Irene Medina is a Trinidadian veteran investigative journalist with over 46 years of print and broadcast media experience in the Caribbean.
Born in Arima, in the small village of Mount Pleasant, Irene Medina had big dreams of becoming a writer and in particular, a journalist.
With just a Secondary School education, at the time, she developed a deep love of writing through her insatiable appetite for books.
At the age of twenty one, she approached the publisher and editor of the then explosive weekly newspaper The Bomb, Patrick Chookolingo, which signalled the start of a long and illustrious career in journalism spanning four decades.
After being asked to produce a one page account of her job interview, which ‘Choko’ knew only she could write since she was the person being interviewed, Ms. Medina was hired on the spot.
Forty six years later she can boast of a very prolific and influential career in the media, having learned the profession from the bottom up to the positions of News Editor, Assignment Editor, Editor and Editor in Chief.
She has worked at every major daily news house in Trinidad and Tobago and has also contributed regionally for the Caribbean Media Corporation and The Nation Newspaper in Barbados.
She has also contributed to articles published in The Daily Mail in London.
Ms. Medina has covered all the ‘beats’ – the courts, the crime scene, human interest stories, the environment, but it was as a political writer and commentator that she has made her name.
Needless to say she has covered some five general elections; several Caricom Heads of Governments Conferences and numerous Local Government elections.
She has interviewed prime ministers and vagrants, presidents and prisoners, world renowned musicians and revered artists.
She attended the inaugural swearing-in of Jamaica’s first female Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and has also interviewed such charismatic leaders like the late Grenada Prime MinisterMaurice Bishop and Dominica’s first female prime minister and (to date only female prime minister of Dominica) Dame Eugenia Charles.
She has also interviewed the likes of US Human Rights activists Andrew Young during a visit to this country.
As a member of the Santa Rosa First People’s Community, Ms. Medina has been at the forefront of highlighting the struggles of her community over the years and still continues to identify with the First Peoples.
A social activist in her own right, Ms. Medina was instrumental in leading a petition for pipe-borne water in her village and for better roads and conditions.
After a long career of writing of hard hitting political stories, she has self-published a series of children’s short stories. Motivated by the experiences of her own five children, she sought to capture the essence of growing up in the unspoilt natural surroundings in the Mt. Pleasant village through which runs the Blanchisseuse River.
Her first book, entitled “The River Nymphs and the Tree Frog” reflects a time in our society when the river was the centre of village life. Her second book entitled - “The Mermaid of Maracas Bay” - again focuses on a time when children were the lifeblood of Village life, a place where they learnt their first lessons about the beauty of the environment and the innocence of village life. Her third short story “ Conquest of the Future” is a sci-fi meets folklore saga and speaks to innate power of children. She has also produced historical publication which focuses on the Carib Queens in Trinidad between 1875-2018. She is currently working on another publication entitled “Carnival in the City”.
Ms. Medina has also worked as the Media Relations Advisor to the Ministry of National Security and is currently the Communications Consultant attached to the Ministry. She has also reconnected with her academic life and now holds a Master’s Degree in Mass Communications (Merit) from the University of Leicester in the UK.
This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated.
Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.
June 7, 2023
WOMEN AT RISK
In April of 2022, a young family member was picked up by someone she knew, taken to an unknown location, was drugged and assaulted. For two months she kept silent about it, suffering in silence, in shame and pain, until it became too much to bear.
This may be her story but almost every day in this country young women go missing and are at risk.
At the time of writing this entry the body of 25-year-old mom of five Gabrielle Raphael was found in the Queen’s Park Savannah. A post-mortem later revealed she had been raped and strangled.
At the time, as well, 12-year-old Amanda Hill from Valencia was reported missing, according to the Express, and on Wednesday May 24th an article in the Guardian stated that the police were asking for help to locate 17 year-old-Melani Hunte, also from Valencia.
Reporter Laurel Williams in Newsday on December 31, 2022 stated that 552 persons were reported missing in 2022, of which 30 were found dead, 466 found and 56 have vanished without a trace.
According to Williams, females, 17 and under were the highest reported cases.
No arrest has been made in Gabrielle’s murder at the time of this entry.
In my relative’s case fearful for her life she never told anyone what had happened to her and soon the stress of her horrifying experience manifested itself in a “psychotic break” or mental breakdown.” It was heart breaking.
The assault occurred shortly before her 21st birthday.
A young service man, and his friend were allegedly involved in the incident. Like most rape victims she felt ashamed and thought she would be blamed for her attack, so she kept silent.
