Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself - George Bernard Shaw
Diri has created and recreated himself. He was born in a small village in South-East Nigeria where both his parents hailed from. They were part of the Igbo (or Ibo) tribe, one of the major ethnic groups in the country. His father, a Railway Corporation employee suddenly died when he was in final year at the University putting the weight of raising him and his two younger siblings squarely on the mother's shoulders.
To Whom Much is Given...
The original plan was for Diri to study for his Masters degree in the United States of America but his father's death seemed to have put an end to that dream. His mother, a determined woman, sold their city home and moved to their country home. She combined the proceeds to enable her send Diri to continue his studies and she also started a small shop in her hometown to help cater for her and her two younger children.
Diri did not find it easy with his studies because he had to work to meet up with fees and upkeep. And he barely did. So when an opportunity came to join the US Marines, he jumped at the opportunity.
The only problem was she could not tell his mom that he dropped out of school to join the army. Her blood pressure would hit the roof, he thought. Instead he told her that he worked for a man called Uncle Sam's company called Semper Fi. She wanted to know what it meant and he explained the meaning of the words.
After two tours in Afghanistan, he was discharged for minor medical reasons. He often thought how long the road was that brought him here but he was not quite satisfied yet so he enrolled once more to complete his education. That was where he met Angela. Angela and Diri had so many things in common. Apart from being in the same class at Claflin University, they were both Nigerians.
In spite of all they shared, they both got to this point in their lives through totally different paths. Angela's father married an American when he travelled to the US years ago for studies and settled there. When Angela's grandparents got older, it became necessary for them to come over and stay with their son and his family. So, even though Angela had never visited Nigeria, she had learned more about the languages, cultures and people than most people. She could not wait to introduce Diri to her family.
Since the first day Diri attended a toxicology class together, he had only eyes for her. For the next couple of weeks, he looked for her everywhere he went. In the grocery stores, cafeteria, classes and so on. He was about giving up thinking she might have been a figment of his imagination when unexpectedly, she appeared before him. She wore jeans and a short t-shirt that showed off her flat tummy. He immediately set out to meet and talk to her when instead he fell for her.
He was just a few steps away from her when he slipped on the slippery tiles. He could not recover his foot grip on the floor and it seemed that the more he tried, the more exaggerated his fall so he gave up trying to save himself and landed on his butt with his books and apple scattered all over the floor.
Oh, troubles never singly come...
She bent down to help him gather his things and pick his apple. "Well, if you have the presence of mind to quote Sir Edgar Allan Poe, I suppose you're alright," she said, smiling down at him. He made no attempts to get up. Instead he pretended to frown.
He sat up on the tiles. "You're far too unkind, young lady," he said. "Give the guy a break: I just fell for you!"
She lost all composure, dropped his books and sat there on the floor with him, laughing. Other students passing by stared at them and wondered if they had lost their wits.
"Fair enough. Nobody has fallen on their butt for me before and I'm not with my glasses so I can read up the appropriate reaction, so will it be okay if I told you sorry?" she asked.
He propped himself up with one hand and helped her up too. "Knowing that you know that I fell for you is good enough for me."
As if they had planned it before then, they walked together out of the building, to the sidewalks, to chairs under a tree where they sat down. They talked about their field of study, the government, the fact of climate change, the nature of climate change. They talked about their families and when they discovered they share the same heritage, time stood still for both of them. They couldn't quite get enough of each other. It was getting dark when Diri suggested she better get going. He walked her to her apartment right outside the South-west part of the school.
They were in the process of saying goodbye when she realised he was a long way from his apartment so she suggested that it was only fair to walk him back at least half-way. He agreed only for them to get there and he decided it wasn't right to let her walk the dark streets so he took her back to her apartment and insisted she should stay and let him go. We are behaving like damn teenagers, he thought. But no other thoughts crossed his mind that night except her face, her hair, the way her mouth curved when she laughed.
