Corresponded With Google Translate, Met in Israel: A South African-Russian Couple's Story

'We did it through Google Translate. I wrote in English, she wrote in Russian, and each of us translated into his/her language'

Beyers Coedzee and Vera Lamnci.
Tomer Appelbaum

'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. (Departures / arrivals, Oct. 13, 2016)

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 weve exchanged emails. This is actually our first face-to-face meeting. The first time I saw her was five minutes ago.

Vera, whats it like to meet after months of corresponding?

Vera (in English): I dont speak English very well.

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

She doesnt understand? You didnt 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: Im not sure, but what is certain is that when you meet that way, you have to stay in touch. Theres no way just to chill out.

It sounds to me like its very chilled: no need to comb your hair, get dressed

Beyers: When you dont see one another, you have to be creative all the time; you have to think about what youre writing and how things are taken by the other person. Its hard work, but very rewarding.

Was it your goal to meet someone on the website?

Beyers: Its important for me to explain that PenPal World is not a dating website. Obviously some people use it that way, but thats 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 wasnt 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. Whats 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 dont 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. Well be here for eight days.

Isnt it a bit stressful to spend eight days with someone youve just met? What if you dont get along?

Beyers: We didnt know if we would get along, and we still dont know. Weve 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 wouldnt — or, even weirder, that a woman would show up but not the one from the photos.

Didnt you even talk on Skype?

Beyers: No, not even once. It seemed pointless, as I dont understand Russian and she cant speak English.

What would you like to happen now?

Beyers: I have no expectations or hopes, and its important for me that its like that. We talked about how it was important for neither of us to have expectations, because its impossible to promise things. We just wanted to be together. I think we will understand whats happening when we progress. Its 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 ones 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 dont know yet; well see how it goes.

Youre taking a family holiday now, after the summer vacation?

Walid: Yes. I dont 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 its like Im walking around in the village. Also, theres no pressure on us now.

Walid: We went through a tough time; now well 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. Its called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR): babies that are born early and underweight.

How is he now?

Kholod: Better. Hes with Grandma.

Sounds scary.

Kholod: Its the first time Ive left him, so its hard — but knowing hes with Grandma, Im 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 couldnt breast-feed him for a week. I only pumped milk and there wasnt very much, because at that stage there is less from pumping.

Sounds like a nightmare.

Kholod: After three weeks I couldnt get up in the morning anymore. I told Walid I didnt 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. Hes gaining weight little by little.

How did Walid cope?

Kholod: Walid calmed me down every day.

Walid: Im 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 youre using with the baby? Only I know those movements. I told her Id 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 dont.

Kholod: I do, but not now.

Walid: Its enough.

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

Walid: Three years its in Gods hands. I dont want to think about it now.

Kholod: Anyway, it was worth it.