The past seven days served as a life altering experience for Anne and I, and as with most experiences of this nature, we weren’t expecting it.
A week ago we were introduced to a wonderful couple from Lagos, Nigeria, who were visiting Canada to attend their daughter’s wedding in Ottawa.
Godwin and Joy Ashikwe were very tired from their trip from Africa, a few days of wedding preparations and celebrations, and then a long car ride from Ottawa to our home in Waterloo.
We welcomed them with refreshments and a traditional summer barbecued dinner.
Our daughter Dianna and their son Stephene became engaged this past February, and we have become quite fond of him over the past year and a half. So we were looking forward to meeting his parents – but nervous about it too! I’m sure they were more nervous as they met both of us in turn with handshakes and brief embraces.
For Stephene’s sake, we were determined to greet his parents with genuine warmth and the best hospitality we could muster. Since both Stephene and Dianna recently got new jobs, taking days off to show Joy and Godwin around for a week was not in the cards. Being retired, Anne and I had already volunteered to be their tour guides. None of us had any idea how this was going to work.
As it turned out, language wasn’t much of a barrier since English is an official language in Nigeria. All we had to do was get used to each other’s accents and expressions. To our relief, Joy and Godwin are very gracious and warm people and in no time at all we were becoming friends.
The four of us just ‘clicked’ immediately, and this phenomenon served to enhance the days which followed. By day 2, Godwin greeted me as his brother. Well, that stopped me in my tracks! We were still almost strangers to each other, and yet a bond was recognized and then nurtured as we set off on our week of adventures in Cambridge, Elora, and St. Jacobs.
We sympathized with them as they tried valiantly to decipher various menus in the restaurants we visited this past week. With our help and the assistance of patient and friendly wait staff, our new Nigerian friends enjoyed most of their meals. On Tuesday, we took them to see Les Miserables at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge.
It was an excellent production and moved us all to tears on a few occasions. On the way home, I quipped that now that we had all cried together, our relationship had just moved to the next level. Godwin looked at me, nodded his head in agreement, and stated again that we are brothers. I was almost moved to tears again.
As the week progressed, the four of us grew more and more comfortable as we wandered together through the natural wonder of the Elora Gorge, shopped for clothes and other things in the shops of Elora, St. Jacobs and Waterloo.
I found myself reflecting in quiet moments how blessed we were that we could enjoy each other’s company and indulge in poking fun at each other as well. More and more my mind returns to that idea that we humans are far more alike than we are often able to admit. It is so fascinating – and tragic too – that we instinctively seek out the differences that separate us.
I stated earlier that Anne and I were relieved to discover that Joy and Godwin were genuinely loveable people, and I’m sure they felt the same way. As the week wore on we discovered a great deal about each other through discussion. We brought out an old atlas, that was hopelessly out of date, yet they were able to show us where they lived in Nigeria.
Godwin showed me where his home village was located east of Lagos where they live now. He showed us where his son Christopher lives in The Ivory Coast – just to the west of Nigeria. Of their six children, only Christopher still lives in Africa.
Their other four sons and daughter live here in Canada. Charles is in Ottawa along with his sister Carol and her new husband, Charles, Kingsley is in Montreal, Ernest and his wife Milcah are in Toronto, and Stephene is here in Waterloo.
With the engagement of Dianna and Stephene we will be celebrating an interracial marriage at some point in the near future. Anne and I are not the least concerned about this as we’ve already adopted Stephene in our hearts as a new son.
But what of his parents? Before we met them, we wondered how they would accept their son’s marriage to a white Canadian girl. It soon became apparent that they were happy to accept Dianna as a daughter and Lexi as a granddaughter.
There was quite a bit of substantial bonding taking place between our two families over the space of a week. I really shouldn’t be surprised because a similar phenomenon occurred on Easter Sunday this year when Ernest, Milcah, Charles, Kingsley, and a visiting cousin Charles, came to our house for Easter dinner.
We had a great time and you could tell that they were very happy to be enjoying the company of their siblings in our home. As Anne and I looked around the dinner table there were almost as many black faces as white faces. Now that was a family first! The sounds of laughter and good-natured joking around reverberated around the room. They were happy sounds of people communing and having fun.
As the week ended we bade farewell to our new Nigerian friends who are quickly becoming family. The embraces were prolonged, very warm, and were tinged with regret. Despite the distance between Waterloo and Lagos, I am comforted by the knowledge that Anne and I have a wonderful brother and sister in Godwin and Joy Ashikwe.