The civil engineer and the teacher met as students in secondary school when they used to hang out by playing table tennis together. Although their parents were friends, they were shocked to discover that their children had been seeing each other to the point of planning to get married. Though they gave their blessings when they found out that they were serious, they all had their fears. In fact, the concern raised by one of the parents became their reality in marriage. In this first part of the interview with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, in Abuja, the couple marriage counselors with the Roman Catholic Church, share, with our readers, their experiences in the marital journey which started after their wedding in October, 1982. Excerpts:
While we thank God for keeping you together as husband and wife all these years, could you tell us how you met before two of you got married?
Husband: It’s a bit long because it is not when we met that we decided to talk about marriage. We met many years before as young schoolchildren, I was in secondary school. I must have been in Form 3 and she was in Form 2 in another school. But we used to see each other because her father was the Vice Principal of my school. So she used to come for holidays to stay with her parents. That’s was when I started seeing her. That’s why I said it’s a long story because that wasn’t when the idea of marriage came. The parents were friends with my own parents and when we met in the school compound, we used to play table tennis together. The idea to marry each other came long after I had left that particular school. She was in another school but I was already in 300 level in the university.
Was it the same thing with you, or are there details you would like to add, at least on your own part?
Wife: It’s the same thing. I thank God for this question; it is very interesting. Like my husband rightly said, it’s a long story. When we met we were schoolmates playing table tennis ball together because I had the opportunity of having a tennis court or table of my own on which I used to play together with other students. But the idea of getting married came up when I was in teachers training institute. He visited the school on behalf of someone’s friend with a letter to give to the person. Fortunately, I was called to receive the letter from him because the person in question was my roommate and I discovered he was someone I knew. So we started talking. I took the letter from him for my roommate and escorted him out of the school. From there we started exchanging gifts and handkerchiefs. That was how love was being shared in those days.
Was there any opposition from anywhere, relatives, friends, concerning your marriage?
Husband: Well, it might not have been an opposition per say but sympathy. Her mother was concerned about our family background. I come from a family of 14 and she is from a family of eight and her mother thought that because of the issue of people training their siblings from that part of the country, she felt we were going to suffer a lot training others. So she raised this concern at that early part of our relationship and indeed, we did suffer a lot. But love was more important than this issue she was raising.
Wife: There was no opposition but what she said came to light later because, we suffered indeed because he was handed like five people from his family to train and it continued like that. But because my mother had already expressed her concern, we swallowed our pride and suffered it together in silence.
What made you decide to go for your wife out of the many ladies available for a pick within that period?
Husband: Well, there was no picking of ladies for us to do in our time among my male colleagues. But I think by this time, my mind was already made up because in those days we were already exchanging letters. Post offices were working and so we could exchange letters, feelings and so on. They were no ladies to chase per say. I was in faraway Kaduna and she was in Imo State and after that, she was working. So when the time was ripe, we made contact and exchanged feelings.
What qualities made you choose him above other eligible bachelors or suitors within that period?
Wife: Of course, there were other suitors but because you know what you are looking for…he was very intelligent and more towards meeting what you have in mind to achieve, for a man you want to spend the rest of your life together with. I remember one day my father asked me: what type of man would you want to marry as a teacher? He said I should give him 12 points and I was writing. Then he corrected me and said if you meet a man that has at least half of these qualities will you marry the person? I said no. He said but you have to. The qualities I saw in him were that he was a promising gentleman, very intelligent and when he said something he worked towards actualising it. He was not playing games and till date he still doesn’t know how to play games with his words. That was one of the qualities that made me stay with him and he made me one promise that you are still going to go to school and if you go with me to the North, I will be able to help you to actualise your dream of going to school. So I saw that he was truthful and I decided to stay with him and it turned out to be successful.
How did you propose to her? What exactly did you say to her as to make her accept to marry you?
