How We Met
In January of 2015 during the gubernatorial election in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, I was part of the campaign team that campaigned for Governor Udom Emmanuel. It was there that I met Itoro’s mom’s sister, Aunty Becky Odungide Asindi. She was a reporter on the campaign team. Aunty Becky was like a mother to everyone in the group, and we remained in touch after the election. In August of 2016, Aunty Becky asked me to build her personal website, and Itoro’s mom became interested in providing me with feedback on the template and content for the website. From then on, I started communicating with Itoro’s mom, and she became very interested in my well-being, which is something I was not used to. We quickly developed a bond. I kept her updated on what was going on in my life, and she did the same.
One day, while I was on the phone with her, she told me Itoro was at home, and she had her greet me on the phone, but Itoro sounded uninterested in speaking with me, and the conversation was brief. Months after, she told me that Itoro was interested in doing an internship in Nigeria. I gave her the contact information of a few NGOs I knew, but none of their programs would be running at the time Itoro would be there. So, a few weeks later, Itoro’s Mom told me that her cousin Professor Eno Urua, a professor at the University of Uyo. had secured a place for Itoro to do her Internship at the university. I thought to myself, “Wow, these guys are well-connected.” I promised Itoro’s mom that I would be there for her any time, any day, and I joked that I would start going to the gym and build muscle to protect her.
Meanwhile, Itoro’s mom didn’t tell me that she was coming along for the trip. It was not until a few days prior to their arrival that I got a tip from Aunty Becky, as I was asking her about the plans for Itoro to be picked up from the airport. I promised that I would be there to help receive her.
On December 22, 2016, Itoro and her mom landed in Uyo. With December being a festive period, I was very busy with political events and had to skip going to the airport. I would have liked to go, but I don’t compromise with my job. Aunty Becky called me the next day and asked why I didn’t show up at the airport. I explained to her that I was at Onna, the hometown of the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor and that I would meet up with them later that evening. She then gave me the address where I should meet them, which was at Aunty Grace Otu Inyang (Itoro’s mom’s late sister’s) house at Afaha Ukwa, Eket Local Government.
Around 9 pm, I got home, got refreshed, and took a few clothes to stay at my friend’s hotel in Eket. However, I was unsure how I would get there at that time of the night because I had never used public transportation to get to Eket. I had always either driven with the Governor’s convoy or with a friend. But, a promise is a promise, and since I missed the first day, I didn’t want to give Itoro a poor impression of me. I was supposed to be like a brother to her, after all.
I took a taxi and arrived in Eket around 10:30 pm. By then, I had actually forgotten that her mom might be there, so I was kind of surprised to see her. I greeted everyone and sat down. They offered a bottle of beer, and I took it, even though I’ve never liked beer. I was struggling to finish the glass, so I finally admitted to everyone that I don’t like the taste, and we laughed and started talking about politics, electricity in Nigeria, and more. I took the time to explain some of the things I knew about the government to everyone, jumping in and contributing to every conversation. I was just being me.
Since it was getting late, I called my friend Allen Effeh, the manager of a local hotel, to prepare a room for me. Itoro’s mom then asked me to come with her to where she and Itoro were lodging since she had some gifts she had brought for me back in their room. When we reached the hotel, it turned out it was the same place that my friend Allen manages. I went and received the gifts and stayed with them for a while before heading off to my room. The following morning, Itoro sent me a message asking if I would like to come with them to her late Aunty’s house again for breakfast. I agreed, and I went up to their room to help them load the things they needed for the day into the car.
While at her aunty’s house, Itoro and I had the opportunity to talk about a few things and get to know each other more. We even ate together – you don’t eat pounded yam alone! I then joined the group to visit the grave-site of Itoro’s great grandmother and other family members. Later that evening, Itoro’s cousin Mary Johnson drove us down to the beach at Ibeno. At the beach, Itoro wore heels and was struggling while walking on the sand, so I knelt down to help her with her shoes and took her hand. Her mom and aunty also gave me their shoes and phones to hold so they could take pictures. I then remembered that Itoro had earlier mentioned that she loved suya, so I went to a suya stand and bought some for her. She was surprised and excited.
On Christmas, they had a celebration at Aunty Grace’s house, and I also attended. It was my first Christmas spent without my family. I then returned to Uyo the next day, and I resumed work that evening while Itoro and her Mom were preparing to leave the following day to go to Calabar for Carnival.
I actually thought Itoro would not like to contact me, so I didn’t bother contacting her while she was in Calabar. But later on the night of her first day in Calabar, I noticed she had texted me while I was at work. I immediately called her, and we talked about our days, and I told her to be careful. I noticed that I had started to become attached to her. Itoro and her Mom returned to Uyo on the 29th December, and that night I took Itoro out to my cousin’s wine bar, where she met my cousin and friends.