Angela and Diri planned that they would have thanksgiving dinner with Angela's family. Neither of them could wait for that day. It finally came. The whole family was there. Angela's paternal grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Kanene, her maternal grandmother Mrs. Demetria Johnson, her parents Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, her elder brother John, her twin younger sisters Jenna and Jane. In spite of their numbers, Diri felt at home with Angela by his side.
In the course of the conversations and introductions, the Kanene's discovered that Angela and Diri were in fact cousins!
"I hope you two have not had any... relations," said Mama Kanene as she continued to carve the turkey. No one answered. Angela and Diri had many questions in their minds but whether the two of them would stay together wasn't one of them.
They both knew the culture of how their people would go back to generations to see if two people who want to be in a romantic relationship had any common ancestors. Personally Angela found the tradition preposterous. In Europe and so many other parts of the world, third cousins and even second cousins marry all the time. Now, it is not even as if there is talk of marriage. Relations, my foot, she thought.
It turned out that Diri's mother was married from the Mrs. Kanene's extended Ajalla family. From the short genealogy lecture she rendered, Ajalla family had two branches started by Oge and Ote. She was from the Oge branch and Diri's mother was from the Ote branch.
"Grandma, I have a question," Angela said. "What level of cousins are we? Like first, second, third, fourth, fifth?"
"I can't quite say but you both are related, full stop, end of discussion."
The conversations grew cold but Diri was determined to get to the root of the matter. If anything, the information he just received made him more determined to marry Diri and more urgently too. After dinner he called aside Mr. Kanene, who had been silent most of the dinner, and asked his opinion. He promised to talk to his wife on his behalf but assured him that if there would be issues, it would come from the village elders. However, if they were not told the connection upon inquiry, most of the elders there present may be too young to make the connected since the relationship was too far removed to matter.
Diri quickly made a dinner arrangement with Angela where he proposed amidst his friends and her friends, amidst smiles, handshakes, hugs, pageantry, camaraderie and romance. Angela felt more special than she had ever felt and she said Yes!.
The Way of Happy Couples...
American weddings are pretty simple and straightforward. No matter how you look at it, an Igbo wedding is complex and takes time! There is no way you can conclude it in one day. Diri has always felt that whoever designed the process had no intention of making it easy. There were four stages, most of which were expected to happen in the village or hometown from which the girl originated.
The first stage required Diri's kinsmen to visit Angela and kinsmen. It did not matter that they both lived far away. The object of this visit was to tell the bride-to-be family of the intention of their son to marry their daughter. The answer to this request will come on their next visit, after the bride family had done their genealogical investigations and ensured that the groom family was of good moral standing. On this second stage, the bride, if available, would be asked to confirm her willingness to be part of the union.
The third and fourth stage are the wedding ceremonies and the Visiting whereby the bride's people would visit the place where their daughter married and give her gifts that would enable her build her new home. It was the first and second part that Diri needed most. As Papa Kanene predicted, the elders were too young to make the connection.
Diri once asked the repercussions, if any, of ignoring the elders and getting married without their blessings. He was surprised at the list of issues associated with that, the least of which is that the union would not be recognised by the kinsmen forever.
Once the second stage passed successfully, it was time for the whole family to return home and have the traditional wedding. Diri's mother had seen pictures of Angela but she misjudged the lightness of her skin. As soon as they came home, she called her son aside, "Did you say that this girl is not Oyibo (Caucasian)?"
Diri had to laugh. "No mommy", he responded. He never got around to calling her mom anything else. "Mommy, ichoo juo ya. O na asu kwa Igbo (Mommy, you can ask her yourself. She is fluent in Igbo).
Everyone was surprised to see the bond formed between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law law. Diri was very pleased. It hurt him that he had to leave his family again to return to the states but he consoled himself that it was just a matter of time before he was with them again.
Diri's mother was sad to see him go but he promised he would be back soon.
"Semper Fi? " she asked.
"Semper Fi," Diri replied.
All images were obtained from a free source
Authored by @churchboy