An African Boy and an American Girl: One Year Later

Many of you who’ve read my blog in the past probably know our story – the story of how the ‘African boy and the American girl’ met.  For those of you who might not, here’s a video I made for my husband, Morgan.  It attempts to capture the crazy, incredible 6 years we’ve shared together across the globe.

I made this short video for him for our first wedding anniversary on December 29, 2013.

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Two Rings and a Big Secret

A picture from our wedding day on December 29, 2012.

As of today, I have been a married woman for three whole weeks.  I’m sure the ‘veteran wives’ reading this just had a good chuckle, but I imagine for each newly wed woman (such as myself), this new sensation somehow seems to be a daily revelation.

And we didn’t even have a big wedding that, as the festivities wound down and ‘Thank You’ notes were written, this revelation began to sink in.  Nope.  I felt different from the moment I sank my bare feet into the sand in Key West, knowing that Morgan and I were the only ones in the world who knew we were getting married.  Why?  In the purest sense of the word, we eloped.

Our marriage license – a week before we got married.

Since the moment Morgan and I met at a Zimbabwean refugee camp (see An African Boy and an American Girl), nothing about us has really been normal.  We dated cross-continentally for two years while I was finishing my undergrad in the U.S./Cuba and Morgan worked as a reporter in South Africa.  We moved to Thailand and made a life there together when neither of us had ever been to Asia.  Morgan supported my dream of doing community development work when I moved to Mozambique and we were separated again.  And after four and a half years together (see Four Years with a Ninja Paleontologist), I could not imagine my life without him.

Morgan

Morgan.

Our idea to elope derived from a combination of ideas, inspired my Aunt Shirley and my sister, Hana.  Morgan and I had talked about marriage in the past, but we had always wanted what any of our same-citizenship married friends had: lots of family and friends there for the big day, cake, to wear a pretty dress and a nice suit, cake.  We wanted to wait until Morgan and I had saved up some money and could have everyone present (from South Africa and the U.S.).

While we weren’t in any rush, U.S. Immigration waits for no one and Morgan and I once again began contemplating either being apart or finding another foreign country we could both call home.  We had thought about getting married, but up until that point, we had seen only two options: a quick courthouse ceremony or an expensive ballroom-packed reception.

Then one day, a third option was presented to us: a destination wedding.

Key West.  (Source: WordPress)

Key West. (Source: WordPress)

So after one very long walk and some serious thought, Morgan and I decided to get married!  In the same notion, we decided not to tell anyone.  We knew that we would get a lot of opinions thrown into the mix and maybe even a few judgements, but no one else could walk in our shoes.  Another big factor in our decision to keep getting married a secret was that if all of my family and Morgan’s family and closest friends couldn’t be there, we thought it was most fair to everyone (and most importantly, to ourselves) to only have the two of us there.

From the moment we decided, we had exactly two weeks to plan a secret wedding.

My wedding bouquet.

My wedding bouquet.

Firstly, kudos to all of the brides out there who have planned weddings that include more than two people!  For the most part, our planning was relatively stress-free, but there were one or two moments that arose with weather or initially, finding a place to stay, that posed as curveballs.  Nonetheless, we navigated through the unknown matrimonial territory like champs.  We booked a great bed & breakfast, ordered rings, booked our wedding through one of Key West’s several wedding companies (did you know Key West is ranked one of the Top 10 Best Places to Elope?) and (in the spirit of our romantic, yet budget wedding) found perfect outfits in our closet to wear for our beach ceremony.  The only thing left to do was wait.

And then, Morgan surprised me.

The picnic.

The picnic.

Morgan drove me down to the Ellis Wainwright Park in Miami where he pulled out a large picnic basket for a romantic little picnic, complete with hummus, crackers, various cheeses, strawberries and delicious mimosas.

Sunset

It was the most beautiful day.  Not a cloud in the sky.

As we watched the sun go down over the water, Morgan wanted me to take a walk with him to a certain part of the park.  Naturally, I told him that it looked like women got kidnapped in that part of the park and asked why he would want to go there.  But given that he’d put so much planning into our picnic, I conceded and we went.

