Very Long Distance Dating: Peace Corps Volunteers Marry

In the days of 2017 and 2018, when the humidity was low and the sky was free of burning cane smoke, Benjamin Hampton Ewing was able to look out over a rigline on Vitti Levu, Fiji’s main island, and see something special.

At 6 am, Mr. Ewing will board a bus in the mountains of Veti Levu, where he was staying. The bus will head towards Suva, Fiji’s capitol, which will be woven into the mountains passing through switchbacks. In a journey of about 15 minutes, the riders would arrive at a rigline, seen on peaks and valleys and beyond the sea. Most of the time, Mr. Ewing could see nothing past the water. But each time, when it was very clear, he could make a piece of land on the horizon, so faint it looked like a mirage.

“If I saw the small land mass,” he said, “I knew there was Thea.”

Moments later, Thea Louise Mink, who lives on Coro Island, dozens of miles across the sea, saw her phone. She opens it to find an excited text from Ms. Mink, informing Ms. Mink that she can “see” him.

It was a romantic gesture. But neither Ms. Mink, now 28, nor Mr. Ewing, 33, went to Fiji in search of romance. They were there through the Shanti Vahini; Both joined in 2016.

Ms. Mink, who grew up in Washington DC, had long been keen on volunteering with the Peace Corps. His father worked for the organization in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) in the 1970s and heard his stories. By 2016, Ms. Mink was a few years out of Tufts University, and she had an awkward position. “It felt like the perfect moment to shake things up,” she said.

Growing up in Atlanta, Mr. Ewing was on a different footing: he graduated from Clinton’s Presbyterian College in S.C. in 2010, worked at South Carolina Boarding School for five years, and then went to Columbia University . A master’s in private school leadership. During his time at Columbia, a roommate suggested that he apply to the Peace Corps.

The duct was on par with him. When they met, Mr. Ewing and Ms. Mink were taking two-year assignments in Fiji. They got to know each other during their training week, where they would gather with their fellow volunteers before leaving for assignments across the country. That setting can be an advantage.

“We know each other for the first time in a group,” Ms. Mink said. “So we can look at each other and see how we were with other people.”

Ms. Mink noticed that Mr. Ewing was a quiet, immaculate personality. She was attracted to his dry sense – which, she lovingly gestured, “was not always the way she intended.” Mr. Ewing praised Ms. Mink for the way she ballasted the group. “When someone is having a rough day, they naturally go to him,” he said.

For a week, he praised himself. Then, on the night before they were separated for their separate work on different islands, Ms. Mink and Mr. Ewing went out to celebrate in Suva with their fellow volunteers. It was a typical late-night bar scene – light, music, sticky floors – with a specific group of interlopers.

“It was a regular crowd for all of us newly formed Shanti Vahini volunteers and at this Irish pub in downtown Sua,” Ms Mink said.

He asked Mr. Ewing to dance. They took to the floor.

This could be the beginning and end of their romance. The next morning Mr. Ewing left for his assignment; Ms. Mink then departed for him. But in later days, as Mr. Ewing stood in the kitchen of his new home in a village in the mountains of Viti Levu, he thought of a way to keep the conversation going. Ms. Mink once mentioned, when passing, a tip for making fried rice: use day-old rice. Mr. Ewing decided that he would try Ms. Mink’s method, and then call her to tell her about it. After deep-fried Southern cooking, however, Mr. Ewing had a slight misunderstanding about how to prepare that dish.

“I dumped a bunch of oil in a pan, heated it and then poured a bunch of old rice into it one day,” he said.

While not a Pak success (“Tell me, it wasn’t good”), the fiasco gave him good reason to call Ms. Mink for advice. Their conversation quickly went beyond cooking: they discussed those new experiences, and the challenges they faced in their early days. At the end of their conversation, Mr. Ewing asked Ms. Mink if she could call him that Sunday. she said yes.

The two started talking every Sunday at 8 pm. The set time allowed them to continually develop their relationship, but it also allowed them to limit what they recognized was a matter of heart that could not work out their Peace Corps if they were not set. Do limitations.

