The new face of interracial relationships

This couple met on a dating app in 2018, and dated online for two years. Thereafter, their whirlwind romance played out in the TLC reality series, 90 Day Fiancé. They live in the USA.

“I wasn’t looking for somebody from Kenya, though. We chatted for a few days on the app. She told me to send her a message on WhatsApp. I said, ‘I’m not. I’m gonna get scammed’,” Benjamin recalls how he responded three days after her text.

“I told him I was busy with my photography and interior design gigs. That’s why I gave him my number before I went offline on the dating app. That’s when he understood the assignment,” Akinyi laughs. “I wouldn’t say I had reservations about dating a person from another race, but dating someone who was far away from me. I was worried about how the relationship would work.”

Benjamin agrees that race wasn’t a major factor in their union.

“It’s more about my connection, and the love and romance we developed,” he says, admitting to have dated women from different cultures before, drawing different experiences from each one.

“Be very careful how you answer this ex question,” Akinyi quips.

“I’m not saying anything good or bad,” Benjamin laughs.

“This question will determine whether we go to bed in peace or not!” she responds.
About cultural shock, Akinyi says she was surprised that white people do not season their food at all.

“For me, it was the whole dowry thing,” Benjamin gives his side. “That was an entirely new experience. And the fact that I could not meet mum and dad soon enough.”

“We had to seek blessings from everyone; her church, pastor, friends and family. I enjoyed it, but it was a new experience. Also, her washing rice three or four times is new to me.”

Another shocker for Akinyi is the culture Americans hold that a woman can take her boyfriend to the parents even if the relationship is casual.

“In our culture, when you take your significant other home, it means this is serious and leading to marriage. I needed to know you were serious,” she tells him.

The first challenge of an interracial relationship that Akinyi jokingly talks about is “losing face”. As in, her makeup constantly getting on Benjamin’s face.

“Seriously, cultural differences play a huge role in how we communicate. I communicate the African way, and can be too much for him. You’d think there’s a problem, but there’s none. I’m also teaching him how to lotion every part of his body. Most white American men don’t use lotion!”

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“Sometimes it’s how people judge us. It can be at the grocery store, there are stares, mostly from older folks,” Benjamin says.

“There are people who come at us online; trolls who say our love is wrong. But we’re getting lots of support too. There are people who love us and walk with us.”
At first, the stares were hard for Benjamin and he kept asking, “Why are people staring at us so much?”

Akinyi agrees, then segues: “I have somebody who opens my car door. He’s very loving.”
Benjamin did not tell Akinyi he had a son, Graysen, 8, right off the bat, until they started chatting on WhatsApp.

“That took me aback. I felt like he kept that from me. I didn’t know how it’s supposed to be when you are in a relationship with someone who has a child.

“That bothered me a little bit. When I came to America and met Graysen, it was different. In Kenya, I was a dog mum to my pet dogs.

“Graysen understands the American way of life. I can only be his friend, then he will be the one to recognise me as his stepmum. I mum him the way I can. Sometimes I do it the African way. Most times it’s in the way he understands.”

When Benjamin travelled to Nairobi to meet Akinyi, he had been speaking to her sister. But he was nervous when he met Akinyi’s brother and some of her friends.

“I’d been on a 30-hour flight. I wanted to make a good impression. When I met her parents, there was some challenge in communication, but Akinyi helped.”

Akinyi has met some of Benjamin’s family. She says they are loving and supportive.

Rita Ashemeza, aka Ash, 24 and Evan Dingle, 27

Rita Ashemeza, aka Ash, 24 and Evan Dingle, 27 is an interracial couple who first met on social media. Rita is a Ugandan while Evan is American. They now live in Switzerland.

Ash is Ugandan. Evan is American. This “Corona couple” met two years ago in the Pearl of Africa, where Evan, a Bostonian, was living and working. Ash did a comic TikTok eating chapati and beans, which went viral. They started following each other.

They are currently in Switzerland, doing their Master’s programmes. Evan is studying health communication and Ash is studying media management.

“I think it’s important we were friends first,” Evan says. “If you go straight into dating, I think it’s hard to see who the other person really is.

“Because, you know each person is showing their best when you’re dating. As friends, you’re more honest and real.”

Apart from friendship, faith is what connected them, and is the foundation of our relationship. “Before I met him, I had doubts about my Christianity,” Ash explains. “His faith shored mine up.”

Their faith is also the reason for they are abstaining from sex.

“Temptations are always there right outside the door. We’re always struggling in our hearts and minds, but we believe we should save sex after marriage,” Evan confesses.

“It’s not as easy commitment for me, as a person who’s had sex before,” Ash opens up. “But it gives me eagerness to wait for marriage. It’s a nice commitment and I’m proud of myself, because I couldn’t imagine myself making such a commitment like three years ago.”

One “weighty” shock Ash is still grappling with is how different races view body image.

“In Uganda, people always compliment, ‘You’ve gained weight’, and we love that. In our culture, if you gain weight, it means you’re healthy. But here, if you tell someone they’ve gained weight, it’s like you’re abusing them. They want to be slim, and this is so weird for me.”

For Evan, communication and thought processes are the biggest things when it comes to cultural differences.

“In America, if you see someone typing in caps, it’s like you’re screaming at the top of your lungs. It’s very normal for some people in Uganda to type in capital letters. I’ve learnt that she’s emphasising words or she’s making a point. She’s not angry.”

Ash says nowadays, to avoid her message getting lost in translation, she tries not to type in caps.
Besides each other’s accents, which they have become used to; food is also chipping away at their cultural differences. Evan lived in Uganda for about two years and, apart from grasshoppers, he has savoured other traditional delicacies.

