South African-Russian Couple Who Corresponded Using Google Translate Meet in Israel

Departures / arrivals: 'We wanted to meet on neutral ground, and the weather here is nice,' says the South African half of an online couple whose first face-to-face meeting took place at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Beyers Coedzee and Vera Lamnci.
Tomer Appelbaum

Beyers Coedzee, 52, lives in Johannesburg, arriving from there; and Vera Lamnci, 49, lives in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, arriving from Moscow

Hello, can I ask where you know each other from?

Beyers: We met in February on a site called PenPal World, and since then we’ve exchanged emails. This is actually our first face-to-face meeting. The first time I saw her was five minutes ago.

Vera, what’s it like to meet after months of corresponding?

Vera (in English): I don’t speak English very well.

Beyers: It will be hard for you to interview her in English.

She doesn’t understand? You didn’t correspond in English?

Beyers: No, we did it through Google Translate. I wrote in English, she wrote in Russian, and each of us translated into his/her language.

How will you get along now?

Beyers: If we get into a tangle, we can send each other WhatsApp messages, because that also has Google Translate. Vera is very good at it. She writes Russian in a way that gets translated into English in a simple way.

What did you write each other about?

Beyers: All kinds of things: about life, Buddhism, movies, computer games. I think we pretty much talked about everything.

Do you think correspondence is a good way to get to know someone?

Beyers: I’m not sure, but what is certain is that when you meet that way, you have to stay in touch. There’s no way just to chill out.

It sounds to me like it’s very “chilled”: no need to comb your hair, get dressed

Beyers: When you don’t see one another, you have to be creative all the time; you have to think about what you’re writing and how things are taken by the other person. It’s hard work, but very rewarding.

Was it your goal to meet someone on the website?

Beyers: It’s important for me to explain that PenPal World is not a dating website. Obviously some people use it that way, but that’s not the aim. I have never met a woman via the internet and I have never been registered at a dating site of any kind. I even wrote in my PenPal World profile that I wasn’t looking for a romantic attachment.

So how did it happen?

Beyers: At first I corresponded with a few people — Vera was only one of them. The correspondence between us started as a conversation and developed from there. Time passed and she was the only one I continued to write to — and it turned romantic.

Why do you think the conversations continued specifically with her?

Beyers: I met many interesting people on the website, but Vera and I share quite a few interests. What’s more important is that she has the same outlook on life.

Which is?

Beyers: Patience and acceptance. Not to get annoyed by trivial things, and always to be ready for an adventure.

And how did you decide on this particular adventure — to meet in Israel?

Beyers: I don’t remember the exact moment when it happened, but the subject came up three months ago. We wanted to meet on neutral ground, and the weather here is nice.

Is it the first time here for both of you?

Beyers: I was here once when I was 16, mainly in Jerusalem. But this time we plan to be in Tel Aviv, which looks like a terrific city. We’ll be here for eight days.

Isn’t it a bit stressful to spend eight days with someone you’ve just met? What if you don’t get along?

Beyers: We didn’t know if we would get along, and we still don’t know. We’ve known each other now for exactly 10 minutes, five of which have been spent talking with you — mainly by me. I even considered the possibility that I would show up here and she wouldn’t — or, even weirder, that a woman would show up but not the one from the photos.

Didn’t you even talk on Skype?

Beyers: No, not even once. It seemed pointless, as I don’t understand Russian and she can’t speak English.

What would you like to happen now?

Beyers: I have no expectations or hopes, and it’s important for me that it’s like that. We talked about how it was important for neither of us to have expectations, because it’s impossible to promise things. We just wanted to be together. I think we will understand what’s happening when we progress. It’s definitely liable to be problematic.

From left: Amir, Kholod Kabha and Walid Kabha.
Tomer Appelbaum

Kholod Kabha, 27, and Walid Kabha, 28, with their son Amir, 20 months; live in Umm al-Khattaf, Galilee; flying to Antalya, Turkey

Hello, can I ask if this is the little one’s first trip?

Kholod: Yes, it is. The last time we traveled he was too little, and he stayed with Grandma.

How will he get along?

Kholod: We don’t know yet; we’ll see how it goes.

You’re taking a family holiday now, after the summer vacation?

Walid: Yes. I don’t fly during holidays, I wait until everything is back to normal. Otherwise, you get to the flight and the whole village is there with you.

Kholod: I arrive at the destination and it’s like I’m walking around in the village. Also, there’s no pressure on us now.

Walid: We went through a tough time; now we’ll rest a little.

What happened?

Kholod: We have another son, a 7-month-old infant who was born prematurely at the end of the eighth month, 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds). He was in the neonatal ICU for six weeks and had a problem gaining weight. It’s called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): babies that are born early and underweight.

How is he now?

Kholod: Better. He’s with Grandma.

Sounds scary.

Kholod: It’s the first time I’ve left him, so it’s hard — but knowing he’s with Grandma, I’m not worried in the least.

I meant in the hospital.

Kholod: It was hard. There were good, kind people there, but it was a bit of a trauma for us. I was stressed the whole time, there were always a lot of tests. I cried a lot. I was afraid he would come out with some sort of defect. And he had another problem, as well: a high blood-oxygen level and fluid in the lung. I pumped milk and breast-fed him, but when he got sick I couldn’t breast-feed him for a week. I only pumped milk and there wasn’t very much, because at that stage there is less from pumping.

Sounds like a nightmare.

Kholod: After three weeks I couldn’t get up in the morning anymore. I told Walid I didn’t want to go to the hospital again, it was too much. I would go there from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon so I could breast-feed him three times. It was also hard, because I left Amir with Grandma for so long. He was just a year old and cried all the time.

Walid: Even when we got home, the whole place was like an ICU.

Kholod: By the time I stopped pumping, I already had a drawer full of bags of milk in the freezer.

Walid: The bedroom was a clinic. We were always cleaning, for fear of germs. Even now there are tests to do all the time.

Are things all right now?

Kholod: Everything is fine now. He’s gaining weight little by little.

How did Walid cope?

Kholod: Walid calmed me down every day.

Walid: I’m a preemie, too — I was born at the start of the ninth month.

Kholod: Me, too. I was born at the end of the eighth month. Walid also had a problem gaining weight as a newborn.

Walid: She interrogated my mother about it.

Kholod: We had an odd moment at the hospital. The nurse asked me, “What are those movements you’re using with the baby? Only I know those movements.” I told her I’d learned them from my mother-in-law. She asked me if my husband had been a preemie. I told her he had, and it turned out that she was the nurse who looked after Walid — she taught his mother how to treat him.

Walid: She treated both of us, me and my son.

Looks like you came out of it great.

Kholod: But his mother said he was very irritable as a baby. His case remains open in the child development unit, because he refused to cooperate with them.

Did Amir make trouble?

Kholod: He was healthy, even overweight.

Do you want more children?

Walid: I don’t.

Kholod: I do, but not now.

Walid: It’s enough.

Kholod: I want a daughter in a couple of years, when the little one will be 3.

Walid: Three years it’s in God’s hands. I don’t want to think about it now.

Kholod: Anyway, it was worth it.