Mrs Annie Odediran is Chinese but grew up in Malaysia as a Buddhist. She converted to Christianity as a student in Australia, which was also where she met her Nigerian would-be husband for the first time in 1982. After he returned to Nigeria, they continued their relationship long distance via letters and phone calls. After opposition from both sides of the family mainly from her family, the couple got married in 1988.Over 25 years later, Mrs Odediran, an optometrist, is still married to her Nigerian husband – a now retired United Nations Children’s Fund United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) staff member. She speaks with Nigerian Tribune on her background, marriage, the challenges of her marriage and how she has made a success of it.
Can you let us into your background?
I’m a . I’m from a non-Christian home but there was a small population of Christians there. Most were Buddhists, so there were many temples where idols were worshipped. Buddhism is an ancient religion while Christianity was regarded as Western religion. I lost my mother as a teenager, my father therefore took another wife. My father is a businessman and also runs a big farm, so we were quite comfortable. He spent his money mainly on educating us.
How did you meet your spouse?
I became a Christian when I went to Australia in 1981 for my A’Level studies. In 1982, I was in Brisbane, where I studied Optometry while he studied Public Health Engineering. We both belonged to Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF) and he was the president. The fellowship held its convention at the time we were rounding off our courses. We were in the dining room and I wasn’t feeling fine, I therefore asked him for a pain reliever which he gave me. That was the first time we held a close gaze. I felt a strange feeling within me and his thought didn’t leave me. It was same with him. He later told me his mind but what got him confused was the fact that he was coming back to Nigeria a week after. Since I have learnt to hear from God, I prayed and He gave me Psalm 112 as a confirmation and then I knew there was no going back. My profession was then in great demand in Brisbane. I therefore got employed immediately after graduating. We thus got in touch through mails and phone calls.
Didn’t you entertain any fear marrying someone outside your country and continent?
God gave me a word in Psalms 45 and I held on to this. It was a lot of stress because I didn’t have the support of my family. My maternal grandmother on her part was concerned about the distance. The Bible was what gave me comfort.
How did your family receive the news?
I wrote my dad and asked, ‘Is it okay or alright if I marry a non-Chinese and non- white?’ I intentionally didn’t say African or Nigerian. He replied ‘Please consider very well.’ He later sent my aunties to me in Brisbane to discourage me. My father was very authoritative. He later came, asked me to resign and come back to our town, Penang in Malaysia. Back home, my family members and relatives kept on trying to persuade me to let go of the relationship. They made jest of African black skin and said their lips were thick and they were hungry. They referred to my white skin as milk and my husband as coffee. They also taunted me that no children of mine would look like me.
What effect did this have on your relationship?
We were still getting in touch and my dad knew this. I sometimes spoke with him on the phone. My dad never stopped or scolded me. My father didn’t actually understand English Language and so didn’t understand what I was saying. I came to Nigeria in 1987 to pay him a visit. I told everyone else except my dad and stepmother. My husband was then staying at 1004 in Lagos. It was during this visit that he has got a job with the United Nations Children’s Fund United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), after working for some few years with the Lagos State government. We decided to get married, and so we prayed about it and God gave us middle of January, precisely January 16 the following year, as our wedding date.
What was your husband’s family reaction to his choice of you?
His father asked him if there was no other person in Nigeria he could marry. I met some of his siblings and we were cautious in the way we related.
How did the wedding go?
We had it in our home church in Penang. None of my family members attended. My father bribed my two sisters in New Zealand with money so as not to attend. Only my aunty and her four children attended and she came back the next day to the hotel where we stayed weeping that she was scolded by other family members.
How long did it take your dad in particular to come to terms with your choice of husband?
I was writing him to give him update about us though he never replied. Even while in Australia, he never replied my letters aside the one I wrote on the choice of my husband. I actually never experienced the love of a father. Two years after our wedding, I travelled home and stayed in my uncle’s hotel. I had our first child with me. My dad also came in to see my uncle. On sighting me, he avoided me. Again, while on a visit to my sister in Singapore, I tried to speak with him on phone but he hung up. In December 1993 which was our daughter’s fifth birthday, the ice was finally broken. He held a reception for us and invited relatives.
How did your spouse and father relate?
They shook hands but couldn’t communicate because as I said, my father didn’t understand English Language, but I remember that my husband helped iron my father’s shirts.
What were the things you found strange on getting to Nigeria?
We were then living in Ketu in Lagos and the way people run after molue, sell by the roadside, irregular power supply and having to carry buckets to fetch water due to lack of water supply, the sandy paths and untarred roads were somehow strange to me. But then, with the kind of upbringing I had, I could adapt to any situation. Another is the family member issue. Being the first child, he had to bear the responsibility of training his siblings and attend to some other needs or demands of his family.
Where is your spouse from?
Odeyinka in Osun State. His mother is from Apomu also in Osun State.
Have you ever been to these places?
Yes. We pay them visits and even take the children along. We also go to Gbongan, Ipetumodu and Ikire.
How easy was it learning Yoruba language?
I picked quite a bit like greetings especially. My husband taught me how to greet. I did my shopping at Mile 2 market.
How did you interact with the traders?
They call me their husband (oko mi). Some would help bring the stuffs to me so that I could make my choice. I remember a female trader got so excited during one of my shoppings that she carried me and swung me around.
What things did you find interesting?
Partying and blocking of roads. Nigerians do a lot of dancing. In Malaysia you don’t block the roads unless when rituals are being carried out during a burial ceremony.
What were the things you learnt to do?
I learnt to prepare amala, eba, egusi and okro soups, among others.
What about backing of babies?
I didn’t do that because I’m not tall. Our help did that.
What is your favourite Nigerian dish?
Moin moin and pap for breakfast and pounded yam with egusi soup for the other meals.
Can you pound yam?
I did it once but it was actually a little quantity. My husband later bought the pounding machine.
How will you describe a Nigerian man?
I won’t say a Nigerian man but a Christian man. Even though born again, some men have not removed their Nigerian mentality of dealing with women. You shouldn’t treat your wife as a slave. It amazes me when a man or his wife says ’my children’ or ‘my car’ and the like. In marriage, you no longer say ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ but ‘ours’. A man who has the understanding of what marriage entails runs his home in line with the Bible culture and I thank God that through the different Christian trainings we have had, my husband understands this. He protects me in many ways. For example, If we are going to give his parents money, I sometimes sign the cheque.
What thrills you about your spouse?
He’s very caring and he displays this nature not only to his family members, but whoever comes his way.
What other things did you discover about him?
He can also be angry and when he is, he looks stern and wears that cold face.
Where do both of you differ?
He loves visiting but my life is a close-circuit one.
Do you consider your husband romantic?
We are very free with each other; free to express ourselves and make each other to laugh. We are friends to each other.
What has made your marriage work till date?
Openness, commitment, trust, humility, joint decision—even if you don’t agree on an issue, you should exercise patience. But some husbands will say, ‘how can I listen to my wife?’ We pray together on issues and hear from God what steps to take.
Yours was a long distance relationship. Will you encourage your children to do same?
It wasn’t that easy, but then our case is different. We knew each other physically before he came back to Nigeria. But I object to internet friendship because it can be deceitful.
To what extent are your children exposed to the Nigerian lifestyle?
They know how to greet in Yoruba language. When they were young, they sometimes attended occasions in Yoruba traditional outfits.
Do you also attend socials in the traditional wears?
I don’t like iro and buba because you have to tie the wrapper round you. I like it free like the Kaftan or boubou.