This is not my usual tech-related post. So I apologize to my regular blog readers. What I am going to share here is a true story of me trying a long distance relationship with a girl from Kenya. Throughout this story I will try to refrain from any judgements. To the best of my recollection, I will only lay out events as they unfolded. My memory is still very fresh so it is a good time for me to put it down into words.
You may ask me, why am I doing this?
I thought about it too before writing it. And the answer is very selfish. I do it for myself. I am not a psychiatrist, but I heard from someone that writing it all down, especially when you have an emotional connection to the story, helps a lot to overcome the difficult mental state you are in. So yeah, this is my cathartic outpour, if you want.
Also, please keep in mind that this story involves real people and real events. You obviously see my name up above, but that is the only real name that I will share. To protect the identity of the girl involved in this tale, let's give her some generic name. How about Mary?
So, without any further adieu, here's the story. As it was unfolding.
It all started on Tinder.
Before meeting Mary I had gone through a somewhat long dating drought. At some point in 2020 I decided to create an online dating profile and try my luck there. Unfortunately my experience with online dating was not as exciting as you see in commercials. I don't know why? Maybe I was too boring in my self-description, maybe I didn't post any glamor shots, or maybe I didn't exploit a dog in my photos to play on heartstrings of lonely women. I don't know.
Most females that happened to like me back (or swipe right, in today's online dating terminology) were not very keen on exchanging long messages. Our conversations would gradually peter out in a few days and eventually cease completely, or turn into monosyllabic answers.
The only actual conversations with willing humans that I seemed to have had, were with scammers. And there were quite a few of them there. The plot usually went as such. I would swipe right on a girl that I liked. "She" would swipe right back on me almost immediately. After that we will start exchanging messages. "She" will be quite eager to reply. This will continue for a few days. Eventually though, I would get a message, something in the tune of, "Hey, I'm stuck at the airport. Can you wire me some money?"
My guess is that this kinda behavior works with some people, because I can't imagine myself falling for it so quickly.
So my eventual reaction (as a security researcher) was to report them to Tinder and have their accounts blocked.
All this was very taxing though. Even after such a short conversation the scammer still happens to play on the feelings of a lonely date-seeker. So over time I was gradually losing interest in the whole online dating thing.
At the time this happened I lived in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. The way Tinder worked is that it would let me select the radius (in miles) within which I wanted to find a match. And since I didn't have many matches around me, it would soon default to showing a message saying that, "Sorry, there's no one else around you. Try again later."
But then something changed in the way Tinder handled those no-more-matches situations. And instead of showing a blank screen, it would switch you to a global search. Which meant that after a while, you would start getting matches from all over the world.
I need to point out that I could clearly see that all those global profiles were thousands of miles away from me, featuring very good looking women, and I never had any hopes that any of them would be willing to swipe right on me. Moreover, most of the women that Tinder defaulted to showing me were clearly models, or some social media influencers. I could say that by the quality of their professionally made photos and by the types of shots that they were posting. So I steered clear of those profiles, as I knew that I stood no chance of being noticed among hundreds or maybe even thousands of other likes.
But then one day I saw Mary's profile. It was September 2020. (I know the actual day, but I won't disclose it here.) I don't remember what I was doing at the time. All I remember is that I really liked what I saw. I tried to slow down now and put it into words - what exactly attracted me in Mary. But I couldn't. What came out was just some generic stuff. So it is clear to me that one cannot definitively describe why they liked someone. There was something about her face, her smile, the way she dressed and also wrote about herself. It was all very attractive to me.
So I swiped right on her, not even considering the fact that she may like me back ... I don't think I even knew where she was from. I just liked her and that was all I cared at the time.
Can you imagine my surprise when my phone dinged with a notification that Mary liked me back? All I remember is that I checked her profile again and was shocked that such a good looking girl liked me back. But there was still something in the back of my mind that was telling me, "hey, remember, there are scammers out there!" So I had to act carefully.
Still, I couldn't pass on such an attractive girl. And I opened up a conversation with the following question:
Oh wow, you're 9101 miles away. What part of the world are you in?
To my surprise, she replied right away:
I am in Kenya. Where are you?
At this point my rational mind chalked off this meeting as either another online scam, or something very unlikely to succeed. So I quipped back:
I'm on the West Coast of the U.S. That's not very far ...
At this point in the Tinder parlance a girl would either follow up on the joke, or just block me and move on. And that is what I expected. But she didn't.
Instead, she said that yes, this is very far but she is not afraid of long distance relationships. And then she asked me, if I am OK with it as well. I replied that I am OK with it, and we continued texting. I was still curious to see where it would lead to. And to my surprise it was going well. Really well.
At this point I need to say that we were probably a day in, and we had already exchanged more text messages than what I had with all my previous matches combined. Mary was very responsive, quick-witted and pleasant to talk to. But I was still suspecting a foul play and was ready for a money question at any point. But it never came. (Not at this stage, at least.)