He told her ‘you are a nobody.’
The words “you are a nobody…no-one cares about you,” which one of her attackers told her, crushed her spirit, she confided.
As one can imagine, during this time she suffered almost irreparable emotional and mental torture. The fear has not gone away even though it’s more than a year now since her heinous experience. A police report has been made, but that process left much to be desired. ‘Were you looking for attention?’ ‘Who told you to go in his car?’Do you have mental problems?’ Their questions were unrelenting, so much so she had to secure the help of a lawyer.
The way her story unfolded was through text messages to a parent, on June 18th 2022:
‘I got raped.
‘In april this year
‘a week before my 21st birthday
‘I’ve been traumatized
‘they overdosed me with a hard pill
‘I was kidnapped and held hostage
‘ april 11 (supposedly the day it happened)
‘It is not my fault
‘I went to lime with some fake friends”
As it turned out she was taken to an unknown (to her) location.
How does one deal with situations like these? How can you help someone who has gone through such trauma?
Well, there is no dress rehearsal for this kind of trauma. In fact, all you can do is head to the A&E at Mount Hope Hospital. Once there, she was seen by a doctor, given an injection to calm her down, and was placed in restraints.
After three days of lying in a bed in the holding area, she was later admitted.
Another young woman was also admitted that night. Her story was that she was “given something in her drink.”
Pre cursor to her attack
Covid 19 affected all of us in different ways. For my part I suffered acute Covidrelated anxiety, so much so I had to receive counselling. I am better now. I survived with the loving help of my children.
For my relative, coping was very difficult during Covid. The acute isolation, lack of socialising, fear of getting Covid, the uncertainty was just too much for her to withstand. So, like thousands of other young people, she developed poor coping skills. Her phone became a lifeline to the outside world, where she met ‘friends’ who turned out to be dangerous.
It was here she was befriended by a young serviceman, who paraded on social media in his uniform and seemed harmless enough.
He picked her up
According to her, on this fateful day in April, he picked her up in his car and took to meet one of his friends. She said the serviceman urged her to go with a man whom she did not know. He promised to pick her up after.
But the day rolled into night and he never came, leaving her to fend for herself with this stranger who drugged and assaulted her. In her words, ‘I was afraid I was going to end up like Andrea Bharath.’ (Andrea Bharath,22, a clerk at the Arima Magistrate’s Court, entered a taxi in Arima on February 1, 2021 was taken against her will, assaulted and killed. Her body was found days later in Heights of Aripo, Arima). My relative was terrified. She managed somehow to convince her abductor to let her gothe following day.
Many would attest that it’s the worse news to hear about anyone, more so a family member. It took a toll on everyone.
Today she is receiving trauma counselling and medical help. It’s just over one year now and who knows how long this treatment will be for. But we are all hopeful.
It’s a long and, at times, frustrating process. The monthly hospital visits can feel punishing at times and the cost for private care from a psychologist is not cheap. But she is persevering and cooperative. She struggles to be motivated and grapples with choosing positive avenues to cope with daily stresses. Her panic attacks are fewer now, and her self-confidence is creeping back.
As for the two monsters who prey on vulnerable young women out there, one can only hope that the law and justice will catch up with them one day.
Pan pioneer and innovator Rudolph Valentino Charles was the leader of the Desperados steelband from 1961 until he passed away 36 years ago, on March 29th 1985.- Courtesy National Archives Trinidad and Tobago
DESPERADOES ALWAYS A WINNER!
Congrats to Desperadoes on its new $14 million home in Port of Spain!
I applaud this gracious act by the government.
I plan to visit the pan theatre on Nelson Street soon.
A band that has won some 12 Panorama championships, three times winner of Pan is Beautiful festivals and has graced prestigious venues like the Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall deserves it all!
In 2015, when I heard that Despers was practically fleeing from ‘Up the Hill’ because of crime and fear for the safety of its players and visitors my heart cried out for a better resolution. First Tragarete Road and now Nelson Street.
“Oh No” I thought. This can’t be real. Despers is Laventille community and the community is Despers.
At least that’s what I thought and what I still believe. But it’s hard to argue with gun violence and blood thirsty goons… except that the blood has spread everywhere now. Some of us certainly can’t run from our areas.
Still I believe, wherever Desperadoes goes, it will continue to be great.
I see myself as an honorary ‘Laventillian.’ Presumptuous but true.
Although not a born and bred in the area, 40-odd years ago, Laventille was a part-time home for me.
