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American Woman Marries Ethiopian Prince She Met In A Nightclub

A secret prince, an exiled royal family, an improbable meeting, a gorgeous wedding: Ariana Austin’s marriage to Prince Joel Makonnen of Ethiopia is a proper fairytale.

456BE8AC00000578-4985638-image-a-3_1508241023970 Dotun Ayodeji

The couple met at the Washington club Pearl in 2005, where Makonnen told Austin and her friend that they looked like models from ‘an ad from Bombay Sapphire.’ A cheesy line, perhaps, but Makonnen quickly fell head-over-heels for the beautiful young woman. “Not even five minutes later I said, ‘You’re going to be my girlfriend.’”

Makonnen didn’t initially tell Austin about his royal heritage: he is the great-grandson of Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor before the country was wracked by civil war in 1974. He was born in Rome and grew up in Switzerland while his parents,  Prince David Makonnen and Princess Adey Imru Makonnen, were living in exile.

For twelve years the couple circled the globe and each other. Both of them are ambitious and hard-working, which had its own set of challenges: internships in Paris, organizations in Ethiopia, and a return to the US meant that the couple broke it off briefly in 2012. But they were never apart for long. “In many ways, it feels like this day was written,” Sushama Austin-Connor, Ms. Austin’s sister, said during the reception. “Ever since I have seen them together they always have been connected to each other.”

And in 2014, Makonnen wanted to make that connection official. He went to Austin’s parents’ house to propose with a ring and balloons and accidentally knocked so loudly that she initially thought the house was being burglarized. “I think I said, ‘Let’s take this journey together,’” Mr. Makonnen said. “When I proposed she was like, ‘It’s about time.’”

Their wedding on September 9th was an Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony, with 13 clergymen officiating. It combined both of their traditions, featuring Ethiopian food and black cake from Austin’s ancestral Guyana. And groomsman Yaphet Kifle noted that the two families had nothing but respect for one another, “You can tell they both value the same things: a deep respect for families and their elders, and the value of marriage,” he said at the reception.

Austin is impressed by the heritage of her new family, which she says “combines sheer black power and ancient Christian tradition.” But the relationship is ultimately based on deep mutual respect and connection that has existed between them since day one. When talking about their earlier relationship, Austin says, “I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny.”

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