‘I was working on a cruise ship. I stepped out for fresh air. I didn’t know this decision would change my life. As it began to rain, I heard someone speak.’

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“It was very early morning on New Year’s, 2017. I was still slightly inebriated and overwhelmed by the excitement of ringing in the New Year. So, I decided to step out and get some fresh air. I didn’t know this decision would change my life forever.

I was working on board a cruise ship called the Norwegian Dawn. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about my new (and first) job out of college as the Entertainment Production Manager on board.

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

Before joining the vessel, I had a boyfriend. We had decided we would attempt to make it work long distance. But as soon as I arrived on board, I was overwhelmed with my brand-new job, seasickness, meeting new people, and traveling to new places. Long story short, it didn’t work out. People who work on ships will always tell you that long distance NEVER lasts… and I believed them. Until, I met my Pardon Govheya.

After ringing in the New Year with a hand full of close friends on the pool deck on top of the ship, we decided to go have a party in my cabin. As the night went on, more and more people stopped by, bringing more and more alcohol. Now, if you haven’t seen a crew cabin on board a cruise ship, I can tell you it’s TINY and certainly not conducive for parties. I was so overwhelmed by all the people that I had to leave and get some air.

There was a spot on the Cruise Ship that was for crew members only, and it was at the bow of the vessel. I would go out there at night while we were sailing because in the middle of the ocean, there is no light pollution. You can see every star in the sky. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

I was out there, gazing up at the stars, when I heard someone say, ‘Hey! Happy New Year! How’re you doing tonight?’ Funny enough, I could barely see him and couldn’t tell what he looked like because it was pitch black outside. All I could see was a beautiful white smile. I replied with, ‘Hey, I’m doing well. Thanks for asking.’ He asked my name and I said, ‘Ariel. Like the little mermaid. What’s yours?’ He replied, ‘My name is weird… It’s Pardon. Like “Oh excuse me, Pardon me.”’ We laughed together, and then we began to talk. I found out he was a waiter in one of the restaurants on the ship from Zimbabwe. (This made a lot of sense because I was struggling to understand his accent).

As we spoke, I thought to myself, ‘Huh, if I married this man, what a romantic first meet up story this would be. But I’ll probably never see him again.’ Our conversation wouldn’t stop. We spoke of how hard ship life can be, but also how rewarding it is. And how we both cherish positivity above all else because as long as you stay positive, you can get through anything. I felt my eyes getting heavy and I left him to gaze at the stars alone. I left with a grin on my face and a heart warm with affection.

Weeks went by, and I had almost forgotten about Pardon. Then, one day, I was walking back onto the ship from a day on the beach in Mexico when I saw a very handsome man in front of me being scanned through security. I noticed he was wearing a nametag, so I peeked over his shoulder to see what his name was. Pardon Govheya. My heart fluttered… ‘Pardon?,’ I said. I was hoping he would look at my nametag and remember who I was. He turned around and immediately recognized me. ‘Ariel!’ We spoke for a minute, and I invited him to my friend’s birthday party. He agreed to come and meet me there.

Knowing that he was going to be there, I did the whole nine yards. I did my hair, makeup, wore my best dress to impress. We first got drinks in a guest bar, and then moseyed our way down to the crew bar. And there he was, sitting at a table, jamming out to the music with friends. I remember thinking how cute and stylish he was! He was wearing a brown fedora and a red sweater. I went up to him and said hello. We started talking, laughing, and making jokes together. Then, in a flash, it was 2:00am and the crew bar was closing.

But that never stops the crew! Whispers of a cabin party started spreading, and people began to make their way there. Pardon looked at me and said, ‘Hey, do you wanna go back to the spot we met at.’ I said ‘Sure!’ So, we made our way to the bow of the ship, and looked out on the open water. It then began to rain. I asked him if he wanted to go back. ‘I don’t mind a little rain if you don’t.’ So we stood in the rain, in the darkness, living in the moment. He then touched my cheek and pulled my face to his… and he kissed me.

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

After that night, we started dating. Spending every free moment with one another, exploring islands, beaches, up late at night drinking crappy wine, talking, teasing and laughing with one another. And eventually… falling in love.

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

But the time for his contract to end came closer and closer and neither of us had it in us to discuss the future. Everyone around us was telling us, ‘It’s unrealistic to even think this relationship will work.’ There were so many doubts… I mean, it wasn’t like he lived in a different city a couple hours away. We were talking about making long distance work while living on whole other continents. With different time zones, spotty cell service. Plus the fact that we both work on cruise ships, which was a whole other issue in and of itself.

Finally, I brought up the subject with him. We both agreed that ship life is like living in a whole other alternate universe. And if we were going to ensure we were going to work, we would have to spend time together off the ship when we were both on our vacation. Even though Pardon was from Zimbabwe, he left it when he was 18 to escape inflation and poverty. His permanent home was now in Cape Town, South Africa.

I agreed to come visit him in Cape Town when I was on vacation. The day he left was a sad one, full of tears and fear of the unknown. However, I knew I would be seeing him again in 6 weeks. I kept that hope in my heart and attempted my best to remain as positive as I could. In the meantime, we videochatted as often as we could and sent each other cute photos and messages.

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

Well, the time finally came for me to fly across the world and see if our love wasn’t just a cruise ship fling, but a romance that would last a lifetime. After an 8-hour flight, and another 10-hour flight, I landed in Cape Town. My heart was pumping, my mouth was dry, and I couldn’t tell if I was nervous, excited, or both. I picked up my luggage and walked out of the terminal.

As I walked into a sea of people awaiting the arrival of others, I looked left, right, then behind me. And I did not see him. My heart started to drop and tears began to fill my eyes. I thought, ‘Is he not here? Is he not coming? Was none of it real?’ Then, I saw him, standing in front of me with the biggest smile. I burst into tears, dropped suitcase, and embraced him. Relief went through my body and it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

The last three weeks we spent together in Cape Town were some of the best three weeks of my entire life. During this trip, it became very clear to both of us that what we had was very special, and absolutely worth fighting for. We decided that no matter the odds, no matter the time away, we would make it work. We knew that as long as our loved prevailed, we could do it. Everyone thought we were crazy, that it would never work, that we were bound to break up, cheat on each other. We paid them no mind.

Between June 2017 and May 2018 (almost a year), Pardon and I saw each other a total of one week in October. And during that one week, I got down on one knee and proposed to him. Once we were engaged, we decided the easiest way for us to be together was if he moved to United States. So we hired a lawyer and began the K-1 Visa (fiancé visa) process.

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

Two and a half years into the future (now), Pardon is my husband and we live together in Tallahassee, Florida. I am still working on Cruise Ships while he waits for his green card so he can work with me, and get paid a better salary than when he was solely a Zimbabwe Citizen.

During our time apart, we absolutely had our ups and downs. It was far from easy. There were times where our trust for one another was surely tested. We had phone calls filled with laughter, and phone calls filled with tears. But I don’t regret any of it. And to this day, I wouldn’t change the struggles we went through for the world. Because we worked so hard for our love. We spent a lot of money on lawyers and government payments for our love. We invested time for our love.

If you are currently in a long-distance relationship with someone and struggling, all I can say is that if you both truly love each other, you will find way to make it work. Whether it’s a phone call every night, or once a week, or writing each other letters, if you want to make it work, you will. Love is stronger than distance.”

Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell
Courtesy of Ariel Ryals-Trammell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ariel Ryals-Trammell of Tallahassee, Florida. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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