Many believe that love makes the world go around, but not many travel the far reaches of the world to find each other.
A Delaware native, Amy Kahn loved to travel and experience different cultures. So when she graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and returned home, she was a little restless. She traveled to Turkey because of an interest in Muslim cultures. When she returned, her father died suddenly, so it was hard to tell her mother that she wanted to go back to Turkey.
"Anyone who knows my mom knows she is very attached to her kids, and she was reluctant although utterly supportive once I decided to go," she says.
So, with a one-way ticket in hand, Amy was once again en route to Turkey in March 1997.
"I was so nave," she says. "I didn't think about what could happen to me. All I had was a 'Lonely Planet' book, and when I arrived in a sundress and sandals, it was winter there."
She wanted to travel as far east as possible, all the way to the border of Iran but was forced to turn back because the roads were closed by snow. Instead, she went to Fethiye on Turkey's southwest coast on the Mediterranean.
Although it was still cold when Amy arrived on April 11, she decided to take scuba lessons at the European Diving Center. The center was only barely open for the season; in early April, the water and air temperatures were still frigid. The owners called one of its dive instructors to come back to work from his home in London in order to accommodate this inconvenient student.
That instructor turned out to be Lee Sawyer, a retired London firefighter who had decided to turn his hobby into a second career.
"I dreaded the temperatures that early," he recalls. "I think the owners asked me back to work rather than get into the water themselves."
And so the Sawyers' love story began.
Amy felt attracted to Lee immediately.
"He's so charismatic and funny," says Amy. "And he was a great teacher, kind and patient, and he happens to be gorgeous."
She wrote in her travel journal daily what he said, what he wore, what a wonderful instructor he was.
"Second day of class," Amy wrote April 14. "Lee, the instructor, is seriously growing on me."
Later she wrote, "I am more and more attracted to Lee with every day that goes by. His boyish qualities and good-natured personality are a magnet. Sometimes (rarely) he looks at me in a way that would suggest mutual interest. But I can never be too sure. He doesn't give me much to go on."
Lee never let on throughout the dive instruction that their feelings were mutual.
"I was thinking about Amy as well," says Lee. "There are sometimes strong feelings between an instructor and student, but when I met Amy I was already 40. I wanted to be professional, but she was lovely."
Amy stayed and completed her rescue dive training. The waters were rough the day of her certification test, and she confided to Lee that she was afraid to go in. He calmed her by holding her hand during the initial dive, but once they were under water, they didn't let go.
After her training was over, instructors and classmates all went out for a night on the town. During the course of the evening, Lee finally made his own feelings clear; he leaned over and told Amy, "You are the most beautiful girl in the world, Amy Kahn," leaving Amy dumbfounded.
"After that night we spent so much time together," says Amy. She got a job at the dive center and "we spent every day on the boat, falling in love with one another as we worked."
In June they moved in together and worked together for the rest of the season.
"It was literally too good to be true," says Amy.
They drove back to England so Amy could meet Lee's large family. The drive back was a harrowing experience, but "the best two weeks of our lives," says Lee.
Lee's van was plagued with problems, and documents allowing the van to leave Turkey had expired.
"I wasn't even sure we could get back to England," he says. "But that time cemented our relationship; it was a stressful time, but a most important time for us."
They finally arrived in London and stayed six weeks. During that time, Amy had to make a day-long trip to Switzerland to break off her engagement to her Swedish fianc. After that, she never looked back. On Dec. 26, they arrived in Philadelphia so Lee could meet Amy's family.
"From the second he came in, my family loved him," says Amy.
Amy and Lee were married on June 26, 1998. Today they have three children -- Rebecca, Lily and Chad -- and have called Southern Pines home for nearly three years.
While the Sawyers live simply, everything they have is for their family. Amy says Lee has had so many interests in life, but once their children arrived, "he became utterly devoted to this family. He's given up every single aspect of his identity. We're his identity now."
Lee views it a little differently.
"I never had my feet rooted anywhere," he says. "My family is my home. Anywhere else is just geography to me."
While Amy describes herself as an impetuous romantic who wears her heart on her sleeve, Lee is naturally more reserved and grounded. Amy is American; Lee is English. Amy is Jewish, and Lee is Christian. There is a 13-year difference in their ages, and they come from different economic backgrounds. Whatever the challenges, the Sawyers meet them with solid communication and a genuine affection for each other.
"I love being the couple everyone knows is solidly happy," says Amy. "I just wish I had met my husband years sooner so we'd have more time together on earth."
We call it destiny. The Turkish call it kismet. What makes two people fall in love? It doesn't matter, as long as they do.
Mary Griffin is a local freelance writer.
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