Love overcomes cultural, religious differences

What you need to know:

  • Allan Atulinda and Odile Umulisa could not be any more different. He is a Ugandan and Anglican while she is a Roman Catholic from Rwanda.
  • Yet even with such differences, the two have formed an unbreakable bond.  

It is said that a cup of coffee is a good conversation starter but for Allan Atulinda and Odile Umulisa, coffee was the reason they met in Kigali, Rwanda. Behind the counter, she went about her job as a barista, making sure each customer was served. Atulinda, a journalist, was there to interview the proprietor of the coffee shop but could not stop staring at Umulisa. She was gracious, cheerful and committed to her work. 

After a while, Atulinda approached the counter and said hello and although she did not pay him much attention, the day remains special to him. He returned a few days later, this time determined to say more than a hello. They started talking and in the course of the conversation, he asked for her phone number. Then, he asked her out on a date and she accepted. 

On the day they were supposed to go out, she called him for details of where they would meet but he did not answer her calls. Disappointed, she decided to go home. However, as she was about to leave, he called asking her to reconsider their outing. She was hesitant but after much pleading, she agreed. The two agreed on a place near her home where they shared a drink and talked.

As they talked, Atulinda discovered that Umulisa was friendly and easy to talk to. Even then, when he asked her to become his girlfriend, she was a bit hesitant. She had heard many stories of unserious Ugandan men who feared commitment in relationships.

“It is a common belief in Rwanda that Ugandan men are cheaters. I was skeptical and feared to commit to a relationship that would only end in heartbreak,” Umulisa says. 

Yet, she is all he had. “Apart from my workmates, she was my only friend in Rwanda; someone I could call or chat with about anything. During one of our many conversations, she gave me ideas that showed me she was an entrepreneurial person. I think that partly drew us closer. I had courted her for a long time, but in whatever I did, I respected her and avoided doing anything that would hurt her feelings,” the videographer narrates.

Then, she started seeing him in a different light. “I was initially reluctant but later realised that he was a good man. It also helps that he is handsome,” she says.

Then the two agreed to start dating. They explored each other’s hobbies, including travelling to many beautiful tourism attractions in Rwanda. And while there, he made sure he told her about himself and sought to know her better and the things that she cared about and held dear.

She admits that it is then that she started developing feelings for him. At the end of 2016, they were comfortable to hold each other’s hands in public, as lovers. 

“I had fully accepted the relationship but after three months, he travelled to Somalia. Although it was scary at first, being in a long distance relationship actually brought us closer and made our love stronger. We developed unbreakable trust for each other and always communicated. I never felt alone. With time, he told me he wanted to marry me and even gave me a ring as a sign of commitment. I accepted because it is also what I wanted,” Umulisa says.

The couple tied the knot in June.

“On my way back home, I saw a ring in duty free and bought it. I arrived at home at about 2am. I asked her to open my bag. She removed the clothes and then of course the box that contained the ring. I told her to open the box. She opened and I told her that it was her ring and my commitment to her and a promise that I would marry her,” Atulinda says.

“His buying this ring gave me the assurance that now, he was all mine,” she says. After sometime, he returned to Somalia but planned to officially visit her parent which he finally did in 2018. She also travelled to Uganda to visit his family.

“We had accepted each other and in all this, we expected to get married. The visit (kukyala) and introduction were up to my expectations but the wedding was something else. First, my dream wedding was to be a function of few people; family and close friends somewhere on a lake shore. It was delayed by the fact that my mum got sick and eventually died. Then Covid-19 put everything on hold,” she recalls.

Compared to the average wedding in Uganda, the couple invited 100 people. Her family travelled from Rwanda. Atulinda, an Anglican, got married in a Catholic Church.
“It felt good as I put the ring on her finger. It was one of the biggest commitments that I had ever made in my life.

The other highlight was the fact that although we come from different backgrounds, we had become one because we love each other. I am Anglican and she is a Catholic. I am Ugandan and she is Rwandese. This should be a sign that love does not know religion, culture or countries. Our marriage should be a sign of unity that emphasises togetherness irrespective of our backgrounds,” Atulinda says.

He adds that they have fun irrespective of their backgrounds and just like any other couple, they fight, but the best solutions lies in how they react to their differences. To manage their finances, the couple draws budgets which they follow with Umulisa’s help since she is an accountant.They both work hard and at the end of the day, put together what they have earned and plan on how to save and spend.

Avoiding stress
Atulinda believes weddings are overrated and should be about a couple’s choices than the pressure to impress, which leaves many in debt. 

“I avoided stress. We had settled on simple things which I knew I would manage to get. It was even possible for me to go on a trip so close to my wedding day. One thing I learnt is that you must always have a good committee. Mine did all the heavy lifting while I relaxed,” he adds.


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