As our nascent relationship progressed, we started talking at any possible opportunity. And quite quickly overwhelmed the Tinder messaging app. It started being very slow and began showing bugs. (By the way, if you're a Tinder developer, you may test your built-in messaging app for when people exchange more than just a few sentences. I know this is not the norm, but just in case.)
I pointed the Tinder bugs to Mary and she suggested switching to WhatsApp. And then she gave me her number! I remember that I was truly ecstatic. How could such a cool girl be into me?
The Honeymoon Phase
After we switched to WhatsApp, our relationship had started to peek in an exponential form, and probably the last half of September and also October of 2020 were my happiest moments for the last 5 years! It's very hard to put this into words. We all have been in love, right? So picture those first weeks of meeting someone and realizing that they love you back and that everything between you two match so well. That was the moment. But on steroids.
We literally started texting each other at every possible moment. There was an 11-hour difference between us. In the morning (for me) I would go to work and text Mary as soon as I could find time. Then we would text each other until she fell asleep, which was roughly around 11 AM (my time.) And in the evening (my time) she would text me when she gets up and we would continue talking until I go to bed at around midnight.
While maintaining this schedule I started to notice that she would sometimes text me between 6 and 7 PM. Having done some quick math, I realized that she was waking up at around 6 AM to talk to me! I asked her if she is an early-riser and she said, no, that she was doing it for me. Can you imagine hearing it from the girl you like?
So we kept on texting ... and texting we did! We talked nonstop, and talked about everything. And we couldn't get enough of each other. We sent so many messages that WhatsApp started to have issues with notifications. At some point I checked the memory usage for it, and it was measured in gigabytes!
We were even joking about how much we talk, and when will it end? At some point Mary told me that her mother thinks that she is crazy laughing so hard at her phone. I was in heaven with her!
With every day, in our insane texting mode, we were finding things to talk about. It was so exhilarating and engrossing that on some occasions I could forget to have my dinner, and only remember about it when I hang up and try to go to bed. (Mostly by seeing my dinner untouched in the fridge when I went to get a drink of water.)
It seemed like this euphoria will never end. And we didn't want it to end. I didn't want it to end, for sure. Plus, I could clearly see that she was also into me merely by the way she was waking up at 6 AM to talk to me. Would you do that for someone every day? Yeah, that's what I mean! That acted as a feedback loop into my affection and love back to Mary.
This relationship had also changed my behavior toward others. Let me explain.
I am usually a somewhat reserved person when I am in a public setting. Say, in a supermarket I will not be talking to some stranger about their choice of cereal. But this time, having this connection with Mary made me literally hover above the ground, flying in my state of euphoria, if you know what I mean. It also made me so friendly to others, that, for instance, in a grocery store I may start talking to a person that is placing fruits on the stands, or stocks the aisles. It was just some small talk, but after it was over, I couldn't believe that I had done that. It was so not-like-me! But there I was. Flying in my happiness of knowing Mary.
The Story About Mary
At some early point in our relationship, we started exchanging information about each other and about our past. I was totally upfront with Mary and told her about my immigrant past, that I moved to United States in 2002 and explained in details my previous path that lead to where I was. She liked it a lot and told me that she really enjoyed the multinational and multicultural aspect about our relationship.
At some point she even said that I was a dream boyfriend for her that she always wanted as a little girl. So how could anyone not like such a person back?
In turn she also told me about her story. That she is originally from a poor family, that she was raised by her single mother and that her dad had deserted them when she very young, and that he never supported them. She also told me some heart-wrenching stories from her childhood and about her mother being super religious and super hard on her, often applying unnecessary psychological pressure and even beating her for some very minor transgressions. She told me multiple stories about her running away from home in the middle of the night and staying with friends. She also told me about her other siblings, namely her older sister, that was a train-wreck of a person, having an alcoholic husband and several children that they can't support. I offered my full understanding, and she again repeated that she cannot believe how lucky she was to have found me.
Mary also told me about "Kenyan men" that, according to her, were known for cheating on their wives and for abandoning their relationships. She also posited to me:
That is why I will never date a Kenyan man!
I agreed wholeheartedly with her and told her, that I will never cheat on her, and if our relationship came to a point when I couldn't stand her, I will break up with her first and then go to the new girl.
Mary relied that she cannot imagine such thing ever happening to us. And also said that she can't stand cheaters and that she will absolutely do the same.
The Lavish Lifestyle & Fancy Pictures
What seemed odd to me in Mary's story was that in despite of her referring to a poor lifestyle with her mother, Mary had quite a few attractive pictures of herself, wearing fancy dresses with a well made-up face and hair, captured in some royal settings. It looked like such a contrast to me. In almost none of her pictures she wore the same dress, and all of the settings her pictures were made in reminded of a lavish lifestyle.
So I asked Mary about it. For which she told me that before she met me she traveled to Dubai, where she worked as a hostess and had her own apartment that she shared with her girlfriend. And that most of those pictures were made when she was with her previous boyfriends. She called them my ex's, which was kinda odd to me, that a girl would be referring to, or even talking about her ex's to her new boyfriend.
