When Grace Ondiso Maungu left Kenya for college in the US, she did not think that she would come back home with the love of her life. Life, however, has a way of surprising us all. In Dallas is where Grace met Antony Odhiambo Ochieng’, a recent retiree from the Kenya Airforce and Green Card Lotto winner.

In this interview, Grace reflects on their journey of love, their swift courtship, how unbelievably wondrous her proposal was and how she chose to spend the rest of her life with a man she loves.

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 I’m sure he was laughing too because I dance like a Luhya girl.

Tony and Grace met at a restaurant in Dallas in 2021, just a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, where she was celebrating a friend’s graduation. While their eye didn’t meet across the room like a scene from your favourite Romantic Comedy, it was as close to ‘love at first sight’ as life can get.

“Tony was at the party because a friend called him. I was dancing and I caught his attention; he was standing on the sidelines watching and I’m sure he was laughing too because I dance like a Luhya girl.”

Having watched her long enough, he told his friends that his eyes were firmly set on her before he walked over and asked for her number.

“These were his exact words “Hey, I am about to leave, can I have your number?” I didn’t take him seriously so I just called it out to him, he memorised it and texted me the next day!”

Grace, Tony and their friends

I had never encountered such honesty so I liked him immediately.

At first, Grace was hesitant. She had initially moved to the US for college and when she met Tony she was an esthetician running and looking to expand her business, Neema’s Body Wraps. Tony, was, however, not interested in being coy.

“He told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me. I expressed to him that I wasn’t interested in anything serious since I was working on expanding my business and was working on other things in Kenya, he straight up told me he was looking for a wife so if I am not interested I should let him know. I had never encountered such honesty so I liked him immediately. Most men tend to be coy, not Tony. We were a couple within less than 24 hours of our first meeting.”

From their first date, a Mavericks game, the two were inseparable but Grace says she became sure he was the one on his birthday, in 2021.

“I knew I loved Tony on his birthday on July 17th 2021. We went to one of the most expensive hotels in Dallas and had so much fun all weekend,” she said. “Tony is a good-looking man so he attracts a lot of attention but he did not pay them any mind and I felt very secure. Not that I needed any more proof but when he told his family about me, it only cemented my love for him. He started working on his Isimba in August 2021. He did not waste any time.”

 There was a very elaborate proposal; Tony showed up like a true Luo man

This all culminated in an elaborate proposal in Watamu in 2022.

“There was a very elaborate proposal; Tony showed up like a true Luo man. We were taking a dhow cruise in Watamu in November of 2022 and all through Tony did not want to get in the water,” she reminisces. “I only realised later that he had the ring in his pocket the whole time. He proposed to me on the dhow as the sun was setting. I had turned around to give the dhow captain my phone for a picture and when I turned back Tony was on one knee, sparkling ring in hand. One of the happiest days of my life.”

Having accepted his proposal, they set about planning their big day which took place in Kisumu in 2023. Explaining why they chose to come home for the nuptials, Grace says that most of their family members are in Kenya.

“I am from Kakamega and Tony is from Kendu Bay so Kisumu was more central for us. We also wanted a place our friends from the US could reach easily and most of our close family members are in Kenya so we had to come home.”

Event planning is an overwhelming task despite the day but planning the biggest day of your life from a world away can be especially daunting. Grace’s only advice, hire a capable wedding planner.

“The most challenging part was finding a planner in Kenya. Everyone was out to take advantage of us because we live far from home. We settled on a friend I went to high school with. She turned out to be our worst decision,” she says.

Further adding, “The distance from home was our biggest obstacle. We depended on our planner entirely to book the venue and hire vendors. Because of our planner’s poor communication, we had a lot of loose ends even on the big day. She was running around because she wanted to be at a million places at once.”

Grace signing her marriage certificate

I still can not believe we are married now. I am a wife!”

Grace is grateful for her family who stepped in to make sure everything went on without a hitch.

“Family had to step in to cover up but I’m glad most people did not notice anything was amiss. The bottom line, the planner can make or break an event. If not for my sisters, we would not have had a wedding.”

Despite the hitch with the planner, she’s grateful and has an archive of precious moments she will cherish forever.

“There are moments I’m grateful for like our close family members were dressed to the nines – the pictures say it all! My Godfather who is a retired bishop Rev. Simon Omutingole Oketch was our Officiant, my dad, who is disabled, came early before the ceremony to take pictures with me, when I was giving Tony the ring and had to choke back tears and our reception entrance, (Tony Nyadundo ushered us in) while our friends sprayed us with money,” she says smiling.

While Grace is assured of her love and new life, there is still some incredulity to it.

“Overall we are so thankful we got to share the day with our friends and family. I still can not believe we are married now. I am a wife!”

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