July 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - El Salvador: Marriage: New York Times: El Salvador RPCV Benjamin Sand marries Maria Ma

Peace Corps Online: Directory: El Salvador: Peace Corps El Salvador : The Peace Corps in El Salvador: July 17, 2005: Headlines: COS - El Salvador: Marriage: New York Times: El Salvador RPCV Benjamin Sand marries Maria Ma

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-23-45.balt.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, July 17, 2005 - 4:39 pm: Edit Post

El Salvador RPCV Benjamin Sand marries Maria Ma

El Salvador RPCV Benjamin Sand marries Maria Ma

He met Ms. Ma in April, 2001, while in New York preparing for another mission. An old friend invited him to the Bowery Bar for brunch with several stylish women from the music and film business, including Ms. Ma. "I was so out of my element," he said. "I was very intimidated by how cool and hip and fashionable everyone at the table was, except me. And then Maria started talking about Cambodia and Christopher Hitchens."

El Salvador RPCV Benjamin Sand marries Maria Ma

Maria Ma and Benjamin Sand

Photo by Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Published: July 17, 2005

A humanitarian relief worker turned journalist, Benjamin Sand has dug latrines and built huts in war-torn villages in El Salvador and East Timor. Though you might think he would become morose or self important, he is instead hilarious, almost goofy, though his humor can sting like a paper cut at times.

While with the Peace Corps in El Salvador, helping refugees rebuild a bombed-out village, Mr. Sand, now 34, slept in a hut, or at least tried to, that was infested with rats and scorpions.

Whenever he returns home to New York, he usually does so with a commemorative tattoo. To relax at home, he bakes bread. "He's a tattooed baker," Maria Ma said of Mr. Sand, whom she married in New York on July 4. "Those are the best kind."

Anna Boudoc, Mr. Sand's sister-in-law, said: "He's an incredible nester, but he has this bipolar need for adventure. He doesn't want to help people who are easy to help. He was in East Timor after the revolt there. He helps people literally in life and death situations. I call it the E.R. personality."

He met Ms. Ma in April, 2001, while in New York preparing for another mission. An old friend invited him to the Bowery Bar for brunch with several stylish women from the music and film business, including Ms. Ma. "I was so out of my element," he said. "I was very intimidated by how cool and hip and fashionable everyone at the table was, except me. And then Maria started talking about Cambodia and Christopher Hitchens."

Ms. Ma, 37, a vice president for marketing in New York with Sony's music division, said: "Hitchens had just written a book on Kissinger, saying he should be tried as a war criminal partly because of the secret bombing of Cambodia." It was just Mr. Sand's kind of subject. "I thought, 'Maybe we could go out. She's hot,' " he recalled.

Ms. Ma grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pa. As a teenager, she dreamed constantly of New York as she packed takeout orders in her parents' Chinese restaurant. "I was very rebellious," she said. "I had a Mohawk. I was into punk rock. I would run away to New York or D.C. to go to concerts."

She finally escaped to New York University, and then got a master's in international affairs from Columbia. Some of her work was as unusual as his. "My first job in New York was as a bathroom attendant at the Palladium," she recalled. "Once, I handed a towel to Andy Warhol. I thought, 'Oh, this is it. This is what I've been looking for.' "

A few days after the brunch, Ms. Ma sent Mr. Sand an e-mail message, asking him out. True to his nature, he was excited but slightly skeptical upon reading her invitation: "She wrote, 'I'd really love to hear about famine in Africa. Do you want to have drinks?' "

Over cocktails, they discussed whether "compassionate conservatism" really exists. "I said, 'Yes, of course,' " he remembered. She disagreed at first. "All my friends were lefty liberals," she said. "But meeting Benjamin really made me realize that the world is much more nuanced and complex. It's more than 'No blood for oil.' "

Ms. Ma decided that if he didn't ask her out after five days, she would ask him out again. When the deadline passed, she asked him to a baseball game.

For their third date he invited her to a black-tie dinner for Concern Worldwide, a relief agency. "He was wearing a rented tux and looked really cute," she recalled. He recalled looking at her high-fashion dress and thinking, "Do you know how many families that could feed?"

She soon learned he was an original thinker about most things, including birthday presents. Every year on her birthday, he adopts an animal housed at an animal sanctuary somewhere in the world. "One birthday, Ben adopted a donkey for me," she said. Another year Mr. Sand adopted an elephant.

He soon began using her New York apartment as his base between missions. Then, in 2002, he left relief work and New York to pursue a master's degree in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

After graduation last year, he started working in Asia and the Middle East for the Voice of America. He now heads its bureau in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Last December, on Ms. Ma's birthday, they were together in Beijing, where Mr. Sand presented her with a poem. "He pulled out this crumpled piece of paper, unfolded it maybe six times, and said something unintelligible in Chinese and looked at me expectantly," she remembered.

Ms. Ma, who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, thought he had said something about his younger brother and suitcases. Setting aside the poem, he repeated his question to her in Chinese, "Will you marry me?"

"I screamed and hid under a blanket," she recalled. He added: "Which of course is exactly what I was hoping for."

For the foreseeable future they will continue to live apart, he in Islamabad and she in New York. Both say they communicate more alertly and creatively, from afar. They talk constantly over their computers.

"Some people, even though they live together, they don't really talk," Ms. Ma said, adding, "We e-mail everything from news articles to silly haikus we've written to photos. If I get a new haircut, I'll e-mail a picture to him. I'll e-mail photos of clothes and say, 'What should I wear?' "

He also sends her e-mail messages with photographs - usually of stray cats. "He feeds them," she said. "He has communities of stray cats all over the world."

Ms. Ma and Mr. Sand were married by United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn D. Go of the Eastern District of New York at Bridgewaters, a party space, overlooking the historic ships at the South Street Seaport. The air conditioning was on full blast, making the place feel as chilly as a fish locker.

The petite bride wore a strapless gown that was printed with off-white bamboo leaves and was as narrow as a sailboat mast, and then changed into another sheath, this one with a Mandarin collar.

Before departing for their honeymoon in Bali, the couple said they hope to be together often at various places around the world, on holidays or when he's on assignment. He'll feed the cats; she'll shop.

Within five years they want to be living together in the same country. "We just want a house, a house full of animals - cats, dogs, donkeys, goats," Mr. Sand said. "And a baby. Just one baby."

When this story was posted in July 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: New York Times

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