What was also interesting about Mary is that she wasn't hiding the fact that she had several well-off boyfriends in the past that were spoiling her with gifts. She wasn't naming them and all, but she was mostly referring to them by their country of origin, or the type of business they were in. As an example: "my Scottish ex" etc. What also seemed peculiar was that almost all of her recent boyfriends were older white men, primarily from the Western Europe and some from Asia.
She also told me that the reason she met me was because of the Coronavirus and that she had never tried an online dating app before. She met all of her ex's in real life. In a club or in some similar setting. But when the global pandemic hit in 2020, she lost her job in Dubai and was forced to move back to Kenya, into her mother's apartment. That made her very depressed and while being in that state, her friend Sharon (also the name I made up) suggested to try Tinder. And that's when she met me.
Her moral of that story was that if not for the COVID-19, we would have never met. And that 2020, in despite of all the horrible things that happened, was a very fortunate year for her because she met me. I couldn't agree more!
Once Mary confided to me that she has occasional nightmares. At first I glossed it over as a silly thing. "We all have occasional bad dreams," I thought to myself. It sounded very childish to me that she even brought that up.
But then on one occasion Mary texted me very early. It was something around 4 AM her time. I was obviously concerned by such an early text and asked her what happened? And she revealed to me that she had another nightmare. After having talked to her for a little bit I realized that she was quite seriously shaken up by it.
I tried to console her and to find out what the nightmare was about. For me, analyzing my bad dream and "confronting the demons", so to speak, was the way to overcome it. But Mary couldn't tell me any details. The only thing that she kept repeating was that she couldn't sleep and wanted me to continue texting her. So we did until she fell asleep.
It soon became apparent though that whatever was haunting her in those nightmares was really affecting her psychologically. So when it happened one more time, I tried to find out what was on her mind then. But again, Mary was very vague about the real reason. She kept saying that it was a man, following her, pursuing her, and then he suddenly appeared in front of her and that's when she screamed and woke up. She even told me that she was afraid that she might have screamed out loud and was looking around to see if anyone in the room noticed. I asked her if there was any guy in the past that attacked her or did anything physically to her (suspecting the worst) but Mary told me that, "No, there was never such a guy."
It was a real mystery to me. Why was she having those nightmares? All I could tell was that she was quite shaken up by the experience, and couldn't sleep for some time afterwards.
These nightmares continued throughout our romance with Mary. I eventually gave up trying to find out what was causing them and resigned to a thought of her seeing some religious imagery that her mother probably told her about during their visits to the church. I even started approaching those nightmares from a facetious side, hoping that way to help Mary to overcome them. I started calling her, "My bae, the demon slayer", akin to the mystical character of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".
One time though I was able to elicit a little bit more from Mary. When I asked for a usual recount of her nightmare, she replied:
It's not about demons. This is something from my past. One day I may tell you about it.
That day had never come ...
The First Video Call
At some point in our relationship, probably early in October, we came to a point that we had to move to the next stage. We already exchanged some voice messages, so we knew how we both sound. During a "normal" match (or the one where you don't live 9,000 miles away from each other) I would probably now ask to meet her in person. But since that was still out of the question, the logical move was to arrange a video call.
We scheduled the time, and I remember how nerve-wrecking it was waiting for her to call me. (She needed some time to make up her hair and stuff.) You know that anticipation just minutes before it has to happen? And then she called ...
It was such a wonderful moment to see her. We were both so nervous. I remember she was giggling all the time, and I was repeating the same thing, over and over. We both sounded like two crazy fools. Fools in love.
It was a short call too. We were so nervous that we couldn't maintain our composure for more than a few minutes. But this call proved something very important to me - that Mary wasn't just some scammer dude in his mom's basement. She was the girl that I saw on the pictures that I fell in love with.
At that moment, I had no doubts in the authenticity of this relationship and I was ready to move to the next step.
Planning The First Trip
At this point, early in October 2020, Mary invited me to come over to meet her. I don't remember the exact instance, or how she said it. All I know is that I was sitting in my kitchen, eating my bachelor dinner, thinking it over to myself, "Flying to Kenya! Heck, I haven't even flown anywhere in US for a while. And during a global pandemic too. Hell, no! That's too much. Maybe later, but not now. It's crazy. Plus one needs like a ton of vaccinations just to fly to Africa. No way!"
I have this trait - I am not sure if it's a good or a bad one - that I may jump into action attempting to do something insanely improbable on a spur of a moment, almost like a dare. The most important factor for that to happen is that I have to act quickly.
I then looked at my bowl of cereal, and said, "So, Kenya, hah?" ... "Why not!"
And that's how we started planning my trip to meet in person. 😉
Since I didn't really know much about international travel to Africa, let alone during a deadly global pandemic, I had to do a lot of research. Here's my to-do list that comes to mind:
- I needed to get a week off at work.
- I had to find out about the trip to Africa, and to Kenya in general. I checked the State Department website, and sure enough, there were a lot of scary things concerning going to Kenya. I showed it to Mary and she said, "Don;t worry, you'll be with me. I will make sure that your stay is safe." And believe it or not, that was all I needed to hear. I wasn't concerned about my safety after that at all! That's the kind of a power she had on me.
