When I was growing up with my parents in Osogbo, if you had told me that I would someday be married to an American woman, I would have called you crazy. I grew up in a fairly traditional Yoruba household. Some of my extended family members had attempted inter-tribal marriages in the past and didn’t record any success because my grandparents strongly kicked against it. Interracial marriage was out of the question!
Going outside Osun State to get a wife was difficult, let alone marrying someone who’s not even Nigerian. To make matters worse, I am from a Muslim family but she is a Christian. Height wise, she is a few inches taller too! The odds were perfectly stacked against us, but life works in funny ways. Here’s an account of how I met my wife, and beat all odds to achieve an interracial marriage.
One of the ways that destiny worked to bring my wife and me together is the fact that I won an international scholarship and ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio. The plan was to be an engineer, but I ended up in architecture instead. So I went to the US for a master’s degree in community planning.
When I graduated in 2008, there was a major recession, and no matter how many jobs I applied to, I barely got an interview. My advisor at the University of Cincinnati pulled through and helped me secure an adjunct teaching position in the planning school I had graduated from, teaching undergraduate students.
My now-wife Betha was then finishing her graduate program in community planning (she was a year behind me in the program). During the one year we were both in the program, we had only barely met in passing, and so if I had gotten a job right away and moved after graduation, we never would have gotten to know each other. Betha was working on completing her graduate thesis paper, and in another stroke of luck (for me), she was having technical difficulties getting her data to display on her map in the GIS mapping software.
After seeking help from every graduate assistant in the school, even the PhDs, still nothing. Finally, someone told her, “Idris is a GIS expert, go get help from him.” So she arranged a time to meet with me and show me the problem. As she likes to tell people now, “No one else could fix it, and Idris fixed it in 15 minutes.”
Betha still credits me for saving her thesis so that she could graduate on time. She was so grateful that she took me out to dinner, and we had a great time. Subsequently, we got to know each other better.
Our friendship grew stronger and we were able to accommodate each other’s differences without issues. Betha knew about my job issues, so she talked about me to one of her friends who then recommended me for a job.
Luckily, I got the job and my employer was able to sponsor my work visa. Interestingly, I was offered the position on the very last day that I needed it; otherwise I would have had to leave the country and return to Nigeria. Betha took me out to dinner again to congratulate me, which further helped to solidify our friendship.
Betha was to graduate in a couple of weeks, and by this point, I was starting to have feelings for her but wasn’t sure if I was ready to act on them. We took a walk one day and finally settled at the park by a riverbank, she leaned her head on my shoulder, and I confessed all my feelings to her.
We talked all night, and from that point on, a lot of discussion ensued about “how will this work with our different cultures? Where is this going?” etc.
Betha was a little bit worried about getting into a relationship with me because if my parents didn’t approve, it could end badly, after things had already gotten serious. But I assured her that we would work through things the right way, no matter how long it took, to win the approval of both sets of parents. It took a lot of discussions to figure out a strategy and a vision for our future (luckily we are both planners by trade, lol, and that’s what we do!)
After the first couple of visits, Betha’s parents figured out that there was something between us, and some hurtful words were said. “Green card marriage” came up more than a few times. There was a lot of concern about how things would work with the two families living on different continents and coming from different religions and different cultures. And needless to say, I was terrified to tell my parents for the same reasons.
Betha’s parents gradually softened as we spent more time together. I went to their house for Christmas, and I attended the weddings of some of Betha’s cousins. Because Betha’s parents and I were both in Cincinnati and Betha wasn’t, I even took her parents out to pizza one time without her, to break the ice and give them a chance to get to know me.
A little less than a year later, I finally broke the news to my parents, in a letter, of all things, because whenever I talked to them on the phone I lost the courage to bring it up. Of course they were shocked reading the letter, and it took them a couple of weeks before they could really talk about it, but then a series of long, serious discussions ensued between me and them, in which we talked about what I envisioned for my future and where they would fit into it.
Part of the issue was what would the extended family think, but another big part of it was where we would live. My parents always thought I would come back to Nigeria. And they were concerned about the cultural differences, the language barrier, religion, and even height difference. lol. According to my brother, they screamed when they saw my picture with Betha.
Meanwhile, I was also worried about my job not being stable because it was grant-funded. But one of my friends from the architecture program back in Nigeria had followed a similar path of doing a graduate degree in community planning in the US, and then he had gotten a job at a company in California, where he then recommended me for a job. It was my first really stable, permanent job – Betha and I were both very happy, but that meant that we would have to live long-distance for a while until she could get a job in California.
But in another stroke of amazing luck, Betha got an interview and a job offer fairly quickly, and ended up moving to California just three weeks after I did! And her job was only 10 miles away from mine, a very short commute for California.
Because of my little bit conservative culture, we lived in separate housing for a while until we got married. But at least being in the same city gave us a good chance to see often, as well as strengthen our relationship and make our future plans. We wanted a lot of the same things in our future and share a lot of the same life philosophies. Betha learned some Yoruba and Skyped my parents on the weekends so they could get to know her.
Over the four years that we dated, we talked things out with both families, and finally both sets of parents agreed to the interracial marriage. They Skyped each other and “arranged” the marriage – time, date, location, who will attend, etc.
Betha and I suggested, and everyone agreed to have two weddings – a Nigerian one in Osogbo which would come first, and then an American one in Cincinnati which would be the “legal” wedding. Both parents would attend both, so we made their travel arrangements and started the wedding planning.
Up until the day of the Nigerian wedding, Betha was afraid that a cultural meltdown would happen between both families, but it didn’t. Betha’s parents traveled to Nigeria along with her and five of our American friends. I was already in Nigeria with my family and helping with the wedding arrangements. The night the American contingent arrived, we held an engagement ceremony. Two days later, we held a daytime Nikkai ceremony followed by an evening reception.
All my relatives came, and we had around 300 people. My very traditional grandmother, aunts and uncles, and all relatives, ended up totally accepting the idea of the cross-cultural marriage, and warmly welcomed Betha into the family. As soon as they met her, they said they could tell she was a “nice girl.”
Everyone had a great time at the wedding. The next day, my family did the ceremony of welcoming Betha into our house, and then we stayed another week to spend time with my family. Betha learned some Nigerian cooking from my mother, and she had a great time hanging out with my cousins, all of whom speak perfect English; she said she was surprised how “Americanized” they were (familiar with the culture, movies, music, clothing styles, etc.)
The American wedding was held in the spring, in an outdoor venue in a park near Betha’s parents’ home in Cincinnati. Apparently it was a little difficult for us to get married within the Catholic Church because of me being Muslim, so we found a priest on the internet like they do in the movies! We had a small outdoor ceremony at a gazebo in front of a pond, and then held the evening reception in the park lodge. All went smoothly, and afterwards Betha’s parents gave my parents a tour of some sights in Cincinnati (scenic river views, parks, etc.) and even took them on a riverboat tour. Everyone had a great time, and then my parents came back to California with us and stayed for a month to visit the US.
In all, marrying a white woman has been a great experience for me. The cultural differences have been worth it, since now we have such a beautiful life together. Betha is somewhat conversant in Yoruba now, so she and my parents can quite communicate in the language and get along together. There are always bumps in the road, but I’m glad that I have the right person to go down the road with me. Interracial marriage is beautiful, if you are willing and patient with the process.