Olivier Kamanda has a bold streak: He skydives, hang glides, runs for office, rides a motorcycle. He also has no fear of breaking into a closed circle of women dancing at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room — even when he’s completely sober.
It was February 2005, and he was the designated driver while out with friends at the Adams Morgan bar. He spotted Hannah Burris, whose group was having a girls-only night, rejecting the advances of each man who approached. After an hour, he decided to give it his best shot — and succeeded, dancing his way into the middle of their circle and making Hannah laugh. Later, he flirted with her as she and her pals waited in the bathroom line.
“Before my friend gives you her phone number, you need to give me a good reason why,” Hannah’s friend teased.
“When you meet people who make good first impressions, it’s best never to let them go,” he replied.
The line was smooth enough to score her phone number. When he called the next day, Hannah agreed to a date — a determinedly unromantic Tuesday lunch meeting, at which she ordered only a cup of soup, expecting it would be a short one.
But they bonded while talking politics and plans for the future. Hannah was still nursing disappointment after interning on John Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential campaign; Olivier knew what that felt like, having worked for the Howard Dean campaign. Although the date went better than expected, Hannah wasn’t looking for love. “I was in such a 23-year-old head space, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” she remembers. “I wasn’t interested in anything serious.”
Olivier was persistent and kept trying to win her over. When she came down with a cold a few weeks later, he drove her to get chicken soup at a health-food store. They were stopped behind another car on the way out of the parking lot when he turned to her and asked, “Do you like surprises?” He leaned over to the passenger seat for their first kiss — and crashed into the car in front of them as his foot slipped off the brake. (It was just a minor fender bender.)
The more time they spent together, the more smitten Olivier became. One night, while out at Café Citron in Dupont Circle, he made a confession. “I told her I was going to marry her,” he says.
One problem: She was leaving the next day for China, where she planned to teach English for the summer.
He drove her to the airport, feeling as though something was slipping through his fingers. They kept in touch sporadically, even after she moved to Boston for a job in public health and he headed to the University of Pennsylvania for law school. Sometimes he’d send flowers or cookie packages to her office; she flew down to be his date to his winter formal. “We were sort of popping in and out of each others’ lives,” Hannah says.
She moved to London in 2007 for graduate school, and they largely fell out of touch. But in March 2008, he was visiting Vienna for a law school case competition. Not yet ready to give up on Hannah, he invited her to join him there.
It turned into a whirlwind weekend as they explored the city together, connecting in a more meaningful way than ever before. “I’d had such an adventure with him that I thought I could see where it could go,” Hannah says.
Their once-sporadic contact turned into daily communication. But Hannah was still hesitant about a full-blown commitment, and they joked that it wouldn’t be official until it was on Facebook. When his work as a summer associate took him to Prague, they arranged a romantic weekend at a castle. The closeness that had developed in Vienna deepened into something more serious. Shortly after that, she updated her social media status. “Her birthday present to me was announcing on Facebook that she was in a relationship,” he says.
She returned home after graduation, and they kept the relationship going via long bus trips between Boston and Philadelphia, where Olivier was taking time off from school to head up one of Obama’s campaign offices.
In 2009, the two relocated to Washington; a year later, they moved in together in Adams Morgan. Olivier was working long hours as a speechwriter and policy adviser for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. But he soon found he wanted to make an impact in a different way and decided to run for a spot on the neighborhood’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission. Hannah helped his campaign, making calls, posting flyers and offering much-needed support until he won his seat. It was plenty of grunt work but a reflection of how much they both value civic engagement. “If you really care about something, you’re going to put the time into making it work,” Olivier says. “We have a similar worldview. We just sort of get each other.”
“I feel like I know [Olivier] so well, but that does not mean I have any idea what he’s going to do next. I kind of love that. It keeps everything really new and fun,” Hannah says. “We’re both open to each other’s adventures, letting the other one take the lead. That’s part of the fun of it.”
One evening in July 2012, Olivier picked Hannah up from work and told her he had to drop off some ANC paperwork at Chief Ike’s. She waited at the bar — quiet except for a few regulars that Tuesday night — and focused on her BlackBerry until Olivier called to her. She turned the corner to find a table covered in white cloth, white roses and a bottle of champagne. She promptly burst into tears.
He reminded her what he’d said the night they first met — that when you meet people who make good first impressions, it’s best not to let them go.
“And I never want to let you go,” he told her before asking her to marry him. The bartender switched on a playlist of love songs and the two danced and drank champagne in celebration.
On July 27, about 130 friends and family members gathered for their wedding. Heavy rains cleared before the outdoor ceremony, which was held atop stone steps on the grassy grounds of Strong Mansion at Sugarloaf Mountain. Olivier sped up to the courtyard’s side entrance on his motorcycle, handing off his helmet before taking his place under the chuppah. (“Hey, I heard you were a wild one,” a vocalist sang as he arrived, a gentler take on Sia’s opening line of the Flo Rida song “Wild Ones.”)
In their vows, the pair, both 32, reflected on their eight years together and their hopes for the future. “I believe in you, the person you will grow to be and the couple we will be together,” Hannah said. “I promise to be an inspiration to you, as you are to me.”