Janine Udogu is a Swiss national married to a Nigerian man. While inter-racial marriages are not new what struck me about Janine is her love for her husband’s culture and how she has integrated so seamlessly. This love for her husband and his culture inspired her to learn Igbo language which is no mean feat as well other aspects of the Igbo culture. From this mother of three one can learn that doggedness and determination will always yield fruit and that true love had no boundaries. Read and be inspired.
Janine please tell us about yourself, how you grew up and your educational background:
My name is Janine Udogu. I am 32 years old and the mother of three children. I was born and brought up in Zurich Switzerland. After my high school I went to study psychology for one year but after realizing that this was not for me I quit my university studies and started working as an assistant in various International companies, until I had my twins in 2013. Child Care is very expensive in my country, so my husband and I decided that it would be better for our family if I stayed at home with the kids and raised them myself instead of paying somebody else to do that. Though I miss work sometimes, I feel blessed to get to spend so much time with my children.
You are married to a Nigerian from Anambra state. Tell us when you and your husband got together what challenges did you face from family or friends ?
When I met my husband I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to enter a serious relationship again, but it was love at first sight for him and he insisted to get to know me better. So after months of contact, I realized that he was serious about me and decided to introduce him to my family. Everybody was okay with him being my new partner though they were afraid because I had been disappointed by an African man before who wasnt serious about our relationship. I honestly thought I would never date a black man again, but God had another plan for me. The same goes for my husband. He had been married to a Swiss woman before and the relationship didn’t last. His family in Nigeria now insisted he married an Igbo woman from his tribe to ensure that his children, being the first son of the family, would grow up in Nigeria. They had even already chosen a wife for him and it was actually quite a long process, before they accepted his decision to take me as his wife instead. I had to promise my father-in-law to always be bringing his children home and also show that I’m ready to integrate by learning Igbo and learning how to cook the local food.
A lot of people are reluctant to marry outside their tribe talk less of their tribe, what advice do you have for people dealing with challenges in their inter racial or inter tribal relationships :
I believe a successful interracial marriage, just like every other marriage is based on understanding and commitment.
Understanding: There are some things your partner might be willing to change for you but others he can never do because he was raised differently and because that is how they do things in their culrute. It is very important for a partner to be open to different perspectives and not to take everything personal. Another thing I find very important if you’re married to a person from another culture is to make a big effort to teach each other about your culture expose each other to traditons and talk about how things are done in your place. This way you can open each other’s mind and get more understanding for each other’s actions.
Commitment: Many interracial marriages end in early divorce due to lack of commitment. I believe very strongly that you should only get married, if you can really commit to your partner. This for me means that I not only married my husband but his whole family. Making the vow of bringing my children home and letting them learn about Igbo culture and traditions, not just for fun, but because it is tradition and we want to keep the family of my husband alive. I wouldn’t want my children to be visitors in Nigeria. I want them to know that this is their home as well. My husband on his own part supported me to learn his language and took me along to different Igbo meetings and events. Some men are married to foreign wives but never want them to learn Igbo or take them home. Also there are women who just simply don’t care to learn Igbo or go and visit the In-laws in Nigeria. Personally I believe that such a marriage doesn’t have a future, as every Igbo man I know wants to return to Nigeria when they’re older. So if you are not ready to follow them now you will not be ready to follow them later.
Now, people marrying for papers is quite commonplace, How did you know your husband loved you genuinely?
The time I met my husband, he already had his papers so he was free to choose who he wanted to be with and I never doubted his love for me for one day. But these things are real, and I advise everybody to listen to their instincts, if your partner really loves you then you will know it.
I love how you have embraced the Igbo culture and are learning the language? How have you been able to learn so fast?