When we arrived at a gazebo, Morgan’s hands began shaking as he dropped to one knee and pulled out my ring.  To be perfectly honest, I only remember bits and pieces of what he said because I started to cry.  A lot.  But I do remember saying ‘yes’ when he asked me to marry him.

Newly engaged (officially).

Newly engaged (officially).

It’s a funny thing that his hands shook and I cried so much after we had already discussed and decided to get married.  But simply because we didn’t have a lot of money and no one else knew we were getting married didn’t mean that we wanted to miss out on all of the experiences that people in love treasure most.  I couldn’t have loved him more.

On our way

Driving through the Keys on our way to Key West.

After spending Christmas with my family, we told them we were going to go for a little vacation in the Keys and would be back in a few days.  With that, we began our last adventure as boyfriend and girlfriend.

The Coco Plum Inn in Key West

The Coco Plum Inn in Key West.

While it was the peak of high season down in the Keys, we did manage to find a fantastic little B&B that I would recommend to anyone visiting Key West.  The family that owns The Coco Plum Inn treats every guest like another member of their family and the breakfast is unbeatable.  Given that Morgan and I weren’t having a traditional wedding, I figured, why diet like a traditional bride?  I ate biscuits with sausage gravy every morning and it was delicious.

Mimosas for the soon-to-be newly weds!

Mimosas for the soon-to-be newly weds!

We had two days in Key West before we got married and one day after, so we decided to enjoy every moment in paradise.  We visited some of the historical homes, watched street performances, ate as much as possible and made a lot of friends.  The number of people who wanted to know our story and how we decided to elope amazed us!  It seemed as though every other person in Key West was cheering us on.

Sunset cruise the night before we got married.

We went on a sunset cruise the night before we got married.

And then the day had arrived!  It was December 29, 2012 and Morgan and I were getting married.

Our wedding was scheduled for the late afternoon and as excited as I was, I was equally nervous.  While I spent a good deal of the morning telling Morgan that I felt like I was going to be sick, he remained calm and composed.  He said he felt fine and couldn’t be happier.  I left him for a few hours while I got my hair and makeup done and when he came to meet me at the salon, he just stared.  He told me I looked beautiful and then immediately following, he told me that he suddenly felt sick, too.  Clearly, nerves had gotten the better of us.

But when we met the wedding company and arrived at the beach, the nerves began to slowly subside and we realized what we were actually doing.

And it was amazing.

My husband and I.

My husband and I.

Upon arriving back from Key West, we told nine different groups of family members in nine different ways (over dinner, over breakfast, Skype, email, phone, in the car, over coffee) … but that’s a story for another time.

Suffice to say, everyone was supportive and expressed a great deal of love and happiness.

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The Long Journey Home

My flip-flops and my backpack… 22 months later.

As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.

The first of dozens of international flights since 2010.

I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning.  When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe.  But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.

Exhibit A: Our puppy, Major. Totally unplanned.

And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand.  But again, life has a funny way of working.

Motorbiking it around Phuket, Thailand.

Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa.  What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world.  We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.

Did I mention how much I loved the little monkeys that were my K1 Watermelon kindergarten class?

And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?

Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences.  But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted.  (Idiotic logic, right?)

But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa.  By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.

Escolinha de Boa Esperanca: the African Impact preschool in Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique.  On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.

Children’s Day at Bernard’s Orphanage in Vilanculos.

And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.

Building a tire course playground at a creche in Khula Township, just outside of St. Lucia.

I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice.  I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what.  And I swam like hell.

How many people can you fit in a 16-passenger van? As a passenger who has counted, I can confidently say 29 people.

As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now.  And what I think of to say is this:

It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience.  The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.

And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure:  I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.


Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa.  You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known.  And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.

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August: The Last Month Abroad

An afternoon of collecting rubbish in Khula township with African Impact volunteers and local Zulu ladies.

I can’t believe it… after 22 months living outside of the U.S., this will be my last month abroad.

