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I’d seen him around: a smiley fellow, I thought, though we hadn’t spoken much.
When we did get to know each other, it was in unusual circumstances.
Bataa and I met in 1995 in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator.
I was working for Save the Children, and we shared our offices with a Mongolian government institute, where Bataa was a lecturer in mathematics.
We met when I was backpacking around Thailand with a couple of girlfriends and he was our trekking guide. He was in his element: the consummate jungle man, scrambling up rock faces and grabbing snakes with his hands like a Thai Crocodile Dundee.
Back in Britain, I did a TEFL course so I had an excuse to return to Chiang Mai to see him.
It was a beautiful place: blue skies and rolling green plains as far as the eye could see and, in the middle of it all, his family’s little white ger [Mongolian tent].
He doesn’t understand why there need to be seven brands of baked beans in the supermarket, say. I’d feared Islam’s treatment of women, but I experienced it as a party religion.I’d heard about him: this brilliant dancer who’d had a car crash, was told he’d never walk again and had rehabilitated himself by force of will, moving to Malawi to work as a choreographer. For a break on our tour, we went to a music festival and all shared tents. Jersey isn’t very multicultural and I don’t think my parents had spoken to a black man before they met Shyne.One evening I ended up sleeping sandwiched between Shyne and a Malawian actor The next morning my head found its way on to Shyne’s shoulder. When the tour ended I returned to Britain, and Shyne took the bus back to Blantyre [Malawi’s commercial capital]. After a couple of months in London I bought a ticket back to Malawi. We married in a Catholic church, not mentioning his two previous marriages – they were tribal and therefore not legal.The Jackson Five were playing and he walked up, put an arm around me, and said, ‘Let’s dance.’ He was refreshingly direct, compared with British boyfriends I’d had. Everything was magical until Jimmi received a letter from the Home Office saying his leave to remain had been refused. I bought a stack of them and still wear them in England. They’re all tiny over there, so only three Western-style dresses were available in my size – all dreadful, puffy things covered in tacky plastic gems – so I just got Jimmi to choose.Kurdish women are scarily house-proud: doilies on everything, and they’ll rip up the carpets to clean under them when summer comes around. When we married, I told Jimmi outright that I’d never be that way, as I find it ridiculous. I’m hoping to have a second wedding in England, when we can afford it, where I get to be the glamorous bride, rather than the wedding cake. ’ He hadn’t, and I was knocked sideways by the revelation.