Painful blow for vendors

IT is like a recurring decimal for the vendors who ply their wares in the Ray Ray market in downtown Kingston. April 2019, August 2018, November 2017, October 2016, and now June 2020, the same story — fire ravages the Ray Ray market.

Almost every year, over the past 15 years, the West Queen Street market has burnt, leaving vendors counting their losses and forcing them to start over. Monday night, the tragic drama played out yet again.

This time, the police say the fire was started by criminals who, with no concern for the vendors, set the stalls ablaze as part of tactics to escape members of the security forces with whom they were engaged in a blazing gun battle.

Up to late yesterday investigators from the Jamaica Fire Brigade had not confirmed that the fire had been deliberately set, however, police personnel — who responded to a desperate plea for back-up from members of a patrol team pinned down by the heavily armed thugs — are adamant that the fire was started to distract members of the security forces who engaged the criminals.

But the source of the fire is of no concern to the vendors, who will once again see if they can pick up the pieces and start over.

“It just can’t be like this, because this is where we get our daily bread,” Claudette “Junie” Dudley, who has been selling in the market for the past nine years and has been affected by nine fires over that time, told the Jamaica Observer.

“This is where we have to feed our families from. This is our only source and our only job. We are left without a job now. Who is going to be responsible? Who is going to be blamed?” added Dudley, who left her goods and other possessions overnight at the open air market.

For 69-year-old Sonia Kelly, this is the fourteenth time that she has lost the hair, shoes, and clothing that she has sold in the market in the past 15 years.

“A years mi deh here and sometimes mi children dem say mi nuh fi come back, but because mi nuh love handouts, mi do mi thing. Mi have 10 children and mi have to start over because mi can’t give up,” said Dudley, her eyes seemingly set to release the tears at any time.

The meat vendors at the area of the market close to its West Queen Street entrance were particularly hard hit, as they lost much more than their stock.

“This is a family business. We had here six fridges [refrigerators] — two in each area of the market — and they all burnt up,” said Ucal Grey.

“Every year is the same thing, and this year we made a big investment and purchased six fridges. The corona[virus] come slow down everything, and this come to eliminate everything,” added Grey, as he appealed for even “three fridges” to start over.

Fellow vendor, Milton Bundy, was equally distraught as he sipped a drink and pointed to his two refrigerators, which were burnt to a crisp with the meat they stored roasted by the flames.

“Is a big lick mi get. Mi just use to do a little thing in the market before, but now mi build an official shop because mi get caught up in the system already, so mi try do everything properly. Yesterday [Monday] mi put in about 300 pounds of pork, plus mi have oxtail, fish, and mutton, and everything just get blow up,” said Bundy.

Several vendors charged that after previous fires they received no help from the authorities, despite an announcement following the last fire in 2019 that the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation was exploring a number of options, including a relocation of vendors to other nearby markets.

“I feel like a fish out of water. It nuh easy for you to start all over again, and when mi get burn out mi nuh get no help. It hard because a dis mi send mi children guh school out of, pay mi bills, and do everything,” said 61-year-old mother of four Pauline Myers, who has two children still in school.

“We get ‘bun’ out all the time and we nuh get no help at all, and now a dead we a go dead. How we a go manage now?” asked one vendor who gave her name as Sandra.

“Nothing never did a gwaan because of the corona[virus], and it worse now. How we pickney dem a guh back a school? Mr Prime Minister [Andrew Holness] and the Ministry of Local Government, we need help now,” added Sandra.

With other vendors joining her plea for assistance, Sandra pointed to her colleague Moveta, who operated two shops in the market.

“Everything fi me gone and it is not the first, it is all the while. A last week mi trust a barrel fi $35,000 and a seven barrel gone fi mi. Yuh see dem two space deh, a my two buildings that and that [the rubble] is all mi have left,” said Moveta.

“Mi borrow money, mi affi pay rent, mortgage, mi affi pay pardner, everything, and mi nuh know what else fi do. Andrew Holness, whosoever a watch or read this, unnu can do something fi we.

“Unnu never do nutten fi we. COVID-19 mash wi up, gunshot mash wi up, and now fire. Jesus have mercy, man, unnu must can do something this time,” added Moveta.

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