My original plan was to return to the U.S. in December, but issues with the Department of Immigration in Mozambique weren’t able to be resolved and the African Impact project in Vilanculos has yet to be reopened.  As my time working in St. Lucia, South Africa draws to a close, a decision had to be made: potentially transfer projects again or head home four months early.

And then I remembered that everything happens for a reason.

Beach day with Eswenelisha Afterschool Club kids. The little ones were waiting for the waves to touch their toes.

So for the first time in 22 months, I’m going home.  But not before I savor the last 12 days of my last month abroad.

Elephant Interaction with Carla at Thanda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

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Four Years with a Ninja Paleontologist

The ninja paleontologist covering one of the FIFA 2010 World Cup games in Durban, South Africa.

He looks more like a handsome journalist, right?

When I met Morgan in 2008, he had been a professional journalist for over three years: one year in radio and at the time, two years in television.  But one afternoon shortly after meeting him, he showed me a magazine article written about him in which he confessed that his childhood dream was actually to be a ninja paleontologist.

From my understanding, this is a martial arts expert who also enjoys discovering fossils.

Four years later, I am still completely in love with the grown-up version of the South African kid that once aspired to be a ninja paleontologist.  (*To read the awkward story of how we met at a Zimbabwean refugee camp, see An African Boy and an American Girl.)

Morgan and Kassie in South Africa December 2008

As detailed in the blog post linked above, it’s not the easiest thing  in the world to date cross-continentally.  Visits are few and emails and Skype are the ‘meat and potatoes’of your relationship.

Morgan and Kassie in Times Square NYC: December 2009

But over the past four years, Morgan and I have shared the most amazing experiences together.

Morgan and Kassie at uShaka Marine World in Durban: December 2010

We’ve dived with sharks on the South Coast on KwaZulu Natal.  We’ve roadtripped the entire east coast of the U.S., seeing all of the sights of New York City on a day-pass and finishing with dinner in Chinatown at 3 a.m.  We’ve border-hopped into Malaysia, rode a motorbike around most of southwest Thailand and climbed a volcano in Bali, Indonesia.

Morgan and Kassie riding our motorbike around Phuket, Thailand: July 2011

We island-hopped in Mozambique and my ninja paleontologist prepared lunch in a straw hut over fire for 80 preschool children in Vilanculos.  Most recently, he’s ‘hippo-hunted’ with me in St. Lucia after we went on a game drive through a UNESCO World Heritage site to the Indian Ocean.

Morgan and Kassie trying to spot a hippo in St. Lucia, South Africa: July 2012

Basically, I’ve gotten to travel around the world with my best friend.

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One Month in St. Lucia, SA

Opening ceremony of Inkanyezi Creche

If I think back over the past 21 months I’ve been living outside the U.S., I can think of many curveballs life has thrown my way.  These include (but are not limited to): being homeless, being jobless, working illegally in three countries, bribing border officials to get out of one of those countries and most recently, being transferred from Mozambique to St. Lucia, South Africa for work.    With the following photos as evidence, the latter has been one of the most rewarding curveballs to be struck by.

See the large WILD elephant to the far left? Yup, I stuck my hand inside his mouth.

I must admit first and foremost that I miss my African Impact project in Mozambique.  I miss the preschool, the orphanage, the adult English classes and the beach.  Most of all though, I miss the people I worked with and the friends I made while living in Vilanculos.  It’s a small town with a big heart.

But in its own special, very different way, so is St. Lucia.

Face painting at holiday club in Khula township.

Like starting any new job (again), it’s a process.  It takes time to learn the ropes, the roads and the protocol.  My first two weeks here were spent on the highways between St. Lucia, Richards Bay and Durban trying to sort out a South African visa. [T.I.A.]

African Impact-St. Lucia staff and volunteers playing Bingo with kids at holiday club in Eswenelisha township.

Week #3 was my first week on projects here and with the help of the St. Lucia African Impact team (Carla, Alanna, Sofie and honorary team member, Michelle), we’ve guided 25 volunteers around two townships and ten project activities.  These activities include: holiday clubs, clinic visits, home-based medical care, adult English classes, creche-building, gardening, HIV/AIDS classes, support groups and teaching at both preschools and primary schools.  Pretty amazing stuff, no?

