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An International Match Made Online
My husband Rony and I met online back in 2003, when online dating was tabu. We did not meet on a personals website, but through the Yahoo! Messenger chat service. When searching the Yahoo Member Directory for people online available to chat with, he came across me, and sent me a message. The rest is the history that I am about to share.
How Did You Meet Your Partner?
How We "Met"
Rony was living in Uganda, East Africa working for an Indian computer company when we met online, and I was living and working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we live today. I used Yahoo! Messenger often to chat with family and friends, and when doing so, often received random messages from strangers. My typical reaction was to delete and ignore these messages, but for some reason, I allowed a conversation with Rony to start. I had absolutely no intention of attemping a relationship with someone from another country, but found him increasingly interesting. I thought, "Why not have a cool friend from another country?".
Rony and I became friends and eventually started chatting daily via Yahoo! Messenger using our webcams. Over the course of a few months, I became increasingly excited for our chats, and we extended them to the telephone. After getting to know each other much more, we began discussing the possibility of a meeting in person. At first, I thought this was a crazy idea, especially since I had a daughter from a previous relationship who was the most important thing in my life. She was only 2 years old at the time, and I was extremely careful about who I allowed into her life. But as Rony and I grew closer over time, I introduced my daughter to him via webcam, and they became buddies too. Slowly, I warmed up to the idea of a meeting.
By that time, we were talking by chat, webcam meetings, and phone calls every single day. We talked about anything and everything, and got to know each other extremely well. To this day, I will argue with anyone who claims that two people cannot get to know each other without being together in person, because communicating this way allowed us to get to know everything about each other without physical distractions. I would not change anything about it.
One factor that absolutely made our relationship possible is that Rony, like me, is Christian. A large part of India's population is of either the Hindu or Muslim faith, and since my Christian faith is so important to me, him not being a Christian would have been a deal breaker for me personally from day 1. Since he was raised in a Bible-believing Christian family in India, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was raised very much like I was, with very similar values and a very similar lifestyle. This revelation also helped me realize how significantly religion influences a culture.
Rony and I made plans to fly from Uganda and Louisiana, respectively, to meet each other in Dubai in April, 2004. We chose Dubai because it's such an amazing place, and Rony's childhood best friend and older brother lived and worked there. I didn't have much money at the time, so Rony sent me a plane ticket to fly out there to meet him. By the time the trip approached, we had already fallen in love.
Our First Meeting: Dubai
A few weeks before the trip finally arrived, we decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Shockingly to my family, we even made the decision to get engaged during that first trip. My parents thought I had lost my mind and thought I was either going to be sold into the human trafficking trade, or used for a U.S. green card. While I know such dangers are real, I could not explain how I knew Rony was different. I knew him and his character, but had trouble convincing anyone of that.
I remember getting off the plane and through customs, and stepping outside the airport doors to see Rony in person for the first time. It was very hot and the sun was very bright, reflecting off of all of the sand and white buildings around us. Rony looked the same, but it was surreal to see him as a real, live human being. I remember thinking he was a little shorter than I imagined him to be, though he is a couple of inches taller than I am. These first few minutes were awkward, as we shared a long hug, and just could not stop staring at each other, trying to get to know each other physically. However, within 30 minutes, it seemed like we had been together in person for years, and we were extremely comfortable.
We took a taxi to the hotel room, where we stayed together. We settled in and then took a nap because I was completely exhausted after losing 10 hours due to the time change, after having traveled for more than 20 hours to get there. Later that evening, we grabbed a taxi and went out so that Rony could show me around and get us some good Arabic food, which was amazing.
Over the course of the next few days, we spent time with Rony's childhood best friend and his wife, as well as Rony's older brother, sister-in-law, neice and nephew. His friends and family were so welcoming and open to me, and so happy that Rony had found someone to spend his life with. We walked around town with his brother's family one evening, and they took us into an Indian gold store. What an eye-opener that was. I could not have imagined a store so full of bright, 22 carat gold - it was a sight to behold.
While at the gold store, we purchased our engagement rings. In Rony's culture, it is customary for both members of an engaged couple to wear gold bands on their right hands with the other partner's name engraved inside. These rings are exchanged at the engagement rather than at the wedding. Since it is customary in the U.S. to exchage the wedding bands at the wedding rather than engagement, and wear them on the left hand, we decided to combine the 2 customs into one of our own. We exchanged our rings at our engagement, and would wear them on our right hands until marriage, at which time we would move them to our left hands.
One evening, our friends drove us around the area for some sightseeing, and pulled over on the side of the road along the Persian Gulf near the Burj al Arab hotel. Little did I know that Rony planned our engagement for that very moment. We walked onto the Persian Gulf beach at sunset, and exchanged our rings in the most beautiful setting, with our friends there to witness. We were officially an engaged couple.
We spent the remainder of our first week together doing as much as we could fit into our schedule. Dubai is an amazing place, and I could not have imagined a better setting for our first trip together. Parting at the end of our trip was extremely emotional, but we did it, and went to work on Rony's visa application as soon as we returned to our homes.
Our Visa Process
As soon as we returned to our homes, we started to plan how we would get Rony here with me. We investigated a K-3 Visa, also known as a marriage visa, which would enable us to get married in India, but we decided not to move forward with that process because our research showed that the approval process for K-3 visas was much more difficult. Not only that, but we would be unable to be together after our wedding, and unable to visit each other while we awaited visa approval.