Weekly, if not daily, I would stand at the bottom of the hill near Piccadilly and Duke Street in East Dry River, hail down a taxi - some of the drivers I knew by name - and with one of my babies in hand or a heavily pregnant stomach I would make my way up to hill where my ex-husband lived for a while.
Desperadoes, of course, became my love and going to the Savannah for Panorama became a favourite pastime. Sometimes I would take the two older children, both boys. Most times they fell asleep during the performances. It was electrifying.
I have vivid memories of walking on sacred grounds like the Drag, at the Queen’s Park Savannah, as the band made its way to the Queens Park Savannah stage.
I remember the Silence. Swollen air. Pulsing tension. Procession-like walk. I have vivid memories of floating down the drag with the band, as I made my way to the stage area, where supporters like myself would scream and jump, heart racing and adrenaline flowing, as if we were choreographed addendum to the pannists.
Contrary to what some may think, the pannists always walked down the drag, sober as judges, clear heads and with steady hands. At least that was my experience. They were going to musical war! Memories of Rebecca come flooding back.
I remember jumping and screaming at the side of the stage for Rebecca. My strapless black romper almost betrayed me that night, so exciting was that session, as like Rebecca, I did “my ting.”
I met and interviewed the great pan inventor, the man with the hammer himself, the late Rudolph Charles many times and was always in awe of this fearless giant of a man and band leader.
I am certain he would fought against the band’s separation from the community.
Whenever we chatted during my numerous interviews with him, his fearlessness stood out like a red badge of honour. I remember the numerous visits to his home in Laventille where he explained his latest inventions and creations.
Always a pioneer, always trying new things like inviting dancers on stage with the band, a first in Panorama, he explained that dance is what makes music visible. I couldn’t argue with that.
Then there was the musical genius himself, Clive Bradley, whose colourful life made for good press and legendary stories. He was magical and charismatic, as was Robbie Greenidge, whose demeanour was quieter but musical prowess just as great.
I also have rich memories of Pan is Beautiful IV at Jean Pierre Complex in 1986, I believe. Decked in their black jackets and white ties, these unique Despers pannists were transformed into classical musicians. With the power-house arranger, the late Pat Bishop, leading them, it was an amazing time for pan.
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances cemented itself on my brain. I felt transported. That year they won. They also went on to win two other festivals. I remember some of the names of the players too: Timo my ex brother on law (now deceased), Pinhead, Sugars, Finbar, and Tash.
I guess evolution can’t be stopped and Desperadoes will never return to the Hills. Who knows, maybe a new band will be birthed in time, right there at Desperslie Crescent.
April 24, 2023
CAN PM ROWLEY WIN THIS FIGHT?
More dead bodies are piling up. It seems every Monday morning the pile gets higher and hope dims a little bit more.
At least that’s how I feel at times about the violence that dictate our lives.
While Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley is showing great resilience in facing down this gargantuan evil of violence, how much worse will the crime situation become before we see some kind of relief?
Despite my own personal multiple brushes with crime and violence, I still hold out hope that before he ends his term of office in 2025, Dr. Rowley will get a handle on things.
His two day regional symposium on Violence as a Public Health issue shows the kind of temerity he has shown all his life in his journey from Mason Hall to Whitehall, and I believe it will buy the PNM some more time.
His whole life, as detailed in his telling autobiography from Mason Hall to Whitehall shows that not only is he a survivor but a winner.
We have seen that when his back against the wall he fights the hardest. His former boss, late Prime Minister Patrick Manning was no match for Rowley’s tenacity and determination to win, when he kicked him to the back benches, stripping him of his ministerial portfolio.
Then there was his fight with the Integrity Commission which ended in 2009 with Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee slamming the Integrity Commission for acting "in bad faith in relation to former Minister Dr Keith Rowley and guilty of misfeasance in public office".
Rajnauth-Lee awarded Rowley $100,000 as compensation with interest at 12 per cent yearly from August 10, 2007. The IC was also ordered to pay the legal fees to his four attorneys.
He also fought and survived allegations of the most dubious nature against him by opposition parliamentarians, and by a female journalist a few years ago.
Dr. Rowley handsomely won a defamation case against a former trade unionist Michael Annisette in 2012 who was ordered to pay, then opposition leader $475,000 in damages for libel. In addition to the damages, Annisette, was also ordered to pay Rowley's $160,000 legal bill for bringing the lawsuit.
So, crime and violence, will have a hard time knocking this prime minister down.
