Ramona Ramdial has a new lease on life. Not only is she the new Member of Parliament (MP) in Couva North- a seat held by UNC founder and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday since 1971; Ramdial is also the Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restoration and Gender Affairs. But for Ramdial, this new lease on life is par for the course, as she explains she would not have been able to enjoy this new status, had fate been at its most cruel eight years ago.
Eight years ago, at the age of 22, Ramdial barely survived a car accident, after she was flung through the windscreen of the vehicle she was travelling in on the Uriah Butler Highway, returning from drag races at Wallerfield.
"The vehicle was a fast one, and though we were not drag racing, we were moving very quickly, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat but not wearing my seatbelt," she said sheepishly during an interview at her constituency office in Couva North earlier this week. "The brake lights were not working on the car in front of us, and we hit."
Ramdial said she might have died that night, had the driver of the vehicle she was travelling in not swerved onto the shoulder of the Highway, preventing a 'head-on' collision. Instead, she spent the next couple years in rehabilitation, with a dislocated shoulder and severe cuts and lacerations, which made it necessary for her to undergo minor surgical operations.
Today, with maturity on her side and barely visible scars over her right eyebrow, Ramdial speaks openly about her experience.
"Thank God we have stricter laws today," she said. "I agree totally with the road laws of Trinidad and Tobago, and as a matter of fact I think we need to have more."
But this does not mean that the feisty MP who entered the field of politics as an activist campaigning against the former Government's smelter projects, does not continue to live on the wild side- legally.
"I am a tom-boy, I have always been a tom-boy, I like to be out and about," she said. "I like kayaking, dragon boat rowing, watching cricket at the oval. I absolutely love to travel, and I have been to North America and Europe... Asia is now definitely in the cards for me. I just need to find the time to do these things."
Ramdial, the daughter of a retired school principal and a home-maker, and the eldest of four siblings, hails from Warren Road, Bejucal in Central Trinidad. Though she was actively involved in anti-smelter campaigns before, her name began appearing in national headlines earlier this year when she campaigned alongside UNC political leader and Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar during the UNC internal elections. Before that she was a geography teacher, teaching fourth and fifth form students at the Vishnu Boys' Hindu College. And though she had not set out for a life in politics- ("No child ever really sets out to become a politician"), Ramdial says that those around her always told her that she would end up in public life.
"My big mouth was a major factor," she explained with a laugh. "I have always been outspoken and strong willed, and I have always been able to use words well... to manipulate with my words like a true politician."
But while she jested about manipulation, Ramdial, who holds a BSc in Environmental and Natural Resources Management and Geography believes her life in office involves much more than twisting words.
"As a young politician, I have a lot of ideologies," she said. "I realized at a community level that things weren't getting done the way that we wanted. We were just hitting walls and people were dissatisfied. I felt that getting into national politics would give me the leverage to make a change. So it just evolved. Today I am elected to serve, and I am under the scrutiny of the media, my family, my party, forces in opposition, social groups- everyone. I think I just need to be focused now and pursue the goals that I have set for myself in office."
She feels that her focus on the environment and has already paid dividends.
"Our Government has said that there would be no smelter," she said with a smile.
And, in a not so veiled shot at the former Prime Minister, Ramdial said, "As a politician, one must be careful of the people around. Sometimes, the people we rely on to support us will betray us, because many times they are around you because they want something for themselves. Politicians on the whole need to be mindful of who they have around them constantly. Manning? I think he got lost in it all."
So how does she intend to safeguard herself?
"I intend to keep people around me with my views, goals and ideas," she said. "Further, I intend to draw on the value systems my parents taught me of discipline and structure. My dad has always been a disciplinarian and he has always taught us that though you can't cater for every event, you can always have a plan."
So what's on the cards in the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restoration and Gender Affairs?
"Well, as it relates to Gender Affairs we are looking at incorporating gender affairs into the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and preparing legislation that people would have to abide by as opposed to the conventions that are currently in existence. As it relates to Planning, Economic and Social Restoration, we are looking first and foremost at the workers and providing skill based training as we seek to restructure, develop and reform all the Government Ministries."