corps group. We are all middle or upper class white kids between the ages of 21 and 27. Not much diversity in any respect compared to the U.S. as a whole. I guess I expected this for the majority, but not the totality! So, apparently the non-traditional volunteers, or minorities, just didn't get sent to El Salvador. In any case, it's a great group.

El Salvador is very beautiful. The large volcano of San Vicente (in photo above) is a constant source of wonder to me, particularly at sunset. The colors frame the volcano, and I keep expecting a pterodactyl to go flying by.

The rainy season is just finishing up, so everything is very lush and green. Surprisingly, it's been pretty hot, and it hasn't bothered me at all. I don't know if that's from being acclimatized in Honduras, or just accepting the inevitable, but I'm very happy about it, because I thought it might be a problem for me. We'll see how I feel in April and May, when it gets really hot, like in the 100s.

One last story before I go. Yesterday was All Soul's Day, a day much celebrated here. All over the country people go to the cemeteries with big wreaths of cedar, and whatever mélange of gaudy fake flowers they can afford. (Seriously, there was nothing I saw that remotely resembled what I would consider a classy flower arrangement, but all were very bright, and, I guess, festive.) The people talk to family and neighbors, buy ice cream from circulating vendors, etc. They're not grave or even respectful, really, in the sense I'm used to when people are in a cemetery. People step and sit on the graves, even strangers, and just sort of lounge around.

I went with Josefa and her mom. Lots of people died in the civil war, or even in the earthquake in February, but I didn't see anyone looking all that sad. A healthy attitude, I think, perhaps founded in the deep Christian faith of the people, who are mostly Catholic or Evangelical. So, it was a good day.

Well, I hope each and every one of you is very well. You have been much in my prayers. The schedule here is very much to my liking, up at 5 a.m. and in bed again by 8, although I've cheated the last few nights by staying up late to read The Lord of the Rings. I finished last night around midnight. Tolkien is a genius!

Anyway, what I meant to say is the nice regular schedule makes it easier for daily prayer, which is a big plus. Man does not live by bread alone! Or tortillas, in this case. If anyone wants to write to me down here, that would be spectacular! I promise to write back.

PCV Ben Hasse, Apartado Postal 1947
Correo Nacional, Centro de Gobierno San Salvador, El Salvador ben_hasse@hotmail.com

God Bless or Que Dios les bendiga, Ben Hasse

From: Ben Hasse
Organization: Peace Corps
Date: December 2001

I offer you a belated Happy Thanksgiving, and a slightly early Happy Beginning of Advent. O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

I have been extremely busy. Internet access, and money for Internet access, has been tight. So this will be a shorter message.

As Calvin says, “The days are JUST packed!” Today, for instance, I´ve already sharpened three machetes with a rusty file, eaten hot vegetable soup for breakfast, shimmied up a coconut palm, failed to get a coconut, knocked one out with a stick, drank the lovely milk (didn´t eat the flesh as there was none — not quite ripe), bought a pocketful of fireworks for only 23 cents, and now I´m e-mailing you. And it’s not even noon. I didn´t mention the bus ride, morning prayer, or the cold shower out of a bucket. (Notice, that’s not QUITE in order.)

I´m really enjoying myself here, especially since they started letting me play with machetes. Tomorrow I´m going to go help cut firewood for the third time with a small farmer from Santa Clara. To clarify, he’s a normal-sized guy, but his farm isn’t huge. We’re over half way through training. We’ll find out our sites where we’ll spend the next two years soon, next week I think. That’s both exciting and scary.

On Thanksgiving they had a big dinner for us, and an all-volunteer conference. Friday we took a big trip to the beach. That is called Fun Day, and let me tell you, it is WELL named. Fun Day Activities: Long bus ride filled with inexplicable periods of waiting on the side of a narrow road; body surfing and swimming in the very salty Pacific in decent sized waves; hacky-sack; catch with a Frisbee; machete cutting competition; masa tossing (masa is the corn dough they use to make tortillas and lots of other things); a masa fight; water-bucket-carrying competition; arm-wrestling; eating shrimp, fish, chicken, donuts, pop, and Doritos; water-sliding individually and in various trains of people; more hacky sack; meeting lots of new volunteers; ultimate Frisbee on the beach; sitting atop the van to pack bags; and riding back to San Vicente. The next day I got up, cut firewood for four hours, and played soccer in the afternoon, gringos vs. guanacos (slang for Salvadorans). We lost 5-2, but it was spectacular, and we played on a nice field with grass covering ALL of it. So, by this past Sunday I was exhausted but VERY happy.

So, That’s my life now. I´m getting good at cutting firewood with a machete, and at sharpening machetes. I´m happy most of the time, occasionally a little sad, and sometimes pretty hyper. I’d say 70, 5, 25 for percentages.

One of the other trainees has put digital pictures up on the Web at http://communities.msn.com/MatthewLomeli. Check them out, they’re cool.

So, I hope you are all VERY well. God Bless, Ben Hasse

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Peace Corps Training; COS - El Salvador



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