Look at who came to visit me!

Last weekend, Morgan drove the three hours from Durban to come visit.  We sampled the St. Lucia cuisine, drove through a game park (and in doing so, ran into friends from Thailand!) and helped paint the inside of Inkanyezi creche.  My partner in globetrotting couldn’t resist seeing another part of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

Mama Gumede unlocking the door to the newly-built Inkanyezi creche.  Over 200 people were in attendance at the opening ceremony.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in St. Lucia for a month already, but like any other day working with African Impact, I am constantly amazed by the potential for positive change in Africa.

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African Authorities and Birthday Stories

The first of many African roadtrips: Mozambique to Swaziland to South Africa.

First things first: Africa, at least what I’ve seen of it, is breathtakingly beautiful.  It has mountains, it has ocean, it has animals, it has some of the most vibrant cultures that still exist today.

…But being able to stay in Africa is not always a piece of cake.

Er…cupcake.  Compliments of Tex and Lulu from Shongweni Farmer’s Market.

It was time for another visa renewal, but this time I had to leave Mozambique.  Luckily, the timing couldn’t have been better: I was going to need to leave Mozambique and enter South Africa just in time for Morgan’s 27th birthday!  I had put some forethought into this and not only arranged with Tex and Lulu for my arrival to be a complete surprise, but I also planned a surprise birthday dinner at Billy the Bum’s in Durban for his actual birthday.  Boy, was he surprised!

The birthday boy and a few friends who stayed for a final nightcap shot at Billy’s.

Once having acquired my new Mozambican visa in Durban, I took the time to enjoy being back in the city and with my Durban family.  We perused the Shongweni Farmer’s Market on Saturday (one of my absolute favorites places to go) and went to the Durban Boat Show on Sunday.  We even got the chance to ride in a Honda AquaLounge, compliments of Morgan’s cousin who was working the show.  It really was a beautiful day on the water.

The AquaLounge

Port of Duban, South Africa

Even though I had a fantastic week in Durban, I was ready to head back to work and friends in Vilanculos.  Unfortunately (and because things in Africa often don’t go as planned), I was not to return to Mozambique.  Due to issues with the Department of Immigration in Vilanculos, we have had to shut down our volunteer programs until further notice.  To be completely honest, I felt pretty terrible.

But every cloud has a silver lining, right?

For the time being, I am working as an additional African Impact volunteer coordinator in St. Lucia, South Africa –  about three hours north of Durban.  It’s a small town (although much more developed than Vilanculos), but a beautiful area of the country that I had yet to visit.  Instead of Vilanculos beaches, we have St. Lucia bush… and with that, a large estuary (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) home to hippos and crocodiles alike.

A family of hippos! Just another day in St. Lucia…

So it is a big adjustment, but there is a phrase that people from African countries or who have visited often use when things don’t go as expected: “This Is Africa” (or “T.I.A”).  From my perspective, it’s the African equivalent of “When in Rome…”

Sunset on the St. Lucia Estuary

But you know, at the end of the day, I can’t really complain.

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My Life’s a Beach – Tofo, MZ

Breakfast on the beach at Mango Beach in Tofo, Mozambique.

Nobody’s life is perfect, but these days, mine often comes pretty darn close.

This past weekend, I turned a visa renewal trek into a roadtrip with two girlfriends I’ve met since living here, French and Dutch respectively.  We ventured out of Vilanculos for the first time and took a trip to Tofo, a lazy beach town popular with backpackers, located about four hours south of Vilanculos.

Our trip included three long chappa rides (16-passenger vans that commonly squeeze 25-30 inside at the firm request of the driver and his lackey), two ferry rides and one day-long stroll on the endless stretch of beach which is Tofo.

Add to this one four-course meal, some serious shell-collecting and a fantastic tan and you could easily say that my life is a beach.

Our arrival in Tofo town center.

Did I mention that the chef who prepared this makes his own chocolate?

Saturday morning sunrise over Mango Beach.

