Wed, 07 February 2024
Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating that four-letter word that makes hearts sing – love. It’s been an exciting month for the Bahrain This Month team, meeting couples across the Kingdom to find out what brought them together. Here are their stories of love and laughter... probably best read with a Valentine’s Day playlist in the background!
ADNAN & FAYE SHARABI
51 years of marriage… and counting!
In a heart-warming interview filled with laughter and reminiscing, Faye and Adnan Sharabi recounted the story of their unexpected meeting at the White Earth Lutheran Bible camp in Minnesota, USA, in 1971. Their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different – Adnan, a Palestinian volunteer for a government project named Upward Bound aiding Native American students, and Faye, a South Dakotan of Norwegian and German descent who was working as a lifeguard at the camp.
Despite initial cultural misconceptions, their shared values and mutual respect led to a whirlwind romance and marriage the following year in a quaint South Dakota church. The pastor who married them, Paul Larson, remains a friend.
Their journey together took them across the United States, from North Dakota to New Jersey, and eventually overseas to Greece before settling in Bahrain through Adnan’s job with the Arab Bank PLC. What was initially intended to be a short stint turned into a 34-year sojourn in the Middle East, where they found a welcoming community and raised their family.
When asked the secret of an enduring marriage of soon-to-be 52 years, Adnan says: “The best advice is to agree to whatever she says! In all seriousness, tolerance, understanding and a good sense of humour are imperative.”
He added: “We won’t be doing anything special for Valentine’s Day as we don’t need a specific day to celebrate our love, but the ideal scenario is for us to just be together with each other, our children (and now grandchildren!) and take them out to dinner and just appreciate our lives and companionship.”
ZAINAB AKBAR AND ALI JAWADI
A digital connection that flourished into real-life companionship.
In a modern tale of love, Zainab and Ali found each other through the digital realm of Instagram. What began as a simple exchange about healthy green juices blossomed into a beautiful relationship filled with culinary adventures and unwavering support.
Ali, initially drawn to Zainab’s homemade juices showcased on her prominent page The Food Menu, took the bold step of sliding into her DMs. Their conversations evolved from juice recipes to shared interests and eventually led to them becoming a couple. It was a digital connection that transcended screens and led to real-life companionship.
For Ali, marrying a food blogger like Zainab opened up a world of culinary exploration. Previously content with basic fare like grills and shawarma, he found himself embracing a diverse array of cuisines, with sushi becoming a newfound favourite. Not only did he expand his palate, but he also ventured into the world of food blogging himself, joining Zainab on her gastronomic journeys.
“In our relationship, respect, communication and understanding is absolutely paramount,” the couple believe. “These elements form the foundation upon which love can truly flourish. We find strength in our unwavering support for each other to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Reflecting on their favourite aspects of each other, Ali admires Zainab’s support and kind heart, while Zainab cherishes Ali’s ability to make her laugh and his laid-back approach to life.
Their most cherished memory of their relationship is their first trip together to Istanbul, an experience which they hope to relive someday.
As in any relationship, arguments do sometimes break out, but the couple have a steadfast rule to deal with it. “We resolve our disagreements before the day ends,” they state. “This commitment to open communication ensures that no issue is left unresolved or taken into the next day, fostering a deeper connection and strengthening our bond with each passing day.”
JAAP & WENDY VAANDRAGER
A couple that never goes to sleep angry.
Jaap and Wendy Vaandrager are long-term residents of Bahrain and were initially introduced to each other by a mutual friend who thought they would be perfect for each other. He was right! In May, they will celebrate 28 years of marriage.
“All the important events in our married life have taken place in Bahrain,” says the happy couple. “We got married in Bahrain in St Christopher’s Cathedral, all of our children were born in Bahrain and went to school here. This beautiful island has been very good to us and we are so grateful that we were able to raise a family here. We are from the same area in the Netherlands, but this will always be our second home.”
One piece of advice Jaap and Wendy want to share with young couples is: never go to sleep angry! They believe it is so important to be able to have fun together and to laugh together, and if there are issues, sort them out as quickly as possible.
This year, the couple will celebrate Valentine’s Day with their children in New Orleans, US.
MOHAMMED AL OSAIMI & LISA DANIELS
Their first date on Valentine’s Day was the start of a beautiful relationship.
In the heart of the Gulf, where love knows no borders, Lisa from the UK and Mohammed from Saudi Arabia have crafted a tale as vibrant as the region they call home. The duo’s serendipitous encounter unfolded at an InterNations gathering – a social soiree that set the stage for their whirlwind romance. Swapping numbers led to a delightful twist of fate as their first date materialised on Valentine’s Day, adding a touch of romance to the saga. Pampering and buttering each other up proved pivotal, resonating with the free-spirited essence of their surroundings in the open and easy-going Gulf.
Navigating cultural nuances, the duo chuckled about the unconventional choice of ditching plates and utensils, a culinary quirk bridged by understanding and acceptance. On a more profound level, Lisa confronted prejudices about the Middle East, illustrating the power of education in breaking down barriers.
As an Arab man with a British partner, Muhammad found humour in the surprised faces they encountered, especially from Arab women. Jokingly claiming Lisa as his cousin, they weathered the quirks of marriage, including a comical question during a medical examination about potential relatedness.
Their advice to budding couples: “Set clear expectations, be patient, go with the flow, and above all, be kind to each other.” Reflecting on their upcoming 9th anniversary since that fateful Valentine’s Day, the duo confessed to lacking concrete plans – an annual ritual where Lisa orchestrates, and Muhammad foots the bill. Love, laughter, and a dash of unpredictability define their remarkable journey through the Gulf’s cultural mosaic.
