‘It rough man, it rough’

WAKEFIELD, Trelawny — January 8 will mark three months since Pearly McLean and her family have been wearing clothes borrowed from friends and sleeping in neighbours’ houses. A fire took everything they had.

The flames razed the building that housed all four of them plus McLean’s business, her daughter Natasha Billings’ wares she was planning to sell at Bend Down Market and the car she would have used to get there.

“It rough man, it rough, I don’t even save a spoon,” McLean told the Jamaica Observer on December 31.

A relative launched a GoFundMe account on November 12, four days after the fire. As of January 2, US$3,005 of the target had been reached. Afraid that asking for too much may deter some people from giving, they decided to ask for US$7,000. McLean intends to use the money to replace some of her tools and work her way out of her predicament.

While she notes that they are still a long way from their goal, she is grateful to the people who have helped so far and desperately hopes others will join them.

“My first steps, mi think mi would a want mi tool them,” she said hopefully.

Because of space constraints, all four of them have not been able to live together since the fire. McLean stays with one neighbour while 40-year-old Billings and her two children stay with another. Her younger boy is a year and three months old.

McLean is hoping for support to rebuild their house, but she no longer wants to live in Wakefield as there have been rumours that arson was the cause of the fire that transformed her once peaceful life into one of sorrow and despair. The fire department, which is still investigating, has not confirmed that the fire was intentionally lit.

McLean can still recall the terror she felt that night as the flames devoured the family’s two-bedroom board house.

She said she was inside with her 14-year-old grandson when she heard strange sounds and went to investigate. Her daughter and other grandchild were out of town.

“Mi get up and come down and when mi come down and reach in the living room, mi see the bright light on the veranda and I woke up my grandson and say, ‘Fire, fire!’,” she related.

The flames spread quickly and she and her grandson were left with only the night clothes on their backs. Among the items consumed by the fire were the tools of McLean’s trade as a dressmaker, draper and upholsterer. Before the fire, her sewing room had pride of place in the house. It was stocked with a wide assortment of material she had intended to use in filling her customers’ Christmas orders.

“Two industrial machine, a serger, one straight stitch. I have a block head and a grommet to put in the eyelets them; mi have one what me use to wrap the buttons, mi compressor, mi air gun them, mi drill them; mi lose everything, mi lose everything,” she lamented, the pain still fresh.

Two years ago, she had stocked her sewing room with money earned during a nine-year stint working in the Cayman Islands. She began her journey as an entrepreneur and was able to earn enough to help out her daughter Natasha and her mother who lived nearby.

The fire has left them all devastated.

McLean is struck by the cruel twist of fate that saw the fire raging one day before she was due to help her daughter sell her goods at the popular Falmouth market.

“Mi have the car full of goods fi go Bend Down the Tuesday night, because mi always go down a Bend Down on a Wednesday go sell mi stuff them,” she said ruefully.

There has been one kernel of hope so far and it helps the family believe that all is not lost.

Billings’ 14-year-old son missed only one day of school because of the fire.

“The teacher them rally round him. Him get uniform and other things. One a the teacher all get him a phone fi help him with him schoolwork,” his mother said, touched by the generosity shown to her child.

The family of four is hoping this generosity will continue, to get them to the US$3,000 needed to buy the matriarch’s tools so she can once again earn a living.

How you can help:

GoFundMe link https://gofund.me/4ec8dfed

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