Teddy Oparanya was strolling around Mumias market when he noticed her. She was dressed in a hijab, and walked with an aura of authority that indicated pride, authority and confidence, all rolled into one.
"There was something different about her. I wanted to know her, even though it was the first time I had set my eyes on her," says Teddy. The year was 1995. The girl was Asmin Yabunga.She was returning from her evening shift as a nurse when she realized there was a man stealing glances at her.
"I did not pay much attention to him. I continued walking without casting a second look at him." She says. The following day, Asmin noticed Teddy was standing by the road, almost the same spot he had been when she saw him the previous day. He looked impatient, as if waiting for someone.
"He noticed me, and his face lit up. He smiled, approached me and asked my name..." says Asmin, describing the start of their relationship.
Teddy laughs when he recalls the challenges of wooing Asmin. First, Asmin was a Muslim whose beliefs differed with the doctrines of his church. The other thing that constantly crossed his mind as he thought about possibilities of marrying Asmin was the reactions of his parents.
"I wasn't sure how my parents or hers would take my plans of starting an interreligious marriage," says Teddy. Asmin on the other hand was indifferent to his moves. Even though he always seemed 'bump into her' whenever she left work, she treated him with coldness, but gave him time to express his intentions.
"Back then, women were not supposed to be enthusiastic about men. We allowed them to take control of courtship and control everything," she says, laughing playfully.After almost a year, Teddy gathered courage, went to the dispensary where Asmin worked, and asked to marry her.
"I was told someone was sitting on the benches, waiting for me. When I went to check, it was him. He told me he wanted to marry me," says Asmin.
To answer the marriage proposal, Asmin responded by saying: "But you are a Christian. How will that work?" Teddy says he had to convince his parents and his in-laws that religious differences would not cause the marriage to crumble.
"I was in love. I wasn't going to let barriers like religion stop me," he says. It has been 21 years since they decided to get married. A season which has brought a lot of changes into their lives. Asmin converted to Christianity, and now celebrates holidays like Christmas, which she never paid attention to before she met her husband Teddy.
It took time before she could set foot into her first church service. It was a long process of self-negotiation before she could let go of her burqa and take up a bible.
"At the end of it all, you realize that what matters is love. God is happy where there is love; it doesn't matter the religion," she says.
Maimuna & Rashid Rashid Ramadhani, 28, says love is relentless and can crush the walls and barriers of religion. "Love cannot be contained by definitions such as religion and tribe," he says.
He met his love Gladys Asuko while he was on duty. He was a technician and had gone to install Pay TV services at Gladys's home during the digital migration. When he saw her, they started chatting and exchanged contacts. "Now we are here....after that exchange," says Gladys, before bursting into a fit of laughter.
She was a staunch Christian before meeting Rashid, but now she is a convert who practises Islam. She no longer goes by the name Gladys. The Imam gave her a new name: Maimuna, as a sign that she now walks in a new faith. She attends madras classes to understand the requirements of her new religion, and says she does not regret the changes she made for love.
"I didn't change because he forced me. I wanted us to worship together and found it easier to become a Muslim," she says. They have been married for three years, and Rashid says he looks forward to many years together. Maimuna looks forward to Idd and other Islamic holidays because she has found new meaning in them.
However, sometimes it gets complex when her beliefs clashes with those of her family. "They still celebrate Christmas, and hoped that I would too, but things changed when I got married. I no longer value Christmas," she says.
Truphena & Swaleh Truphena Atai has been married to Omar Swaleh for 36 years. They have three children, and they describe their marriage as God's blessing. "Even then, it has not been a smooth ride all the way, but we have never made our differences about religion," she says.
Truphena says she converted to Islam because she wanted to bring up her children in a religious environment. She did not want to keep moving them between church and mosque, so she settled for bringing them up as Muslims. "They have never celebrated Christmas. Even though I was brought up in a Christian setting, I did it differently for them," she says.
Over Christmas, parents in Mumias bought clothes and foodstuffs for their children. Truphena says she does the same for Idd and other Islamic holidays. "No matter what, love always wins," says Swaleh, adding that religion should not be used to stop people who are in love from getting married. "How many people do you know, who get married to people of the same