In this era of the Instagram and TikTok DMs (Direct Messages) turned love story, when you tell someone that you met your partner during a nature trail walk, at a picnic park or while feeding some giraffes at a nature reserve, they look at you like you just told them you caught a unicorn out in the wild. And while I carry hot coffee around explicitly for the purpose of hopefully crashing into the next love of my life on the street, I realise that meet-cutes are largely reserved for characters in romantic comedies… but… still very much plausible in real life.
In romantic movies, the only thing that’s better than the moment when the couple reunites after a conflict is the scene where they meet for the first time.
And the only thing better than that is when it happens in real life.
This is not an episode of ‘How I met your Father’, no no no… I assure you, you need to stay on with me…us, on an odyssey about a love brewed in the most interesting of ways… The proverbial happily ever after, if you may.
Our protagonist, Biringanine Ninawabana Rosine, or Nina as her friends affectionately call her, is currently an Executive Assistant at Ambulances Services 77 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She gleefully recounts her journey to Strathmore University, her valiant focus-driven academic journey, her spiritual nourishment, and finding her heart’s home… After all, home is where your heart is.
In 2018, Nina embarked on a remarkable journey facilitated by a prestigious SU scholarship. Strathmore’s Financial Aid Office in collaboration with the Admissions Office, as has now become the norm, orchestrated a captivating mathematics competition in DR Congo’s Bukavu region and she emerged 1st runner’s up in the ladies’ category, securing a place among the first cohort of six students selected for the scholarship. Eager to pursue her academic aspirations, she enrolled in the Diploma in Business Information Technology (DBIT) programme in September 2018. With the same scholarship, Nina later transitioned to the Bachelor in Business Information Technology (BBIT) degree programme in 2020, continuing her educational journey at Strathmore University.
What was her experience as an international student? She paints a picture that would be literature’s close second to Raphaello’s Sistine Madonna…
“I stepped onto the vibrant Strathmore University and instantly found myself surrounded by a lively tapestry of cultures and colours. It was like stepping into a bustling global bazaar, with students from every nook and cranny of the world coming together in one place. The aroma of diverse cuisines, laughter and chatter resonated in different languages, creating a symphony of international voices.
At SU, I embarked on a thrilling adventure of cultural exploration and exchange. Every day felt like a treasure hunt, as I encountered students from various backgrounds, each carrying with them a unique slice of their homeland. We celebrated our differences, sharing stories, traditions, and even tasty treats from our respective countries. It was like having a passport stamped with friendship from every corner of the globe.
Of course, and maybe as expected, as a French speaker, my tongue initially stumbled over the unfamiliar syllables of the primary language of instruction at SU – English. It was like learning a new dance, a language Lingala if you will. But SU had my back. Together with my fellow language adventurers, we were offered language support services. With each conversation group and language course, my language skills grew wings, and I soared to new heights of fluency.
SU was more than just a university; it was a guiding compass in my international student journey. They lent me a helping hand when it came to hostel arrangements, showing me the ropes and making sure I found a place that felt like home. They even offered financial assistance, turning my worries into twinkling stardust.
I chose the path of shared apartments, and oh, what a wise decision it was! Living in those vibrant havens allowed me to fully immerse myself in the Kenyan culture, making lifelong friendships along the way. From late-night giggles to impromptu dance parties, we created memories that could rival any blockbuster movie,” she enthusiastically recalls.
A movie-perfect series of coincidences… and, rejections
In the enchanting backdrop of a foreign land, destiny was patiently weaving a carefully calculated encounter that would forever change Nina’s life.
On a day she intended to spend indoors and in the comfort of her warm house, Nina’s housemates convince her to accompany them to a friend’s house party on the occasion of his birthday, along Nairobi’s Thika road- a bit of a distance from Madaraka Estate where she was residing. It is a lively atmosphere, filled with the promise of all things beautiful. The air hummed with excitement, punctuated by the mingling overlapping conversations, mostly in French.
A young man, confident in his steps and demeanour, singles her out in a room full of people who are largely strangers to her, and proceeds with pleasantries followed by a few more words she can’t quite remember.
“We didn’t have much time to talk since both of us were guests and from different universities…” she starts, “But thanks to his brothers, sisters, and cousins who were studying in Strathmore, we would undoubtedly have the opportunity to meet again…” She was hopeful.
And they did! This time, a movie-perfect series of coincidences… and, rejections, haha!
It is the December festivities in 2018. Her friends organise a Christmas party and of course, because this friend community is tightly knit, more familiar faces from the birthday party are surely going to be in attendance.
The rendezvous is meant to happen at 12 noon. Nina, however, arrives four hours later and after the hugs and the high-fives, goes straight to the kitchen to prepare food. Remember the unnamed confident young man in the first scene? He follows her to the kitchen and keeps her company for a short while before rejoining the rest in the sitting room for a movie. The room is full, as Nina realises coming from the kitchen. For a minute, she feels as though the universe is conspiring and working hard towards something interesting. Or maybe, it’s just her friends playing cupid… the only sitting space available is next to our mystery man. They momentarily form a small universe of their own, watching the movie and chattering away as though there is no one else around them. When you’re immersed in deep and interesting conversations, time seems to function differently. Despite residing all the way in Thika road, he finds himself in Madaraka Estate and walking her to the gate of her hostel!
