To I excitedly skipped up the stairs, made a quick left turn, focused on my camera bag as it felt like the perfect moment to start
documenting this special beach time with my Tanzania family. Before I even made it to my camera bag,
I was excitedly stopped by a gorgeous, shaved-head man with an accent of some sort.
He said, “Hello.”
I said, “Hello!”
I paused, gasped inside and then invited him down to hang out with my family below.
I took photos. He stood with Yaini, his Masai guard.
Raymond and MamaRay splashed about in the little waves. As the sun start to set, MamaRay and Raymond went off in a bajij back to our village. Myself and one of my teacher colleagues stayed back, had a cup of tea, and chatted with this hunk of what I found out was South Africa. We enjoyed our moments, giggled, connected, started to discover we had a lot of common denominators, then said good-bye and went out separate ways.
The universe had me in this specific place in February 2014, at this specific time as I was volunteer teaching English on Mafia Island off the coast of Tanzania. Myself and the six other WorldTeach volunteers stayed in Kilindoni (the center of town) for the weekend for our mid-semester evaluations, which was a check in for the teaching program we were executing on the island. After our sessions came to an end on Saturday, myself and one other teacher decided to go to Anne’s beach camp for an afternoon swim. The beach camp was walking distance from our meeting spot and Anne, the women whom implemented the teaching program, owned the beach camp that served a Whale Shark Conversation Camp, taking tourist to consciously swim with Whale Sharks. The handsome South Africa, Dan, lived and managed this very camp.
On Sunday, our weekend evaluations ended and in the late afternoon, I was brought back to my local village.
Monday, life resumed as usual. I got up, took my bucket shower, got dressed, walked hand-in-hand with my little three year old best friend Raymond as I brought him to the bus stop and then went on my way to eat breakfast at MamaDickson’s house.
I headed into my classroom and joyfully progressed through our assignments.
After school, I headed back to MamaDickson’s house for lunch with my teaching mate Seif!
As we deliciously devoured our lunch, we sat outside on our front porch, planning meals for the following day.
In the distance, I saw a bajij (a three wheeled motorcycle) with a muzungu (the Swahili word for what the locals called white people, yet it literally translates to someone who talks in circles). As the bajij got closer, I quickly realized it was the handsome South African I had met just two days prior. In the moment, I couldn’t remember his name, but I sure knew I wanted to get his attention. So, I quickly started jumping up and down saying, “Jambo, Jambo!” as it’s the Swahili word for hello.
The bajij drove past and then kept on driving. I turned around. A little sunken, but still smiling.
All of the sudden, I heard that very bajij reversing. I turned around again, this time to be greeted by the handsome South African man. We chatted quickly about the village I was blessed to be living in and then he invited me to the other side of the island as they were celebrating one of his good friends birthday.
We exchanged numbers, I said I would call him and let him know. He got back into the bajij and off he went.
I started swirling around in my head, “I can’t go to Utende tonight, I have to teach in the morning. The ferry stops in a couple hours, I won’t make it in time. No, I don't need to go.” On and on and on the little voices in my head went. Finally, I took a deep breath, pulled out my phone, messaged Dan (yes, I found out his name again when we exchanged numbers) and let him know I’d be there in couple hours. He said no rush, as his friends had their own boat to transport me to the other island, known as Chole.
I showered and then excitedly called for a bajij to take me to the other side of the island.
I messaged Dan as I got close and within moments of my arrival, the boat was coming to pick me up.
We smoothly adventured to the other island where we nestled in a bar overlooking Mafia, the island I had just come from.
The sun was setting, the bats were flying, the warmth was prominent, the butterflies in my stomach, slowly started to calm. The entire evening, Dan didn’t leave my side. He ensured I had a drink at all times, walked me to the bathroom and waited as it was pitch black. We talked about life, about music, festivals, the power of photography, just being, and truly living.
The evening all too quickly came to an end. We jumped on the boat and were brought back to our island where his bajij driver was waiting for us. I so vividly remember the ride from the edge of the island to my village as there wasn’t a moment of silence as each sentence, every reply was filled with that of enthusiasm, excitement and passion.
