Europe

Iraqi refugee finds love with Macedonian border guard

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Media captionIt was love at first sight between the Macedonian police officer and the Iraqi refugee

Bobi Dodevski wasn't supposed to be working on the rainy March day when he met his future wife. Mr Dodevski, a 35-year-old Macedonian border guard, had agreed to cover for a colleague.

Among the thousands of refugees hoping to cross the border that day was Noora Arkavazi, a young woman who had travelled with her family from Iraq.

Ms Arkavazi, 20, left her home in Diyala, an eastern province of Iraq beset by violence, early in 2016. Alongside her parents, brother, and sister, she followed a well-trodden path west - crossing the border from Iraq into Turkey, taking a boat to the Greek island of Lesbos, and eventually entering Macedonia.

There, as the family waited to learn if they would be allowed to cross into Serbia, she met Mr Dodevski. He saw something special in her eyes. "It was destiny," he told the BBC.

'Someone has stolen your brain!'

When the couple met, the fate of the refugees in Macedonia was hanging in the balance, as Balkan countries closed their doors to migrants.

"I had a simple dream to live with my family in Germany," Ms Arkavazi told the AFP news agency.

She speaks six languages, and when she arrived at the border unwell she was directed to Mr Dodevski because of his English skills.

She told the BBC World Service's Newsday: "The first time I went through the border I had a very high fever and I had fallen down many times. Bobi immediately sent the Red Cross to save me."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The grim, muddy Macedonian border is a common thoroughfare for refugees

Mr Dodevski attempted to remain professional, he said, but a female colleague quickly spotted the signs of cupid's arrow.

As Ms Arkavazi remembered it, his co-worker chided his lack of focus and told him: "Oh, I think you're in love and someone has stolen your brain here on the border!'"

"After that I talked with him, and I felt like something lit me," she said. "I wanted to talk with him more."

Mr Dodevski put it bluntly: "I see many, many girls - maybe [more beautiful], a little, than Noora. But I see something special in Noora's eyes, and I say: 'This is it. I must have Noora here to be my wife!'"

10 proposals

When she had recovered from her illness, Noora began helping the local Red Cross.

Her fellow refugees in the Tabanovce transit camp could only wait for news about their status, but on the sidelines Noora and Bobi were quietly getting to know one another.

He took her and her mother to nearby markets to buy clothes and food. She was struck by the way he would play with the migrants' children, unlike his more serious colleagues.

One day in April, the pair were enjoying dinner in a restaurant and he was visibly nervous - shaking and drinking lots of water.

"I told him no, you're joking," Noora said, "but maybe 10 times he repeated this, 'will you marry me?'"

Won over, she agreed to be Mrs Dodevski.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Noora and Bobi now live together in Kumanovo, Macedonia
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The pair wed in July, on her birthday, just four months after they met

The couple married in the north Macedonian town of Kumanovo. While the groom is Orthodox Christian, his bride comes from a Kurdish Muslim family. They were joined by 120 guests of all faiths, including her Red Cross colleagues.

Asked about their rapid engagement, Noora said it was love at first sight. "This is what has happened between me and Bobi."

Though her family successfully made it to Germany, Noora stayed in Macedonia with her husband and his three children. The five of them live together in Kumanovo.

And they will soon be six. "I am pregnant, four months!", said Noora, laughing with joy.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The happy couple are now expecting their first child together

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