We spent time together daily from there. Two weeks later, Itoro’s mom returned to the U.S. By then, Itoro and I knew we were compatible. We spent three more weeks together while she completed her internship at the University of Uyo, and we stayed in contact after she returned to the U.S.Itoro decided to come back to see me in January of 2018, and I reached out to her dad and her best friend, Tiera Fletcher to inform them that I planned to ask Itoro to marry me. I also talked to my dad and family, and they all gave me their blessings. A couple days after Itoro arrived in Nigeria, we got engaged. And we will live happily ever after.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia by Nigerian immigrants, I always had an interest in connecting with my roots. However, I never had the opportunity to travel to Nigeria and see where my family came from during my childhood. So in 2016, I decided to forge an opportunity of my own. I was in my final year as a mechanical engineering student at MIT, and I had one last “IAP” left before graduation.
IAP, or Independent Activities period, is a month-long term in January during which MIT students can choose to take courses, study abroad, conduct research, complete internships or externships, or even take a vacation. I decided that for my senior IAP, I would travel to Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria to meet my extended family and engage in an internship experience at the University of Uyo. As soon as I came up with the idea, I called my mom in Atlanta, and we decided that we would take the trip together.
At this time, Cavil had already come to know my mom through his work with her sister. My mom had been providing feedback on his development of her sister’s website, and they had been communicating for several months. She had grown very fond of him and admired his industriousness and ambition. And, when my mom really likes someone, she sure can talk about it! So, naturally, I had heard about Cavil a few times, but I didn’t pay it much mind.
As our departure date approached, my mom expressed that she wanted to introduce me and Cavil so that I would have a peer outside of my family to show me around and look out for me after she left (which would be three weeks before I did). I didn’t have much interest in meeting Cavil, but I listened politely anyway.
What I was truly excited about was learning my history and developing a deeper understanding of my parents’ early lives. I counted down the days anxiously, and on December 21, 2016, we took off on a Delta flight to Lagos. The day after we arrived in Lagos, we traveled to Akwa Ibom State. We visited my aunt’s house and spent hours eating great food and having a great conversation. Late in the evening, my aunt invited Cavil, and he soon arrived to meet us.
Cavil strode in with a confident gait and greeted everyone with a very loud yet respectful sort of charm. To say the least, I was instantly drawn to him (and, as someone who is generally slow to warm up to people, I was surprised by this). I watched and admired his direct and confident manner of speaking all night. We didn’t have much one-on-one conversation, but there was something about him that intrigued me.
The next morning, I invited Cavil to join my family for breakfast at my aunt’s house. Again, he accepted the invitation. He sat next to me, and we chatted and got to know each other better. He was considerate, attentive, and polite. And most of all – he was extremely kind towards my mom, helping her carry her things and making sure she stayed cool under the hot Nigerian sun. We spent much of the day accompanying my mom on a tour down memory lane, stopping at significant locations from her childhood.
In the evening, we all took a trip to the local beach. As I (ungracefully) trudged towards the water in wedged heels, Cavil noticed that I was stumbling through the sand, and he grabbed my hand to help me balance. It was a simple gesture, but it sent a shock through my whole body.
He didn’t let go. I was jarred by the unusually strong feeling that I got from his fingers wrapped around mine, and I almost had to remind myself that I had just met him the previous day. For the rest of the evening, we all had a great time taking pictures by the water and drinking cool beers. We even enjoyed my favorite snack, which Cavil had purchased from a vendor on the beach.
Over the next couple of days, Cavil spent a lot of time with me and my family. And on the 26th, I took off for a trip to Calabar with my mom and her cousin Aunty Grace Eyamba from London. Calabar is about an hour drive from where we were staying, and it is also where my mom spent most of her childhood. We were going to attend the Calabar Carnival, and I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in a celebration of our culture. Our first full day drummed with traditional colors, dances, and foods. But, somehow, it felt like something was missing – and it was clear what that something was.
So, in the late morning, I texted Cavil that we all missed him. An hour passed, then two, then four, then eight. He didn’t respond. I felt sick and anxious the entire day. It seemed like a bizarre way to feel after only knowing Cavil for a few days, but I just couldn’t shake it no matter how I tried to rationalize.
Cavil finally called late that night, and I felt a wave of relief. He said that he had been working all day and that he missed me and hoped we were staying safe. I simply couldn’t wait to see him again. I knew this could be something real.
When we returned from Calabar a couple of days later, Cavil and I spent every single day of my IAP together. Even after I started my internship in January, he would pick me up for lunch, and he would meet up with me every evening. By the time I left, we both knew that we wanted to be together for the long-run, and we committed to continuing our relationship with an ocean between us. For the next year, we texted and video chatted almost daily, learning more about each other and growing more deeply connected.
We took on the K-1 visa process, and we started our lives together in the U.S. in May of 2019. We are looking forward to our wedding day, and we’re beyond excited to share our love with our family and friends!