He messaged me when he got home and said good night. My smile, ginormous.
He called the next day as he was heading back to South Africa on Saturday and would be gone until the day before I was supposed to leave the island. We arranged to hang out after school on that Friday. He picked me up, we headed to the edge of the island, grabbed some beers, I taught him acro yoga, he shared his music. We caught a ferry, headed to Chole, listened to some music, did a bit more acro yoga and then sadly, I had to catch the ferry back before sunset.
This would be the last would be see each other, or so we thought.
He, in South Africa, me, still on the island. We connected about once a week, said hello, I shared a dream I had about him playing music, he shared his enjoyment of being home and going to one of his favorite festivals. Three weeks went by. I packed my bags, said good-bye to my village and headed to Anne’s beach camp as that would be my home for the final few nights on the island. Dan’s exact return to the island, I was ensure. But, once back on the island, we connected again. At that time, I had just one night left. One night was not enough. Because I was traveling after Mafia to an island north known as Zanzibar, I had a little wiggle room in my adventures. I changed my ticket. I needed to stay one more night.
Dan messaged me, “Do you want to come to Chole for dinner?”
I excitedly replied, “Yes, but I have to come early as the ferry stops at sunset.”
He replied, “Just come when you can and stay the night.”
I froze for a moment. And of course, replied, “Great! I’ll be there after lunch.”
The morning, it seemed to drag on. All I wanted to do was spend time with Dan. After lunch, I grabbed my bag, called for a bajij and within moments, I arrived on Chole. Dan greeted me as I read my book under a frangipani tree.
We headed to his tree house, yes, it was literally a tree house. We spent the afternoon exploring acro yoga, listening to music, walking around this magical space and truly getting to know one another. We shared a bottle of wine before dinner and delighted in a communal dinner with a number or guests also staying at the lodge. The rest of the evening, well, it changed my life.
In the morning, Dan and I had breakfast and shortly after, I caught a ferry back to my island as my plane left in the early afternoon. He kissed me on my cheek, said “I will see you again, soon” and off I went. While on the ferry, tears streamed from my eyes. I received a text message, “I need to see you again. You always have a bed in South Africa or here on the island.”
I knew I would see him again.
I left the island, adventured throughout Zanzibar and headed back to that States. All the while, staying in communication. Still so giddy. Arriving back in the States proved to be a bit challenging for awhile. I had just had this life altering experience that I was learning how to translate it to this world that was once all I knew and had now seemed so strange.
Dan and I kept in deep conversation through all of this. After sometime, the wheels wouldn’t stop turning.
What was this? Was it just a fling? Am I going to see him again? How will I even see him again? He lives half way across the world. I messaged him. I asked him, “I really like you and need to know what this is. Was this just a fling? What is this to you?”
I anxiously waited a reply. The exact words, I do not remember. The feeling, my do I remember. The feelings were mutual. This was not just a fling. In that moment, I knew I would see him again.
Several weeks later, he asked me to be his girlfriend. At that time, we had no idea when we would see each other again. He was in a year contract on Mafia Island, I had returned back to my job and had just received a promotion. We just knew we wanted to be together. A whole lot happened in these between moments. I’ll give you the speed dating version. I decided to get my TEFL certification as I wanted to each English in Costa Rica. He ended his job contract on Mafia as it wasn’t supportive to his life. We decided I would spend the month of December 2014 in Cape Town, before heading to Costa Rica as I had a teaching job for the next year. Bags were packed, two long days of flying and there I was, in Cape Town, South Africa for the first time.
We spent a month truly exploring, living and falling in love. We adventured on road trips along the coast, hung out with elephants, drank really good wine and truly start to learn more about one another. I fell in love with his work ethic, with his unapologetic truthfulness, with his connection with his family, with this culture and area that he so gratefully grew up within.
I could go into so much detail about this month, but I will let you explore the blog posts and photos from that very time.
