Whatever Happened To … Pandemic Wedding Plans Of A Malawian And A Nederlander?


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Patrick returned to Malawi in November 2020. He and Fiona aren’t certain when they can see each other again but are looking forward to their reunion and wedding.

Julia Gunther for NPR


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Julia Gunther for NPR

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Patrick Phiri of Malawi and fiancée Fiona ten Have of the Netherlands kiss in her parents’ garden. The couple met in Malawi, where they worked for the same charity, and fell in love. A three-week visit to the Netherlands turned into seven months because of pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Julia Gunther for NPR


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Julia Gunther for NPR

Patrick and Fiona call each other every day for a chat, usually between 8 and 10 in the evening. Fiona calls it her «Patrick time.»

Julia Gunther for NPR


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Julia Gunther for NPR

Even painting, which he had so enjoyed in the Netherlands, was a challenge. «It was cheap to buy the canvas and paints in Middelstum. But in Malawi, you have to buy the cloth, and then you have to go to a carpenter to make the frame, and the paints are expensive,» he says.

It was difficult for Fiona to see Patrick go through all this on his own: «He was so stressed. It was a bad time for him. I felt so powerless.»

But soon she was able to help. Fiona got a promotion in January and started sending money to help with the building costs.

The two keep in close contact with messages and calls. Every evening, when Fiona gets off work, they talk for two hours. «I make sure I have no plans, and my friends all know that they won’t be able to reach me. Eight to ten is my Patrick time!» Fiona laughs.

Absence makes their hearts grow closer

Fiona and Patrick feel their relationship is stronger than ever. Even though they are thousands of miles apart, they can relate to each other’s experiences. «I spent time in Malawi, and Patrick spent time in Middelstum. That was really important,» Fiona says.

Patrick is reflective about their current situation. «We have to accept it and we have to support each other. It’s not how we want things to be, or how I visualized it was going to be, but you can never predict what the future holds. For now, it is what it is.»

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Meet the Dutch parents: Patrick and Fiona with her dad and mom, Aaldert and Rita ten Have. Patrick was nervous about meeting her folks for the first time — and then ended up staying with them for months because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Julia Gunther for NPR


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Julia Gunther for NPR

Meet the Dutch parents: Patrick and Fiona with her dad and mom, Aaldert and Rita ten Have. Patrick was nervous about meeting her folks for the first time — and then ended up staying with them for months because of pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Julia Gunther for NPR

Fiona’s parents, Rita and Aaldert, are keen for their daughter to reunite with Patrick. Not because they want her out of the house, but they know she will be happier in Malawi with her husband-to-be. «My mother can’t wait for me to be there. Also, she really wants grandchildren,» Fiona says.

Love Conquers Pandemic Hiccup

Hard as Fiona and Patrick might be working to reunite, their fortunes are still linked to the ebb and flow of COVID-19. As the virus spread and retreated and then spread again, the return to in-class learning was postponed. And although Fiona could now technically fly to Malawi, a visit was out of the question — she was afraid of new travel restrictions that might prevent her from returning home for her studies.

All the same, they’re forging ahead with preparations for their life together. Patrick is excited about the house they are building. «In two or three months it will be finished … an amazing feeling.»

Fiona hopes to graduate in December. «I am really focused on preparing for my move as much as possible. I really can’t wait.»

The couple have been amazed by all the messages of support they’ve received since NPR first wrote about them in 2020. Says Patrick: «We hope our story continues to inspire others and that you will all stay with us till the wedding.»

Nick Schonfeld is an award-winning advertising writer. In 2015, he quit his job and now divides his time between writing children’s books and working on stories about affordable health care, gender equality, education and social justice.

  • marriage proposal
  • pandemic
  • malawi
  • Netherlands

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