HAMMOND — Never in a million years did Uzoma Oluka expect to marry a man she barely knew, in a marriage that was partially arranged by her family.
Oluka, 33, of Hammond, graduated from Hammond High School in 2000 and Indiana University in Bloomington in 2005, earning a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She's earned a master's degree in higher education and students affairs and is currently a PhD candidate in the Higher Education leadership program at Indiana State University.
Today, the savvy and well-educated young woman is the regional director for Student Life, Development and Leadership at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest and North Central.
Oluka said her parents are Nigerian, but she was born in Chicago. She said the family moved to Nigeria for three years, but returned to the United States, where they settled in Hammond.
"I grew up learning about my roots and culture and we had traditional Nigerian food and music," she said, with a light laugh. "My parents participated in Nigerian activities and my brother and sister and I also participated with our peer groups. My parents made sure to ingrain the Nigerian Igbo culture in all of us."
The Igbo people are the largest ethnic group in Nigeria and live in the southeast part of the country.
As an adult, Oluka said she has dated in the traditional way that Americans do by meeting someone and dating for awhile and getting to know the other person before even considering marriage.
"I was over the games and dating of past relationships," she said.
While focusing on her job with little thought to developing a personal relationship, Obidike said her cousin, who lives in Nigeria, called her and said, "I know just the guy who would be perfect for you."
That was in November 2015.
"I didn't expect my future husband would come from Nigeria," she said. "I was open to the idea, but it wasn't my top choice. I thought about a long-distance relationship and the cultural differences. Even though I'm Nigerian and I follow my roots, I wasn't immediately excited about the idea."
Obidike's cousin sent her pictures of a man named Ogochukwu "Maurice" Obidike, 41, and, in turn, gave him pictures of Oluka and told him she was "wife" material.
Obidike, who was in Nigeria, looked at the picture and thought, "Wow, she's pretty."
"I did not know she was in the United States," he said with a slight accent. "I was a little worried because she was very far from me. I called her repeatedly and she always told me she was busy. She didn't pay much attention to me. I didn't give up, though. I continued to call her."
The pair communicated by phone, texts and video calls.
As the days passed, Oluka and Obidike eventually got to know each other, learned about their likes and dislikes and interests.
"He was very genuine in his approach," she said. "He was persistent. We really connected on the phone. We talked every day. I really began to fall for him. That had never happened to me. That only happened in fairy tales, but something about him was different."
And, the idea of looking for a husband in her native Nigeria really wasn't so far-fetched. Oluka said her brother and sister traveled to Nigeria and met their spouses there.
A few weeks later, Oluka's parents, brother and sister-in-law were going to Nigeria, and she asked them to scout out this suitor for her and give her their impressions.
As in the tradition of Nigerian courtship, Obidike traveled two or three hours from his village in Anambra, Nigeria, bringing his family to meet Oluka's family. The two families talked and exchanged ideas.
Obidike attended Madonna University in Nigeria and sold menswear from China wholesale while in Nigeria.
"I was so nervous," Oluka said. "He was meeting my family. Does that mean it's official? Everyone called me immediately. They said he'll be great for you."
After he "passed the tests" from her family, Oluka flew to Nigeria in December 2015 and met Obidike in person.
Oluka said Obidike came with his family to her hometown. She and her family prepared a meal and welcomed him. She said there were about 20 people or more there who introduced themselves, and Obidike asked for her hand in marriage.
"They were all speaking Igbo," she said. "I'm not fluent, but I understood most of it. At first, I didn't think I would say yes, but I did. Maurice and I really bonded. Sometimes people can know each other for 10 years and still not be ready for marriage. He showed me who he was, and I showed him who I was. We talked about everything."
On Jan. 4, Obidike came back with an engagement ring.
Oluka said the couple decided to have a traditional Nigerian engagement party, which involved all of the family and is a colorful celebration with brightly colored dresses for the women and formal attire for the men.
Obidike said every culture has its own traditions.
"In our culture, before you marry someone, the village will give you a list and in that list are the things that your new family needs before you can take their daughter in marriage," he said, adding his list was long and included a yam, different fabrics and palm wine (a traditional drink in Nigeria).
The couple participated in the traditional "wine-carrying woman," where the bride's father pours a goblet of palm wine and the custom calls for her to search for her husband-to-be among the guests who are constantly distracting her.
The couple married by Nigerian custom, then traveled to the United States and married again at the courthouse in Hammond on Sept. 9. After the big celebration in Nigeria and the quieter courthouse ceremony, the couple are planning another celebration this summer for local family and friends, and others who want to make the trip.
Oluka is now Uzoma Obidike.
Her husband said though he has left his family behind and he was a little nervous about the move to the United States, marriage is very good.
"I am a Christian and in everything I do, I ask God," he said. "This girl is my wife, the relationship will be successful. We have the blessings of God."