I would be lying if I wrote that nothing has changed, because although I didn’t realize it in Ghana– so much had changed, but let’s pick up where we left off: my girls.
Natyna. The girl with the golden-kissed skin, dyed, kempt locks and cherub cheeks– she’s all you could ever ask for. She will tell you, “I smile this way because I know I have messed up teeth so I had to embrace them.” And so she does. Every inch of Natyna exudes confidence–not to be confused with arrogance. She’s humble, and coming from Philadephia, pursuing a double minor at NYU in Africana Studies and dramatic writing– she’s eloquent in her speech, fluid with her vowels and adjectives so that her words caress your ears when she speaks. One thing that she doesn’t do is fall short of things to say, but I always wonder what’s her trick? How does she know exactly when, where and how to soothe your hurt with a rhetoric of solace, wisdom and youthful optimism gelled into one?
I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out– how she balances the weight of her family on her back, caring 100% for everyone (and everything!)– again, never falling short of that. She’ll admit, “I worry too much,” not afraid to put her darkest, most horrible flaws out to the world because in the end we’re all human. Being vulnerable doesn’t scare her like it would most and people gravitate towards that– that uncannied realness that you can’t find even if you travelled to the center of the earth. LOYALTY. At heart, she’s a mother– always feeling the need to lick wounds, offering comfort and her nurturing presence. I think she was born to have babies actually! All in all, no one can top this girl. She’s the perfect fruit juice blend of nature, nurture, loyalty, insanity, creativity and direction in one whole person. Natyna Siobhan Osborne.
I don’t know what my experience would have been without them—my sisters Martina, Jasmyne, Kim, Rachel, Natyna and Shana.
Seemingly quiet and introverted, Kim was the shy girl—the number crunching, budget calculating Stern girl from Jersey. I was weary when I would interact with her. She wasn’t readable—all I knew was that she was all about money and the best way to save it. Who knew that this girl has a blossoming personality and a laugh that could light up a room. With time, Kim opened up—allowing all of us to share and enjoy what makes her so special. Kim isn’t just frugal because she wants to be (well maybe a little bit), but it’s more so because she finances her own education on top of financially helping out around the house. She’s the epitome of independence and by virtue, she’s also a stickler for perfection. As long as she can help it, Kim likes to have things executed perfectly, or close to it. She takes pride her work and takes it very seriously. I think we all need a little bit of Kim in our lives, someone who is independent, responsible and has your best interest at heart.
My over-analytical partner, Jasmyne. I knew Jasmyne since my freshman year at NYU, and there’s much that has changed in those 3.5 years.
Jasmyne, whether she sees this or not, is pretty sure of herself and that’s not to say she’s arrogant or condescending, because she is the left of that. If you ask Jasmyne a question, usually the answer is carefully thought out. She’s thinking of the best way to say it because to her clarity is everything. She knows what she wants, what she expects, what she deserves and settles for nothing less. I think a major part of her personality and her sureness comes from her mother, Lidia. From what Jasmyne shares about her mom, she’s no-nonsense and Jasmyne will tell you, ‘the truth needs no proof. Either it is or it isn’t.’ For this, she stays true to herself—sticking to her morals and never letting anyone tell her any different. She’s humble, warm, and totally willing to see both sides of any situation to offer the best and most fair advice. Jasmyne is strong, intelligent, and a great friend to have in your corner in times of joy and sadness.
Martina, Martina! These four months in Ghana changed Martina—for the better. Not only did she have a physical transformation, losing over 10 lbs and cutting her permed ends to start her natural journey. But she also had a spiritual and personal transformation. Ms. Young, too, is firm in her self-convictions. She’s not easily suaded once her mind has settled on its mark, but she’s open for new ideas and excitement. Martina’s favorite line is, “I want to go on an adventure!” And honestly, I think her entire life is an adventure. Her brilliance and exuberant personality makes it hard for anyone to shy away from her. She’s always smiling and giddy (sometimes a little too giddy). However, underneath all of the smiles and Martina definitely had some troubles along the way. Born in Jamaica, West Indies, Martina came to the United States with her parents and her younger sister. Opportunities were not always afforded to her because of her immigrant-green card status in the United States. But Martina’s faith in God and her trust in her family allowed her to push through the glass ceilings.
