She was born and raised in Spokane Valley.
He’s from Morocco.
They met in Thailand.
This global, cross-cultural love story ignited because Amy McGarry and Mustapha Chaoukouri both had a thirst for adventure and a passion for travel.
After graduating from Evergreen State College, McGarry taught high school for several years, but her childhood dream beckoned.
“I’d wanted to join the Peace Corps since I was 5,” she said. “I wanted adventure. I remember the slogan from a commercial, ‘The toughest job you’ll ever love.”’
So, in 2003 with her 35th birthday approaching, she arrived in Thailand.
Chaoukouri had left Morocco at 20, eager to see the world
“I traveled to many places,” he said.
He ended up in Bangkok, where in 2004, across a club’s crowded dance floor, he locked eyes with Amy.
She’d traveled to the city with a Peace Corps buddy, and immediately spotted the dark-haired Moroccan with the stunning smile. They were in the only non-Thais in the room.
In her book, “I am Farang: Adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand,” (Gray Dog Press, 2019) McGarry described their meeting in an email to her sister.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she wrote.”I don’t think I did until this past weekend. I went out clubbing with Mark in Bangkok and I noticed this very attractive man…. He’s from Morocco, 28 years old, (I know, a little young for me, but oh well!) His name is Mustapha. His English is terrible, but he is so, so cute!”
She added that considering the U.S. “War on Terror” that had recently begun, she considered it her personal mission of peace to befriend this particular Muslim.
“I gave him my number,” she said.
McGarry, because of their age difference, didn’t think he’d call.
But the phone rang the next day.
“I found her so beautiful,” Chaoukouri explained. “Age doesn’t matter.”
They began dating, with McGarry taking a three-hour bus ride every weekend to see him.
“A bumpy bus ride!” Chaoukouri said, smiling.
His native tongue is Arabic, and the language difference proved daunting, but McGarry said, “You can communicate a lot with very basic words.”
As her service in the Peace Corps drew to a close, McGarry assumed they’d continue their relationship.
“After a year of dating, I was ready to follow him anywhere. I thought we were in love and would stay together.”
She thought wrong.
Chaoukouri made it clear he wasn’t ready to settle down, and with tears in his eyes, he told her goodbye.
Heartbroken, she traveled across Asia, gathering stamps on her passport and putting miles between her and Chaoukouri, before returning to Spokane Valley.
Some months later, a middle-of-the-night phone call woke her. It was Chaoukouri.
“I missed her lots,” he said.
He described the phone call as brief.
“She said, ‘Hi, hello, and goodbye!’”
“I told him I missed him, too, but not to call me so late.”
A flurry of phone calls and emails followed, culminating in an invitation from Chaoukouri to meet him in Istanbul.
More than a year after parting in Thailand, they met up in Turkey.
“We were smiling a lot,” he said.
McGarry said, “It was like we’d never been apart, but it was clear he still wasn’t ready to settle down.”
She returned to Spokane Valley. He returned to Morocco.
Yet he continued to email and tell her how much he loved and missed her. He wanted her to come to Morocco and meet his family.
Exasperated, McGarry wrote, “This is ridiculous. If you love and miss me so much why aren’t we together? Why don’t we get married?”
“I said, ‘OK’.”
McGarry got one week off from work and flew to Morocco. On Feb. 14, 2008, they completed all the paperwork needed to be legally wed in Morocco and have the union recognized in the U.S.
In May, she returned for a wedding celebration with Chaoukouri’s family. It included feasting and wardrobe changes, as well as makeup and henna tattoos for McGarry, done by women Chaoukouri had hired.
For the introverted American bride it was all a bit much. For her Moroccan husband, it was a small party.
“In Morocco we usually feast for three days to a week and have hundreds of people,” he said.
But McGarry had only a week’s vacation. She returned for a three-month stay that fall, assuming his visa would be approved by the time she had to leave. It wasn’t.
“I flew home alone, already pregnant,” McGarry said. “His visa was approved the next day.”
Chaoukouri arrived in Spokane Valley in November and quickly discovered what snow was all about.
“So much shoveling!” he said, shaking his head.
He quickly found work at the newly-opened WinCo Foods, not far from their home, where he still works in the produce department.
A gregarious extrovert, he quickly became a customer favorite. He enjoys people so much that he works as an Uber driver, too. He also became an American citizen as soon as he was able.
“It was important to me,” he said.
Their daughter, Sophia, arrived May 29, 2009, completing their family.
The couple’s cultural and language barriers have been steep. The biggest challenge for Chaoukouri has been adapting to American food.
McGarry explained, “In Morocco everything is very fresh. The meat is slaughtered and cooked the same day, the bread baked daily.”
“I don’t even like to cook.”
In addition, Moroccan families eat all of their meals together. The food is secondary, the conversation with family, primary.
That’s why Thanksgiving is Chaoukouri’s favorite American holiday.
“It’s my big day!” he said, grinning. “Everyone has to sit together and eat, and feast.”
As for McGarry, she said she’s often unsure if their challenges are a result of culture, or are just typical of marriage.
“I hear my married friends complain about many of the same issues with their American husbands, so I’m always asking myself, is this issue because he’s a Moroccan/Muslim? Or because he’s a man? Or is this just his personality? Or mine?”
But their appetite for adventure continues. They visit Morocco often, and when McGarry retires from teaching at Mukogawa Fort Wright, they anticipate getting many more stamps on their passports.
Glancing at Chaoukouri, McGarry said, “He’s a good husband and provider, and a great dad. He’s got a heart of gold.”
Chaoukouri touched her hand.
“She always makes me smile,” he said. “So beautiful.”
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