In the fall of 2009, Vickie Jones’s 7-year-old nephew began asking questions about where their family came from. “Birmingham,” it turned out, was not a satisfactory answer.
In fact, a DNA test had traced roots to western Africa, so as questions piled up, the Jones clan began discussing a trip to Ghana.
Jones wrote to The Washington Post Travel section for help with planning. But when she got a bad feeling about the tour company an editor suggested, she ignored the advice and found one on her own.
The following March, Jones — along with her mother, brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew and her sister-in-law’s parents — ended a 12-hour flight in the port city of Accra. Having temporarily lost both her luggage and her family in the airport, she was sullen by the time she boarded the chartered bus.
“She was in a sad mood, that’s the way I saw it,” recalls the family’s tour guide, Emmanuel Gogo. “So I felt for her.”
But the mood passed by the time Jones, the group’s designated leader, sat down with Gogo at the hotel to discuss the itinerary.
Gogo was immediately impressed with Jones’s level of organization. The public relations professional had thoroughly researched every aspect of the trip. The next day, he noticed the care she took with her niece and nephew as the group sailed on a day-long cruise.
“The kids are not her kids, but she really has control over them,” he recalls. “And as an African man, we also cherish children. I began to wish these were my children and she was handling them that way.”
Gogo’s affection grew over the course of the eight-day trip. He was embraced by the family and was routinely invited to join them for dinner. But it was Jones and her self-possession that really entranced him.
“When you are in such a family, and you are upright, your kids will also grow up to be upright,” he says. “And these are some things I’ve been searching for in life.”
Jones was happy for Gogo’s enthusiasm as a tour guide and grateful for the time he took with her mother and nephew, but she never detected his interest. Others in her family suspected the crush but never mentioned it to Jones.
At one point, Gogo badly wanted to invite her for a walk, but he resisted, fearing it would be unprofessional. At the end of the trip, he drove the family to the airport and gave each member a hug. As they walked up a flight of stairs to the terminal, he called Jones back, gave her one more hug and told her to keep in touch. She promised she would.
By the time they landed in New York, Jones had a text message from Gogo checking on their safe arrival. He called the next day and e-mailed about how much he enjoyed the family. They began trading frequent instant messages and texts, although Jones was initially skeptical of the attention.
“You hear about scammers, so I was like, ‘Keep him at a distance.You can’t know but so much,’ ” she recalls.
Still, her guard was crumbling in a way even her colleagues noticed. “She had a little twinkle in her eye about this guy,” says her friend and boss, Lisa Osborne Ross. “She was giggling a lot, and she is not a giggly person. It was just so unusual to see this light, goofy side of her.”
“He’s one of the nicest, most genuine people,” says Jones, now 39. “And you can’t fake that.”
After several months of daily communication, Gogo asked her to return to Ghana, promising to take her on a safari in the north. Finally she came out with it, asking, “What are your intentions?”
“I told her that I’m interested in having her as my wife for the rest of my life,” recalls Gogo, now 41. “I laid down what I had found about her, which I believe if we should put together will help both of us. It’s not just a matter of ‘Let’s get married.’ But deeper into the future — while we are alive and after we’ve left — of what to bring to life for other people and to enjoy.”
Jones had the time off and enough frequent flier miles to cover the trip, so that July she boarded a plane. It would be “the make or break week where we figure out whether or not this is something we try to even think to pursue,” she says.
Gogo was racked with nerves as he waited for her to arrive. “It was as if you were supposed to see God today — what your reaction would be like,” he says.
After visiting with Gogo’s father, they set off on their own, often spending six or seven hours a day in the car. Everything she knew of him from a distance was evident in person. “He was just different than anyone I’ve met,” she says. “He has one of the kindest hearts.”
She cried when she left at the end of the week, and the only question that remained was, “How are we going to figure this out?”
The two spoke for hours each night, and in December she returned to Ghana for a month. They bought an engagement ring, vacationed in Egypt and began the paperwork for Gogo to immigrate to the United States.
After several interviews, hundreds of official forms and many days spent waiting, Gogo was cleared for a fiance visa. Two weeks after he arrived, on Oct. 23, the couple exchanged vows in the community center of her Franconia townhouse development. The following week, they had a more spiritual ceremony on a bluff in Puerto Rico, reading prayers to one another with only a photographer and officiant as witnesses.
“Who goes to Ghana and meets a guy? I never even considered it,” she says. “It just shows you have to be open to opportunities.’ ”