She later receives a text from a strange phone number. Strange because she never gave it to him. She is infuriated by her friends for this. She vehemently tells him that her sole focus is her studies. He listens, but is adamant, and smart at it. I think at this point, you, the reader, should know that they’re both Catholic.
He starts coming for Meditation at Mbagathi Study Centre, a centre dedicated to formation of young men in Strathmore University. Fast forward to 2019… His demeanour, Mass and recollection attendance are easing her initial high guard with him. She might even be more than impressed…
At least one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit…
If your friends don’t go out of their way to bring you this commodity called happiness at every chance they get, you probably should’ve done the proverbial New Year cutting off waaaaay back. At the turn of the year, things are looking up. Nina’s friends meticulously hatch up a plan they sure hope will bear at least one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It’s Valentine’s day. They ask her to meet them at Tuskys Mall’s (TMall) food court after class. One of them even sends her an Uber to pick her up.
She grudgingly agrees. As she walks up the stairs, composure seems to escape her usually confident self. With hesitant steps, her heart pulsating with a delightful blend of curiosity and nervousness, she approaches the food court, on the second floor, and is met by the beaming smile of Jean François Kahamba. Yes, the mystery man has a name, finally! With a bouquet of flowers and chocolates in hand, he says a pleasant “Hi”. As they exchanged their first words, their voices resonated with a harmonious rhythm, as if the universe had conspired to bring them together. The foreign land that had once seemed unfamiliar transformed into a symphony of shared experiences.
As the evening drew to a close and as they bid their farewells, their hearts carried the promise of future encounters, knowing that the seeds of a profound connection had been sown that night. Little did they know that this fateful meeting, orchestrated by friends in a foreign country, would mark the beginning of an extraordinary journey – a journey that would lead them hand in hand towards a lifetime of love, companionship, and adventure.
“Oooh, I later learnt that it was François (that’s what I call him) who’d sent the uber to pick me…,” she says smiling blushingly.
No!… And a Yes!
They would meet again and he would let her know of his intentions to give the relationship a try. To which she would say “No!” and reiterate her commitment to her studies and her relationship with God. In December 2021, while enjoying the long holiday from her BBIT in Bukavu, François requests her to be his girlfriend, again, and gives her three weeks to think about it. He was determined. He’d just completed his studies and was now working in Kinshasa, DR Congo’s capital. He spoke to his dad who in turn spoke to his friend who lives in Bukavu, about the possibility of hosting him, albeit for a short while. He needed to be closer to where his heart’s home was…
She’d go on to say yes on another flowers and chocolate featured date. As the clock did another timelapse, with a trembling hand, he’d reach into his pocket, pull out a small velvet box containing a cute ring, and drop down on one knee. Looking into Nina’s eyes, filled with love, he’d whisper,
“Will you make me the happiest person alive and spend the rest of your life with me?”
Nina, François, and Mr. and Mrs. Njane…
In 2023, at the height of degree completion chaos, Nina made good her spiritual commitment, regularly attending spiritual activities at Don Bosco Parish. She also approached the Chaplaincy at Strathmore University with the goal of securing premarital counselling sessions. Fr. Charles Mundia, the University Chaplain, sent her to a Chaplaincy administrator that would help her and François meet a relatively older – in marriage – couple that would hold their hands through this journey.
“A chance encounter led us to meet the most incredible couple, John and Veronica Njane. You see, our initial best couple was based in DR Congo. Due to the distance technicalities involved, we requested and mutually agreed to change this dynamic,” she starts.
“I’d constantly rave on about my lecturer, Mrs. Njane. I liked her from the moment I met her and would sometimes meet up with her beyond class and talk about life. I admired how she seemed put together and would look up to her, both secretly and openly. I talked to François about it and he picked up my thrill.
Together, we embarked on a transformative journey, exploring our individual dreams and aspirations, addressing any concerns or fears we had, and fostering open communication. Throughout the preparation process, we witnessed our bond grow stronger as we navigated through the depths of our emotions, embracing vulnerability and working together to build a future filled with love and understanding.
After two months of classes, my husband and I requested them to be our best couple. The switch to the Njanes felt quite natural.
Since François was all the way in Kinshasa, he could not attend the classes physically. We came to an arrangement where he’d take them virtually while the Njanes and I would have them in Nairobi. The only condition by Fr. Charles was that we would do them together. François would do it so faithfully and committedly. I was impressed!” She says introspectively.
Nina jokingly says she also proposed at some point… and she’s glad she only waited for a week to hear that calming ‘Yes!’
With hearts overflowing, we humbly asked them, “Will you both stand by our side as the epitome of love, as our best couple, on the day we say ‘We do’?”
Given the travel logistics and the hard decision of leaving their kids behind, they had to ensure a few things were taken care of before taking on the 1,371.3 km journey and weeklong festivities involving the bride’s and groom’s cultural rituals, a civil and a church wedding, and a photoshoot of the bride and groom’s love and laughter’s embrace reflecting in the shimmering waters of the mighty River Congo in the backdrop.
All these happening three weeks before her graduation at Strathmore University with a First Class honours in BBIT’s Business Intelligence major!
Well, if you’re still asking yourself ‘what’s love got to do with all of this?’ Nina says, ‘Everything!!!’
This article was written by Francis Kabutu.
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