For my old-time readers, this has been a long time coming right? I remember a time when I teased about telling this story on Instagram. My blog traffic spiked! But alas, it was clickbait. I’m sorry if you fell for my gimmicks then, but I can’t blame you. Who doesn’t love a Love Story? I know I do. So, this time, I’ll be telling this love story for real.
While I am happy to write and share this story with you, I am also writing it for keepsake. I want to remind myself about how a spontaneous trip to the Benin Republic brought me and my life partner together and I never want to forget all the beautiful ways travel has changed my life.
How We Met…
Mark and I met in November 2016. October, if I really want to be accurate. Fueled by my desire to travel through West Africa on a budget, I had found Couchsurfing, a website that provided free accommodation for travellers through other travel enthusiasts.
The truth is, I had no plans to actually use this resource and in hindsight, I really didn’t look into understanding how to do so. (Evidence: I had put up a public message requesting for a host, rather than sending a private message to one). I was just curious about it and even forgot that I had opened an account until two months later when I received a message from someone offering to host me. That someone was Mark.
Years later, Mark would tease me about how sorry he felt for the new surfer who still had her public message up for months with no offers. He had offered to host me out of pity but that’s not how I will tell this story. In reality, I had forgotten all about Couchsurfing, my public message and I was already looking into alternative accommodation options. So, one can say I did him a favour by accepting his offer! 🙂
In my message, I had mentioned that I wanted to visit Cotonou and Ouidah. At the time, he lived somewhere in between those cities and was the only English speaking host in the area. He offered to host me and if I arrived on a weekend, take me to some of the attractions around.
Naturally, I was both excited and wary. I was excited because my dream of exploring West Africa on a budget was becoming a reality. I was obviously cautious about spending a night (or in my case, 2 nights) in a stranger’s apartment. I mean, now that I say it out loud, I hear all my warning bells ringing.
To make myself more comfortable, I decided to do two things. First, I did a quick search of my potential host. I found out that he was an avid traveller who loved photography and videography. At the time, he had lived in Benin for 6 years, spoke French fluently and had travelled on a motorbike to several other countries in West Africa, including Nigeria.
I also reached out to a few surfers he had hosted to find out if this unicorn was real – Couchsurfing shows you surfer’s reference for each host. They confirmed that he was and a female Nigerian surfer mentioned how respectful and kind he was to her during her stay and that he was the best host she’d had since joining the platform. I decided it was worth a shot.
Before I had time to rethink my decision to travel to Benin (the country) or the fact that I had just told my parents that I was travelling to Benin (they assumed the city in Nigeria and I didn’t correct them), I was on my way to Mile 2 to catch a bus to the Seme border.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mark was the perfect host to me and 2 other guests who were surfing with him at the time. In January of 2017, on my return trip from Togo, I asked him to host me again and he was more than happy to do so.
A few months later, when his brother visited Lagos, Mark and I reconnected. Shortly after that, he extended an invitiation to visit Morocco with him. At the time, I had already begun making plans of my own to visit this country, so we decided to align our trips and travel together.
Morocco – The Beginning of Everything Magical…
Because we planned this trip over 6 months, I had the time to really consider whether or not I wanted to risk a fairly long holiday with this guy I barely knew. However, we got very acquainted as the trip planning progressed and I realized Mark and I were alike in many ways, shared similar values and dare I admit, I was beginning to grow fond of him.
Oh, Morocco! I almost never want to revisit this country, just so that my memories and experiences remain intact. Mark and I spent 16 days in about 5 different cities, wandering through souks, sipping all the mint teas we could find, relishing sunrises and sunsets over deserts and oceans, driving past snow-capped mountains and enjoying the warm hospitality of several people we encountered. At the end of it all, we decided we wanted to become something more to each other…
After Morocco, we returned to our separate countries of residence. Mark to Mali and I to Nigeria. We kept hope alive that our newly formed relationship would stand the test of time and distance. Since we both didn’t have immediate plans to relocate, we figured that we’d try to make it work by scheduling trips together…
In 2018, I got the opportunity to work in Egypt for a few months. After leaving his job in Mali, Mark spent a few weeks with me in Egypt before heading back to the US to join his dad in hiking the Appalachian Trail. This hike around the US would take him 5 months to complete, after which he considered remaining in the country.
Even with this development, I still didn’t think that our relationship had reached its end. We spoke every day of the 6 months he was in the US and with each passing day, it seemed more likely that we would figure out a way to be together.
Unbeknownst to me, Mark had applied to jobs in Nigeria. This came as a surprise because he had initially told me that he didn’t want to move to or live in the country. However, while he was on the Appalachian Trail, he interviewed for a job and got the position.
As the start date drew near, he pushed himself to complete the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail as fast as he could and in December, he moved halfway across the world to be with me – the singular most romantic action anyone has ever done for me.
I remember when he texted me to let me know he had arrived at the Lagos Airport, my heart skipped several beats. More than being excited to see him again, I was extremely nervous! Even though we had spoken daily, we had been apart for so long, I wondered if we were still as compatible as I remembered. Whether I had imagined all we shared in months past, whether we still had the same feelings for each other, whether he would come to regret this massive move he had just made…
But the moment I set my eyes on him, 40 pounds lighter from the weight he had lost on the trail, all I could think about was that I wanted to be the woman to fatten this man! Okay, just kidding. But all my initial fears were drowned in his embrace. I knew that this wonderful man loved me and me, him.
Life in Lagos…
In Lagos, Mark lived and worked on the mainland and I, on the island. Our living situation did feel like a long-distance relationship still. We often had to commute over the weekend to spend time with each other. The drive after work usually lasted about 2-3 hours on a good day. Nevertheless, I was grateful that we now lived in the same country and city.
Mark moving to Lagos was a huge leap for us. We spent Christmas at my parent’s and New Year’s day at my aunt’s and with each weekend trip we made, my family fell in love with him more and more. A few months after, I also had the privilege of meeting his parents and extended family in the US and wow, I couldn’t have married into a better family!
We spent a year in Lagos getting to know each other more and got married the following year. I would tell that story too because like this one, I do not want to forget all the beautiful moments that came with that day.
Relationships are a gamble and to make them work, you have to make big bets without truly knowing whether the odds will be in your favour. Going on that trip to Morocco and Mark moving to Lagos were big bets that we made and I am very happy that they paid off…
Mark and I eventually moved to Nairobi, where we hope to start our own family soon. We’re growing and learning together as a couple and it has been a wonderful adventure so far.