- Doing all the needed vaccination shots for a trip to Africa wasn't easy. I contacted Kaiser Permanente (my healthcare provider) and
realized that American healthcare Bureaucracy
doesn't make things easy. Some shots were available locally, while some were not. For some unknown to me reason, the Yellow Fever vaccination was almost impossible
to get as they were supplying like 5 or 6 shots for the whole state of Washington for the entire month. So that took some coaxing to get. I ended up driving
for several hours to some clinic in Seattle to get it done.
All in all, I was able to get all the shots finished in time for the trip. All 7 of them! (My arms with Band Aids looked like a character of Marv from the Sin City movie. 😁)
- I ordered the tickets using Google Flights without giving it too much of a thought. (Although it later turned out that I will be losing about 30 hours for the flight & layovers from Seattle to Nairobi, Kenya. Which, as you can imagine, wasn't fun in itself. But knowing that I will meet Mary at the end was totally worth it. So I didn't even give it a second thought.)
- Lastly, Mary told me that she did not tell her family about me (yet.) And that if I come over, we will have to stay in the hotel. I agreed, because I hadn't told anyone about her, either. So I booked a hotel in Nairobi for 7 days.
I need to point out one crucial detail here - the money. Since early on in our relationship (or, texting, at this point) Mary had never asked me for money. It was a very welcome surprise. That way I kinda proved to myself that she wasn't a scammer. But I also knew that she didn't have much of her own finances, so I didn't expect her to pay for anything during this trip.
The preparation to the trip itself was also very fun. I didn't have much time for it thought. The way we arranged it, I had about 2 weeks to get everything ready before my flight. So it was fast-paced but fun. I asked Mary about places that she would recommend we visit in Nairobi (the city she lived in) and she gave me a list. Anything from the national park, full of African wildlife, to fascinating Maasai market. It felt like a dream-come-true.
I quickly finished my preparations and was ready for the trip, that took place at the end of October 2020. It was also amazing how all the minutiae fades away when you are flying to see the person you are deeply in love with. Isn't it true? I hope you experienced it at least once in your life. It is worth it!
The First Trip
I took off from the Portland International Airport, the 3rd week of October 2020, and headed for Nairobi, Kenya. It was a long 30-hour flight, with the layovers in US and Germany. And by the time I arrived to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport I was utterly exhausted. By the time I passed the disorienting Kenyan customs and immigration, it was already late at night, as I walked outside to the freedom of the Kenyan warm spring night.
It was suddenly dark as I left a well-lit airport building. All I could see were local taxi drivers jockeying for the next Western tourist to give a ride.
Then all of a sudden, I noticed a beautiful girl, holding a bunch of balloons, walking toward me. I immediately recognized Mary. In person she was way more gorgeous than I could ever imagine. She then said, "Hi" and we hugged. It was a long hug too. She then gave me those balloons, and we walked to the Uber that she ordered for us.
That moment was very surreal and will probably always stay in my memory. It was also so strange too. Picture that you see a woman that you've never met before, but you instantly know how beautiful she is and that you can't break your gaze from her. She then approaches and hugs you. And you know that she has the same feelings for you. It doesn't happen like this in real-life matches, does it?
I don't remember more details from the Uber ride (I was very exhausted, as I haven't slept for over 30 hours.) Except that during the ride, it was very awkward at first. I didn't know how to behave. On one hand, this was the girl that I knew so much about, that I was in love with, sitting next to me, looking intently at me. On the other hand, this was the girl that I literally physically met less than an hour ago. So you get the drift, right? :awkward:
I should also point out, that by the time I arrived to Kenya we had discussed our sexual preferences, and were very open with each other about that subject. Moreover, akin to a well-known online dating habit, we had also done our share of WhatsApp sexting and knew pretty well our intimate preferences.
Mary was the one that broke the ice. While in Uber, safely out of the airport cacophony, she leaned forward and we kissed. It was a very gentle kiss on the lips that could move mountains. She then took my hand in hers and we continued holding hands like that all the way to our hotel. It was a truly unforgettable moment!
I will spare you the details of the night that followed.
The First Money Question
I probably need to mention that the first time the money question came up in our conversation was a day or two before the trip. During one of our busy conversations about the trip preparations, Mary asked me to send her some money to do her hair, nails and other grooming routines. I didn't know about details of sending money to Kenya, so she explained that I can use Western Union for that. She asked for $300 USD.
I didn't hesitate to follow her request, although it was somewhat inconvenient to use that service.
The Western Union office at our local Safeway store, was anything but accommodating. The lady at the counter said that I can only use cash for this transfer, which required me to go to my bank and then to return. Moreover, even the fees for the transfer had to be paid in cash, which was very inconvenient and 90's like.
Later though, the next day, Mary requested for another $300 USD transfer via Western Union. This was needed for other beauty-related preparations. I obliged to follow her second request too without any questions.
The First Stay In Kenya
After I arrived to Kenya, and received the warmest welcome from Mary, I couldn't expect more. But there was definitely more at store. I wrote a full blog post about that visit, and how great it was. So please check it there for details.