Husband: In our days, marriage proposal was not this kind of things that they are doing now, asking a woman whether she wants to marry you or not. No. We had other channels, letters to write, postcards to send, birthday cards and on those cards you could write: ‘I love you.’ So I wrote ‘I love you’ on the gifts I sent across to her and she replied with ‘I love you too.’ The proposal was made and accepted. In those days, we married those we knew and loved; you could go and propose to someone you want to love and the person will accept because marriage is the issue. I used to send the cards from Kaduna where I was based and she received them in the school she was teaching in Imo State. She would reply: ‘I love you too.’
What did you say when he proposed? What exactly did he say and what was your reply?
Wife: The exchange of letters went on for one year. One day, we had the opportunity to meet when he came in from Kaduna and he came to my house. He was told where I was teaching in Umeka Primary School, along Aba Road and he came. I was excited to see him. After all that we had been writing in the letters we were able to look at each other but we couldn’t really talk to each other. He was looking at me. I was looking at him. And, after sometime, we went home, cook, and ate. I got an handkerchief and wrote on it: ‘I love you and I will like to marry you.’ He collected it and put it in his pocket and did not say anything. That kept him restless for a while. He would bring out the handkerchief, look at it and put it back. He did that for a while. That was how the proposal started. We started doing a lot of things together. When he was to buy a car he asked what sort of colour I liked. Anything he wanted to buy he would ask me the kind of colour I liked. And, he would mention the colour he also likes before he would get it. So we were doing a lot of things together even though we were not yet married. You know he was always going and coming since he lived in Kaduna. If there is Sallah break he would rush down. Christmas time, he would rush down. We would be in school and the next thing we would see is him and we would stand by his brown car and just be talking. So the next time he came he bought one black shoes for me from Owerri and a brown gown with pleating as well. I still have that shoe till date. That was my Christmas gift for that year. I think it was either 1979 or 1980. He said let’s start talking about our marriage: how do we go about it? So he asked that I accompany him to his parents. Our parents already knew us together as friends when we were students but they didn’t know we were dating. His parents were just looking at us. My mother-in-law was wondering how we met. His parents called him inside and said: ‘you are carrying Ogbonna’s daughter in your car? I don’t want trouble o! What are you people doing?’ He replied: ‘we have not done anything; we are just friends speaking to each other.’ His dad was a frank man. He called me and said: ‘your father is my friend and I don’t want any quarrel with him. I don’t want any nonsense from both of you. So please, if what both of you are doing is nonsense, count me out.’
That’s interesting because parents were known to set up their children in your time so your parents didn’t set you up?
Wife: No, they didn’t. We found ourselves and they were surprised to see us together and to know that we had been dating. They were not happy because they did not want any trouble. Eventually we went to my parents because his parents said: ‘take her to her parents’ house and drop her there.’ First, we went to my mother’s shop in the market because she used to sell clothes. He stayed with my mother and discussed and they were both laughing because my mother is more understanding. When we finished with her, we went to the house to meet my dad. We were looking at him but we couldn’t say anything and my dad was very restless. So it was after he left that my dad called me into the room and asked me: what are you doing with Megwa’s son and I said: ‘he asked me to marry him.’ And my dad asked why did you not tell us? And I said I was waiting for him to say it properly before I would inform them. He said: ‘okay, you and I would go out on a certain day and have a discussion on what marriage is all about if indeed you want to marry him.’ I didn’t know my mother had her objection on what my husband spoke about earlier. So my father took me out and bought a lot of things for me. He took me to the back of a secondary school hostel, under a huge bitter kola tree and said: ‘you know marriage is like this bitter kola. When you peel and lick it, it’s very sweet but if you chew it, it’s very bitter. But you can still chew and swallow it and when you swallow it, it cures.’ We had a long discussion with my dad and then went home. So later I met him and I told him what my parents said and their concerns and he told me what his parents said. But eventually we forged ahead and got married (to be continued next week).