- Divine Timing : Nelson Mandela's Celebration of Life
- The Working of a Modern Day Caveman
- I Left My Heart in Cape Town
As life has a way of doing so, it was time to say good-bye again. My teaching contract in Costa Rica was to start in just a few days time. With very heavy hearts, we did not want to leave each others side. Dan brought me to the airport, carried all my bags, helped me get checked in and sorted. We sat, with one another, holding each other for as long as we possibly could before I had to head through the gates. I cried nearly the whole place ride from South Africa to Costa Rica. What had I just done? I finally had a solid amount of time with this man that I was falling so deeply in love with and I left him. Why? How? What was I doing? The questions, they become louder and louder. As I always do, I went inward. I knew this was the right decision at the right time. I knew I needed to teach in Costa Rica. He knew it was meant to be.
We both knew, this was only temporary and we would be back together again, very soon.
I settled into Costa Rica, he settled back into South Africa without me. Every evening we shared our gratitude, every morning we connected. The connection. The bond. The understanding was deeply embedded. Although I was meant to stay in Costa Rica for a year, Dan and I just couldn’t be apart that long. I so humbly told my bosses in Costa Rica I would be ending my contract at the six month mark as I was heading back to South Africa. As so I did, I was back on a plane, heading to South Africa. The plan, well, we really didn’t have one. I found a teaching job in the city, Dan kept working at the Stretch Tent Company. At that point, all we cared about was being together. Upon returning back to South Africa, Dan and I immediately started applying for his K-1 Fiancé visa as we knew we needed to be together. Nothing was going to stop us. The paperwork was submitted and then, all we had was time to pass to see where this visa would take us.
Seeing as I arrived on a tourist via, we had three months. Three months. How could that ever be long enough? Dan received a phone call one day from his old boss on Mafia Island, you know, the place where we met and he was running the Whale Shark Conservation Camp? Well, we got invited back to run the camp and their marketing. And so we went.
Bags packed again, we were off to Mafia Island for six months. We couldn’t be happier as this would give us an additional six months together without having to worry about visas. Living back on the very island where we met was truly so special. We learned so much about one another being on this remote, tropical island, with very little resources. We always joke that every couple should live on a remote island before getting married, as they will REALLY get to know one another. The details on living on the island, well, they can be viewed throughout these blog posts.
- Winter in Cape Town
- My Direction, Mindfully Known
In the meantime, I will continue on. Our six months on Mafia Island, quickly came and went. We both returned back to Cape Town. At this time, we had submitted additional evidence for his Fiancé Visa and his interview was supposed to be within a few months time. We decided I would head back to the States to start to get life situated as I had been out of the country for nearly 16 months. I headed home, jumped fully into my photography business and giddily started getting life organized.
Dan was called in for his intense government medical clearance of which took hours. This was the first step in getting his interview at the U.S. Consultant in Johannesburg (a 2 hour flight from Cape Town). Shortly after his medical exam, he was called in for his interview. He hopped on a plane, anxiously waited. The interview, well, it didn’t go so well.
He had to get back on a plane to head home without an answer and so much confusion.
We sent letters, we contacted his medical doctor. It took nearly four months to get any information.
Of which, when he did, he received a denial letter. He would have to stay in his home country for a full year before being able to reapply. His reason for denial? Let’s just say he was too honest at the medial exam.
I was still back in the States building my business. Dan in South Africa. At the time of denial, we had already been apart for nearly five months. With bookings on the calendar, it would be an additional four or five months before we would see each other. Eventually nearly ten months went by and I was finally able to arrive back in Cape Town. As we had made tradition, we would go on a weekend getaway upon me arriving back. So, we did just that. I arrived in Cape Town, with just a backpack on my back as the airlines lost all my luggage. As I arrived, Dan and his whole family greeted me at the airport where I got to meet his sister for the first time since she had been living in New Zealand. We spent the evening chatting and drinking wine, truly just loving being back in one another’s arms.
I woke, Dan had to work for a few hours, his sister took me shopping as we were leaving that afternoon for our weekend getaway. Dan picked me up from the mall and to Hermanus we went. He was so nervous. He was quite. He was not himself. Half way through the drive, I looked at him and said, “Do you having something to tell me? Did you cheat on me?” He giggled and said, “No, I’m sorry, I just have a lot on my mind and you haven’t been here in so long.” We kept driving. He kept acting weird.
