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Sign language knowledge was top notch – Francis

MR and Mrs Phiri.

How we met:
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
AFTER having a few failed relationships, Francis Phiri came up with rules for a prospective wife.

Being a person with hearing impairment, top on his list was a woman who knew sign language for effective communication.
The other rules were that the woman had to accept his two children from his previous relationship, understand cultural barriers and that a wedding had to take place in the first year of meeting the woman.
Francis says he abided by his rules each time he came across a prospective wife; unfortunately, they failed the test. That, however, changed when he met Kaci Anderson early in 2015.
In fact, his rules made Francis even more attractive to her.
“His relationship rules were not a block off for me. I actually found him even more attractive. He was clear about what he wanted and I appreciated that about him because he was giving me the power to decide; do I want these things in my life, do I want the challenges that come with communication, the challenges of having bi-racial children in the future? So I said yes,” Kaci says.
The couple, which lives in America, met for the first time while working in the same office building. Francis taught sign language as a foreign language while Kaci was a counsellor at a school of English.
When they met, Kaci did not know that Francis had a hearing impairment challenge because of the way he related with everyone in the office.
“I would see him come for work in the evening when we were knocking off. His shift started in the evening. He would come in with his boss to take over the office. He has such a magnetic personality and was friendly. Everybody was his friend and I thought he was an interesting person to know,” she says.
Kaci says the two met at a time she had started work at the office building and she had indicated her interest in learning sign language. One day, one of her colleagues suggested that she takes up free sign language classes.
“I was advised to take free sign language classes and I asked if they taught American sign language. Then they told me that, “You know Francis is the teacher. I said, ‘oh, no, I don’t know if I can attend his class because he will be too distracting for me’,” she says between giggles.
Kaci nonetheless went ahead and signed up for the eight-week class. Though their friendship was still in its infancy, blushing Kaci remained a good student and Francis was professional throughout. That period helped them establish a good friendship.
“We learned how to communicate better. In fact, his boss even became my friend. And after the eight weeks, he asked me to go on a date and I gladly accepted. We started dating and within six months, he told me about his life and his five relationship rules,” she says.
Kaci says she appreciated his honesty about the important things in his life and understood the challenges that would come with being in a marriage with him but she concluded that being with him was better than being apart.
“I figured this is someone I already get along with. We are already friends and he was the person that matched my heart and so we decided to get married after six months.
“In America, six months is such a short period to marry someone but even my parents and family were supportive when I told them because he has a wonderful heart. It is easy to love him. In fact, to communicate better, my parents have been learning sign language,” she says.
In December 2015, the couple got married in America. Kaci describes her marriage as amazing. She says Francis is her best friend and that the two do everything together, like any couple.
“We watch movies, go dancing, cook or just stay in and watch television. And because we both are in full-time employment, we have decided to come up with a date night once a week,” Kaci says.
However, one of the major challenges of their relationship is communication and how to communicate clearly with each other.
“Actually, the biggest challenge is communication because I am still learning sign language. There can be misunderstandings easily and that can start little arguments, then we kind of step back because we are both learning languages. He is learning English and I am learning sign language and we have to be patient with each other,” she says.
Kaci adds: “However, we are good at reminding each other that patience is really key and communication allows us to continue growing in our relationship. We will continue to communicate, keep learning and making time for each other.”
Francis says he was always attracted to her beauty from the first time he saw her and he noticed that she must like him, too, as she always shied and blushed whenever he was in her presence.
He says it impressed him that she decided to learn sign language so she could communicate better. Later, when his boss had a birthday party, he asked his boss to invite her on his behalf.
“After a few months, we went on a date and I bluntly told her that I am a difficult person. I also gave her my other relationship rules because I knew the challenges that come along with dating a person with hearing impairment. But she was brave enough to accept me and agree to marry me,” he says.
Francis, 30, who has two children from his previous relationship in Zambia, says Kaci is supportive and always gets involved in everything he does.
“There was a bit of a cultural clash when we started dating because our Zambian culture is different from the American one. In our culture, a woman or a wife is expected to wake up early, cook and clean for the husband but it is not like that in my wife’s culture.
I have had to be patient. I have to have a different mindset towards many things. I have learnt that in a home, man and woman are equal partners and make decisions together. I have adapted to that culture because I love her,” he says.
He says he has also accepted that she cannot cook Zambian food like his favourite nshima, so he cooks for himself because he knows that she also loves him by accepting to learn his culture.
“Despite the challenges that we may face such as switching the bulb on and off as a means of communicating when one of us enters the house, my marriage has been awesome. It has been heaven on earth. She is my best friend. We travel together and I look forward to starting a family with her,” he says.
Francis, who recently brought his wife to meet his family for the first time, says his relationship with Kaci has taught him the importance of being open and honest about everything in life.
He says it is equally important for couples to keep the spark in their relationship by always impressing each other and making time to do things together.
And Kaci says it is vital for couples to communicate and always treat each other like the first time they met.
“Sometimes when we become too familiar with each other, we tend to let ourselves go and get bored with each other. But I find it is important to continue looking good for your spouse, eat healthy, go on regular date nights and get dressed up even if you are just having a meal from home. I don’t want my marriage to be boring. I always want my partner to look at me and be proud,” she says.

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