RAJ KEWALRAM AND ROSHINI DASWANI KEWALRAM
Navigating Love, Life and Parenthood
Digital content creator and lifestyle influencer, Roshini, was born and raised in bustling Hong Kong until moving to the heart of London at Central Saint Martins, studying Graphic Design. Businessman Raj, hailing from Bahrain, met his sweetheart whilst also living in the British capital studying engineering at Kings College. Fast-forward to 2014, and the couple embarked on a new chapter, with Raj successfully convincing Roshini to move back to Bahrain with him. Today, they are proud parents to two daughters, Amyra and Eshiqa, the latest generation of a family business legacy dating back to 1922.
Currently enjoying a maternity break after Eshiqa arrived two months ago, the couple took time out of their hectic schedules to tell us the heart-warming story of their romance. The tale begins at one of Raj’s house parties in 2009, where Roshini, invited by Raj’s flatmate, was immediately struck by Raj’s unending conversation. A comical night ensued with Raj and Roshini’s cousin joyously singing in Sindhi. A year later, fate intervened as they found themselves living in the same student building, paving the way for a connection that would withstand the test of time. They finally started dating in 2011.
“The most obvious change in the past 13 years is the two kids that we have,” explains Roshini. “We are no longer just a couple enjoying the best of life – we are a family unit trying to be the best version of ourselves whilst working towards our goals and dreams. We met each other as 21 year olds, pretty much kids ourselves, so we have gone through life together for the good parts and the tough. We definitely understand each other a lot better and use each other’s strengths to support each other.”
Reflecting on their eight years of marriage, there are numerous highlights, but one in particular calls out to Raj. “My most cherished memory obviously has to be when we welcomed our first child Amyra,” he states. “We had been together for so long and then suddenly we learned we can love someone together so much and we enjoyed every minute of it.”
Recently welcoming their second child, the couple is relishing the experience of raising a newborn together, a luxury they missed during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic when they were separated by travel restrictions. Raj’s involvement in night feeds and his occasional panics showcase the delightful chaos of parenting. Parenthood, they admit, is no easy feat, particularly with two children. The most rewarding aspect, however, is witnessing the heartwarming interactions between Amyra and Eshiqa, captured masterfully by Roshini’s lens.
Raj and Roshini are shining beacons of what a strong relationship should be, so what words of wisdom can they impart on other young couples? “Be authentic, open and face challenges together,” they both say. “Most of all, appreciate individuality within the unity of partnership.”
ABDULLA ALARADI & SARAH ALSAMMAK
The cyclist, the restaurateur, and love that blossomed over eggs and tomatoes.
Sara and Abdulla met in 2012 when Sara, a keen cyclist, regularly visited Abdulla’s restaurant Emmawash for breakfast after gruelling morning rides. The couple were married in 2014 and now have a daughter.
“After my rides, I needed protein but I didn’t like eggs at all,” Sara reminisces. “One day at the restaurant, Abdullah and I were just talking as friends and he convinced me to try its famous eggs and tomatoes, and it completely changed my mind. I would then have it every week and after falling in love with the food, I fell in love with the man!”
“Food is the way to a woman’s heart!” Abdulla adds.
To the Bahraini couple, the island to them means home, family and comfort. Both actually believed they would marry non-Bahrainis, but love never takes a pre-destined course. Both are now part of two families and as public figures, whether through Sara’s large following on Instagram and her cycling passion or Abdulla’s restaurants, they get recognition wherever they go.
When asked what advice they would give to young couples, they are both in agreement. “Be yourself,” they say in unison. “From day one, just be yourself and don’t portray yourself as someone you’re not and then give your partner nasty surprises years later. Have one face, be true to each other, and never stop being friends who do things together.”
As for Valentine’s Day this year, Abdulla is still keeping the exact plan under wraps, but rumour has it they may be making an appearance at their favourite outlet in the Kingdom, Cantina Kahlo at the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain.
TOM BOURGOIN AND YASMEEN ZAINAL
A multi-cultural couple brought together by the ultimate wingman – a dog named Luna!
Despite attending St Christopher’s School together but not really knowing each other, a chance encounter at their local F45 gym kick-started Yasmeen and Tom’s fairytale romance. The two started partnering up for workouts and then going for a juice or smoothie afterwards. The deal was sealed when Tom brought his beautiful dog Luna with him one day and the rest is history! After four years together, the two tied the knot in December.
“We are from completely different backgrounds,” Yasmeen says, with her being Palestinian-Bahraini and Tom a French-Dutch hybrid. “Although there are cultural differences, we embrace them and our values are in line, so we really meet each other halfway. It also helps that Tom was born here and understands Arab and Muslim culture. But that is what is so amazing about Bahrain, the people that live here are so diverse, but are so integrated as a community. We still need to work on getting fluent in each other’s languages though; French and Arabic!
“Above all though, Bahrain is our home. We were both born here, and our families live here. It is where we grew up and where we also met. Bahrain is special.”
Their advice for lovebirds out there? Love each other every single day and show it in small and simple ways. At the end of the day, it is the little things that really count. Be patient with one another and never go to bed upset or angry! After all, you are on the same team.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Tom and Yasmeen are still undecided. Will it be a cooking class or putting on a Bob Ross video and painting together or a spontaneous adventure under the desert stars?
“We love going on spontaneous dates no matter what time of year,” the couple say. “Outdoor activities like wake surfing or paddle boarding or taking the dogs to the beach for a walk are popular choices, but we also LOVE food. That can be going out somewhere or cooking together, since nothing beats a delicious home-cooked meal made with love.”