Are you in an Multicultural Marriage / Relationship?
Ten years ago I would have bet my left lung that we would never move to Nigeria. Sure my husband is Nigerian but we met in England and his whole family was here at the time. ‘Home’ was here in England and the idea of settling anywhere else just a nebulous reality.
Perhaps that’s the clincher though for people in an multicultural marriage. When you marry someone who originates from somewhere else, the concept of ‘home’ represents different things to you and your partner and moving back always remains a possibility.
How to find a home in an interracial marriage?
Three years and two kids into our marriage, my husband started to get those itchy feet that many of his friends and siblings had already succumbed to. The desire to return ‘home’ again, to embrace his identity and show his own children where they come from. The economic opportunities were nothing to turn your nose down to either. So off we went. Sure, it wasn’t my home but I was all for an adventure. I just didn’t have a clue what I was in for.
We moved to Nigeria in 2013, full of hopes of better opportunities in what was (at the time) a growing economy and a supportive extended family waiting for us.
The latter proved more than I could have asked for. The former, much less promising and harder work than we’d anticipated.
With two young children in any relationship let alone an multicultural marriage/ interracial relationship, it was tough.
I had been used to being quite independent over here. Although England isn’t my home country, it was similar enough to Canada that I’d been able to find what I needed, had formed a community around me and could function, for the most part, independently.
In Nigeria however, I felt very out of my league. It’s not that I hadn’t travelled before. In fact, I’d lived in Ghana for six months, years earlier following my undergraduate degree. But this seemed different. It wasn’t just me anymore, I had kids to take care of, a husband to consider and in-laws living in close proximity. None of this was a problem in itself, but the context was so different, I remember feeling so alone.
My husband was busy jump starting his business and although he was supportive, he did need to be at work- that was the whole point of us being there. As I contemplated each day’s activities for the children, I was struck by how helpless I actually felt. You couldn’t just look up the local playgroup on the internet, there were few parks and open spaces where you could hang out (and even if you did, the height of the afternoon was too hot and the malaria-carrying mosquitoes were often a concern). In any case, much of what I wanted to do I couldn’t because it either wasn’t safe (Nigeria is plagued with many security issues and going out as a foreigner with little knowledge of where I was going and by myself would have been a recipe for disaster), too far or it was too hot to go there at that time of day.
I began to get swallowed up into that hole of despair, uniquely identified as stage 3 of the culture shock pendulum.
I blamed my husband for everything that went wrong. When the temperature hiked to plus 40 degrees, when the rain flooded our compound so we’d have to drive through water that came up to our side mirrors, when my girls got mosquito bites and we thought there was a threat of malaria, when they got a runny tummy, when the driver left and started sending us threatening texts asking for more money, when we couldn’t recruit another so I took to driving myself (which, if anyone knows anything about Lagos driving, is tough), when we found rats had somehow found a way into the car and had chewed holes in the girls’ car seats, when I couldn’t find a school for my daughter that wasn’t insisting that two year olds should be able to count to 100… the list went on…
I was frustrated, angry and ‘stuck’, feeling as if I’d never find happiness over there and it would never feel like home. I knew something had to change or I’d lose it and for the sake of my relationship with my husband and for my kids, I had to make a change.
I realised that in moving to a different country and one as different as Nigeria, I was still comparing it to England. And for that, I was paying the price. It wasn’t my ‘home’ but it could be.
Slowly, with this realisation, I stopped trying to compare my life in Nigeria to my life in England. I began to appreciate what Nigeria could offer me instead of what it couldn’t. Instead of crying over a £12 punnet of strawberries, I began to buy local fruit and relished the sweet organic taste of fresh watermelon, pineapple, papaya, mangoes and oranges.
In our multicultural marriage, ‘home’ began to take on a new meaning.
Crucially, I met a group of women who became my lifeline. They called themselves Nigerwives: foreign women married to Nigerian men who’d found in each other a sense of sisterhood for the very reasons I’d described. They recognised that they weren’t expats and they were far from local, even though some could have traced their roots back to Nigeria at some point in their gene pool. Instead, all these women had in common was the fact that we all identified with being foreign and were married to Nigerians. But that was all we needed.
In them, I found an outlet for all that I had been feeling towards the country and its differences. They not only understood my feelings but most of all, they were able to offer me community. Eventually, I found a couple of local parks which we frequented almost everyday and playdates became our daily dose of fun. I learned that to find something, it was really through word of mouth so I had tapped into a local community of knowledge. I was now, never lonely.
Eventually, I found a part time job at my daughter’s school. This too, gave me great solace and a community which was my own. When you move to one or the other’s country of origin, it’s hard for the foreign partner not to feel at a disadvantage because nothing is ‘theirs’ so to speak.
In my job, I had my own friends, community and even a little extra money in my pocket so that I could buy those strawberries and not feel guilty. I had made my new ‘home’ a reality.
Eventually I settled into life and discovered that Nigeria’s people and its social life were its main attractions. Not its tourism industry or the cuisine you might find at the local market. It was the people. Our social lives were crammed with invitations to birthday party after birthday party, each one topping the other for the outlandish display of fun for children of all ages. Invitations to weddings, baptisms, engagements and birthdays flew in. It didn’t matter if you knew the bride and groom or not; so long as you knew someone close to the family, you were free to come, bring as many as you like, eat a good meal and dance the night away. Our family was happy.
The experience for us in our multicultural marriage has brought my hubby and I closer, not just because he knows that I can live in his country and survive but because I got an insight into who he is, his family and a lot of understanding into his ‘isms’. I know exactly what he means when he talks about home.
When you meet your partner abroad, it’s easy to think you know him/her because of who they are when they’re in that country. But inevitably, when your partner returns home, another part of them emerges. It’s not to say that my hubby became entirely Nigerian, his experience was fraught with frustrations as well, having lived abroad for almost 20 years and this being his only experience living in his home country as an adult. But it is and remains where he calls ‘home’.
We have no regrets, only broader minds, lifelong friends and a deeper desire to ensure our daughters know their Nigerian home. For me, it highlighted the fact that we are a family of many cultures and no matter where we live, Nigeria is definitely one more place we can authentically call home.
Read more from Mixed.Up.Mama below!
That is a great post! I feel like I will be going through a similar experience myself soon. I hope I grow and adjust as well as you did!
[…] For more about the challenges of being in an intercultural relationship, read 10 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in an Interracial Relationship or Where is Home in an Intercultural Relationship? […]
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Thank you for this post! You posed a great question. I saw my own experience reflected in so much of what you wrote. My husband is Kenyan and I’m American. We met, married, and had daughter #1 in Kenya. Our next two daughters were born in Minnesota. Parenting in Kenya was so remarkably different than parenting in America, both had a totally unique set of joys and challenges!
Hi Christy, I’m so glad our story resonated with you. It sounds like you have a similar one. Minnesota and Kenya- worlds apart but you must be glad you’ve had both experiences!