“It came from other people’s curiosity about us. People were genuinely interested in hearing our story”
Love Has No Borders: The Instagram initiative showcasing tales of cross-cultural relationships
It was always going to happen. Over the past few decades, working in the UAE has become a viable long-term option for people from different countries, religions and social classes. Communities mix and people fall in love, so cross-cultural marriages and third-culture kids are inevitable. And it’s not just here: sure, expat hubs such as the Gulf, Singapore and Hong Kong are where it is more likely, but as globalisation kicks in, the world gets that bit smaller and the odds of not marrying the boy next door increase.
No longer just the stuff of fairy tales, more and more people are fighting against the odds to sustain relationships which are, on the face of it, hard: language barriers, cultural differences, geographical distance from relatives. So what hurdles and stigmas still need to be overcome? Surely we have moved on from the attitudes of older generations, for whom international travel was mainly to fight in a world war or to join a crusade.
“I went to Kathmandu on a date,” Nicola Maharjan says, as she tells me the fascinating story of how her relationship with Nabin, a Nepalese man, grew after he met her at the airport with a bunch of sunflowers.
When they met a few months before, Nicola, from Yorkshire in the UK, had been living in Dubai for four years. She went on holiday with a girlfriend to Nepal, where she lost countless games of cards to a barman with the biggest smile she had ever seen. Fast forward seven years and they are married with two girls (Maya, 3, and Lily, six months).
Nicola and Nabin:
On Valentine’s Day this year, they went live with the initiative “Love Has No Borders” to highlight relationships such as theirs, to draw parallels and to connect people in similar situations. Currently an Instagram feed that posts bi-weekly, each time it features a new couple who are identified by their first names and a relevant flag emoji.
Written responses to a series of set questions are brought to life by a vibrant, candid photo taken by Nabin, a professional photographer with Soul Photography. For him this is the ultimate passion project: “it’s relevant to our world”, he says. The photo shoots always take place in the subject’s home, creating a relaxed, natural feel.
To date there have been more than 30 posts, with plans to cover every one of the 200-plus nationalities living in the UAE.
The couple are even considering approaching embassies to help them with their quest, and are even contemplating taking the project global. “It came from other people’s curiosity about us,” Nicola says. “People were genuinely interested in hearing our story”.
Anna from Sweden and Allan from the UK:
Starting with their friends, acquaintances and Facebook friends, it soon spread.
They have plans to turn the platform into a temporary exhibition that could be beneficial for schools, companies and social groups focusing on diversity and inclusion. “We are considering approaching the Ministry of Happiness, to get potential patrons and brands on board,” Nicola says. “It’s really interesting how positive a reaction the project can have on individuals and help relationships, we can all learn from each other”.
She talks of the “sparks of joy, cultural appreciation and understanding” you can get from skimming through a post – couples recount how they met, personal anecdotes and problems they have encountered and overcome.
Katherine, from South Africa, is married to Tarek, an Egyptian she met while working as a lifeguard at Aquaventure. “We love our crazy, unique, ever-changing relationship and that we just ‘get each other’ on both our best and worst days,” she writes. “We found ‘our way’. Always use your three Cs: Communication, Compromise, Compassion. Speak freely, listen and be respectful. Every marriage is a journey, not a destination, and needs conscious work every day. And never sleep upset.”
Some couples met online, others at a brunch. Some at work, others on holiday.
“I enjoy coming up with ideas and making them happen. Some are more successful than others but I put in the same energy and passion regardless. It’s the journey I enjoy,” Nicola says.
Jeroen from The Netherlands and Layla from Somalia:
She is a fine example of a proactive entrepreneur who uses life lessons and prior project management skills to create viable enterprises. Co-founder of an events consultancy firm, she is also director of events of the Committee of British Business Group; works as a mentor and coach; she initiated The Buggy Run and has a handful of other projects up in the air, such as Den, which sells tepees made in Nepal, and Pint Size Adventure, which gives advice on family travel.
In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, Nicola and Nabin established a foundation in Nepal, an extension of which is the restaurant Roots Eatery, where Nabin’s parents cook Newari food for tourists visiting his neighbourhood in Kathmandu. They would like to build a home in Nepal, but are more likely to move to the UK. “The whole ‘where next?’ question is the biggest decision in any cross-cultural relationship,” Nicola says.
You get a sense though that her husband’s big smile will make anything OK. “Everybody smiles in the same language” she says – if only communication in all walks of life was that simple.
Stories about all featured couples can be found @lovehasnoborders on Instagram