Chief Lempira, cornered in a shallow cave on the hillside above La Esperanza by invading Spanish forces in the early 1500s, managed to elude capture following a prolonged campaign. After the murdering Spaniards began their conquest of the native peoples of Honduras, Chief Lempira of the Lenca people unified more than 200 tribes to form a resistance army of more than 30,000 indigenous warriors. Unable to conquer him militarily the cowardly Spaniards lured the brave cacique warrior into an ostensible peace-talking trap and assassinated him in 1537 at the nearby aldea of Erandique after which all resistance crumbled. At “La Gruta” in La Esperanza a shrine was established in his honor at the site of the cave and is maintained and celebrated by the Lenca people to this date. With my friend Robynn I climbed the Salvador Dali-inspired stone steps up the side of the hill to the grotto overlooking the green pastoral valley and city below. Ringed by mountaintops, the departamento capital twin cities of La Esperanza/Intibuca occupy the highest valley plain in the country and the weather is the coolest in Honduras. It reminded me of Seattle. I revisited La Esperanza this week to collaborate with my fellow PCV over a Maternal Health/OB Emergencies workshop we’re putting on for the new class of PC aspirantes who are in La Paz for two months of training before they are accepted as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Lenca people remain very much a presence and power here in the heart of Lenca country, for the name of Chief Lempira translates from the Lenca language to “Lord of the Mountains” and the twin city of Intibuca is a Lenca name, and … the national currency is called the Lempira.
The Fundacion Senor San Jose was told to exit its original home by the alcaldia a year ago, that’s when I became involved with the children, during my Field Based Training (FBT) that all aspiring trainees (aspirantes) must complete satisfactorily before becoming Peace Corps Volunteers: much like military boot camp. The alcaldia’s plan was ostensibly to turn the building into a museum (which never happened). So Sister Edith was left with no place to go and the responsibility of caring for 17 children. She chose a building abandoned for approximately 30 years that had degenerated to the point of being used as the neighborhood dump. She went before the alcaldia’s town council and received written permission to move onto the abandoned premises. Over the past year it has become home to the Hogar San Jose. There, however, remains one major problem. The title to the property is missing and no one seems to know who is the rightful owner. The story is that the property was sold to the state. This is a very important point as no foundation or funding source will invest for improvement in a property that has no clear title. All the improvements being made at present are being completed via the personal donations of persons like the Wobbrock family in Portland, Oregon and Dan Tiedge of the Virginia Health Center. The above pics show the trash-burning fire, at the far top center of the large central patio where we’re growing a garden, smack in the middle of the 11-picture collage. The pic next to the fire shows the new construction to the left as we enter the Hogar and the sequence of photos continues around the square to the end where the most recent construction has been finished. Because of the title dispute the only construction at present is limited to metal supports and sheet-metal roofing to provide shade for the children and shelter from the elements. More about this later….
I had been sitting in the shade after irrigating and picking corn from the milpa talking with Leroy, shucking corn just before lunch, while he did his homework. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the first vulture light atop one of the Hogar’s ruined walls. It sat there hunched over like vultures do. Leroy commented on the birds when the second vulture flew in to sit close by the first. Zopilotes, I said. He laughed. I wonder what they’re doing here? The scavengers are ubiquitous, dozens float in the wind currents high above the city daily. A half-dozen toddlers played around my feet making a nuisance of themselves asking for corn shucks in their childish garbles. Suddenly I heard a cry: The chicken! screamed the nun. I saw her dash from the kitchen, yelling. I looked and saw that one of the vultures had swooped down to where Sister Edith had set a large pan with a frozen chicken to defrost in the sun a short distance away. The startled vulture had just started to peck at the chicken carcass and quickly jumped into the sky to settle back on the ruined wall. The nun walked back clutching lunch tightly to her chest and the toddlers, as one, ran towards the two vultures waving their tiny arms, shouting in cherub anger to keep the birds at bay.