We checked into our hotel and started getting ready as we had reservations at a Creation Winery. As I was getting ready, I asked him, “Should I wear the dress or jeans?” As I only had two options. He said the dress. We drove and arrived at the most beautiful winery. We gave our names, sat down at a table and overlooked the most beautiful vineyard. Dan kept saying he needed glasses out of the car, which made no sense as I had two pairs in the purse. He insisted.
And so we headed back to the car. I sat there waiting admiring the view.
He sits down, his glasses on and said he had ordered a bottle of red wine. Me, thinking nothing of it, just so excited to be back in this place that had become me second home. The waitress came over with a bottle of wine and two wine glasses.
She put down my glass and then his. As she started pouring my wine, I started to read what was etched on the glass.
“Ashley, will you marry me?”
I then look to my right and Dan is down on one knee with a ring in his hand.
I nearly spit on my wine glass looked at him, looked back on my wine glass and of course said, “YES!”
It all made sense. His nervousness. His anxiousness. His weird behavior. It was the most beautiful afternoon as we shared a bottle of wine, adventured to an amazing restaurant for dinner and truly just engulfed what it meant to be engaged. The ring he gave me is truly so special as his dad made it for his mom when they got married. Now, it rests on my finger with both his mom's and my initials. I spent the next three months living, loving and just soaking up my fiance and this beautiful place I call home.
To witness time capsules from this time, explore here.
I came back to the States, his visa status, still up in the air. My business, expanding rapidly. I had plans to head back to Cape Town one more time that year as we still had another six or seven months till he could have another interview. I was scheduled to head to Cape Town at the beginning of July. Just a few days before departing, I received one of the worst phone calls imaginable. Dan’s mom had died suddenly from a heart attack. I nearly felt like I lost my soul. I made a few tough, yet quick arrangements and jumped on the earliest flight possible to head to New Zealand as that’s where she was living. Those ten days were some of the most difficult. The feeling, was heavy. The sensation, painful. His mother was a lovely woman, one whom I’m so sad to say I never met in person. My heart is with her as I live life everyday with her son,
whom is one of the greatest men I’ve ever had the honor of knowing.
With heavy hearts, we headed back to Cape Town. I spent the next month nearly attached to Dan’s hip. We didn’t leave each others side. The month was beautiful, yet, the pain within the heart was still strong. Sadly, I headed back to the States. Nearly five months later, we received the letter. It was time for another medical exam and interview. Dan made all the arrangements and as time continues to do so, it quickly came that he jumped on a plane to Johannesburg for his oath. At the time of him getting on the plane, it was unclear what was actually happening. But quickly, we would get the answer we had been waiting three years for. His visa was finally approved and he’d be heading to the United States. Yes, it was time.
Dan spent a couple weeks ending his job and saying goodbye to his family in Cape Town. He arrived for the first time ever, in Los Angeles just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2016. Since then, life has been painted with the most vibrant colors. After five months, he received his work permit. After about ten months from arrival he received his green card.
In the midst of all this, on January 21st, 2017 we shared the most magical day with all of our loved ones from around the world during our winter wedding. We exchanged personal vows on the beach as his dad married us. And then joined our loved ones for a rooftop, sunset filled reception with speeches that made everyone cry and dance moves that had us soar for days.
It truly was the wedding of our dreams!
Enjoy some of our favorite time capsules from the most special day of our lives! And a huge shout out to our amazing vendors!
Photography : ABM Wedding Photography
Florals & Hairpiece : Evermore Floral
Hair : Jessica Gust Ramsey
Make-up : Mallorie Mason
Day-of Coordination : Timeless Weddings and Events
Dress : Bridal Showcase Salon
Shoes : TOMS
Location : Oceanside Pier with Visit Oceanside
Reception : Hello Betty Fish House
Cake : Petite Madeline Bakery/Patisserie