I actually have a flair for Languages. Apart from my native language German I speak French, English and Italian and I understand Lingala (Congo). Igbo so far has been the hardest language for me learn. It is very different from my native language and the intonation is so hard to remember. So learning the Igbo language is not just about learning vocabulary, you actually have to memorize how to pronounce the words you’re saying. I tried to learn Igbo with books or material I found online before but I always wanted to learn my husband’s dialect. With the way I tried to learn previously I would want to show him what I learned from the books and he wouldn’t even understand it, so I decided to just start asking him for translations, writing down the words myself and learning them step-by-step. It helped me a lot to expose myself to as much Igbo as possible. Whenever my husband would be speaking on phone, I would carefully listen. I would listen to Igbo music attend Igbo meetings and even watch Igbo movies. However, what helped me most is the fact that my husband started speaking Igbo with our children when they were born and in this way I got to hear Igbo all the time. If you want to learn Igbo my advice to you is to expose yourself to as much of the language as possible.
That’s amazing, well done to you and your husband, so since your husband speaks to the children do they speak as well?
Yes though my husband speaks only Igbo with them they still find it hard to speak it themselves, but they understand everything he says.
Apart from the Igbo language you have also embraced the Igbo and indeed the several aspect of the Nigerian and the African culture, I have seen pictures of you backing your baby for instance. What do you love most about our culture?
To answer your question, I really actually love everything about the Igbo culture, because it is very different from my own. People are very ambitious, hardworking, and confident and always willing to help a friend in need. They stand up for their rights and are not intimidated by others. I feel inspired by their way of living close together with their family and connecting to their Roots. No matter where you go in this world you will always find Igbos building a community and getting together on a regular basis to live and celebrate their culture. Igbos are proud of who they are and if you ask them, almost everyone will tell you that in their next life they would want to be born Igbo again.
And when it comes to backing your child, I was really impressed by this simple and effective way of baby wearing. I actually brought along my stroller to Nigeria thinking that it would help me to walk around in the village, but facing all the sandy roads, I decided it would be better for me to test the rural way of baby wearing, and that was the beginning of a love story. I was so impressed by this very simple but effective way of carrying a child, that I decided to bring some of the wrappers to Europe and show them to my friends. I don’t know why we like to make things more complicated here in Europe sometimes, instead of using this very effective method of carrying a child, we prefer to buy huge backpacks or special strollers for our children. I think this is just one thing we could learn from the Igbo and indeed the African people among many other things.
Lets talk about your initiative called Nigerian Heroes, what inspired that?
In 2013 when my husband and I got married in church in his village in Nigeria none of my family members wanted to attend the wedding. It was not because they didn’t agree with my decision, but because they were afraid of what they read in the media about Nigeria. They thought Boko Haram was everywhere and kidnapping and armed robbery was a daily business and I don’t blame them. The media only focuses on the “bad news” andyou don’t get to read about the good things Nigeria has to offer. I was very disappointed as this was the most important day of my life and I would have done a lot to have them there. After this experience, I decided I had to try and change the way people perceive Nigeria and its people. This project was not only meant for foreigners, because I also encountered a lot of prejudice within Nigerians themselves. If I could find a way to show Nigerians and the world that they, no matter from which tribe they are from, are humans just like me and you, I would be able to change people’s perspectives. So I started out portraying everyday people from Nigeria, talking about their stories their Inspirations their challenges in life and how they overcame them, with the hope I would be able to inspire others to believe in themselves, work hard and change the way Nigerians are seen by the world and by themselves.
How many heroes have you found over time and how has the initiative been received?
Honestly I never counted them but it is not hard to find them, because everybody can be a hero, and everybody can be on my page. Even if you might not know it, your story can be an inspiration to somebody else. So I don’t select people by what they have achieved, or who they are, I actually reach out to as many people as possible and portrait them for my project. It is hard at times to get people to open up, because a lot of them wouldn’t want others to know about their struggles, but I hope that with time and with more views on my page, this will get better.
Earlier you spoke about every Igbo man you know wanting to come home at some point, do you plans to move to Nigeria?
Absolutely. My husband has always made it very clear to me, that he wouldn’t want to grow old in another country and that his wish is to go back and live in Nigeria. Though we don’t have an exact date yet, we would like to return to Nigeria when our children are still children, so that they could attend the local schools and integrate well within the community.
How do you juggle being a wife and mother and how do you unwind?
I just do it. There’s no real answer to this question, everyday is about organizing, setting priorities, and giving your 100% to get your things done. For relaxation spending a night out with my husband or meeting with friends helps me relax from everyday stress.
Thanks Janine its been great talking to you.