I was at the store buying some things when I ran into an older Nigerian man that I have known for quite a while. He was with his wife and I greeted them and we stood and chatted for a bit. They asked about Ada Verastic, and although they didn’t ask for a picture, I did what all mothers do: I pulled out my phone and began to show them tons of pictures. As expected, they ooh’d and aah’d about how cute Ada Verastic was, and I did not disagree. She’s a cutie.
But after the reggae, came the blues. The man wanted to be reminded about my husband. again. He wanted to know if he was Nigerian and if he lived in America or Nigeria. Then he wanted to know if he was Igbo or from somewhere else. I told him that Igwe was Yoruba. There was a hint of disappointment on his face before he proceeded to console me, “At least you didn’t marry a Chinese man.”
He and his wife burst out laughing, as if they had made the joke and observation of the century. I was not laughing. I was not really offended either because this was, after all, an older Igbo man who, I assumed, was set in his ways. But the irony of his failed humor was not lost on me. Here he was, an Igbo man in his seventies who had been married for decades, and his wife still felt unappreciated by him. Like I said earlier, I have known him for years (and some of their marital issues have been made public).
He was an Igbo man who had an unhappy Igbo wife, so where and when did both of their Igboness soften the blow of marital dissatisfaction? And to add to the irony, his Igbo daughter who has an Igbo husband is also in an unhappy marriage. The marriage got so bad that at one point, they were one argument away from terminating their marriage. They’re still married – for now.
See, it’s not that I’m oblivious to the lack of unity and trust we have in Nigeria, and it is not that I expect Nigerians to suddenly hold hands and sing Kumbaya because one Igbo Vera married one Yoruba Igwe, but I just always wonder why we assume that marrying someone from your ‘place’ is a guarantor to a great marriage. Or why it is assumed that marrying someone who is not from your place is trouble.
I cannot speak for other tribes in Nigeria, but I know that the Igbo-Yoruba tension is real. I know that my people feel betrayed by the Yorubas during the Biafran war, but I do not know if the current tension dates back to before the Biafran war. My people seem to feel sorry for me for marrying a Yoruba man, while the Yoruba people seem to be astonished that Igwe married an Igbo woman (especially this particular Igbo woman) — because what on earth could we possibly have in common? Or as people have asked Igwe, what do you people talk about?
There are so many Igbo-Yoruba unions that I sometimes joke that we should start a club; we’re that many. I’m not saying that there will ever be total unity between us, but intermarrying is certainly a good way to bring understanding at the very least. A good place to start would be having friends who are different from you. Have friends from all over Nigeria, all over Africa, and all over the world. There are seven billion people in this world; the possibilities are endless.
I am not suggesting that you marry someone or become friends with someone just because they’re from a different place; I am simply suggesting that you at least be open to making friends and getting to know their life and their story. You gain a brand new perspective every time you open yourself up.
I should say, though, that if Igwe was a Chinese man, I would have still married him – and all my Igbo people would be jealous of me because I’d have good Chinese food on demand. Unless Chinese Igwe is like Yoruba Igwe who claims to know how to cook, but whose skills are still under review.