In a nutshell, we ate some very delicious food, went to a fascinating museum of natural history, and overall enjoyed each other's company to the fullest. Then, at about middle of my stay, Mary suggested and then organized a trip for both of us to do a Safari tour to see some incredible African wildlife. At first I wasn't sure what to expect, but then when we went through it, I couldn't thank her more. It was an amazing experience, first driving through the Kenyan countryside (for about 4 hours), then staying at an exquisite Safari lodge, and then - the highlight of it all - seeing the African wildlife up-close with your own eyes. Neither myself, nor Mary, had done it before. So it was a true unforgettable experience! (Again, please check this blog post for the full story.)
At the end of day 6, it felt like the time flew by so quickly that it didn't even feel like a week. It was a sad moment too, because I knew that I will have to say good-bye to Mary. We both knew it, and we were very sad about it. I could feel it in the air.
The First Apartment Talk
The last morning that we spent together before my departure, Mary suggested that we stay longer in bed. I agreed. I remember that it felt so good to cuddle with her, and to feel her near me. It felt like I could do it forever.
And then, I also remember, that she turned to me and asked:
Dennis, when you get back, can you rent me an apartment?
By then I knew that she had to stay with her mother in their small apartment. As I said earlier, Mary didn't tell her mother about me, and thus she could not show their apartment to me. But from our previous conversation, I knew that it was in a very crowded place that was not located in the best of neighborhoods in Nairobi, either.
One interesting aspect of her mother's apartment is that I have never seen it (even now.) I asked Mary to make me some pictures of that apartment and she refused, stating that it's her mother's apartment and she can't photograph it without permission.
Moreover, she didn't want to make video calls from her mother's apartment. But during some rare ones, when Mary had to video call from that place, she was always careful not to show more than a blank wall behind her. She was also very careful not to call when there were many people in that apartment. Thus we did not have many video calls with her while she stayed there. A video call from that place was something very urgent that required immediate attention. And it was quite rare.
All in all, at that point in our relationship I was willing to get Mary a place of her own. At that time, I was also mulling over a possibility of bringing her over to United States to live with me. Thus I knew that if I got her that apartment it would be a temporary thing. But I needed to know the cost, as unlike her previous boyfriends, I wasn't some owner of an aircraft supply company, and I had my budget.
So I asked:
How much a month are we looking for?
And she replied:
I have to point out that I have a slight conflict here. My recollection tells me that she said $200, but during our later conversations with Mary, she insisted that she said $300. Thus, I'm giving a range of numbers to be fair to both of our memories.
I thought to myself that this is a very low amount, especially for an apartment in US, and I agreed to do that for her.
The First Flight Back
Saying good-bye to Mary at the JKIA airport was probably the hardest thing that day. Before the flight though, we had quite a stressful ride to the airport itself. A badly placed road construction, coupled with a woeful state of roads in Kenya, made us barely miss my flight. That would have been quite stressful in normal circumstances, but going through this with Mary made it somewhat insignificant. Throughout the whole car ride she was lovingly holding my hand in hers, which totally changed my stress level. It dulled it out and made me feel so comfortable in her embrace.
I should also point out that throughout this entire trip to Kenya we were doing everything together. Almost always holding hands, in a very close physical and intimate proximity with each other. It's really hard to put the effects of this into words. But it made me very connected to her.
So giving Mary the last kiss and seeing her walk away from me, made me very sentimental. I still have it etched in memory even today.
Then there was a long flight back, with several layovers in Europe and in the US, consisting again of over 30 hours of travel. This time though, because one of the airlines that canceled one of my connecting flights, I had to reschedule, which made the trip back less than desirable. I had an 8-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany.
So when I got to Germany, I was still overwhelmed by the trip itself, by not sleeping on the plane, and generally by thoughts of what just happened for the past 7 days. It was all still spinning in my head, and I was still running on sweet endorphins.
In Germany though, during an 8-hour break in my trip, I had some time to think. And immediately I started missing Mary. In my head, the only thought I had at the time was how can I stay with her? How can I bring her to live with me?
We talked about this with her before. That it would be nice to have her move in with me and have us both live together. We didn't follow up on it with any specifics, but she always agreed with me that it would be a great idea! So now, sitting alone in Germany, I was playing all possible scenarios in my head, how I can bring Mary to be with me.
The obvious one that came to mind was to arrange an American fiancé visa for her. I knew that there were ways to bring foreign citizen to US as a spouse. I just didn't know all the specifics. So I started seriously looking into it on the government websites, pulling out forms, reading immigrations forums, learning the details.
Unfortunately though, my original euphoria was somewhat quenched by the fact that the U.S. immigration process was severely hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic and by some ill-advised policies of the current administration. In other words, I learned that the visa process to bring Mary to live with me could take years!
It was quite unsettling, but I didn't give up. In my mind I came up with the plan of action. My initial thoughts were to continue talking to her via WhatsApp and video calling, to build on our relationship. And in the meantime to plan another trip to Kenya, as soon as I can get my next time off. Then, possibly propose to her in person and start the visa application along with her. The process required proof of our commitment, some documents and pictures, etc. So I thought that doing it in person with her could be a good plan. So I settled on it in my head and moved on with my flight back home.
