The first time I saw the name 'Mercy Haruna - Okere', I knew that I'd love to interview her and hear her inter ethnic story especially because I had assumed that the name Haruna was somewhat affiliated to the Northern part of Nigeria. So after many months of looking forward to this feature (and actually meeting her in person!), I'm glad I can finally share her and Chris' lovely story and oh-so-beautiful photos of their family.
Mercy is Igala from Kogi State and Christian is Ndoki/Igbo from Rivers and Abia State. They've been married for four years now and currently live in Kent with their beautiful 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
According to Mercy "Chris was fascinated by the fact that I was born in his home city, Port Harcourt (PH) and I think I fell in love with his bald head… #TeamBaldie". They both grew up around ethnic and racial diversity, and have succeeded in having a beautiful union despite inter-cultural differences. They share their experiences with us - about the beauty and challenges of inter-ethnic unions - one of which for them, is Mercy's inability to appreciate some Chris' favourite food combinations!
Growing up and based on your experiences, and those around you, what did you think of inter-ethnic unions? Was yours intentional or just pure co-incidence?
Chris: Mercy’s parents are from the same village and are very culture proud so even if she grew up seeing inter-ethnic marriages some even very close to home (her mum’s immediate younger brother’s wife is Yoruba), she still grew up hearing a lot of “You must marry from home” kind of conversations. My own experience is slightly different. My own parents are from different states and I grew up seeing a lot of inter-ethnic marriages. My next-door neighbour was an Okrika woman married to a Yoruba man. I never really heard anything against inter-ethnic marriages. Despite our backgrounds, we both didn’t seek to marry anyone from any particular ethnic group. We met and fell in love and that was that.
How they Met, Dating & the Proposal
- Mercy: We met at a party in London. I had just moved here to study and Chris had been living here for a few a years already. We were just friends initially. Ok we weren’t just friends, we really liked each other but it wasn’t time for a serious relationship until 2 years later. We courted from 2010 to 2013. There wasn't really a proposal at first. We were like “Hey wanna get married? Yeah let’s get married” LOL! The ring came later after he had met my parents. It took ages for them to accept him as you can imagine. The process wasn’t without hurdles because of this whole ethnic thing but I think also because I’m my parent’s only daughter and they are super protective of me. What parent isn’t anyway?
Cultural differences & Dating Challenges
- Chris: The biggest challenge was getting Mercy’s parents to accept me. My family welcomed her instantly. Her parents were very standoffish at first because they genuinely would have preferred she married an Igala guy. But once they got to know me, they welcomed me with open arms and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. To be honest, there haven’t been any major cultural clashes of any sort and we pray it always remains that way.
Planning and Inter- Ethnic Wedding
- Surprisingly, we didn’t find any major differences in marriage practices in our cultures or perhaps it’s the way the families chose to conduct things. Everything was pretty smooth and there were more similarities than differences. We focused on our faith, Christianity, which is what really binds us together. We ended up having a small Introduction in Paris, a registry in London and Traditional and a pretty average sized White Wedding (for a Nigerian wedding anyway) in Abuja. I’d say it was more of a modern multicultural Nigerian wedding.
Most intriguing things about your partner’s culture? One thing you'd strike out if you had the chance?
- Mercy: I think for me the thing that I love most about Chris’s culture so far has got to be the food. The very rich soups are so different from what I grew up eating. Chris hasn’t really experienced much from my culture. We’ve never even been to each other’s villages yet. The way we live out here in the UK, there is so much less emphasis on individual culture and more on a general Nigerian identity. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all? Maybe next time we visit Nigeria, we’ll really have a taste of each other’s culture. We are really looking forward to experiencing it all with the kids.
Trying new foods - the highs & lows
- Chris: Mercy’s favourite soup is now Ukazi/Afang with lots of Issam (Periwinkes). The first time she tried it was at my house cooked by my mum. It’s now a regular soup in our home. I really enjoyed Obo-Igogo (Sesame seed soup) made by Mercy’s mum when she came for omugwo. I also love the dried fish from Mercy’s state, so delicious! Mercy really dislikes Isi Ewu and Snails…she says yuck! And she finds the combination of bread and akara and boli and fish really strange. Apparently akara should be eaten with pap and boli with groundnuts. LOL! I tried Oro-Dudu (some kind of blackish draw soup) and I found it bizarre.
Naming the Kids
- Mercy: I love Igbo names so I was happy to go with Igbo names first with Igala middle names. Our son’s Igbo name is Chidubem (God lead me) and his Igala name is Ojochebomi (God is my shield). Our daughter is called Amarachi (Grace of God) and Ateko-Ojo (God’s help). We decided to go for one Igala and one Igbo name for the culture!
What practical steps would you hope to take to ensure your kids are exposed to the good sides of both cultures? And how would they learn the language?
- Ah, this is truly a tough but not impossible one! So far we’re not doing much. I speak Igala and Chris and his family speak Igbo to them. Going forward we hope to expose them more to our cultures through books, visiting Nigeria and more. They’ll definitely know where they’re from. I sincerely hope they’ve inherited my flare for languages at least so that they can understand and speak all!
Most challenging aspect of being in an Inter-Ethnic Marriage?
- So far, nothing at all to be frank. Maybe it’s because we live in the UK but our individual cultures don’t play such a huge role in our marriage. The only minor con is that we have only one language between us, because of that we end up speaking Pidgin a lot! That’s fun too!
Best part of being in an Inter-Ethnic Marriage?
- Multiculturalism! Our children are blessed to have such a rich heritage. Plus if we’re all mixed, we don’t see how tribalism will continue to be a thing.
Three pieces of marriage advice for new couples
- Focus on similarities rather than differences. Seek to unite rather than divide.
- No ethnic group is superior or inferior, that’s just ridiculous!
- Keep an open mind, ALWAYS! Be open to learn.
Final words for those biased towards certain ethnic groups
- Just like racism, tribalism makes no sense. No one is superior or inferior. You’d be surprised that you have a lot more in common than not. Open your mind and your heart to the possibilities. You just might be very pleasantly surprised.
I enjoyed this piece a lot and loved seeing their transformation through the photos. One thing that strikes me each time about this feature is the appreciation and/or critique of the food from a partner's ethnic group. Let me know your thoughts on this one!
pS: Mercy is a motherhood and family photographer & blogger. Check out her website at www.immeiko.com