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Just about a week ago the central market in Playa Grande burned.  Playa Grande is the commercial and government center for the Ixcán region of Guatemala.  This is the town where Enfoque Ixcán has its office.

The photos show a horrible scene.  Fortunately, no lives were lost.  The market had closed for the night, but a nearby restaurant had a leaky gas valve (propane) which ignited.  We would ordinarily call the fire department, however, Playa Grande has no mobile fire department.

I had often thought the market was a fire marshal’s nightmare.  Dozens and dozens of stalls crowded together wall to wall, all made of wood.  Electrical wiring draping from wooden poles, connecting all the stalls.  And, the whole place covered with sheets of corrugated metal, perfect for trapping the fire’s vertical escape, forcing the flames laterally.

Once a source of water was tapped, bucket brigades were formed to extinguish the blaze, but not before 50 to 70 stalls had been destroyed.  These little businesses ranged from pharmacies to clothing stores to small groceries to appliances and produce outlets.  Entire inventories were gone in a flash and in many cases the inventories were secured by credit.  So, not only were the products lost, but they were yet to be paid for.  That’s a double loss.

Visiting a pharmacy in the market last August

Visiting a pharmacy in the market last August

I spent some time in one of these stalls last August visiting a friend at his pharmacy.  I can imagine fire rapidly engulfing the market, but I can’t imagine the tremendous loss so many of these business owners now face.

The people of Ixcán have had their resilience tested often in the last 40 years, by wind storms, droughts, military massacres, lack of health care, government corruption, poor transportation, jungle heat, inadequate educational opportunities, fires, the list goes on.  They have proven to be survivors.

When life’s challenges are greatest and the future looks most dim, our friends in Ixcán figure out how to move on.  Enfoque Ixcán is proud to be able to provide eye care to these friends.  I am reminded of how privileged my life has been.

Scott Pike, OD