After The First Trip
When I arrived back to Portland, Oregon, it was about 11 PM. It was a dark, cold autumn night. The contrast to the balmy Nairobi weather was too much not to notice. Luckily I had a warm sweater with me. But even that was not enough to offset my dejected feeling of not having Mary next to me.
During my drive home from the airport, the depression got even worse. The cold, dark freeway, devoid of traffic, alone in the car, remembering the great time I spent with Mary, always holding hands, always on high spirits. It was too much to bear. By the time I walked into my apartment, the reality of having come back to my lonely bachelor life hit me hard.
Luckily, Mary was just a text away! I sent her the message that I just walked into my apartment and we chatted. I told her how much I loved her and how much I was already missing her.
Note that I didn't say anything to her about my plans for the next trip, or about starting the visa process. I wanted to keep it as a surprise until some later time.
Then on, texting to Mary at the same pace as before, put me back on track and my original depression quickly went away. I knew that I still had her in my life and that she was fully on-board with me.
I need to point out that having come back from my first trip we resumed our crazy texting at the same pace. Meaning that we were texting each other at every possible opportunity. She, when she got up very early in the morning at around 6 or 7 AM, and I, as soon as I had a free minute at work, as well as before we went to bed. It was super! And we continued to joke that we don't know when our crazy texting will even end? There was definitely no end in sight. And we both loved it!
First Cracks - The "Real" Apartment Talk
Up until maybe this point, I could definitely say that the time that I had spent with Mary was the happiest time I'd had in a long while. It felt like everything between us was so perfect, that we matched so well, and it felt like nothing could go wrong. We literally couldn't get enough of each other and were willing to spend every waking minute talking and sharing our lives.
The first cracks in this idyllic dream condition (at least for me) started to appear when Mary brought up an apartment that she requested from me before I left Kenya.
Almost immediately, maybe a few days after I came back, she wrote that she is going to talk to a realtor about the apartment and that she will let me know. I agreed.
The next day my WhatsApp feed was full of pictures that she took during her meeting with a realtor. It was a quick follow-up, I thought. She made all kinds of photographs of two apartments: one was in the Loresho neighborhood, and another one - in the Westlands area of Nairobi.
I have to make a brief detour here and explain about the living conditions in Nairobi. I obviously have to start off by saying that I am a foreigner to Kenya, and what I will write here is what I learned from my two briefs visits to that country.
The neighborhood where you live makes all the difference in Nairobi. It dictates everything: the quality of life, your safety, the proximity to good and reputable businesses, and most importantly, your status among other Kenyans.
The Nairobi city itself is a quite large and sprawling metropolis. It has a lot of people and a lot of things going on there. And I've seen it all. There are places that are indeed very close to the Western standards (aside from the road conditions and hectic driving) but there are also neighborhoods where you cannot even imagine that human beings can live there. I'm talking about the worst ghettos you can see. So choosing the right location to live there, can make or break things.
And, from what I understand, the Westlands neighborhood is one of the upscale places to live in Nairobi. It is close to the city center and has one of the decent apartments a person with a nice job can afford. Loresho was somewhat lower on the scale, but was still up there.
I replied that I liked the pictures that Mary sent me. And asked about some specifics.
What made me somewhat curious though was that Mary didn't give me a link to the actual realtor site with the listings. She only showed the pictures she took. And my requests for her to give me the actual link to the listing were met with skepticism.
After that slight hiccup, I had no choice but to ask her directly about the rent that the landlord wanted for those apartments. And she replied that the apartment in Loresho was about $450 USD per month, and the one at Westlands was around $500 USD monthly.
If you are still with me and follow the narrative, the rent amount that she asked originally was $200-$300 USD.
At this point I was deeply in love with Mary, so upping the rent to $500 was a slight annoyance, but was still doable. I replied that I didn't know the process how I could be sending her $500 USD a month and asked for specifics.
What followed though was a complete surprise to me.
The response I got from Mary was a complete change of hearts. The only way I can describe it is that she literally blew up on me. Her tone changed and she replied, basically, with the following:
How do you expect me to live for $500 a month? This is just to pay the rent! What about my living expenses?
I was seriously taken aback by such reply. Maybe it is me? Maybe I'm just a practical person. But when someone asks me for $500, I assume $500. I don't assume any more or less. So I told her that and asked to clarify:
OK. Sorry. So how much do you need for your living expenses?
After a short while Mary got back to me, that she also needed $1,000 USD a month for her living expenses.
I have to take a break here ...
Notice that the conversation about getting an apartment started from $200-$300 and quickly escalated to $1,500 a month, which is not quite the same thing.
At the time, I didn't know Kenya well enough and when my brain started processing our current state of affairs with Mary, I couldn't put two-and-two together. I started having all kinds of thoughts. Why would she need an apartment in the first place? Also what was the cost of an apartment in Kenya. $500 seemed very low by US standards. But twice as much for her living expenses? That sounded like a lot! What was she going to do with that money?
