"I found love at altitude"
Rema Abraham, 43, from India was just settling into post-divorce, single life when she signed up for a trek in Nepal. She went looking for an adventure to mark her fresh start and got more than she bargained for.
“I believe you stumble upon love when you are not looking for it. When I first met Richard four years ago, I was at something of a crossroads in my life. I was recently divorced, my son had just turned 15 and I was quite independent. The last thing I wanted was another relationship. Instead, I was craving some quality me-time.
“A Gulf for Good article about trekking in Nepal caught my attention and got me thinking. My upbringing was a conservative one – my parents live in Abu Dhabi and I went to boarding school in India. I had been involved in raising money before, but I had never taken on the type of physical challenge this offered. I’d never slept in a tent, let alone climbed a mountain. This was my chance to do something entirely different. I signed up for the 14-day Annapurna Circuit Trek, covering 120 kilometres, including a 5,415-metre ascent.
“During the training sessions I met other team members, including Richard. We exchanged niceties – he was so different from me. He was an extrovert and was chatting to everyone, while I was shy, reserved and nervous about the adventure ahead. I saw him as no more than a fellow challenger, certainly not as my future husband.
“The trek was indeed life-changing for me, in more ways than one. Richard still didn’t feature as anything more than an acquaintance until late one afternoon, two days into the trek. We were already at high altitude and I happened to be walking behind Richard when he suddenly stopped. Ahead of him lay a path across a high ridge and there was a vertical drop either side. He was frozen in terror. I felt for him and as I coaxed him over the pass I learnt that he suffered from an extreme fear of heights. I admired his courage for confronting his worst fear and taking on the trek in the first place.
“A few days later it was his turn for compassion when I came down with bronchitis. He repaid the kindness I extended to him back on the ridge by nursing me – bringing medicine and water through my coughing fits. “As the days went by, a kind of unspoken connection blossomed between us. It was still nothing romantic, but the trip was tough, both physically and mentally. As we reached the summit, the compassion for one another grew. There is something incredibly bonding about a shared challenge and, as a group, we all became much closer — especially Richard and I.
“On the plane journey back home from Kathmandu, we really talked about anything and everything. Despite wanting a new single, independent, uncomplicated life, and despite Richard being British and 17 years older than me, by the time we got back to Dubai we were both in love. “We wanted to make sure Nepal wasn’t just a one-off, so seven months later, in May 2010, we did the next Gulf for Good challenge, a 117-kilometre trek through the mountains of Lebanon. The magic was very much still there for us and, four years later, we have managed to complete a Gulf for Good challenge every year as a couple.
In May 2012, after our last trek through Ethiopia, Richard proposed. We will be married in Abu Dhabi this coming April. “Neither of us was looking for love – it’s Richard’s second marriage as well – but the Gulf for Good challenges have been very powerful experiences for us both. Richard has since become the Abu Dhabi Gulf for Good governor, while I am a goodwill ambassador. Although our shared interests in travel, trekking and the outdoors are the icing on the cake, they aren’t the actual cake – the cake is our strong friendship and relationship, which grew strong from a shared challenge and a binding compassion.”
For more on Gulf for Good, visit www.gulf4good.org.
"I met my husband by signing up for the wrong dating website"
Tracey Honeywill Fakhry, 49 from South Africa, met her husband when an accidental meeting online sparked a long-distance romance.
“I was single when I arrived in the UAE five years ago. My son from my first marriage was working in Dubai, so I came here to be closer to him. A new city can be a lonely place and, being over 40, it’s difficult to meet people your own age. I tried various bars, but found it pretty awful. I didn’t have the patience for pick-up games and I hoped the kind of guy I was after wasn’t likely to be hanging around a bar. A dating website seemed logical – all the awkward questions are answered in their profiles and you can sift through them online before meeting them.
“I registered with several dating sites in Dubai. I went on plenty of dates – perhaps as many as two or three a week – but I soon learnt guys tell lies on dating sites as much as they do in bars. I grew despondent and, after six months, I deleted my profiles from most of the sites. About a year later, I was on Facebook when an advert for a dating agency asking for “professional singles over 40” caught my eye. I clicked around and before I knew it, I had inadvertently registered. I thought nothing of it, logged off and went to bed. The next morning I had more than 15 emails.
