February 14, 2008

Lovers In A Dangerous Time

On this international day o' love, I'm would like to share the following story with you. It was brought to my attention by the fabulous Judy Cormier of Elementz of Fotographie in a wedding photography context she was holding ...

Our Journey to Happily Ever After – Yoko & Khalid’s Story

Once upon a time there was a girl named Yoko and a boy name Khalid. They met, fell in love, and lived happily ever after. If only things could be that easy. Okay, so that’s the short and sweet version but here’s how it really goes….

Khalid and I met when we were 12 years old. His family moved to Canada from Pakistan in December 1986 fleeing persecution from their homeland due to religious conflict. Khalid’s father was a prominent lawyer in Pakistan, known for his integrity in a place where bribes and corruption were commonplace. Due to his refusal to be corrupted, his family was threatened and their lives endangered by a mob of criminals that came en masse to their home to take revenge on Khalid’s father for prosecuting a notorious crime lord. Khalid described to me years later, his last memory of Pakistan. His father looked at him and in a grave tone, told him that he had to look after his mother, sister and younger brother if anything should happen. Khalid’s father then went outside with his 2 older brothers to face an angry mob of 200, sent by the crime lord who had been put in jail. Though help arrived in the nick of time, he was beaten badly. Knowing they were fortunate to be alive and that it would be dangerous to remain in Pakistan, a week later, the family was on a flight bound for a new life in Canada.

Khalid’s family moved into the same apartment building I lived in at 100 Dundalk Drive in Scarborough. His family lived on the 8th floor and mine lived on the 10th. We both come from big families, Khalid being the second youngest of 5 and I being the oldest of 5. We both lived in 2 bedroom apartments with 7 people crammed in each of our homes. Although some may say we grew up poor, we were fortunate in that we were rich with the love from both of our large families.

As children, we played hide and seek, climbed trees, rode our bikes, had water fights and went swimming at the local pool. Our families knew each other because I was good friends with both Khalid and his younger brother Qasim. Our friendship continued into our teens where we traded in our water guns and hide and seek games for movie watching and hanging out at the mall. We even attended the same high school and ended up working part time together at the same senior’s home. Basically, we were together 24/7. This close friendship deepened and eventually, we realized our feelings for each other were much stronger. There we were, 16 years old, naïve, young and happy in love and that is precisely when many of our challenges began.

Although we attended a fairly multi-cultural high school, inter-racial dating was still quite rare. Many people were not tolerant of a Pakistani boy and Japanese girl being together and we were surprised that even some of our “friends” were against it. We faced quite a bit of racism and nasty comments at school where many of the Pakistani and Asian students were outraged that we were dating outside of our culture. In public it was much the same and we had to endure hushed comments and dirty looks outside of school as well. It was difficult for us but it truly made us and our relationship stronger.

To add to our challenges, were Khalid’s parents. Once they suspected Khalid and I were a couple, the fact that I was not Pakistani nor Muslim became a huge issue and they forbade him from seeing me. We had to date in secret which caused a huge strain on our relationship for many years. So you could imagine how comical it was that even though we lived in the same building, we had to hone our undercover skills to avoid being seen together or caught by his parents. We resorted to taking the elevator at different times, meeting a couple blocks from our apartment building, coming home separately and so on. We came up with a secret phone ringing code, such as ringing once was the sign for Khalid to call me back. We had to be quite creative and could have become secret agents with the skills we picked up. I laugh at it now but looking back, it was difficult for me. Although my parents were fairly strict about dating, they accepted Khalid while his parents stopped speaking to me and my family. Eventually I accepted that this was our situation and just focused on building our relationship.

Later, Khalid’s father threatened to arrange a marriage for him and tried to separate us but none of it worked. His father was so adamantly against his children marrying outside the community that when his eldest daughter, who had been arranged to be married at 18 years old and sent to London, England informed him that she was going to divorce her abusive husband, she was ex-communicated. He didn’t attend the weddings of his 2 older sons’ as one brother married a Polish girl while the other married a Vietnamese girl. For several years, I can honestly say that relations with his parents were non-existent and I know it was especially hard on Khalid that his parents didn’t acknowledge our relationship.

When Khalid and I moved in together his parents resolve against their children marrying outside of the community slowly started to thaw. With barely any communication with their children, his parents realized that they might eventually lose them forever. I’m happy to say now that we are all a happy family. No more missed holidays and happy occasions. I get along marvelously with his parents and I couldn’t be happier. Now both sides of the family can interact and we will finally be united in marriage and our family size will literally double. It has been a long and hard fought journey to get to this point but being here now is such a blessing because family means so much to both Khalid and I.

Over the years, we have endured people not accepting our relationship, feuding family members, deaths in the family, personal illness and more recently our parents’ health problems as they age. The most challenging has been my father’s health. The last year has been especially difficult and filled with extensive medical testing. We found out just before Christmas that my father has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease (HD). While we are happy to know the cause of his physical changes, given HD is genetic, it has been emotional knowing there is the possibility that I may contract the disease and that HD has the potential for a fairly early age onset. I was personally struggling with the news and scared to tell Khalid at first, especially as we’re in the midst of wedding planning and buying our first home. Both Khalid and I have always tried to be strong for each other and I am truly lucky to have him by my side as he has been so positive and supportive in the face of this diagnosis. I know that we can make it through anything and although HD is a deteriorating disease, I am so happy that my father is doing relatively well and will be able to attend and witness our wedding.

When our families found out we were engaged, they were so happy and joked that, “It was about time”. I wonder if we could get into the record books for the longest courtship ever? In March 2008, it will be 16 years that we have been a couple. We started dating at 16 and 16 years later, we’ll be getting married. Initially because we’d been together so long, we were thinking of getting the deed done in a quickie City Hall ceremony but realized that we wanted something more. Our wedding will be the first wedding Khalid’s mother and father will attend as they missed the other siblings’ weddings. Also for various reasons of distance and circumstance, other siblings have not been able to attend weddings. Our wedding truly marks the first wedding where there are no feuds, the family ties are strong and that every family member will be in attendance.

For this reason, these wedding pictures not only mean so much to us but to the rest of our family as well. It is heartbreaking for us to see Khalid’s siblings’ wedding photos where his parents are not in any pictures or a sibling or two are missing. Our wedding gives us a chance to celebrate with everyone and it means so much to be able to preserve this important moment in our lives.

Our wedding not only unites us finally in marriage but marks a day when our entire family will truly come together. Iwasaki’s and all of the Khawaja’s will be together and that has made our families so happy and giddy about our wedding. It’s as if they’re all getting married again too.

Couples always say this but in our case it’s true. We are meant to be together and I can honestly say that I will marry by best friend, the one I laugh with, live for, dream with and love.

So this is how our story really goes…Once upon a time in a land not so far away called Scarborough, there was a girl named Yoko and a boy named Khalid. They were childhood friends that came from very different backgrounds. They met, fell in love and over the years their relationship faced many obstacles. But through it all, they persevered and their love endured and only grew stronger. Finally, that love will culminate in their wedding 16 years later on Sunday, July 20th, where they will be joined by their friends and loving family to begin their continuing journey of happily ever after.

In addition to winning Judy's contest, I was so moved by their story that I jumped on board and I'm happy to say I'll be providing a free day-of-coordination service. I very much look forward to meeting up with this couple and will be posting about the wedding for sure!


Jessica said...

What a special couple and I am so happy to hear that you are volunteering your services to them!

Judy said...

Hey Susan ... I met with the lucky couple this week and you're going to love them. Super nice people and they are so excited that they won the contest and the huge bonus of your services too!! :) Looking forward to working with you.

Ciao :)