As I said before, by positioning violence as regional concern with the aim to redefine and confront it with a “collective” punch, has bought him some political goodwill, as he reminded that “Caricom’s strength is in its union.
We wait and see.
Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on April 17-18, 2023.- Courtesy Caricom.org
April 19, 2023
REGIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON CRIME
Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley may be on his way out of active politics, but he is resolute that crime and violence will not topple his government.
His actions over the past few days could breathe new life into the Peoples National Movement for another win, come 2025.
By taking the fight against rising violence and crime, prioritising it as a regional concern, and corralling heads of regional governments and experts to investigate this problem as a public health one, is a master stroke.
This is not lost on opposition forces.
It seems to me that the just concluded two day “Violence as a Public Health Issue –the Crime Challenge,” may have temporarily halted the avalanche of negative comments against the government and it impotence to get a handle on crime.
I believe that sitting CARICOM governments will benefit from this united fight against crime and the shift to the public health perspective.
How this issue is managed onwards to have the desired positive outcome will no doubt augur well for Dr. Rowley’s government.
At the close of the two day (16-17 April) talk at the Hyatt, may have left some with a sense of hope for the future.
We all know that here in Trinidad and Tobago, rising crime, has for the past 15 years been a headache for all governments.
The spectre of homicides, 600 plus for 2022 and already 200 plus for 2023 has brought terror to us all.
In my own case, a thwarted abduction, home invasion at gun point, the assault of a young relative and random attacks in my community have left traumatic scars. Yes, concrete walls, barred windows, neighbourhood watch groups, dogs, bull horns, are all in place, but fear still abounds.
What a way to live!!
Kudos therefore to Dr. Rowley and Regional partners, including civil society, academics, business representatives for seeking answers through public health perspective.
Travel is One of My Passions!
What a beautiful day in London today! Vacations are for rest, relaxation, new adventures and creating lovely memories. So today was Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing and the Cabinet War Rooms, and, of course posing with the iconic Red Telephone Booths. The last one is for the history books. Hoping to catch some more sights during this brief stop over before heading to Italy where more adventures await. All the serious stuff at home can wait a bit longer. Special thanks to my travel mates; beautiful daughter Ally and granddaughter Chelsea.
JULY 1, 2023
THE POWER OF STORYTELLING
For me village story telling started during our early morning’s water treks to the closest standpipe about half a mile away. There I was, white pigtail bucket on my head, walking with my friends, telling them in the minutest detail about an Audie Murphy movie, “To Hell and Back” or the latest Tarzan flick, starring the late Johnny Weismuller.
Occasionally I would go to see a horror movie, giving my friend Odette all the gory details of bleeding trees which would shift shape into humans, snatching and eating up actual humans who come into their paths. Because I had to walk through a crude path by the river to get to and from home, I swear the trees were trying to eat me and I would run, a muffled scream trapped in my throat, all the way home.
My fear was real.
Not to mention all those beach musicals with Doris Day and Elvis Presley, the King of Pop himself. I saw them all, my own childhood imagination coming alive on the big screen. I always remember going to the movies alone. Looking back, I think that was very brave. The Western movies were my favourite, and at the time I knew all the ‘star boys’ in the Magnificent Seven and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and so many, many more.
But my story telling escapades did not only reside in the world of movies but from my uncle Sonny who told us of the time he had an encounter with the horror queen of all local tales - La Diablesse- as he described her she was a half woman-half horse, beautiful siren who would lead the men astray with her good looks. He reminisced too about his mother “Mama Dookie” as she was known to all her grandchildren, who was one part of twin sisters, and had a gift of seeing Douens –those little creatures who walked with their feet backwards.
This story, I would encounter decades later, when I started working at the Bomb Newspaper. In the late 1970s, I travelled all the way to Blanchisseuse to interview a family whose toddler had been lured away from his home by douens. I don’t remember clearly if fellow journalist Horace Monsegue accompanied me. Such a story was right up our alley! We were always intrigued and on the lookout for the unusual, the uncommon. Having reached the family home, I was taken up a lonely foot track, maybe about half a mile from the child’s home, and listen to this, across a sparking, shallow ravine, straight to a wild patch of dasheen bush.
When the parents of the child awoke that morning they did not see their toddler in his bed and started looking frantically for him. They eventually found him lying asleep under the dasheen leaves. He was fine. They told us that the douens wanted to play with the child because he was not yet baptised and they wanted his soul.