And then the most daunting question. Why was she asking for me to get her an apartment after having met me just 2 months ago? Was it customary for women in Kenya to do that? I didn't know. Throughout our conversion with Mary I noticed some differences in customs and traditions between Kenya and the West. So in the back on my mind I was thinking that maybe that apartment rental is one of those things. Who the heck knows?
I didn't know all the answers to those questions and my mind was racing. I started to have my doubts, but I also didn't want to lose Mary. So I replied that I need to think about it and we hung up our conversion for the day.
But instead of going to bed, I decided to ask online. I obvioudly couldn't ask Mary any of those questions, right? And I didn't know anyone in Kenya to ask them either. So I asked at the only place I knew. Kenyan subreddit.
I'm not going to show my actual questions here, but in a nutshell, I formulated several short posts.
One, I asked about the living expenses in Nairobi, and in the general location where she wanted to get her apartment. And quite quickly received a response that, depending on your spending habits, you can live somewhat comfortably on $500 a month, or even $250 if you are OK with some saving. And an apartment itself, with a middle-class living conditions could cost $300 a month. All relative, of course.
Then my main concern was about the whole request of getting an apartment in the first place.
I was careful not to reveal too much information on Reddit, and said that I am from United States, that I recently met a girl from Kenya, that I flew to see her in person, and now when I'm back home in US, 2 months after our relationship had started, she is asking me to get her an apartment for $500/month and provide $1,000/month for her living expenses.
What ensued was a highly upvoted and difficult to read Reddit thread. I received over a 100 replies, with quite a few of them deriding me as a total tool, while some were outright straightforward in their advice. The bottom line was this:
Run! And don't look back! This girl is using you.and:
You will be paying for that apartment bro, and she will be living there with her boyfriend. Go ahead, do it 😂
I was seriously shocked by these responses. I thought that maybe someone, at least one person, would say that, yes, this is customary in Kenya for a man to get a woman her apartment before she actually moves in with him. (I, of course, realize how absurd it sounds now. But at that time I was blinded by love. So I didn't want to hear any of that!)
Still, my unconditional love to Mary had been dealt a vicious blow by her apartment request and by the ensuing replies I got from Reddit. And it was relentless. The replies were coming in and in, to the point that I thought to close the whole thing down. But a 100% unanimous agreement among the commenters didn't let me do it. I was slowly coming to my senses.
And even though before I posted that question I was somewhat considering paying $1,500 to please Mary, now after having read what other Kenyans were telling me, my blood was boiling with realization that I might have been had.
The Tough Talk About Apartment
The next morning was full of anxiety of facing Mary and telling her no. I played it probably a thousand times in my head. I was pissed. Very pissed! I rehearsed how I would say to her that this is a total betrayal and that this is too early in the relationship to ask for such a favor as getting her an apartment, and that I wasn't looking for a sugar baby. In the heat of the moment, in my thoughts, I was even ready to break up with her.
So when the time came to text her, I said everything that I envisioned above. It wasn't easy. Mary got very upset and I remember that for a few days we weren't talking to each other. She picked especially on the sugar baby comment of mine and kept repeating that she is not one of them. I kinda liked it, because it told me at least circumstantially that she wasn't one.
But, at the end of our heated conversation I implied that I am ready for a breakup.
It was kinda easy to do, in the heat of the fight, when I was arguing with her ... but then, when we hung up and I went to bed, the realization that I am about to lose her hit me hard. I don't know how it works, but you get this wave of very heavy uneasiness that you have done something awful and you want to change it right away!
The first thing in the morning I texted her, and to my amazement, she was ready to reply. Evidently she told me that she went through the same emotions and that she didn't want to end our relationship. I was very relieved!
At the end of that day Mary told me that she doesn't want that apartment anymore, that she values our relationship and that she will stay at her mother's place instead.
I need to point out something about Mary. If she makes up her mind about something in the heat of an argument, it would be very hard to make her budge from that commitment. And only over time she may change her mind.
No work in Kenya. Period.
I'm not gonna lie that I was kinda relieved that the apartment request ended in such a way. In my mind it validated that Mary was not just some money grabbing girl, and that she has a core of normalcy in her. In my mind, I was able to justify her behavior (of asking me to provide $1,500 for an apartment) by remembering that she had a very tough upbringing, and that she grew up in a poor family without too much education from her parents. My thinking was that she probably got that idea from some friend in the past and that she didn't realize that it was bad to ask her boyfriend of 2 months to provide her with such a huge favor, especially when it gave him a lot of bad thoughts about why she may need that apartment and what she'd be doing in it without him.
But I also felt bad because I didn't give anything to Mary. I mean I wanted her to move out from her mom's place, plus I promised her that apartment too. $200-$300 one, but still an apartment.
So I went to her with a compromise, and said:
Mary, I'm sorry that it went like that about the apartment. I truly want to help you, but for now I can't afford paying $1,500. Can we do it this way? What if you find some local job that will provide you with some of that $1,500 and I will throw in the rest?
For me this request seemed quite reasonable. It showed my care about her and also asked for her commitment.
