Ihab Iskandar was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and grew up in San Diego.
He does not have memories of childhood sledding excursions or frigid mornings spent scraping ice from his windshield. So when Snowmageddon hit the District in early February 2010, dumping more than two feet of snow throughout the region, Iskandar wasn’t ready. “There’s no way a kid from California is going to be prepared for something like that,” he said.
He spent the night with a friend near his office in Reston and then unearthed his car to drive back to his apartment in Arlington County. When Iskandar arrived, he was at a loss. His reserved parking space was piled high with snow, and he had no shovel in his trunk. He drove from store to store looking for one, but every place was sold out.
Defeated, he returned to his apartment building and saw a young woman in a puffy jacket digging her own car out of the lot. Iskandar rolled down his window and asked whether he could help. Only when they were halfway through the job did he tell her the catch: He needed to borrow her shovel when they finished.
It seemed like a pretty good deal to Vanessa Zottig, an accountant who lived three floors down from Iskandar, now 31. “I just couldn’t believe his niceness, because I feel like you don’t get that around here,” she remembers. Zottig was also struck by Iskandar’s vibrant blue eyes, peeking out between his scarf and winter hat.
When they finished with her car, Zottig followed Iskandar to his. She helped mostly by keeping him company and tossing the occasional snowball in his direction.
“My first impression was that she just seemed like a really nice girl, and I really wanted to get to know her,” Iskandar recalls. “She just kind of glowed in her snow suit.”
As they finished their big dig, he asked for her number, using the excuse that his niece, who also lived in the building, would love to meet Zottig’s dog.
They traded text messages, and two days later Zottig brought Iskandar a plate of homemade cookies to thank him. They wound up having dinner and watching a movie together. “It was just a friendly thing,” says Zottig, also 31. “We couldn’t go anywhere because of the storm, so it was like, ‘Why not hang out with this person? He seems kind of nice.’ ”
They saw a lot of each other over the next two weeks, but both were wary of moving too quickly. “You hear these stories about people who meet who live in the same building and then it doesn’t end well,” Zottig says. “I was like: ‘I own this place. I can’t just move.’ ”
Toward the end of the month, Iskandar asked her on a real date — outside the building. They played darts at a sports bar in Shirlington and shared a kiss between rounds.
In the months that followed, they discovered that they were both adventurous, hardworking and devoted to their families. When Iskandar’s parents came to visit in June, he told Zottig he wanted her to meet them. She was the first girl he had ever introduced to his parents. “They were so happy,” he remembers. “She’s such a sweet girl. Everybody loves her.”
Since college, Iskandar had been working in the software industry, but without much passion for the field. Zottig nudged him to figure out what he really wanted to do. With her encouragement, he went back to school to become a physical therapist.
Seeing him work so hard prompted Zottig to try to pass the exam to become a certified public accountant. They became study partners and often huddled together in the library on nights and weekends.
By 2011, it became clear they were in it for the long haul. “We realized we had a lot of similar values and similar outlooks on life,” Zottig says. “I think that’s what really bonded us.”
Iskandar was raised Coptic Orthodox, one of the oldest forms of Christianity, and it was a hugely important part of his life. Zottig was raised Christian and in adulthood had shopped around for a church that really fit. She began attending services with Iskandar and was baptized into the religion last summer.
“If it had been a complete change in religion, I don’t know if I would have been that open,” she says. “But because it was just another form of Christianity that had a lot of similar beliefs, it was much easier.”
Last February, two years after they met, Iskandar picked Zottig up in a limo that toured around the monuments before dropping them off at the Georgetown waterfront. There, Iskandar dropped to one knee to propose. Within the next year, Zottig passed her CPA exam and Iskandar finished his degree.
On Feb. 9, the pair were married at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax. During the ceremony, much of which was sung, Zottig and Iskandar were robed in special vestments, anointed with oil and given crowns that signified they were becoming king and queen of their new family. That night, 105 friends and relatives toasted the couple at Waterford Receptions in Springfield.
“They say that the person you marry should make you a better person,” Zottig said before the wedding. “I think we both feel that. We’ve helped each other grow.”