Tuesday, April 16, 2024

US woman recounts relocating to Kisumu for love, hawking mandazi in streets

For Sylvia Miller and Kelvin Bichanga, their cross-cultural marriage story is heavily rooted in the concept of ‘love at first sight’.

Now known as Sylvia Bichanga, the American-born woman has seamlessly integrated into Kenyan life in Kisumu. However, before their love was accepted by her family, it had been marred by struggles.

Sylvia grew up in Ohio, United States, within the confines of an Amish community. Raised according to the customs of her community, she was largely sheltered from the outside world for much of her upbringing.

In an interview with Afrimax English, Sylvia disclosed that their family was sent to Kenya in 2016, particularly Kisumu, as part of a Christian mission.

Having relocated from the United States, the family settled in Milimani, Kisumu. Unfortunately, one night they forgot to lock their backdoor and thieves broke in and stole most of their electronics.

One of the missionaries assisted her father with a laptop that needed repair. Sylvia requested to accompany her father to the repair shop, where unknowingly she’d meet her future husband, Kelvin Bichanga.

“It was love at first sight. I saw him and just went weak in my knees. My hands were trembling and I was taken in by how handsome he was,” she said.

Given that she knew little about him, she searched for him on Instagram and reached out, asking for help to sell an old iPhone. This was the beginning of their love story.

Raised in the confines of a Christian community, Sylvia was aware that it would be an abomination to be caught texting a Kenyan man, especially while they were posted on a mission in Kenya.

The mission would’ve labelled her as a bad example to the youth and might have sent her back home to America. On two occasions, she was forced to block him and delete his number after her parents found out she’d been secretly talking to him.

On the third occasion, she came clean to her father about the situation with Kelvin and requested his permission to date him. However, this wasn’t generally well accepted in the family, as they put her in total lockdown while they figured out a way forward.

Eventually, they settled on sending her back to the States, hoping that the distance would make their love fade away, but it didn’t.

After a year, Sylvia returned to Kenya, and both families agreed to give the go-ahead for them to date and get married. They finally had their wedding in April 2021, after years of back and forth.

Mzungu wa Mandazi

After becoming husband and wife, they had to collectively take responsibility for financing their new life together. Sylvia Bichanga had sold most of her properties in the US and had just enough money.

On the other hand, Kelvin ran his own business, but it wasn’t generating sufficient income. Soon, the couple went broke.

“The work I was doing wasn’t enough to sustain us, and she had sold her car in the US to become a housewife in Kenya,” Kelvin Bichanga recalled.

Seven months into the marriage, Sylvia teamed up with her friend and started making mandazis and pretzels in Kisumu. She would also hawk the mandazis in town, just to earn some income for the family.

Kelvin obtained a loan from his father-in-law to purchase a small vehicle, which he used to work for Uber, supplementing their overall income.

Shortly after Sylvia had made enough money to open a shop in town. She went viral and the business boomed as locals streamed to her shop to buy her street food.

However, critics questioned why an American woman, typically associated with white-collar jobs and luxury living, was selling food. Despite this, Sylvia remained unfazed and focused on her work.

In a single day, Sylvia was earning profits of up to Sh. 2,000. Since then, the couple has progressed beyond the business and is now financially stable. They are also excitedly expecting a baby boy.

“I would encourage anyone who is in a cross-cultural relationship or long-distance relationship to keep your communication, keep striving. You can make the impossible become possible if you have the commitment and trust.”

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