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​Skin Deep

Pictures courtesy Mark Lyndersay

Picture courtesy Mark LyndersayMy name is Shanelle Lawrence and I wrote a children’s book entitled The Beauty of My Skin Colour.

I was born in Jamaica. I came to Trinidad and Tobago to work when I was 27 and met my husband Bhim Rambaran. And I went back Jamaica for three years. And then he asked me to come back and married to him. A year later I had my youngest son, Rajeev Rambaran. My oldest son Nakia James lives with us in Trinidad. He’s not from my husband.

I’m from a small community named Darliston in Westmoreland. I’m a country girl. I learn to swing some machete, do a little plumbing, dig some dirt. I’m a Jack of all trade. In Trinidad, I say I’m from San Juan. I used to [pronounce it as] San Wan but now I guess the Trini is coming out in me because I say Sah Wah.

Things were hard in Jamaica. I came to Trinidad as a single mom in 2010. The farthest thing from my mind was to meet someone. I was working in a gas station where my husband used to come and buy gas. He gave me his number about ten times and I throw it away ten times. This guy look married and looking for a hookup and that’s not my thing. And, one day, he came to buy gas and a voice in my head say, “Don’t throw ‘way the number this time!”

My husband had been single for four years and we went out on a few dates about two months before I went back to Jamaica. One of our dates was going to remove a beehive! Because we actually mind bees now. I leave Christmas day with the intention to come back in April but it turned into three years in Jamaica. Then he decide to bring me back.

I only had three CXC subjects when I came here and found out Trinidad was giving free chances. You can do as much subject as you want. I jump on that opportunity. So I end up with eight subjects and the only reason I didn’t do more was because I’ve done all the school offer! I thought, “Maybe I’m not so dumb after all.”

I started [studying] nursing in 2018 and graduated last year. I’m qualified now. I never thought I would go to university. I never thought I was smart enough. Probably five per cent or less of people from where I come from went to university. I made the honour roll every semester for four years until graduation.

We didn’t have a lot. My mom struggle to put food on the table. The majority of my high school days, I went without a dime in my pocket. But it was walking distance and I loved school.

Coming to Trinidad was one of the best thing I have ever done. Back home, I was this quiet young lady. In Trinidad, I became this talkative, more friendly person. I just come out of my shell and I think it have to do with going to school.

I never had the issue some Jamaicans have with not feeling welcomed in Trinidad. People tell me it’s because I somewhat look Trini so I blend een. Unless I talk, people don’t realise I’m not from Trinidad. Trinidad is a mixed race. Most time, people like the accent when I talk.

I’m a strong believer that nothing is possible without God. It’s kept me going over the years because I’ve been through a lot. It build me. I have a wonderful family that would go above and beyond for me. I’m blessed.

I honestly don’t know if I would have chosen an Indian guy in Jamaica. I never really think about it. Honestly, I more look at the heart. If a person is good and they have ambition and they willing to give life a try and to put their best foot forward to help others, it’s fine.

My oldest son looks African but I’ve never stopped to look at how people in Trinidad respond to our family. Because back in the days in Jamaica, I used to care a lot about what people think. I believe the impression I leave on people’s minds and hearts should be a good one. But over the years I realise, no matter the good you do, there will always be somebody who will find a fault. So just live your life, don’t stop doing good, don’t treat anybody in a bad manner. Who accept you, accept you. I don’t look to other people for approval.

When George Floyd had gotten killed in America, my Jamaican family were talking and my cousin Maurice “Junior’ Mackenzie said I should write a children’s book encouraging children of colour and stuff. I was writing a mostly motivational blog at the time. I might quote a scripture and write about it. I was, like, okay. But, in my mind, I was, like, “Where am I going to find the words to write a book?” I was trying to juggle school and family life, helping with homework and my own assignment, keeping the house clean, cooking at the same time.

I graduated in 2022 and got up one day and made myself a promise that I would write a children’s book. Something kinda clicked about children, if they don’t have long straight hair or fair skin, they’re not beautiful. And I find it was heartbreaking.

Growing up, all my siblings were dark-skinned and I used to feel jealous of them. They were so beautiful! And, look at me, so red and ugly! But other people would be looking at me and saying, “Look how beautiful she is, she have light skin and nice hair!” And pretty eyes, if BC Pires say so. Picture courtesy Mark Lyndersay

I knew I was not a professional writer but, if my book could actually touch somebody, make a difference in somebody’s life, I want to do that. So I sat down and tried to write about the beauty of our skin and colour. But it was also about who God created us to be. Not because somebody tell you this is what beauty supposed to be. You’re beautiful no matter your skin colour or hair texture or how much you have.

I take things to heart. When I see children struggling… A child start to mould early. When they become adult or teenagers, it will be even worse. Because they have this low self-esteem. “I can’t achieve this because I don’t look like that.” It’s really sad.

My book has pictures but I used photographs of my family. I put them in an app that give them a kind of comic book-looking effect. Every picture is one of my Jamaican, niece, nephew, my siblings, my cousin Maurice’s son. My two children are in the book, too. To show different colours, different hair textures, same family.

My book is addressed to children and probably pre-teens. It is not long. I can’t write long stuff. On Amazon, you have to have at least 24 pages to publish a book. I think my book had 17 pages but, to get it to 24, I added a motivational scripture. I had another page where you could write down some thoughts. Another with a vote of thanks.

The book could almost sound like a poem. It is in rhyme, somewhat. But at the same time it is inspiring others. “I am blessed and honoured to be me/ How hard is it for you to see/ that I’m proud to be a child of colour/ because that’s who God wants me to be…/ Look at me, I’m attractive intelligent and brave/ Someone not afraid to embrace my race…/ Don’t make me a statistic/ Instead, see me as majestic…/ Don’t be swayed by the colour of my skin/ What matters most is the heart within.”

My book is not available in Trinidad but it is on Amazon. It does have hard copy, if you buy it on Kindle.

The best part of writing my book was when people bought copies and they had some amazing comments about it. Persons who their children actually read the book and liked it, to me that was the best, best part. Knowing you actually impacting somebody’s life. I think it’s also like a legacy for my children. They can pass it on to my grandchildren. So far, I haven’t had a bad part. Except not much sales. But that’s fine because I didn’t have to put out any money.

I don’t miss Jamaica as much as I used to. After my son came over, it’s been six years since I last went. My sons keep me busy so I don’t stress so much about missing family and friends and certain of the food in Jamaica.

The difference between Jamaica and Trinidad is probably the beaches and Jamaica will have a lot more things to do. I went Tobago for the first time in December and I find it very beautiful. When I can’t fly to Jamaica, I can take a boat to Tobago. It gives me the feeling that I am home in Jamaica.

It was an adjustment coming from Jamaica countryside to live right next door to a factory, noise and stuff. Now it don’t bother me anymore.

Trinidad grew on me over the years. And my husband not leaving here to go anywhere! Once I’m comfortable and have my peace of mind, I’m good. And, so far, I have that.

A person can be a Trini even if they’re not born in Trinidad, if they come Trinidad, set their roots, adopt the culture, become part of Trinidad. I’ve lived Trinidad eight years now. I can make roti. I consider myself a Trini. The only thing I don’t do is take part in Carnival.

I think Trinidad is a beautiful Caribbean island, rich with many cultures and tradition and many different race. It’s colour-loaded. The Jamaican national motto is, “Out of many, one people.” In Trinidad, it is many people coming together to create one beautiful country. Out of many, we’re really just one. And Tobago is amazing.