Colleen Mitchell

Colleen Mitchell 

I was born in 1956 in Spanish Town, Jamaica, the fifth of ten children, my parents were a mix of black and Chinese. My two grandfathers were born in China and my two grandmothers were black Jamaicans.  I grew up in Spanish Town, I went to school and church there. I moved to Kingston after I got married. I have two children, they are both in their thirties.

My grandfathers escaped communist China and ended up in Jamaica. There was a strong Chinese community in those days, in the 1930s.  My parents were what Jamaicans called half-Chinese, my mother a fair-skinned half-Chinese and my father looked like someone from the South Pacific. He was darker-skinned. My mother’s father died when she was 13. His name was Chin Henn Chung. I knew my father’s father, he was very short, he had a shop where he lived with his third set of children and his partner, he died when I was about 12.  His name was Yee Sing and people called him Maas Charlie.  I recall him going to China and bringing back sweets and all sorts of strange tasting Chinese goodies.

Growing up in Spanish Town in the 1960s was great, I loved it. It was so peaceful and idyllic. I walked to school and back home for lunch which was about 20 minutes each way. I walked to church, we were close to everything - the post office, bank, shops, stores.

Because we had so many brothers and sisters we pretty much played among ourselves. We even created our own games. My brothers would play football on the street, or cricket or go to what we call a ‘bird bush’, meaning to go shoot birds in the bushes. Which we would clean and cook and eat, some very tiny bird called ‘beeny squits’. We played many games in the backyard mainly as it was fairly spacious.

My father drove a truck, he delivered sand, stones, marl, gravel, steel, cement, lumber, and anything needed for building. I would go with him sometimes, he would go to the river to get sand for construction. I would go play in the shallow, rocky parts of the river or catch shrimps by lifting the rocks and pulling them out and then we would break off the heads, peel them and eat them raw because the water was relatively clean.  I recall going to the very rural areas and seeing whole families sitting on the ground and breaking large rocks into smaller stones, which my father would buy, a truckload of the stones. They were sold by size.

The truck was our major mode of transport for Sunday beach trips and we would load up the back of the old Bedford or Leyland truck with chairs, the dogs, the neighbourhood children, food and my parents, my brothers and sisters and I would spend glorious hours at the beach. They were the best days. We would return with cockles and make sandy soup or Irish moss which we would boil and add condensed milk, spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. It would be served cold - delicious!

The community on our street was strong. My parents were well known, respected, and honest. They were active in the Catholic church where they got married in the 1940s after my father returned from World War II. They were people of integrity and were extremely giving, especially to the down and outs, the sick and children.

My mother helped many many children. They would come to our house, even though there were already ten of us, they would be given something to eat or clothes, and lots of times money. A younger brother followed in her footsteps as he ‘adopted’ 4 boys from the street. My mother was a ‘work away’ mother for 24 years. She worked in Ocho Rios, a tourist resort, 44 miles from Spanish Town at a hotel, as a bookkeeper, and then as an assistant accountant.  She spent five days each week at the hotel.  At first, she didn't drive so she had to take public transport and she would come back on Friday evenings loaded with foodstuff. And that's how it worked for many years of my life.

My father was the major caregiver in the absence of my mother. Driving trucks back then was rough, there was no power steering and stuff like that.  At nights he would do the rounds, checking on us, ensuring we used the chamber pot so we didn’t wet the beds.  It must have been rough on him, especially when my mother had the last three children, at home, and then left after a few weeks to go back to work. We, the older ones, learnt a lot about babies from an early age.

My father called himself Vincent Yee Sing because he hated his real name which was Yee Son Yee Sing. People called him Busha. My mother was Iris Yee Sing nee Chin. My father called her 'Chinnie'.

I've been married three times, one divorce, one death. With my second marriage, I moved to Kingston where I had my second child. My son was not so strong academically,  I found out eventually he had some form of autism. So I stayed with him for the first four years of his life. I did part-time teaching at one university and later I worked at another in the accounting office. After I had completed a short Spanish course, my ex-brother-in-law who was working at St George's College invited me to teach Spanish as they had an emergency. I had a degree so I taught Social Studies and also Spanish.

