Joia to the world…
Joia Starks likes making a big deal out of Christmas. She has never missed a Christmas celebration except when she lived in Korea on work assignment.
This year, even though she is on work assignment in Barbados, she will be back home where tradition matters – that the family all come together no matter where they are. She plans to present her 16-year-old niece with a gift from Barbados.
“Growing up, we spent many Christmases in Alabama, where both my parents are from. We would all pile into our station wagon with presents and wearing Santa Claus hats to drive nineteen hours from New Jersey to Alabama. We would sing along to The Temptations, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and so on. We did that every year for about five or six years. Back then, I didn’t always appreciate those wonderful memories, but now I do.
“Whenever we actually had snow for Christmas, it was a big deal. I’d go outside with friends and play in the snow for hours, making snow people, having snowball fights, and just being a kid. Those were great times that I’ll always remember.”
Memories of Christmas also include starting Christmas mornings at 5 a.m. She and her older brother would rush downstairs to open presents, after waking their parents. “Now that I am older, I sleep until noon,” she said, laughing.
She prefers real trees, but her dad grew tired of the maintenance: “We have had a fake tree the past few years so I’m used to it now.” She added that decorating the tree is a big deal, especially when her mum pulls out the boxes with the revamped Christmas ornaments that have a collection of black angels.
Joia, 28, works at the United States Embassy and is here for the next two years. She attended Hampton University, a historically black university for her undergraduate studies in marketing. She went on to American University in Washington, DC, to obtain a Master’s degree in United States foreign policy and diplomacy.
This is her first tour with the Foreign Service – a bit of a rocky road to get where she is now, but she chalks it up to perseverance and patience. This is also her first trip to Barbados.
“I love it here,” she exclaimed. “It is so beautiful and I enjoy getting around town and going to various events,” she said. “I have not spent Christmas in Barbados yet, but one big difference is definitely the weather. I am from New Jersey, where it is cold at this time. Barbados would be a welcome change from that.”
She enjoys playing tennis, which she did the day before the photo shoot, ending up with a broken nail on her big toe – covered by a brown bandage. She cheekily told the photographer to photoshop out the bandage so as not to spoil the picture.
Joia admits that Barbados is a sought after assignment on the tour duty sheet because of the climate, the people, the culture and the food. She remembers the meeting when the overseas tour assignments were being handed out and all everybody was wondering was who was going to Barbados. Joia said she was over the moon when she heard she had been selected.
So far, she says, she has fitted in well. “I enjoy exploring the country, catching a movie, and going to the beach.” She professes her love of macaroni pie and fish, and we both joked about being surprised to hear that dolphin was a delicacy and our thinking that the dolphin was actually “Flipper” from the movie.
“Korea was a big culture shock for me,” she continued. “I had to do three years of language training for that.”
The upside was the food and great shopping, she said.
“My friends are all excited to come to Barbados. Two were here last month and two more are coming in January,” she said, sounding pleased. To keep in touch with family she calls her mum no fewer than four times a week. With dad, she’s on Skype and they do a lot of texting.
On Christmas Day, she plans to “stay in my pyjamas most of the day, hang out with my family, watch movies, and chat with friends. My brother and his fiancée will also visit. Breakfast will probably be my dad’s cheesy grits, eggs, bacon, and biscuits. Dinner is sure to be turkey, stuffing, mac and cheese, potato salad, cornbread, sweet potato soufflé, collard greens, and other delicious soul food”.
What was the one thing you always wanted for Christmas but never got, I asked. “ When I was seven, all I wanted was Holiday Barbie. On Christmas Day, I realized I wasn’t getting it and I felt really disappointed. Later, I found out that my parents had been searching every toy store in town to find it and everywhere had sold out. Eventually, I forgot about Holiday Barbie, but I was so impressed by my parents’ dedication and love.”
Speaking of cooking I asked if she can throw down. “I am a work-in-progress in the kitchen. My favourite recipes are my mum’s stuffing and her grilled teriyaki salmon. I’m trying to learn both.
Joia says she isn’t looking forward to anything in her Christmas stocking as she is already blessed with “everything I want and need. I only wish for more incredible memories with my loved ones. I’ll have my camera handy to make sure I capture those moments”.