But it created a totally opposite response than what I expected. She replied:
I am not working in Kenya. Period.
This took me back. What would you say after such a resolute answer? I tried to ask her why. And she replied that she tried to work in Kenya before and the money she was paid there was nothing for the amount of work that a person is required to do.
I remembered in the past Mary told me that she wanted to be a CPA. So I bought her some online computer courses for learning Microsoft Word and Excel and had her go through those. At first she agreed, but then she could hardly stomach some of the Word course and eventually gave up on it.
I tried to reason with her and said that it doesn't matter how much money she'd get paid, and that I will throw in the rest. Still it had no effect. She was just getting angrier and angrier with each of my follow-up points. So eventually I stopped trying ...
Eventually we concluded that, "no, to work in Kenya."
Relationship After The Apartment Talk
After our first true fight over her apartment request, things seemed to have stabilized and even got back to normal, as they used to be before. We were again madly in love with each other, texting each other during every single waking moment, and couldn't get enough of each other as before. We also started to sext each other more often and things were getting to really crazy heights with what Mary and I would write to each other during those moments of passion. It was a true bliss and I thought that the apartment incident was just a hiccup. And I slowly started to forget about it.
Things were progressing slowly through the rest of November and into December. We were still talking every day, reporting pretty much on every thing we were doing during the day. It was already getting cold in the Pacific Northwest so I was constantly reporting my cold days and nights to Mary, and she was savoring her warm equatorial days in Kenya.
We were talking about all kinds of stuff. I asked her if she ever saw snow. And she said no. That the coldest she ever experienced was around 5 degrees C. I promised to take her skiing with me and make a snowman. That got her very excited.
Then Mary confided with me that she didn't know how to swim and had a fear of water. She told me about an incident in the past when at some party her silly friends threw her in a swimming pool and she almost drowned. I then promised her to teach her how to swim. I knew one method. I even explained that we can do it in a very shallow pool, when no one is watching and that it is very easy. The only thing she needs to do is trust me. And she replied that, yes, she trusts me and would really like to learn how to swim.
At this point I also made up my mind that I will be working on getting Mary to live with me in the U.S. I didn't reveal to her my plans for the second trip, but I was saying openly that I want her to come over and that we need to get a visa for her at some later time. We were also discussing a possibility of starting a family and maybe buying a house together.
I was also thinking and telling Mary that when she gets to US, we will need to get her a first car (nothing really fancy) and I will use that car to teach her how to drive. Yes, Mary didn't know how to drive. I don't know if I mentioned that Kenya has one of the craziest drivers in the world. And most of the people that drive there are men. So she didn't even attempt to compete in that crazy race and didn't even try to learn how to drive. So I promised her that we will change that once she comes to live with me.
So we were going full-force in planning our life together, approaching Christmas 2020.
The Slay Queen Comment
Our next big argument creeped up from almost nowhere. I truly didn't expect it. I remember one day Mary needed to go to some place in Nairobi to pick up a package that someone sent to them. The way this package was delivered was by bus. Evidently in Kenya there's a service where someone can place a package in the cargo area of a bus, and then it can be picked up on the other end by a recipient.
The bus stop was not in any of the posh areas of the town. So while getting there she had to take a boda boda ride. If you don't know what it is, this is a sort of a motorcycle ride, that acts as an Uber. A really crazy one at that.
So knowing this (she was texting me when she was doing it) plus realizing that she had to hold her package during such a ride, I said something in the tune of:
Wow, you're one brave girl!
Obviously putting it as a compliment. For which I received what seemed like a very quick and not thoroughly thought-through answer:
Yes, they call my type of girls a Slay Queen.
I had no idea what that meant. So I asked her to explain, while at the same time looked it up in the Urban Dictionary. (Everyone's go-to for slang words.)
What I saw there was nothing to be proud of. It took me a second or two to digest what just happened. I was in a very good mood, but what I read there was very quickly souring my condition.
Young and naive girls who apparently do not date broke men. They spend hours on Snapchat and Instagram showing off things they don't even own.and:
An uneducated village girl who chases after rich men and posts selfies all day on Snapchat and Instagram of expensive things they don't own, they change hair color ever 2 weeks. Always posting trips to Mombasa where mostly old white rich men are staying, can also find most of them on tinder and for a small fee they will do anything sexual, they're real desperate and [you] can find some at the airport waiting for old whitemen, they're also known as chicken chasers. Nairobi Slay Queens are the worst so please wear protection.
Mary, having realized what she just called herself, quickly retracted it by saying that she didn't realize a true meaning of that word and that of course, she doesn't think of herself that way. That she made a mistake of even using that word.
But it stayed with me and the next day it caused another conflict between us.
There's no need to rehash it here, but her reference to herself as a Slay Queen immediately brought to mind the previous apartment incident and in my mind things started to go dark again. I had my doubts, they were back!
This argument didn't last too long though as we quickly got over it. Mary repeated multiple times that she had no idea what that phrase meant and of course she is not like that! Eventually I believed her. Remember, I was still deeply in love with that girl.