People of the Diocese of Dodge City
Nigerian couple builds family, hopes on the
plains of southwest Kansas
By DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
They appeared almost like a bride and groom, dressed to the hilt in their native Nigerian garb, every inch of fabric like white lace except for his black kufi, a pillbox-like hat.
Surrounding Iberosi “Cally” Okoro and his wife, Clara in their Dodge City home were their five children, ranging in ages from 2 to 12.
“We wanted to give you a taste of our culture,” said Clara. “That’s why we dressed in our native clothing.”
At cathedral celebrations, such as the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Clara is one of the readers during the Prayers of the Faithful, speaking in her native Igbo. She works at a nursing home. The couple met in 1995, explained her husband, Iberosi, who works as a radiological technician. “When you want to get married, you have to fish around,” he said, smiling. “So I went to her village.”
“We don’t do dating, like here,” Clara explained. “If the man wants to get married, then the woman will take a few days or a few weeks to think about it. The lady always has the right to say no.”
Fortunately for Iberosi, she said yes.
The couple took part in a traditional wedding, with all the traditional customs, including standing before the potential in-laws and obtaining permission to be married. After the traditional wedding, they were married in the Catholic Church.
When Chiamaka, 12, the oldest of their daughters, was asked if she’d prefer the Nigerian way to the American custom of dating, she grimaced, smiled and shook her head.
All of the children were born the United States -- the three eldest, Chiamaka, Ezinne, 9, and Chidera, 8 born in Nebraska when Iberosi was attending college, and the two boys, Tochi, 5, and Onyekachi, 2, born in Dodge City.
Like so many immigrant families, the experiences of Iberosi and Clara have been bittersweet.
“It was a big adjustment,” Clara said. “Here we are so isolated. In Nigeria you live among family. Your cousin may live next door. You can leave the door open when you go. Every day you laugh and discuss with your family how things are going. Here, we don’t even know who our neighbors are.”
But the family also recognizes that there are opportunities in the United States that wouldn’t necessarily be available to them in Nigeria.
“There are many things we like about America,” Clara offered. “If your kids are born here, you know they’ll have a future.”
“Here you can be anything you want to be,” said Chiamaka. “You can live how you want to live and achieve your dreams.”
As much as the couple misses their homeland, they live in hope that their children will use their gift of opportunity to their full advantage. Just ask the children what they want to be when they grow up:
Chiamaka: “A hair stylist or a dentist.” (When it was suggested that she be a “hair-styling dentist” Chiamaka pointed out her very serious interest in teeth.)
Ezinne: “A doctor or a dentist.”
Chidera: “A doctor or an actor.”
Tochi: “A police or fireman.”
And when asked, Onyekachi, 2, uttered “Police” before smiling and quickly hiding his head shyly behind a chair.
As the new English translation of the Roman Missal looms, the deeply devout Catholic family was asked about the differences in the celebration of Mass between the two countries.
“Here, Mass is an hour,” Iberosi said. “In Nigeria it is two or three hours.”
Descriptions of a longer Mass have been echoed by people from Latin American countries, where people must walk sometimes for miles to get to church.
“In Nigeria, you cannot take the Holy Eucharist in your hands, only in your mouth. And it is only distributed by the priest. You also must kneel to receive the Eucharist.”
The four eldest children have been to Nigeria once, five years ago. In Nigeria, all students must shave their heads as a way to avert issues of vanity. Ironically, here the girls are sometimes pressed by other students about their hairstyles, especially when they wear one befitting of their Nigerian heritage.
But Dodge City has been kind to them, the family assured. Perhaps partially due to the melting pot environment that the area has become, they admitted they have felt very little racism, especially when compared to their previous home in Lincoln.
And with that, not only do they find hope in their home on the range, the people of the Diocese of Dodge City can find a little hope as well.