News

Laughing in the face of tragedy

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer reporter robinsonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 28, 2012    

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HER house was blown away, her farm levelled, and she came within metres of sustaining serious injuries, but 79-year-old Hazel McLean has refused to let it break her faith in God.

Though obviously in shock, it seemed the resident of Greenwall district, located near White Horses in St Thomas, garnered renewed faith from the misfortune which befell her courtesy of Hurricane Sandy... and it made her sing and dance.

"Everything is moving, Lord, everything is moving..." the woman intoned, prancing around barefoot amidst shattered boards and soaked furniture — the remnants of her home for more than 20 years.

"What mi must do, young boy?" she asked this reporter. "No... I never ask you to stan' up and look pon me — answer me?" she demanded, before breaking into another lively chorus.

Before finishing the stanza, however, the woman stopped, striking a quaint pose as if for an audience, and continued: "Humble yourself, the sick and the scornful because the Lord will provide. It is God's work and whatsoever it is, we have to take it. He will provide," she said, a smile breaking her wrinkled face.

As her emotions fluctuated, McLean's antics alternated between inspirational, and disheartening — especially when she stopped singing, threw her hands over her head and stared into space. It seemed the reality of her ordeal hit hardest at these times.

But the ardent Christian from the nearby New Independent Baptist Church was her own bouy. She soon shrugged off that sombre demeanour and restored her smile.

"It don't make any sense you put your hand on your head and bawl; what you going to bawl for? Tell me. It could have been worse, very worse. So, I have to give God thanks," she said, again breaking into a lively chorus with spirited dance moves to complement the notes.

Just minutes after being helped from the one bedroom structure by her grandaughter, Adola Mitchell — who lives in another board dwelling to the rear of the premises — McLean's house collapsed under the onslaught of Hurricane Sandy's powerful winds as it lashed the island Wednesday.

From a window in Mitchell's dank dwelling the two watched as McLean's furniture and appliances were battered by the elements, the walls of the house completely blown off its foundation.

But it was only at dawn Thursday that the damage to McLean's nearby farm was realised. Acres of crops including banana, cassava, and sorrel were flattened and flooded by the category one storm.

For Mitchell, the loss of the farm meant that harder times were looming. But she finds comfort in the fact that her grandmother was not harmed.

"She (McLean) sells the crops that she reap to earn a little living, but even with everything, I am just happy that she never got hurt," she said. "Because we could have overlooked the situation and let her stay in the house and something happened to her. We couldn't deal wid that," she said.

Until McLean's board house is rebuilt, and her farm reseeded by her sons, she will have to stay in her granddaughter's already crammed dwelling. Despite this, the family's only request from the authorities is that they provide a "little food".

In Lloyds, St Thomas, similar stories unfolded.

There, the demolition of another board house by Hurricane Sandy meant the separation of 14-year-old Talitha Graham from her two siblings.

Talitha, her older sister Roxanne, 21, her brother, mother and stepfather, will have to find separate places to live until the family is able to rebuild after fleeing their two-bedroom home when it started to sway with the gale force winds of the storm.

"I was in the house sleeping, that was about 4:00 pm," Talitha recalled. "And dem wake me up and tell me that di house a blow weh. We had to run out in the rain go over a one of my neighbour's house go stay," she continued, noting that seconds later the house completely toppled over, leaving only its tiled floor.

When the Sunday Observer visited the area, Talitha's parents left their children at home to seek assistance to rebuild, she said.

Next door, 68-year-old Cassira Coley was busy cleaning the last of her 150 dead chickens. The birds drowned when the coop, positioned at the rear of her property, was flooded in the storm.

For Coley, this scenario was a recurring nightmare. Just two months before, the chicken farmer lost about 200 chickens to ravenous mongoose.

"This morning my son came down here about after six and him seh 'mama, don't come down here cause all of your chicken dem dead," recounted the broken woman, adding that despite her son's warnings she could not help but to visit the area. There, her worst fears were realised.

"It mash me up bad. I don't know what to do 'cause I am 68, this that I do (raising chickens) is just to pay me light bill, me water bill, and buy likkle food. So I don't know what I am going to do," she said, adding that her kitchen was also badly destroyed by the hurricane.

As Coley spoke, another resident, Judith Wilson, bemoaned the difficulties of the days to come: "We don't have no breadfruit, no june plum, no ackee tree; everything blow down. Hungry going to kill the whole a wi," she said, palming two breadfruits from one of the downed trees.

In Lyssons, Hansley Williams enjoyed a break with four friends after clearing away a pear tree that had toppled onto his house, destroying his veranda.

"That gyal Sandy, when me hear how she a whistle mi start beg har fi stop. Me all start beg har fi no teck off me zinc, me pray till me drop a sleep a pray," he laughed, as he sipped liquor with the group. "When mi come out mi see that the tree fall dung pon the house and mash up the whole a me veranda. Mi just done clean it up," he said, making fun of the viciousness of the storm and its name.

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