At times, Martina has a child-like disposition—I call it lack of street smarts, but Ghana has truly transformed her. I can say that Martina has definitely learned the principles of:
(a) Know what you want and settle for nothing less.
(b) You are the ruler of your own destiny, so speak up or no one else will do it for you.
(c) Be fearless
(d) Be true to yourself first and foremost.
In my opinion, she went back home stronger than she came in and that’s something that she’ll always remember—and that I’ll always remember too.
Well, it’s about that time—time for many of my colleagues to ship out.
I didn’t think the day was going to come… Actually, I did, but not so fast.
The bond that I had developed and shared among the 16 others in the group was strong. I had memories for each and every one of them.
6th Dec. just 9 days before majority of the students were leaving, we had our farewell dinner. Everyone sat with their group of friends, reflecting on the entire semester and what waits ahead for us back home. Some were anxious—tired of the trivial issues that sometimes inconvenienced us. Others, like myself, weren’t yet ready to throw in the towel. Personally, I was fighting to hold on to every last drop of Ghana that I could. Being here felt like my home away from home. It felt like Barbados, but better.
You ever ate your favorite dish by your mom, but your aunt or some other female relative makes it a little better. A shadow of guilt follows you and you feel like Benedict Arnold—a traitor…how can you like someone else’s cooking over your mom’s? Well that’s what Ghana reminds me of. I almost like it a little better than Barbados—in a guilty yet pleasurable way.
I know as time approaches for me to leave, I will still try to hold to Ghana as much as I can, and the bonds that were created among the 17 of us will continue to strengthen back home.
For certain, this is not going to be my last time here. Stay tuned for Ghana part III.
No one (well almost no one) wanted to believe that there was possibility that President Barack Obama could lost to Gov. Mitt Romney. It didn’t make sense to any of us that the polls were split. How could any person of color, any woman, any minority for that matter support Romney and his policies?
For weeks, my friends and I were following the debates. We had already submitted our Absentee Ballots in fear that they may not reach home in time for the elections. Even if our vote wouldn’t count in any other circumstance, we wanted to make sure it counted this time. It was then that I felt that I could single handedly make a difference in the U.S. 2012 Presidential Elections. All over CNN and other news networks, they advertised ‘America’s Choice.’ My stomach would loop and turn into knots hearing the political analyses offered by experts and news hosts.
On 6th Nov., chairs and blankets were set up for our election party. We were prepared to be out there for an entire night because of the five hour time difference. Students from the University of Ghana came by and we all sat and watched.
At around 1 am the number of students present dwindled. Everyone wanted to see the results, but no one was willing to stay up to 4 or 5am to see them.
However, my friends and I stay awake. We were too anxious and falling asleep was not an option for us. We felt that staying awake and seeing the progress was just as important as voting! Good thing we did because we all saw the victory that we were rooting for!
DISCLAIMER: Yes, guys I’m playing catch up– so forgive if these next couple of posts seem out of context!
Thanksgiving in Ghana didn’t seem off. Instead, it felt perfectly placed. When I was much younger, Thanksgiving was a big thing to me. I would put on my most elaborate dress of poofs and sparkles. It was a show for me– a time for me to see all of my relatives, family friends, neighbors, etc. After that childhood phase, I started feeling completely indifferent towards the holiday. It was still a little exciting for me to gather around my family and friends, but I’m excited when we do that on normal days, so what made this day so special for me?
The day itself represents a horrific time in American history, which gets shifted around to be “Happy Turkey Day” or “Happy Spend Time With Your Family Day” “As If You Don’t Already Day.”
So when Thanksgiving Day came upon us here in Accra, I didn’t think much of it, but the day turned out to be special nonetheless.