According to the family this was the destination the child had been taken to. It was quite a trek, and was hard to believe that the toddler who was not yet able to walk, had made this journey all on his own! The dasheen leaves were huge and umbrella like. It was here that we were told the douens lived. As the story went, they lured the child to their bushy patch, with their ‘hoot, hoot’ calls.
But, back to my uncle. He always like to give us riddles to solve. ‘Fire on top and fire below’ he would ask us, ‘what is that?’ Easy. That’s a fireside used to bake bread, where the fire is placed both at the top and at the base of the bread.
So for me story telling was a way of life, stories were told to entertain long before the village got its first television set. Uncle Sonny and his wife Aunty Mary were the first people in our village to own a television. And on weekends, neighbours and family alike around would flock to my Uncle’s small living room space to watch a movie. We would be armed with blankets, pillows, popcorn or other snacks and the children would lie on the floor while the adults would sit on the chairs or on the floor behind us.
It was a beautiful time for family life. Telling stories became a way of life for me.
As a child I lived in my imagination a great deal. I wrote poems and hymns and essays all the time.
Everything around me in the village was personified in my mind.
For instance the moon wasn’t just the moon. It signified hope and wonder of a world much larger than the 10-house village that comprised my world.
A tree swaying in the breeze across the river wasn’t just a tree. It was a graceful ballerina which captivated my mind’s eyes. So fragile, yet so strong as its long, graceful neck surveyed the other flora, gently nodding as the wind guided its dance.
The river snaking through my village wasn’t just a river. It was a beautiful mystery, which seemed to have no beginning and no end. As a child we often walked up the river or walked downstream, feet wading in cold icy water. We often reached out to touch the little shoals of fish swimming alongside us. A constant companion as I aged.
My village was perfectly nestled among the giant bamboo trees, with the often calm river but sometimes menacing and muddy force during the rainy season disrupting the lives of the villagers. It mirrored the fights and violence of the village rams, the wife abusers and drunken relatives. In its quiet moments, the clear, sparkling waters reflected the calm of my aunty Mary and just as swiftly as the river can ‘come dong’ and break its banks so too did my Uncle Sonny as he exhibited mercurial behaviour at times, especially after a rum shop lime.
Often times when I visited the river I picked lovely white flowers, which I later learnt were called peace lilies and ferns of all types, which died, as soon as they were picked. They couldn’t be transplanted. I swam freely, but stayed clear of Coffin Basin, a pool that earned its name due to its coffin-like shape, which had claimed the life of a little boy.
We loved to run through the ‘Tunnel’ making noises, enthralled by the echoes of our voices. As children we were told that the ‘Tunnel’ was built by the Americans. The water was just ankle high and the texture of the ground was smooth and slippery. The Bye-Pass Road in Arima ran overhead.
Very early, as children, we knew not to go to the river when it rained. Not to bathe in the river after it flooded the day before because the terrain often changed. Shallow puddles became deep and that was dangerous.
As a child, while bathing before going to school I once saw a black, shadowy mammal swimming upstream. I never knew what it was but later on I was told that it could have been a manatee. Now an endangered species and very rarely seen in this country.
As children we always felt safe while bathing in the river, making sure not to dive in the stony areas.
We learnt not to turn our back to the river, since it could quickly change and swell and devour anything in its way, mercilessly.
Our parents warned us that sometimes it rained in the forests, all the way in Blanchisseuse or Paria, upstream and that would cause it to overflow its banks. We learnt as well, whenever there was an abundance of hog plums coming down the river that was a sure sign that things were changing upstream.
As children we played a lot. A popular game was hide and seek. One of us would hide a stone, one with an unusual surface, or strange markings, perhaps a colourful stone in the water, sometimes under another stone for the other kids to find it. It was fun!
One of the games was simply jumping off the huge greyish, blackened rock and making a massive splurge in the waters. It tested our ‘powers,’ to jump right in, ability to face our fears.
But the boys ruled this one. The stone belonged to them. They would often flex their muscles to show off their manliness. But the girls would always find a little opening to upset the male dominancy. Sometimes we would push our way onto that stone and steal a jump. We were clumsy young girls, but we found a way to make our own splash. Girl power!
We didn’t know it at the time but that was our stance for gender equality and women empowerment in our own little way. What a magical childhood! It was because of the power of story telling in my childhood that I fostered the desire to write a collection of short stories about my children as they discovered the village in all its awe and wonder. And now these stories are passed on to my grandchildren and all the children that have read these stories over the years. A legacy lives on and I am proud to be a teller of stories.
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