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Ben Hasse spent two-year stint with the Peace Corps in El Salvador
Ben Hasse spent two-year stint with the Peace Corps in El Salvador
Greetings from El Salvador
Bill and Sue Hasse spent eight days visiting their son over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth and final installment in a series of reports from Ben Hasse, BS '01, about his two-year stint with the Peace Corps in El Salvador.
– Connections Editor
From: Ben Hasse
Organization: Peace Corps
Date: December 2002
Dear Friends and Family:
Life has been full and busy here in El Salvador since my last e-mail.
I've now been in country for more than a year, and as of Jan. 7 I'll have been in my village, San Luis, for a year ... it's funny how quickly a place that is wonderfully strange and new becomes "my village"!
My folks and my sister Libby came down for Thanksgiving. The visit was challenging, but joyous. It was very, very good to see my family and be able to show them a little bit of El Salvador. Thanks be to God my Dad has recovered almost fully from the whole bout with surgery. What we thought was pancreatic cancer turned out to be a rare benign tumor, albeit a big one. The surgery was very invasive, but that was it. And the fact that Dad was able to come down and gallivant around El Salvador for eight days, as well as being back to working in the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula winter, means he's good to go again.
And yesterday I had a surprise visit from one of my best friends from college, Matt Houser. The dirty dog has been working in Alaska, and Monday night he just calls me up from San Salvador! He's traveling through on the way to Costa Rica with a friend who wants to buy land and plant teak down there. It was a short visit but wonderful to see him, all the more so because it was so unexpected.
It often strikes me as I help my buddy Calín tame his new yoke of oxen or go to pick corn or engage in any of the daily activities here that it feels completely normal and right that I am in El Salvador. In my first weeks here I felt strongly a sense of being a stranger in a strange land, although not quite an alien. So many things were so different. I have not felt that for months.
Recently I helped put on an environmental camp with 10 other Peace Corps volunteers and 11 students from the American school. We trained the high school students from the American School (all Salvadorans) as facilitators, and they helped us put on the camp for 22 middle school students, two from each volunteer's site. We did it at a Scout camp up in the highlands, in San Ignacio, Chalatenango. It brought a lot of very good memories from Scouts ... trying to keep a bunch of youngsters warm, fed, occupied, out of trouble in the woods, trying to get the tents set up, running wild all day ... I loved it. We played a bunch of Frisbee and soccer, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and did a bunch of activities focusing on the water, the land, and garbage.
That trip ended on the same day that my parents and sister were to arrive, so that Sunday was an odyssey! I got up at 5 a.m. in Chalatenango and rousted out the two guys from my village, Javier and Alex. We all three bathed with ICE COLD water, then we started waking up the whole crew about 6 a.m. We worked feverishly to get all the tents taken down, all the sleeping bags rolled up, and everything accounted for. I'd planned to leave at 7, but breakfast was ready and very appetizing, so we quickly wolfed it down. Then we hiked 20 minutes down to town and just caught the 8 a.m. bus into the capital.
We got on a San Miguel bus, got off about two and a half hours later and walked into my town around 1:30 p.m. At this point I was feeling pretty good. I had to get to the airport for my parents' 7 p.m. arrival. The trip had taken me three hours in the past, so I figured I had a wide margin. I called my taxi guy, Vicente, who was going to take us from the airport to our hotel, and assured him that I would be there early and that there would be no need for him to meet my parents and take them to the hotel without me.
You know how in investment brochures there's always that catch phrase "past performance is no indication of future performance"? Well that's true all over!
I walked half an hour, waited for 20 minutes, and caught a bus that was going all the way to Usulutan, saving me two bus changes. "Great," I thought, "I'm all set." Then we got to Villa el Triunfo and a machete fight broke out between two rival gang members on the bus. So everybody poured off the bus in a panic. Then the bus driver and the cobrador pulled out their machetes and eventually got them off the bus. The last I saw was one gang guy running down the road with about four other guys with machetes chasing after him. Everyone poured back on the bus and yelled for the driver to close the doors and hit the gas, which he did.
So the bus went fairly steadily, but not as fast as I had hoped, and eventually it dropped me off at the Desvio de Santiago de Maria, just outside Usulutan, a major bus stop. Normally, buses for the capital go by every 15 or 20 minutes. It was Sunday afternoon, however, and transport slows down. It was 4:40 p.m., but I still figured I was in pretty good shape. But at 6 p.m. I was still waiting. Things were getting a little tight!
Finally I figured I had to hitch. So I got picked up by a real character, Don Fermín, who informed me that since many people call him Don Benjamín by accident, that meant that we were Tucayo, or tuques, which means we have the same name, and that is an automatic basis for friendship. He was a jolly fellow, although unfortunately his pickup was old and slow. When he stopped for gas, it was already 7 p.m. I figured I should call my taxi guy, and realized that all three of my phone cards had two cents on them. So when we got back in the truck, I was starting to get a little stressed.
He dropped me off outside Zacatecoluca with another guy who was hitching. Within 10 minutes we had a ride. Finally I get off at the intersection to the airport a little before 8, walk for 10 minutes, find a guy to give me a ride for about $2, and walk into the airport ... and there are my folks waiting for me with Vicente!
All's well that ends well, but let me tell you, when we got to the hotel, I was ready for bed!
Well, gentle reader of Connections, it has been a great joy to share a little of my experiences here in El Salvador. I have been so blessed to have this opportunity. I came in thinking with excitement about how much I might be able to give to El Salvador, and now, after a year, I constantly struggle with how little I have given compared to how much I have received. It is humbling, which is very healthy. Sometimes I get frustrated with the problems I see in my community here. But just as often I am amazed at how good so many things are. I must admit I am a little scared to go back to the possession- and money-saturated world of the United States.
I hope that I may have introduced you a little to the wonderful nation and people of El Salvador. It's likely there are a few Salvadoran families in your town ... please welcome them with open arms as they have welcomed me. And come visit Central America! It's amazing! I'll still be here till 2004, and still on e-mail.