From Malamala To The US Army
A staff sergeant in the United States Army has come a long way from a poor beginning in Nadi.
Now a hardened soldier she has skills in handling any heavy wheel vehicle in the US Army and several deployments in the Middle East.
Ashrafeen Nisha Zysk started out with a very poor family in Malamala in Nadroga.
She went to Malamala Public School, and later Swami Vivekananda College for secondary school education.
“I grew up in a very poor family. My parents could hardly afford basic necessities. My brother Farman Ali and I who would go to the mountain valley near our house and look for fruits and root crops which we could sell by the road for money,” she said.
“It was my faith in God that kept me going,” she said.
She also had a lot of faith in his elder brother, Farman, who supported her back then.
“My brother Farman Ali made the world of difference even though at the time he was in high school. During this time and even till this day I am my brother’s keeper,” Ms Zysk says.
“My heart breaks when I think of those days, how we had to live and struggle just to get by.
“It was during Hurricane Oscar that my parents lost everything we had left.
“I was just a young child at the time, but I remember living in just tents for so many years because we had no home.
“My only wish would have been to have the current Prime Minister (Voreqe Bainimarama) be the PM at that time when my siblings and I were growing up, but everything happens for a reason.
“If it were not for those tough times I would not be the strong, intelligent, independent woman I am today.”
She moved to America in June of 2000 to pursue her dream.
After formal training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina she quickly adapted to the American lifestyle.
“It was challenging but the environment within the Army was great so you don’t feel anything,” she said.
She said even though it took her a while she has adapted to the fast pace in the US.
“US life is very fast life,” she said.
“You don’t get time to socialise with family and friends.
“Everyone is adapted to the fast life.”
But the training paid off and the camaraderie and self confidence instilled in her during those hard times gave her a sense of belonging in her adopted country.
“I wanted to serve the country that gave me the opportunity to make a difference in my life, the opportunity to be able to take care of my family and live my version of the American dream.
“Being in the military has tested me in all areas of my mental and physical fortitude, being able to break boundaries within myself has been the most rewarding gift ever given to me.
“Physically fit and mentally tough is what I am.
“It’s not easy being a soldier, it takes discipline, dedication and sacrifice. You have to stay strong; you have to have a “go get” attitude and mentality.”
Since then she has been deployed twice in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Of course there are challenges out there but as an individual you simply have to overcome those adversities. You have to be resilient. You have to have the can do attitude.”
Her family had different reactions of her joining the army.
“Everyone had their own opinions. My mother and my brother supported me all the way. They knew I could handle anything to come my way,” she said.
She is happily married to the love of her life, Greg Zysk, also a soldier, a Sergeant First Class in the United States Army and with their son and daughter reside in Newport, Virginia.
She said she comes to visit her family.
“There are good vibes for Fiji as a whole,” she said.
She hopes to retire in the next 10 years, return to Fiji and probably operate a restaurant as she loves to cook, at the same time living a peaceful life with her husband.
She said there were two other male Fijian soldiers not in her platoon but in the same brigade.
Her message for women and girls growing up in Fiji is don’t ever let anyone stop you from doing anything you want, educate yourselves, believe in yourself and respect yourself.
“You must also have patience, because good things happen to those who wait. I also want to let the parents know that please don’t live through your children, let them be what they want just guide them, just show them purpose in life,” she said.
Her favourite food is fish which she enjoys a lot either steamed, fried, boiled or grilled. Her favourite drink is water of course.
Ms Zysk’s favourite movie is Hyena Road (military movie) and she watches a lot of documentaries. Her hobbies include cooking, sleeping, fishing, gardening and playing poker.
Ms Zysk returns to work when she returns to the US and will miss the slow pace here in Fiji.
Edited by Rusiate Mataika