Several friends of mine are going through some trials in their marriages. This is not of itself an unusual phenomenon. But we are African women and our story needs to be told. Our experiences may or may not be similar to yours. The common threads however are the peculiar challenges faced by African women married to African men in Diaspora, far away from the context of family and home. Far away from the checks and balances that make us who we are: – the wise counsel of our elders, the massive support of our mothers and sisters, the refuge of our family compound. These are our stories.
Foluke’s Story (real name withheld)
It has been twenty years. Twenty not so good years. Twenty years of hoping something would change. That it would somehow get better. It never did. Now he has put the house on the market and taken off to Florida to speculate on the real estate market. It was an awful marriage, but where I come from, you did not just get divorced because you were miserable. There are no pre-nups and no parade of public indignation if he has an affair. Infidelity was not an absolute reason to quit the marriage. He had to be hitting you on a regular basis. One good beating, though reprehensible and frowned upon, being a sign of 'lack of self control' on the man's part, would not justify walking away either. He had to be a recalcitrant wife beater. Sheer misery is therefore very low on the list of divorce worthy reasons. Our mothers traditionally bore worse than emotional scars and yet, stayed put. So did I. Until now.
The year was 1988, in Ibadan, Nigeria, and I was young, in love and excited. A young man had come all the way from the US to enquire about me! We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. It was not unusual for our men to spend many years abroad, possibly marry an ‘Akata’ (Editor's note: an expression for non-African lady) for papers, become legal residents, get divorced, and finally come looking for a ‘home girl’. I am ashamed to say the details of his first marriage did not concern me at the time. Poor woman, whoever she was, I ignorantly dismissed her because, well, she was an Akata.
He was pleasant, charming, attentive, generous, and open about his past, eager to start a new life together. He was everything boyfriends are before they become husbands. It was a whirlwind courtship. Soon immigration issues intervened and kept us apart for five long years. Through it all, his passion and enthusiasm never seemed to wane. This strengthened my resolve to be the best wife ever. After many glitches and delays, we began our new life together.
The cracks appeared almost immediately...