From The Pen of a Foreign Mate…

by Sula Joy

My Nigerian mate has informed me that in Nigerian culture, despite the teachings of the bible (Genesis 2:24), a man does not leave his family and cleave to his wife so that they may be one flesh, the wife leaves everything and cleaves to him for dear life. America is not Nigeria. I don’t say that to assert some first-world, American supremacy platform. I say that because just as Nigerians have their culture and ideals, so do we. Women here seek professional and social distinction on their own terms, not as defined by men. Unlike Nigerian women, we have status independent of men.

As an African-American woman, born and raised in the United States, who is currently involved in a committed relationship with a Nigerian man, I have a unique perspective on the “foreign wives” discussions that often pepper this and other websites, while noticeably lacking the voice of a “foreign partner”.

Unlike Nigerian culture which is fixed and static among tribes and communities, deeply-entrenched in centuries of paternalistic tradition, American culture is broad and varied. American culture varies by community and communities based on religion, education, geography, etc. Lest I launch into an anthropological and sociological study, suffice it to say, all women are not alike and their views of family and community may approximate Nigerian values or totally oppose them. Nigerian culture dictates that a woman’s standing in society is determined by the men in her life. She is either daughter or wife. As daughter, her father’s culture and traditions are her own. As a wife, her husband’s traditions and family become her own and take pride of place even above her mother who birthed her and her brothers and sisters from the same womb.

My family consists of my mother, aunts, nieces and nephews, as the men in our family have passed on. I appreciate the companionship of a man, was taught how to be treated and what to expect from men by the strong and nurturing men in my family, and look forward to marriage and having children of my own. But that’s just it. I have my own family and my own ideas of expanding our family. We have countless family traditions, from holiday spreads and marathon game nights to church leadership and fellowship. To criticize a nation of women because they do not seem poised to abandon their upbringing and immerse themselves in every aspect of a culture that is foreign to them is condescending and presumptuous. When an American woman is dating ANY man, she understands as he must, that just as he has a way of life that is familiar and custom to him, she too has a history and background. Unless religion or family tradition dictates that a woman be subsumed and defined by her husband, the idea that I and many American women know, is the weaving together of different cultures and traditions. Thanksgiving with my family, Christmas with the in-laws.

So, I am baffled by the constant dialogue among Nigerians in America about “foreign women” who reject Nigeria. Many Nigerian-American men and their families have cast American women as snobbish of third-world living and disdainful of Nigeria. We didn’t come to Nigeria and turn down our noses. Nigerian men have sought out American soil, established citizenship and declared to their mates the intent for the U.S. to be home. These men have paid thousands for “greencard marriages” and any number of other efforts to be declared U.S. citizens and gain the prized American passport, but then take exception when women in America do not instantly and unquestioningly embrace the Nigeria that they have left behind. Will I attend a homegoing celebration or wedding ceremony in Nigeria with my spouse? Sure. Will I blindly agree to follow my spouse to his homeland and live there for an indeterminable period because that’s where he chooses to go? No. I am an American. I say that not to be arrogant or rude. I say that because it is a fact. My family is here and this is where I have chosen to make my life. To expect someone to uproot her profession and leave her family support system to relocate to a foreign land of a foreign tongue, not only to visit, but to live, is itself conceited.

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thegiftedhands April 25, 2010 - 10:44 pm

Lovely post and Leah I think the issue of attending the same church should not be looked at from the perspective that he’s trying to boss over you. Things like attending same church and any other activity that involves the whole family helps family bond. With you, your husband and kids attending the same church, the family, i think, can easily discuss church related activities easily. If you had ever lived at a place with your home of origin far away over the Atlantic ocean, you will have an idea why he spends so much time on the phone. You had a good point by referencing the bible but you should as well be aware that the bible specifically states that a man is head over a woman. This is not to mean that women are less superior to men. The culture clash is a big issue no doubt and too much should not be expected from both parties within a limited time frame. One last thing Leah, when you say ‘his family seems more important to him than his son and I are’ is it not that you have written that because you’ve not seen him mold every Nigerian cultural traits left in him and flush them down the toilet.

Crystal December 16, 2009 - 3:55 pm


Leah Kyle November 29, 2009 - 11:55 pm

Thanks for writing this article. I find my husband telling me I must follow him to his church because I am his wife and he my husband. His family seems more important to him than his son and I are. His future seems to be back in Nigeria. I thought he wanted to come to Canada to live with me here and learn about our culture, but instead he is expecting me to learn his, and yet he doesnt even teach me how. His mind is always in Nigeria, as he calls them constantly. I really dont know what to do at all anymore. I love him alot, but we are so different from head to toe. The bible does say the husband is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, but you are right when you say that the wife leaves everything and cleaves to him for dear life when married to a Nigerian man.

Noni November 29, 2009 - 2:27 pm

I look forward to the responses to this!

But one thing the article fails to point out is that non-Nigerians have something that those entrenched in their own culture and societal norms don’t have; the have a choice. Not just any kind of choice, but the type that allows people to opt in or opt out, take what they want and reject what they don’t want. There are very few who would be offended by these decisions and there are few or no no repercussions. Unless one is brought up in the kind of family that is very open to different ways of doing things or who allow that kind of freedom, there are few options available to them that wouldn’t involve sacrificing some kind of relationship with others.

Culture can be good in some ways and crippling in others. Unfortunately it’s also a great balancing act that few outside can understand or appreciate.


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