“We were still in the dating stage when Doug asked if I wanted to go to Africa with him,” Michelle told Linda and me recently. “I agreed immediately, but had no idea what I was getting into.”
I had invited Michelle and Doug Nimchuk to our home for tea. Valentine’s Day was approaching and I wanted the perspective of a couple that had progressed beyond the euphoria of a spicy romantic relationship. Listening to their account of travelling 13 months in Africa, I decided their story was worth telling.
Doug and Michelle are wonderfully different. He’s pragmatic and not given to hyperbole. In response to my question about early thoughts concerning Michelle he said, “she was pleasant.” Michelle is endowed with a delicate sprinkle of effervescence. “An ex-boyfriend introduced us,” she said. “Doug was handsome, very fit and he’d been to Asia for a year. Also, he owned a 2-seater sports car.” She reflected for a moment then continued with a smile, “He wasn’t a good dancer, but he liked to dance. I liked it that he was very attentive and wanted to dance only with me.”
They began their odyssey in Durban, South Africa, equipped with a tent, sleeping bags, mosquito netting, camp stove and other items. When I asked how they got along, Doug replied, “we got along fine.” Michelle’s recollection was less rosy. “We had a spat in Kenya. Doug wasn’t living up to my expectations. I told him I was leaving. Then I looked around. We were in wilderness.”
She paused for a moment, her face serious. “In Canada I’d probably have got in my car and left. That would have been the end of the relationship. In this wilderness though, it wouldn’t have been safe to leave. I began to understand that one of us would have to initiate dialogue to make this trip work. It wouldn’t be Doug.”
“Communication definitely wasn’t my strong area,” Doug admitted. It was intriguing to observe them now calmly sort out their at times differing memories.
“I began to vocalize the issues,” Michelle said. “I encouraged Doug to also talk.” They had learned some things about communication.
Michelle’s brother Darryl joined them in mid trip. In a remote area of Burundi they encountered a crises of another kind. “The people told us they had not seen a tourist in 2 years,” Doug said. “They urged us to leave because it was too dangerous.”
This advice proved correct when 3 men accosted them and grabbed for Doug and Darryl’s money belts. Doug thwarted one assailant physically, but received a hard head butt that broke his nose. Darryl’s belt was taken. It held his plane ticket and passport so he and Doug gave chase. Doug’s nose was bleeding profusely, but with the help of construction workers they did recover the money belt.
Still in Burundi, Doug contracted malaria and Darryl had a serious bout of diarrhea. Michelle nursed them back to health. Before they were out of Burundi, she came down with malaria. “The men weren’t as compassionate or attentive as I was when they were sick. I told them they were poor nurse maids.”
Back in Canada, they agreed the Africa experience had brought them closer together. “I felt we were compatible”, Michelle said, “and I was ready to get married.” But Doug, always wanting to get things right, needed more time.
When they tied the knot a couple of years later, they continued to focus on communication. “We realized we’d been raised in very different families. In both cases, our parents stayed together, but through some difficult times,” Doug said. “We we were responding to troubling issues the way they had. We found a small neighbourhood church where we learned more productive strategies for dealing with disagreements.”
Today the Nimchuks have 4 children. Michelle is Assistant Director of Immersive Technologies at the Heritage Christian Online School. She is also a board member at the Hedley Grace Church. Doug drives school bus part time and does renovations as well. He has been chairman of the Hedley Improvement District and is a firefighter and first responder with the Hedley Fire Department.
At the end Michelle said, “ I wouldn’t recommend 13 months in Africa to test a relationship. For us it worked though.”