I found I was good at teaching and I did it full time for almost 19 years until I retired at 60. I taught at an all-boys school in Kingston. I loved every minute of teaching there, yes, there were some challenging students but when there is love all things are possible. I’m still in touch with some of my students or their parents. Eventually, I became one of the guidance counsellors. Just before I retired I spent three years in the counselling department. When I was teaching, there would be behavioural and academic issues with some children. I always thought there was something more than what the child was presenting. So I always tried to find what was behind the issue. I realised then that I was not just interested in the child's academics but that I was also interested in what made up the child - all aspects of the child’s life. Sometimes we had to do home visits and some of the conditions were horrible.  Many children lived in ghetto areas where guns were a common thing. Being bombarded with gunshots night and day will take a toll on any child's mental wellbeing and behaviours.

I really did love the boys. We provided for them not just counselling and personal development classes or sourcing scholarships but even sewing classes. For example, they would play football every day and they would tear their pants or they would tear their shirts in fights. I spent a lot of time sewing or teaching them to sew. I believe that the poor behaviour of the children stemmed from some of them being ‘barrel’ children, where parents were overseas and would send barrels of food and clothes while some friend or relative caring for the child.

I attended St Jago High School in Spanish Town, along with eight other siblings. In December 1969 this boy from England joined our class in the second form. He disappeared when we reached the fifth form. I later found out his mother had sent him back to England.  He is the reason why I am living here in the UK. We got married seven years ago though I only arrived here two years ago.

He loved it so much while living in Jamaica that he never stopped trying to find his former classmates. He still says those years were the best years of his life. He spent a lot of time and money linking up with them all over the world. That was his mission.  If he found one person, he would inquire about other classmates and so on. He found me when he visited my sister’s gym in Spanish Town and the connection was made about 1997.  Through the last school reunion we got to know each other better and we got married in 2015 in Jamaica. I arrived in the UK in March 2020, a couple of weeks before lockdown.   When I arrived my husband complained of not feeling well, eventually he was to go to the hospital three times, eventually it was said he had covid.

It was nightmarish for me. In a strange country, no family, being alone in the flat, not used to the living in an apartment, shops closed, not understanding the money or the many many different accents, my phone just barely up, I recall being so cold and feeling terrible in all that bulky clothes, not knowing what to wear to really feel warm and I was terribly afraid of the cold.  The many cultural differences were beginning to affect me, I was beginning to break.

As a believer in Jesus Christ and the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I said to myself, “Okay, I didn't leave my God in Jamaica, He is here with me.” And that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I encouraged and empowered myself. My husband’s family tried their best but from a distance. It was such a strange and scary situation for me. The living situation was so different from what I had known for 63 years.

I am a much stronger person, I have weathered the storms and overcome them. I've learnt and still am learning so much. I'm adjusting slowly.  The weather used to dampen my spirit, but I have decided to look beyond the dark clouds, the cold, and the rain and see the sun. I cannot go around with a low spirit, I cannot make weather conditions take my joy away.

My greatest challenges now are getting my driver's licence, finding a church and a suitable job. I have been volunteering with Salvation Army in West Bromwich for over a year months. I also volunteer with Sandwell Advocacy as a telephone befriender to three lovely persons that I have a chat with once per week. I am currently planning to do some other volunteering activities such as teaching ESOL class.  I used to volunteer in Jamaica also.  In the organisations where I volunteer, I have met some of the nicest people, Caucasians, Blacks, Asians - the prejudices that I had, due to ignorance, are fading away.

I feel I was born with the desire to help others. I think, too, it was due to my parents’ influence. My Christian faith only reinforces who I am because the two most powerful commandments are to love your God and to love and serve others. We are called to serve. We are here not to just acquire material wealth, power and status but to be a blessing to others. The reward from giving of self is such a fantastic feeling plus the reward of eternal life.

It is good knowing you have touched lives or you're changing how people think. You are helping in some way even with just a smile or a word. If I were to die today, I would be happy knowing I have helped somebody along the way. I heard that song in high school sung by the school caretaker Mr Peters, in school devotion one morning, and it stuck with me over 50 years ago - If I could help somebody as I pass along, then my living would not be in vain.

I firmly believe that we are looking at the end times. It's biblical. The Scriptures tell of what will happen in the days leading up to the end times, there will be a falling away from God, we will become lovers of self, wars and rumours of wars. We're seeing evidence of these things happening. And we as Christians feel that it is drawing nigh to the end times. There will come a time when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord.

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