Girl Power, Part I

(from left) Kim, Martina, Natyna, Jasmyne, Shana in Nungua

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 and I

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.

Martina in Tamale

 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.

Stay tuned for Natyna and Shana…


So Much to be Thankful 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?

Honestly, nothing. 

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.

                   Abigail (CRA) and I