My two travel partners, Caren and Yvane, were determined to find the most beautiful shells ever washed in from the Indian Ocean.

One of the largest pieces of coral I’ve ever seen outside of the ocean.

We stopped for a seafood lunch at a South African-owned bar on the beach.  A fantastic view!

On Sunday morning, just before leaving for Vilanculos. Even a cloudy day at the beach is breathtakingly beautiful.

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Celebrating Dia de Criança

One of the toddlers at Bernard’s Orphanage who got caught in the crossfire of a sticker war on Children’s Day.

In many countries around the world (including Mozambique), June 1st is known as Children’s Day – a day to celebrate the youth of a country, the future of a people.

In Vilanculos was no different.  African Impact (kudos to my boss and friend, Sonja!) along with local Mozambican teachers and mothers made sure that the day was full of food, stickers and laughter for each and every child.

Source: Sonja

Source: Sonja

Making paper chains for decoration at the orphanage. They had so much fun!

Making paper fish out to decorate.

Singing songs as we play ‘Pass the Parcel.’

Orphanage kids eagerly awaiting sweets from Sonja.

And honestly, what kind of celebration would it be without some cake?

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One Month in Mozambique

Morgan’s last day at Escolinha de Boa Esperanca preschool.

It’s official: I have been living and working in Mozambique for one month already.

It’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, I was stepping off the 20-seat plane onto the tarmac of the tiny Vilanculos International Airport.  I had left Thailand only two weeks before, spent a brief but lovely two weeks in South Africa with Morgan’s family and friends and after a 36-hour delay in Johannesburg, I had landed in the small Mozambican town I will be living in for the rest of year.

A small group of talented preschoolers learning about shapes and colors.

I’ve learned a lot throughout the past month.  I’ve learned how to cook rice in a hut over a fire for 80 preschool kids (thanks, Morgan!).  I’ve learned that there are various degrees of ‘Africa time’ (Durban ‘Africa time’ and Vilanculos ‘Africa time’ are not the same).  I’ve also learned how important African Impact (the organization I work for) is to the community of Vilanculos.

Tatiana, her little cousin Mariela and feisty little Sophia eating their beans and rice before going home for the day.

The preschool that our volunteers come to teach at is completely funded (teacher/night guard/farmer salaries, food for students’ breakfast/lunch and school supplies) by African Impact.  The ultimate goal is for the preschool to become self-sustainable, but at the moment, it’s not possible.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our newest project is working at an orphanage in Vilanculos, but it’s not an ‘orphanage’ in the big building – lots of beds – and – a – cafeteria sense.  It’s a Mozambican woman with little means, but a big heart who decided to open up her small straw hut compound to children who don’t have anywhere else to go.  Our volunteers teach simple English lessons to the orphanage children on Tuesdays and arrange a fun play day for the kids on Thursdays.

Source: Christine (former African Impact volunteer)

Our third main project is Edson’s Adult English Class.  On Monday and Wednesday afternoons, volunteers teach a two-hour English lesson they’ve prepared earlier in the week to one of four English classes.  The 80 Edson’s students registered are eager to learn English, as it helps get the a better-paying job in the Vilanculos tourism industry.  Classes are taught outdoors on straw mats under a few tall trees.

Over 50 preschool moms have been coming every Saturday morning to help clear more land at school in hopes of expanding the preschool farm.

Throughout the past month both on and off projects, the concept of ‘community’ has been constantly evolving in my mind.  My few weeks in Vilanculos have reinforced the idea that “it takes a community to raise a child” as neighbors and friends here don’t think of themselves as such, but instead, ‘sister’ and ‘brother.’  These brothers and sisters help care for each other’s children, farm each other’s land and often help build one another’s first home.

This isn’t to say that Vilanculos, Mozambique is a perfect place.  Poverty is everywhere.  A small percentage of the population has electricity and running water and like everywhere else in the world (particularly Africa), crime does occur.  Nonetheless, as much as we westerners feel like Africa has to learn from us, we definitely have a thing or two to learn from Africa.

Just because I like this picture… and because I already miss my boy (Morgan flew back to South Africa on Wednesday).

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