When I arrived home in Canada and unpacked my bags, every item I bought from Tanzania reminded me of Sam and the idea of him and I together began to grow on me. And, for those of you who don’t know me, I am a big romantic at heart. For some reason, I always thought that I’d have a truly spectacular love story to tell my kids—and this was likely due to the fact that my parents had a pretty amazing story of their own (this merits its own separate post, so perhaps another time!). So, while the likelihood of me ending up with a guide that I met in Africa was slim, I fully relished the idea of having such a story in my romantic history. But as the texts and emails became more regular, and even a long-distance phone call every few days, the playful nature of a brief infatuation began to dissipate and a very possible future started to take its shape in the back of my mind. Was this really going to be my story?
At the time, I only told a handful of people, my closest girlfriends, of this possible long-distance relationship. And I know that they all had the best intentions at heart, but some were more wary than others, and advised me to really think this through—how well did I know this guy, and how do I know if he wasn’t trying to scam me? One of my co-workers shared her own experience, about when she actually married her guide in Turkey, only to later find out that he already had a family back home, and eventually left her as soon as he got his status in Canada. And while all of these cautionary tales should’ve unsettled me, or at least made me doubt Sam’s intentions, I found myself even more cemented in my opinion of him. I stubbornly clung on to the fact that I knew he wasn’t such a person; I just didn’t believe that Sam had an ulterior motive.
If anyone had asked me how I knew—what was it about Sam that made me so confident in the integrity of his character, I couldn’t have explained it very well. Because how do you explain a hunch, an intuition that you simply just can’t brush away? There’s a South African quote that I recently came across and I just love how aptly it captures this feeling that I was wrestling with, throughout this period of our relationship, when I was constantly challenged on the authenticity of Sam’s intentions, and of my supposed “blindness”.
And around this time, I faced similar challenges from my parents. To them, it was the distance that baffled them, and the cultural differences that they were certain would be our inevitable breaking point. All of their concerns were valid, because now that I am a parent myself, I could totally understand it from their point of view. And their love for me is so unconditional, that I believe that they were trying to do what was best for me, or in other words—they had imagined their best version of happiness for me, and I had somehow inadvertently derailed from this route that they predicated I would take. To meet someone here, or at least on the same continent. To marry someone with a similar background, if not entirely Canadian, then at least a North American?
A few years back, I was interviewed for a television segment in Asia, and the video was later uploaded to YouTube. One day, I had the leisure to actually scroll through the comments, and while there were many well-wishing people out there, there were also some who were less than friendly and more presumptuous in their opinion of me.
“Shame on her. Her parents immigrated to Canada for a better future, and she leaves them for Africa.”
“If she were my child, I’d disown her.”
Thankfully, my parents are incredibly loving, and they did not share the same narrow-minded concept on interracial marriages as some did, and eventually they did come around. I still remember that one day when I was in the car with my dad, and we inevitably circled back to the recurring subject of my long distance relationship, and he simply listened to what I had to say, what I needed to say, because I was at a point where I was repeatedly being asked whether or not “I trusted this guy I just met in Africa.” But he gave me that space that I needed and lent me his ear at a time when I just craved to be heard and not challenged at every turn.
As for Sam, he also faced his share of opposition when it came to the start of our unconventional relationship. When he told his friends about me, only a small handful were supportive or curious enough to find out more. The majority of them brushed him off with the assumption that this girl was never going to come back to Tanzania. Apparently, in their eyes, he was the fool, and I was the player. Sam confessed to me that it was easy to fall into self-doubt when no one else thought it was possible. But his long-distance texts and phone calls didn’t stop there. And according to him, the costs of maintaining a long-distance relationship was so costly, that he had to budget to carefully lest he ran out of cash (oops!). And although I had planned to go back to Tanzania six months after I first left, he didn’t believe me until I sent him the details of my tickets. Even then, he still wasn’t completely certain that I’d show up at the arrival gate of the Kilimanjaro airport.
But there I was, six months later, stepping out of the plane and into the warm, dusty air that reminded me of the Serengeti. I had a backpack that contained the same journal I wrote in when I first came, along with my luggage filled with comfort food and items that I knew I needed after my first trip to Tanzania—I was fully equipped for my second trip back to this simultaneously strange and familiar place, or so I thought. As I hastened towards the crowd that gathered outside the arrival gate, it didn’t take me long to pick out my former safari guide, wearing that exact same cap and the same smile that first greeted me six months ago.