Anna Elshafei, 53, met her husband Mohamed, 59, while the London-born business owner was living in Beijing, studying a Chinese course. Since being wed, the couple have split their time between London, Cairo, and Guangzhou. Although used to being in these places alone at times, this is now the longest period of time the couple have been apart – they haven’t seen each other since the beginning of the pandemic.
Describing their meet-cute, Anna told Express.co.uk: “Mohamed couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Arabic so we only spoke to each other in Chinese for the first few years.
“I honestly have no idea how we worked so well together. We’re from completely different backgrounds, we speak different languages and think very differently – but I think when you fall in love with someone it either breaks through every obstacle or it doesn’t and for us it did.”
After marrying in 1993, the couple had to decide where they were going to live.
“He didn’t want to move to England and I didn’t want to move to Egypt,” Anna explained.
“He had a business he was running in China so we ended up staying in Beijing and then moving to Southern China. I later returned to the UK to study law then worked as a solicitor in Hong Kong and Shanghai while his business kept him in Guangzhou.
“It meant that early on in our marriage we had to get used to going extended periods of time without seeing each other, but we were always excited to call to tell each other how our days had gone.”
Anna went on to set the scene when the pandemic hit, and what the couple did after the news of impending lockdowns broke.
“We were holidaying in Cairo when it all happened,” she said.
“It is impossible to get along well all the time, so if you think everything is always going to be plain sailing, you are in for trouble.
“We had an advantage in that department: coming from such different backgrounds and cultures, we knew there would be clashes from time to time.
“There were, of course, and we were determined never to let them derail us.”
For Anne, “communication is vital”. She continued: “We spoke via Facetime pretty much every day while we were apart.
“The seven or eight-hour time difference between the UK and China occasionally got the better of us and we would miss a day.”
The “main thing” that has helped – or even saved – Anna and Mohamed’s marriage is “the deep sense of security and trust we have in each other”.
“Perhaps it helps too that we have always, for nearly three decades now, concluded every telephone call with an ‘I love you’, in Arabic ‘ahebec’.
“It is a simple, almost perfunctory, ‘ahebec bye’, but it is important to us.”
After two and a half years apart, Anna and Mohmad are travelling to Cairo to see one another, at the time of writing.
Anna explained that the couple hope to base themselves in the Egyptian capital for a while, with trips to the UK and China on the horizon.