It was first time spending Thanksgiving outside of the United States, so I wasn’t bombarded with the hype of Macy’s sales, Black Friday promos and 12-hour work shifts at Nordstrom. Instead, I was able to take the day for what it truly is: a day of thanks. Everyone in the program, including the 17 students and staff, came together for a catered dinner (but it was dinner)! Like a huge family, we sat at long tables, which were all dressed and prepped with crisp, white table cloths and polished cutlery. The sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, vegetable dishes were passed around along with jokes, smiles and expressions of gratitude from each of us.
That was the first time I wanted to shed a tear at any Thanksgiving dinner. Each of us offered what that day meant to us and what we were thankful for. And it felt that each of us honestly and thoughtfully took the time to reflect on the semester and how far we came.
After dinner, we danced and laughed the night away until we were kicked out the party (actually, the DJ packed up and went home). But I would have to say that Thanksgiving 2012 was one of my most memorable Thanksgivings– not only because I was spending it in Ghana, but more importantly because of the people I was spending it with.
Would you offer absolutely free medical services, shelter and food for the poor and mentally estranged?
Honestly, I don’t think most of us could– or would. Think about not expecting any–and I mean ANY– sort of monetary compensation for your services. Think about the operation costs of your establishment? How will you pay your staff? Feed your patients and maintain the land? How will you support yourself and your family?
Well, David Abdulai is a man with a heart of gold. This man sees past all of these questions and relies first and foremost in God. The strength of his relationship with God manifests in his work and his reputation as a brilliant, humble and selfless man. When asked how he treats his mentally ill patients, Dr. Abdulai looked at the students sitting in front of him and said, “With love.”
I know there may have been some skeptics around us who were thinking, no drugs? no psychologist on board? But Dr. Abdulai was there to show us that he is a testimony to his own virtue of love and faith.
A woman, whose name I cannot remember, walks into the open structure where Dr. Abdulai is lecturing us on his work. Her clothes drape over her tiny frame, her one eye scans the room–smiling with rotten, decayed teeth at all the youthful, bright faces she sees. Although she doesn’t speak English, she opens her mouth to share stories of her own life. Dr. Abdulai translates all of her witty, spunky commentary and continues to laugh and engage with her. The air is made light, despite the tense burning sensation to find out where this woman came from and how is she managing?
The charismatic woman found her way to the clinic when Dr. Abdulai took her in. He said she did not like to wear clothes. She had sensory issues, and at times, she would use her fecal matter to draw and write on the walls. The woman also would not open up and Dr. Abdulai found it difficult to communicate with her. According to him, all that it took for her to get well was for him to show her that someone cared for her and her well-being. Without the administration of drugs or injections, Dr. Abdulai said it was love that cured this woman.
She shuffled away from us and returned shortly with a new outfit on and a smile on her face. Not once did her smile dull.
The last excursion of the semester turned out to be the best trip of my sixteen-week stay in Ghana.
Wli Falls is hidden by rolling hills and lush, tropical forests in the Volta region of Ghana. Walking through the beaten trail, I was able to fully take in the scenery and the foliage that surrounded the area. Pineapple patches, spider webs and stretches of Ceiba trees guided the path. It looked like an illustration out of a movie, with dense forests and hilltops peaking out from behind the greenery.
The fall is sustained by the Agumatsa River and is located near Hohoe, a town in the Volta region that sits between Lake Volta and Togo. Approaching the fall, hundreds of bats covered the stratified, moss covered rocks. The cool mist freckled the lenses of our cameras and sunglasses, offering a reprieve from the sun’s rays. This sanctuary of water was teeming with life with an array of butterflies, dragonflies, smooth multi-colored stones, and gradients of foliage to prove it.
Watching the white water plunge from about 70 meters (about 229 ft) was inviting! Immediately, I wanted to strip down to my bathing suit and jump into the clear pool that the fall produced. There were some shallow spots, but other parts of the pool were over 6 feet deep (about 2 m). Splashing in the water, I could feel the wet, soft earth under my feet. The current was manageable (if you know how to swim) but it made floating impossible.
Being there, I felt like I was in a film—or at least I wanted to be in one. All I needed was a vacant cottage that sat by the water with my castaway partner. The experience felt surreal