The Things That Matter in Life

The Things That Matter in Life - Spring 2023 - Banner

INTERNATIONAL NURSE Janice John-Mitchell emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to BC over 10 years ago.

Pacific Rim region’s Janice John-Mitchell longs for the harmony she enjoyed on the island of her birth

Janice John-Mitchell has sweet memories of a childhood played-out amidst a proliferation of tamarind trees in Sangre Grande, the largest town in northeastern Trinidad and Tobago.

“Nice, fat, juicy tamarind fruit,” John-Mitchell recalls, “but also mangos and papayas, and pomerac and coconut. Everywhere you went the air was filled with the fragrance of fruit and flowers.”

In watermelon season, John-Mitchell and her friends would wander through farmland to the beach. “We would spend long afternoons watching the waves and quenching our thirst with that delicious red fruit – such idyllic times – you never wanted those days to end.”

Sometimes John-Mitchell and her friends would swim in an abandoned quarry in the middle of a nearby forest, or play marbles in the alleyways adjacent to her home. “And of course, lots of cricket,” John-Mitchell remembers – that most colonial of sports – exported by the British and perfected in the West Indies.

The oldest of four children, John-Mitchell excelled in school while her mother ran a small restaurant and her father fished, and planted trees and vegetables. “I was an all-rounder in school – good in academics and sports – I got a huge trophy for my accomplishments, and also a trophy for modesty,” she notes with a wry smile.

“It has taken me more than 10 years to get accustomed to being here.”

- Janice John-Mitchell

After graduating from high school, John-Mitchell worked as a journalist at a local paper. “I enjoyed the work, writing stories about local events but after a while I wanted something else – something more.” John-Mitchell’s next job involved the testing of meat products at a factory lab. “One day I met a friend at the factory who suggested we sign up for teacher training college, and on our way back from registering we came across a long line-up of young people. I asked, ‘what’s going on there?’” she recalls. “And we just joined the line.” It turned out to be a line-up to register for the nursing program.

John-Mitchell was 19-years-old when she made her way to Port of Spain, Trinidad’s capital, to begin her training. “I missed home, and I missed my child,” she says, “but there weren’t many opportunities to go to university and get a profession, and I felt like I would do well in nursing.”

The training took place at the city’s general hospital and was based on an English curriculum taught by local and foreign doctors and nurses. “The program lasted three-and-a-half years with exit points for aides, and nursing assistants,” John-Mitchell says. “We got a stipend and stayed in a nursing hostel – I loved it, every part of it.”

After graduating, John-Mitchell worked for six years at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, in nearby San Juan. “I could have stayed longer,” she says, “but my husband had an opportunity to come to Canada with a company based in Victoria, and after he left I began the process of applying for my nursing licence in BC.”

John-Mitchell has worked in a number of health-care settings since arriving in Canada in 2009, most recently in Duncan Home and Community Care. “It has taken me more than 10 years to get accustomed to being here,” she remarks. “The weather, the climate, those first few days and weeks I froze, I was so cold.”

But more significantly, John-Mitchell’s experience here has been marked by a corrosive process of racialization that serves as an everyday reminder that her skills, hard work and qualifications are not fully recognized and acknowledged. “How can you live and flourish in a place like this when you are always carrying a feeling of sadness and discontentment – as if you never belong?” she asks with a weary sigh.

John-Mitchell carries regrets about her decision to emigrate.

“I had a quality of life in Trinidad. I had what matters in life: a feeling of harmony and security. What do material things mean when you feel stressed out all the time?” she asks.

Recent health issues have kept John-Mitchell from the bedside, but last fall, she ran for school trustee in the Cowichan Valley municipal elections. She was not elected, but says the experience was galvanizing and a reminder that there are many ways to make a difference and advance equity and justice.

What keeps her here and what keeps her going are her family and, in particular, her three children. “I have to teach them to be strong and not be victims, not to feel like second-class citizens,” she says defiantly. •

UPDATE (Spring 2023)

UPDATED: April 21, 2023

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