“We both showed that to really get to know people in Fiji and to work with people in Fiji,” Mr. Ewing said. “We were careful about not allowing our time to be consumed on the phone.”

For months, phone calls were the primary way he communicated. Ms. Mink sits on her bed, under a mosquito net, plugs her phone into a solar-powered lamp that doubles as a charger. At the other end of the line, Mr. Ewing will try his best to walk around his small house – better to keep warm on a cold night. The two did not have to fuss over dates or reunite friends and family with each other, or any number of other things they might need to think about when they got back home. They can focus, Ms. Mink said, to get to know each other’s “mind and background”, in a way that she had never experienced before.

They sometimes spent time together in person. Every so often, Ms. Mink would find a reason to take her weekly, overnight ferry to Waiti Levu, where any extra time would be spent with Mr. Ewing. Once, she traveled to Mr. Ewing’s village to run a workshop on sustainable chicken farming.

During his second year in Fiji, he used the leisure time he had left to go to New Zealand, where he traveled in a Kapoor van together for three weeks. For most of his first two years, however, he had to communicate remotely.

“The Ewing the Peace Corps ensured that we were both comfortable on our own before we were together,” Mr. Ewing said. “It allowed us to complement each other and build from that place of freedom.”

They each returned to the United States in 2018. The distance between them, once on the seashore, shrunk; They moved into an apartment together in Atlanta. And they started getting used to life back in America as well.

“This repetition period is really difficult for all Shanti Vahini volunteers,” said Katlin Barrow, a friend who met the couple in Shanti Vahini. “It was really beautiful to see them supporting each other through them.”

The couple wandered off. Mr. Ewing proposed on December 31, 2018, and at one point he and Ms. Mink discussed their marriage in the summer of 2020. He ordered a pair of books, “A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable and Meaningful Celebration ” And “A.P.Rectal Wedding Planner, “ Both by Meg Keene for inspiration. When it came time to get married and plan the wedding, however, Ms. Mink and Mr. Ewing were distracted and were looking at road maps; They ended up camping the car in Montana that summer, as wedding books stored dust back home.

They eventually settled in a small, outdoor ceremony in a park near his apartment this year in Atlanta. And so, on January 17, Ms. Mink, now a graduate student at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, married Mr. Ewing, now a teacher at Pace Academy in Atlanta. Ms. Barrow, who was one of the friend couple’s fellow Shanti Vahini volunteers, became a universal minister of life to see a dozen guests in person.

Defining a relationship in such a tangible way is a major change for the couple, especially compared to their Fiji years. Looking back, Ms. Mink and Mr. One of Ewing’s accusations about dating abroad was that he did not feel pressured to put a label on their relationship. For the longest time, they didn’t have to think much about whether they were officially a couple, as there was no one from the house to ask them.

“It was never a question, because it was never forced,” Mr. Ewing said.

“The relationship was allowed to be what it was,” he said. “Until it increased to more.”

When 17 January 2021

where ATLANTA, GA.

Settings A public park near the couple’s apartment. “We walk our dogs on it every day,” Ms. Mink said. “It just feels like home.”

Cameo Mr. Ewing’s high school English teacher left during the ceremony. (It was a public place, after all.) He congratulated her.

food “We call a Thai restaurant from around the corner,” Mr. Ewing said. The reception was on the outer terrace deck of the couple’s apartment, overlooking the park where they married. They spread patio heaters across the roof.

car Mr. Ewing owns the Ford Model 48 coupe that his grandfather and his uncle bought in 1935. When Mr. Ewing’s father inherited it, Mr. Ewing said, “You can see right through the floorboard, and if you have touched it, it will tear your clothes off.” Over time, Mr. Ewing’s It was restored by the father. Ms. Mink and Mr. Ewing held a celebration in the car after their ceremony. But first, when the newlyweds posed for photos, Ms. Mink’s father kept the car out of his sight. Leaped secretly from behind. Then he tied the box behind.

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