Special Report

June 8, 2024

Life, times of foreign women married to Nigerians 

Life, times of foreign women married to Nigerians 

By Ebele Orakpo

‘Home and Belonging’, is a collection of real-life stories of 16 women from different fields, continents and countries, married to Nigerian men. They are members of the Nigerwives Association.

Their stories portray their passion and love for their husbands and Nigeria. Cross-cultural marriage was an anomaly in the 60s and 70s but despite the resistance, estrangement from family and community on one side, and a sense of uncertainty on the other side, they followed their hearts.

Published in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria by Tharros Books, edited by Prof. Kanchana Ugbabe (Professor of English) and Prof. Joanne Umolu (Professor of Special Education) both formerly of the University of Jos; the 164-page book addresses the challenges faced by the women and how they surmounted all.

The stories, written in first person narrative, explore the subjects of racism, culture, religion, extended family, friendship, war and terrorism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Japa syndrome was from the West to Nigeria, done out of love; but today, Nigerians are leaving the country in droves, not for love but for greener pastures. The stories are serious, joyful, assertive, inspirational, sad and humorous all at once.

In Home and Belonging, the reader learns a little about the cultures of the women and those of their husbands, the hospitality and generosity of Nigerians, bad roads and the notorious Lagos traffic. On Page 95, Astrid Clarke narrates how she walked from Marina to Ijora Causeway and how people would get on buses through the windows.

Each story is well organised, detailed and accurate with dates. Some of the events took place in the 1960s and 70s, yet are so accurate as though they just happened. The women, some in their 70s and 80s, must have great memories and excellent journaling ability.

One minute you have your heart in your mouth, the next, you are laughing your head off, and the next you are crying.

The reader can feel the adrenalin rush felt by Umolu during the pogrom in the north when her Igbo husband, a senior engineer at the Kainji Dam camp, was marked for elimination and their escape; Pat Kanu and her civil war experience; Natalia Anigbogu, dealing with snakes in Nigeria instead of the dolphins she was used to back in Russia; Veronica dropping her jeans trousers and tops for skirts because according to her mother-in-law, women who wore jeans trousers were associated with armed robbers. Agness Agomuo said her mother fainted on seeing her husband because she had never seen any non-Indian. Joanne Iheukumere recounted how she burst into tears on realising that she was expected to kill the three live fish her husband bought for dinner.

On Page 107, Kathleen Gula shares her experience living in a mud house with no electricity, seeing a flying snake and other snakes.

Some of the narratives are laced with humour. The reader may find him\herself laughing out loud. For instance, Kathleen Gula recounts how she would go on ward rounds and see the patient lying under the bed while the relative is on the bed. They wondered why the ‘White Sister’ didn’t know that the younger person respects the older even if the younger is the patient; how a visitor drank the tea she served him and ate the tea bag!

Kenna shared her experience while in Zambia; how her pressure cooker exploded and the beans stuck to the ceiling.

Megan Olusanya first ate pounded yam and vegetable soup and loved it. The next day, she requested for yam flour thinking pounded yam was made from yam flour. She got amala and began to cry.
Eliane Mbodwam said she didn’t understand what her cook meant when she asked if she should ‘kill the potatoes’ on fire.

Sarah Chuwang shares her experience as a Nigerian politician’s wife, the Buhari coup and the detention of her husband alongside other politicians and the search of her home by the secret police, SSS.

She describes Nigerians as generally good people, ‘willing to suffer a lot of stress to save a few naira, have great respect for women in distress, great businessmen and women who will go out of their way to build customer loyalty.’

These stories show that humans are the same everywhere – white, red, or black. No need for discrimination. Nigeria was a very humane society in those days. Kathleen Gula recounted how Moslem neighbours protected them in 2004 when terrorists came to burn down their house.

Relationships, family and friends matter. The women refer to themselves as sisters and devoted a page to pay tribute to their departed members.

Apart from some typographical errors and a few omissions, the book is well written. Available in bookshops in Lagos, Abuja, Jos and on Amazon, Home and Belonging is a must-read. It has something for all – the sad, depressed, foreign women who are married or planning to marry Nigerian men and relocate to Nigeria and those who want to learn about Nigeria, will find it helpful. One notable thing in the stories is the way the women were willing to adapt and contribute to their new environment and culture.

Vanguard News