“There’s something like a burger it’s everywhere even in Uganda. I always wondered who buys a bun for 515 Ugandan shillings. It’s just bread, so I said I’ll never eat it. I’ve started liking it. I also never used to eat, um, what are those small cabbages?”

“Brussels sprouts. I’ve introduced her to Brussels sprouts.”

Family dynamics can make or break any relationship. Ash talked to Evan’s mom on the phone before they started dating.

“She’s the sweetest woman you will ever meet. She’s like a big sister and mom. She’s so supportive. We talk over the phone with his dad too.”

He’s also met Ash’s brothers, grandmother and a couple uncles. “They’re all very nice and friendly, especially her grandmother,” he says.

The friendliness eased away Ash’s concerns about bringing a foreign man to her grandmother for the first time as there will always be people who will raise eyebrows or a ruckus at interracial relationships.

“I’ve heard things about white people,” Ash says in her distinct Luganda accent. “That a white person can never be with a black woman.

“That they only love you while in your country, but when they take you to another country, they change and mistreat you. That if you give birth, they’ll take your kids. I remember I used to tell Evan that, and he’d say it’s not true.”

Evan’s also heard his share of snide remarks.

“When we were in Uganda, you’d get the occasional comments from random strangers, like a boda boda rider would shout to Ash in Luganda to get as much money as she can from me. They assume she’s with me for my money. They assume I have money.

“We come from two totally different worlds. It wasn’t really about race, but culture. At first, I wondered if those two differences could be reconciled easily. You can make it work. It just takes time and patience.”

Ash grew up “pad-poor”. Which is why they are utilising their online platform and presence to donate sanitary pads to underpriviledged girls in Uganda. They are setting up a sustainable project that will train “pad-poor” girls on how to make reusable sanitary pads.

Annette Odewo and Slavi Bonev

 Annette Odewo and Slavi Bonev is an interracial couple living in Germany. Annette is Kenyan while Slavi is European. They met online.

This couple met online, then took a big risk; a proposal on the very first date. Annette has an easy laugh. Slavi is easy-going.

“It was a surprise proposal. I knew it was a special dinner, but I didn’t know he would propose that same night,” Annette gushes.

“Even before I met Slavi face-to-face, some friends were not supportive of our relationship. They said I was so much in love with him, and were worried about me if things went wrong. When I told them about the proposal, they acted happy but told me it was so quick. I didn’t care, because I was engaged.”

“We already had a connection for five months before the engagement. I wanted to create the impression that I was thinking about our future. I wanted to show how serious my feelings were. To me, it was not too fast,” Slavi clarifies. “A friend of my brother told me not to expect too much from a Kenyan woman because some just want to come to Europe, or a white man is their card to a better life.”

For Annette, though she’d heard that most white men come to Kenya as sex tourists, she was not worried.

“Slavi had never even been to Africa. He was coming to Kenya specifically for me. It was a bold step for me, but even bolder for him. He was being told Kenya isn’t even safe and off-putting stuff about Kenyan women.”

“If you get a good white man, he will treat you differently, with so much tenderness and care. I like how he’s very protective of me. I feel secure with him.”

The couple says they see their colour and cultural differences not as cause célèbre, but something to celebrate.

“The only challenge I can think of is people’s stares. They stare more in Kenya. In Europe, people tend to mind their business,” Annette says, adding that all that matters to her is that his close family friends are open-minded and like their relationship.

“I speak basic German. We speak English at home. All of Slavi’s friends also speak English,” she says. Slavi is a sucker for traditional values, which he says are lost in the western world. Though his circles are international and educated, he always wanted to be with a woman who cherishes traditional values.

“The generation of our parents is quite different in their understanding. I was worried how my mom would take it. She’s extremely kind and loves all my friends, including my wife and our son,” he says.

Luo traditional rites can be mind-boggling or blowing, depending on how you look at it. “What I learnt is, if you want to marry, there’s a whole process. It was so new and interesting to me,” Slavi says.

“The first day we drove home to Ndhiwa, Slavi wore a pair of shorts,” Annette fills me in. “My uncles and aunts were not at home. So it wasn’t a big deal. When we officially went home, I was nervous because my uncles are very strict and questioning.

“I lost my dad when I was young. In our culture, my dad’s brothers are my fathers. In the Luo tradition, you’re supposed to first do what’s called, ayie – an introduction of sorts – before paying dowry.

“We wanted to do everything at once, which to them was a problem. They didn’t understand that Slavi is from far and it was during Corona. It took a long discussion for them to acquiesce. We wore vitenge for that day.”

Another problem was that Slavi was flying solo. For marriage rites, the man is supposed to be accompanied by his friends. Slavi was okay with returning to Ndhiwa for, as he says in his easy-going manner; “another party”.

When Annette went to Germany, she was already pregnant. Then she had their son, Marcello, who’s now eight months.

“I’m just at home while Slavi works in the research field of human face geometry. I studied microbiology and biotechnology,” she says.

About their age, Annette says; “He’s older than me, as you can see, that’s the answer.”

What’s their advice for persons who are thinking of getting into an interracial relationship?

“Acceptance from both families is of utmost importance,” Annette says. “If you’re not accepted, and you’re planning to move to another country, it will be a big problem. Be careful. There are scammers on online dating platforms.”

Slavi advises that one should take time to know the other person, their childhood, education, environment and family. “Never underestimate or look down on the other person, regardless of culture or background. Don’t disrespect the other person. Have patience for things that are alien to you.”


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