We decided to move forward with the K-1 visa process, also known as a fiance visa. Our research about K-1 visas showed that the approval process is normally quicker, and this type of visa would enable us to get married after Rony arrived in the U.S., and remain together afterward.
I submitted the paperwork to sponsor his visa, and the process moved relatively quickly, over the course of about 6 months. We prepared what seemed like endless paperwork, including telephone records, copies of e-mails and chat conversations we had shared, photos and receipts from our Dubai trip as proof that we had spent time together, and more. Rony proceeded with comprehensive, and expensive, background checks and medical testing on his end. While we awaited notification of Rony's interview date, we made plans to meet again in September of 2004, this time in Rony's home town in India.
Our Second Meeting: India
After an emotional separation when we parted ways in Dubai, we missed each other terribly. We simply could not wait for our next meeting in India, and were so excited when it finally arrived. We both had layovers in Dubai, and were over the moon to be together again. We then took the same flight from Dubai to Kerala, India, where Rony's other brother and family driver picked us up at the Cochin airport.
From the minute we landed in India as an engaged couple, Rony's entire family welcomed me with open arms, as if I was already part of his family. I was worried about them not being happy about him choosing a wife who was not Indian, but later learned that his mom was not concerned about my nationality, but was thrilled that he found someone because he was getting "old and bald", which I found very amusing. At the time, he was 29 and I was 26.
During our second meeting in India, we spent a lot of time vising relatives. In fact, one day, we visited 12 homes in 1 day. I was completely exhausted, but even his extended family welcomed me and was very happy for us. They stared at me a lot, which is not considered rude in India, and I was treated like a celebrity. When family friends heard I was coming, they would flock to the other relatives homes to "see" me. No one could talk to me except Rony's cousins, as the older generations were not fluent in English.
For much of our trip, we stayed at the Whispering Palms Resort, which was not far from his family home. The resort is owned by a cousin, and was an amazing place. After our stay at Whispering Palms, we were picked up by a houseboat which took us through the backwaters of Kerala to a town called Allepey, where we spent the night in the remote backwaters on the boat, and were catered to by staff including a personal chef.
The night on the houseboat is a night I will never forget, for several reasons. Most importantly, it was amazing to be out in the natural backwaters of tropical Kerala, India, in complete silence outside of civilization. The sunset was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, and the pitch blackness of night we experienced out there was very unfamiliar to me.
Other memories from that night were not quite so pleasant. I learned a very big lesson at dinner that day - never, ever mistake a long, skinny Indian green chili for a grean bean, no matter how much it looks like one. Before I realized what this "green bean" really was, my mouth was on fire. I drank two 1-liter bottles of water, and this did not help. I kept drinking and it eventually helped, until the real consequence of my mistake took hold of my stomach later that evening. Imagine being up all night on the toilet in a well-ventillated houseboat, in a place so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That may remain one of the most embarassing nights of my lifetime.
When I finally recovered and was able to go to bed, I became a feast for thousands of starving mosquitos. I learned that night that mosquito nets have absolutely no effect in the still backwaters of tropical southern India. While not funny at the time, we look back and laugh at these experiences now.
Shortly after we parted again in the Dubai airport and returned to our homes, Rony recieved the call that his visa interview was scheduled for early November! The next 2 months were exciting and scary at the same time, because we were not sure if we would get the approval we wanted so badly.
November arrived, and Rony traveled to the U.S. Consulate in Kenya for his interview. We expected severe scrutinization, and a waiting period before we would receive an answer. However, the interview went extremely smoothly, and we recieved approval at the interview itself. Rony was told that he had more than enough evidence that our relationship was true, which was a huge relief after we had tried to hard to document everything thoroughly.
The very next day, Rony resigned his position with 1 month's notice and purchased a plane ticket. He arrived at the New Orleans International Airport a month later on December 2, 2004. The day we had wanted so badly had finally become reality. My daughter and I picked Rony up at the airport, and it was as if he was home. She knew him so well already, and ran to him to give him a hug. They fell in love with each other instantly, and she has no memory now of him not being here. Rony fit so perfectly into America and into our lives, it was as if he had always been there.
Then Comes Marriage
The K-1 visa process only allowed us 1 month to get married, so we planned it right away. Since much of my family was not as welcoming as his, we decided to elope to one of my favorite places - Gatlinburg, TN. My sister, brother-in-law, neice, nephew and grandfather traveled to Gatlinburg with us and we rented a large cabin so that we could all stay together. We found a Christian minister there and were married on January 3, 2005 in front of the fireplace at Cozy Bear Lodge.
It was a perfect ceremony, and wonderful to have part of my family there with us. We began our life together that day, and have never looked back. Rony quickly found a good job, we sold my small condo and bought our first house together, and eleven months after our wedding day, we welcomed our first of two sons into the world. We have spent family vacations in that same cabin in Gatlinburg twice since then, and plan to return soon for our 10-year wedding anniversary.
Life is Good
All of my family now loves Rony, as he has proven himself to be a good and loving husband and father. I understand why my family was so scared for me in the beginning, but I am happy that the test of time has proven to them that Rony and I were meant to be together. We did get to know each other very well through our online relationship, and he turned out to be exactly who I knew he was before he arrived. Though there are many crazy people across the world and across town, one must be very cautious and make responsible choices, regardless of distance. We are living proof that international online relationships are possible, and can and do work.