I was pleased until I realised the website was in the US. I replied to all the guys apologising for wasting their time. One reply came back from a guy called Ash saying, ‘What a coincidence, I made the same mistake. I don’t live in America either. I’m in Doha, in the Middle East. Where do you live?’ “That was in April 2009. I was very sceptical from my previous experiences of online dating, so I was very cautious, exchanging minimal emails. He sent a photo and I thought, ‘No, he’s not for me’. I vowed to give up on online dating for good. In June, Ash sent a message saying he was considering moving to Dubai for work and he had some questions.
Before I knew it, we were chatting almost daily, either via Skype, Messenger or Facebook, sometimes for hours. Over six weeks I learnt everything about him – that we are the same age, that he is an Egyptian-born American citizen, that he has grown-up children from a previous marriage. We got on so well, shared common interests and enjoyed the same sense of humour. “I guess I truly fell in love four months later when I finally laid eyes on Ash. Things had been going well online, so the next step was to meet. Ash flew to Dubai for the weekend and we met for our first date.
I was a nervous wreck when I went to collect him from his hotel (to this day he still teases me about my dreadful driving that night!). We hit it off immediately – the groundwork had been laid online, the rest followed effortlessly. It seemed so right, so natural. For the next 12 weekends we alternated between Doha and Dubai, and by the end of those weeks, we were engaged. We married in April 2010. “Now, happily married, we can’t believe our luck. As the product of an accidental cyber relationship, we still giggle about the way we met.”
"My grandparents chose my husband"
At 19, Ritu Chaturvedi’s family told her she was getting married to a stranger. Now, at 44, she looks back over more than two decades of happiness and thanks them for their choice.
“My husband Sanjay and I have been happily married for 24 years. Sanjay was 23 and I was 19 when we first met in my hometown of Delhi. I was young by Indian standards, but my grandparents were eager to secure a happy future for me before they passed away. “In India, matrimony is a lifetime commitment that binds not just two individuals, but two families. In an arranged marriage, immediate family members consider a potential bride or groom very carefully. Practical issues such as background, education, interests and life goals are scrutinised and must be seen as compatible.
If this is in order, love is assumed to follow. In our case, my aunt and my husband’s aunt were close friends. Through their friendship, my grandparents knew Sanjay’s father to be a kind, gentle, educated man. It was expected Sanjay would be the same. Although Sanjay and I had never met, both families approved the match. I remember being more terrified than excited – what if I didn’t love him? But in my culture, acceptance is important – elders always know best and are not to be argued with.
“Once both families agreed, the next step was the ring ceremony where the bride’s family prepares special foods and the groom visits with the engagement ring. I will never forget my anxiety that day. We still hadn’t spoken, or laid eyes on each other. I hadn’t even seen a photo. I’m the eldest of three girls and my younger sisters were far from supportive... they just giggled and teased me, making me feel more miserable. Sanjay claims he fell in love with me instantly and that I had ‘a face like an angel’.
I was too nervous to even look at him. We hardly talked. I was so shy and afraid. There was no question either of us would refuse. Rings were exchanged to signify our formal engagement and a marriage date was set. Although it was agreed that this was to be my husband, I remember feeling very lonely – he was essentially a stranger to me. “That was in 1988. Our wedding date was set for 18 months later because Sanjay had to leave Delhi to work in the US.
The separation seemed like an eternity. Soon after our engagement, Sanjay suggested we make a pledge to one another – for every day that we were apart, we would write so that through our letters the link of thoughts, feelings and promises would never be broken. To this day, we still have those letters – over 400 of them. Some are handwritten notes, some are cards and some are public announcements of our feelings that were published in the Times of India matrimonial pages.
Although hard at the time, the separation was a blessing – we got to know each other through our letters and we developed a strong emotional bond. Our families had brought us together in practice, but it was through our letters that we fell in love. “Sanjay returned from the US in 1989 for the funeral of his father. We were soon married and our eldest son was born in 1990, followed a year later by his brother. We moved to Dubai in 1998. We continue to love and respect one another.
“My boys are now entering marrying age. They represent a new generation and I don’t expect their marriages will be arranged, but I hope they will at least listen to us when it comes to potential brides. As with my parents, and with my grandparents before them, Sanjay and I have a happy marriage and one they could well learn from.”