University of Utah student Carly Harris was serving tea in a refuggee camp in Greece when she met Soufiane El Yassami, a refugee from Morocco. During her stay El Yassami was arrested and repatriated to Morocco. Worried, Harris sent El Yassami a Facebook message to see if he was safe. Since then, the two have communicated over Skype and Facebook and now, almost a year and a half later, they are discussing marriage.
“He’s asked me to marry him a thousand times,” Harris said, a smile crossing her face.
With each proposal, she tells El Yassami they would be skipping steps. While he is sure that love is enough, Harris wants to make sure their relationship is secure.
“I believe it takes more than love to make a relationship work, and there are a lot of issues we’ve got to handle with our religions,” she said.
Harris is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and El Yassami is Muslim and both are active members of their faith.
“Even though we have different religions, we are both very religious and we understand each other,” Harris explained. “I’ve dated people who weren’t raised religious before, and it’s different. They just don’t get it but he gets it.”
In fact, his dedication impressed Harris early in their relationship. For example, during Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) El Yassami fasts every day until sundown. Once she asked him why he is so devoted to this practice.
“He was so confused,” Harris recalled. “Like, ‘What do you mean why do I do this? Because God asked me to. Of course, I do it for him.’ He has a lot of faith.”
Beyond stumbling into an improbable relationship during a humanitarian trip to Greece, she has had plenty of other experiences while serving in Fiji, Nepal, Argentina and Brazil. One day while boarding a ferry with her cousin in Greece, a man offered her his first-class ticket. After she refused to take it, the man insisted.
Harris remembered the man saying, “seeing you guys help my people just made me want to help someone, and right now this is all I can do, so please, take the ticket.” She said,“we were just sobbing. There were lots of stories like that going around the camp. There was just a chain reaction of kindness.”
Harris’ experiences abroad have changed the way she thinks and lives. After one trip, she decided she didn’t even need a phone.
“When I lived in Fiji, it was the first time I didn’t have a phone, and I was like, ‘This is amazing.’ I decided I was going to cancel my phone when I got home. That was four years ago.”
Not having a phone has provided her with new perspectives on our culture.
“People don’t expect you to keep your word if they don’t hear from you that day, or if you’re not like, ‘Hey I am on my way,’ or ‘Hey I’m here,’” Harris said. “I’ll ring the doorbell and everyone is like, ‘Oh my gosh, you came!’ like it’s such a big deal. And I’m just thinking, I told you I was coming.”
She accepted a job teaching English in Guinea-Bissau, a Portuguese-speaking country in Africa, where Harris and El Yassami will live this summer. Harris was offered the job before she met El Yassami, but didn’t accept it until after she visited him in Morocco for 10 days. After assessing their relationship, she invited him to move to Guinea-Bissau with her.
Harris plans to head to Indonesia or South Korea after her summer in Guinea-Bissau, where she will teach English. Then she plans to move to another country to teach English. She will do that “every year or two for the next 10 years or so,” Harris said.
Harris made headlines recently after CNN reported on her long distance relationship and how it was affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order that attempted to ban refugees from entering the United States. Contrary to what news stations have reported, the couple never wanted to live in the U.S.
“He did want to come and visit, but just for a week or two to meet my family and stuff. The plan was never to live here permanently,” said Harris.
El Yassami hasn’t changed Harris’ career plans. Even before the couple met, Harris planned on living and teaching English in numerous countries after college.
“I’ve just been here 20-something years and I feel like there is so much more to see. I don’t really agree with our culture, our values, our selfishness, our competitiveness. It’s just not really for me. I don’t want to raise a kid in that. I just want a simple life,” Harris said.