Editor’s note: In the last Oro Loma Nomad, the writer, a native of Oro Loma and graduate of Dos Palos High School, told of her decision to join the Peace Corps after college and her arrival in Honduras.
It was 1969 and my husband Bastiaan and I were in Honduras, serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. After being in-country a little while, we found a house to rent in a suburban development called Miraflores, home to middle-class families.
It was a small house, but it had two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen and a living/dining room. We bought simple wood furniture at the penitentiary Sunday market days. A two-burner kerosene stove, a small refrigerator, and a small table for workspace comprised the kitchen setup.
Because Honduras was so poor, electric power was rationed. We had electricity for one hour three times a day: morning, noon, and evening. We paid $66 per month for rent.
On Sundays I would go on a busito, one of the ubiquitous vans that transported people all over the city, to the large central market. There I would buy meats, fish, fruits and vegetables. Other foodstuffs like milk, coffee, bread, rolls or tortillas I would buy in our neighborhood store, the pulperia.
In those early weeks and months Bastiaan and I settled into a routine. Six days a week we arose from bed around 5:30 a.m., showered, dressed and made breakfast while we had the morning electricity on. By 7:00 AM we were each on our respective busitos on our way to work.
We usually returned home from work around 7:00 PM. Quickly, we fixed or warmed up our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen while we had the evening hour of electricity.
We got to know our co-workers and developed a circle of friends through them. Sundays being our day off, we often spent the afternoon with friends, or we’d go to an afternoon movie.
On July 14, 1969, Bastiaan and I were coming out of a movie theater. It was just before dark. As we came out into the sidewalk, we were jolted by the sound of fighter planes flying overhead.
Several explosions shattered the normal traffic sounds of the city. Loud sirens began blaring their piercing squeal. People began running to take cover. Cars were honking their horns. It was chaos!
We had a car, lent to us by a friend while he went on vacation. Bastiaan and I got into the car to get home. The traffic was mad. I could look out at the sky and see the planes dropping bombs! The city was under aerial attack!
Besides the sirens, soon there was another sound–anti-aircraft artillery. It was all loud, frightening, unpredictable.
We made it to our house. Once inside, we realized we needed to stock up on more food to tide us during this conflict or war or whatever it was.
We quickly pooled what money we had and ran to the neighborhood pulpería to buy whatever we could buy. A few bread rolls, eggs, candy bars. Other people were there, too, frantically trying up buy what they could.
Once we were back in our house, we tuned into the radio exhorting people to stay indoors, turn off all lights and put blankets over the windows.
That was the start of a six-day war between El Salvador and Honduras. Prior to the attack that day, tensions were growing between the two countries, culminating with rioting during a FIFA World Cup qualifier game in San Salvador.
Though the war was also called the Football War, the causes of the war went much deeper, involving land reform in Honduras and immigration and population growth in El Salvador.
Honduras has five times the land area of neighboring El Salvador, but in 1969 the population of El Salvador (3.7 million) was 40 percent larger than that of Honduras (2.6 million).
For several decades Salvadorans had been migrating to Honduras in large numbers. By 1969, 300,000 Salvadorans were living in Honduras – comprising 20 percent of Honduras’ population – and many owned land and homes.
With the outbreak of war, Hondurans began expelling thousands of Salvadorans, some who had lived in Honduras for many years and were married to Hondurans. Neighborhood vigilante groups would go to the homes where Salvadorans were living and, like a mob, forced them out of their homes. It was a terrible time!
Peace Corps Volunteers were also affected by the war but in different ways. Some suffered physical effects of the stress and fear; others faced actual peril.
One brave Volunteer was Bob Lilley. He lived and worked in the western part of the country. It was reported that he sent telegrams to the Honduran military, to the United Fruit Company and other entities to send arms to his town for he was training the men to fight the Salvadoran troops that were invading by land into western Honduras.
What happened to Bob Lilley is a harrowing, heroic tale. Tune in to my next column in the Westside Express and I will continue Bob Lilley’s amazing story and tell you of the roles that my husband Bastiaan and I were called upon to play in that conflict.