In January 2016, Chidiebere Nnaji moved around the world for a master’s degree in electrical engineering at San Francisco State University. But economic instability and inflation in his native Nigeria caused his money to dwindle earlier than he had planned.
Mr. Nnaji, who goes through Chidi, sometimes took refuge in a San Francisco Senegalese restaurant and bar, Bissap Baobab, which felt like home.
In January 2017, Amy Verhey went there to celebrate a friend’s birthday. There is some disagreement about who noticed the other first, but they soon started talking. When Mrs. Verhey’s friends left, she joined them.
Since they hadn’t exchanged numbers yet, Mr. Nnaji said, “I was devastated.”
On the sidewalk outside, while her friends were saying good-nights, Mrs. Verhey had an all-pervading thought: “I’ve got to get back in.”
While a friend was staying with her, they spent the rest of the night talking and dancing with Mr. Nnaji and his friends.
Mrs. Verhey, 31, spent her childhood in Mill Valley, Marin County, California, and her teenage years in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a senior marketing manager of partnerships at the Tillamook County Creamery Association in Portland, Oregon.
Of the Ibgo people, Mr. Nnaji, 30, is from Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria. He graduated from the Federal University of Technology Owerri in Nigeria and completed his master’s degree from the State of San Francisco. He is an app developer attorney at AdLibertas, a San Francisco-based software company that helps developers grow their apps.
Both on a tight budget, their early dates consisted mainly of listening to Afrobeat music in Mrs. Verhey’s San Francisco kitchen, while Mr. Nnaji taught her how to prepare West African dishes such as jollof rice and fufu.
Despite his financial stress, “I had a home in her where I could escape and feel relaxed,” said Mr. Nnaji. “She was so supportive, which laid the foundation for what we have now.”
They had been dating for a year and a half when Ms Verhey came in for an interview for her current job in 2018. While she was concerned about the consequences of a long-distance move, Mr. Nnaji convinced her to accept the offer.
“Chidi is incredibly emotionally intelligent and in tune with his feelings and his purpose,” said Ms Verhey. “That makes our relationship better, but it also benefits me.”
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Mr. Nnaji came to Portland to live with Ms. Verhey, figuring it would be a few weeks. In September, he officially moved to Portland.
“Because we were long distances, it was so nice to be together 24/7,” said Ms. Verhey.
In July 2020, Mr. Nnaji surprised Ms. Verhey by proposing at a Portland rooftop bar.
“We fit together so well, even though we come from completely different worlds,” said Mr. Nnaji. “It’s amazing how God brings people together.”
They were married on July 31 in front of 80 guests at the Mill Valley Recreation and Community Center in Mill Valley, California, by Brenden Brown, the pastor of Hillsong Church’s San Francisco campus. The previous night, they had a smaller, traditional Nigerian ceremony, in which they took part in an Igbo custom: the bride seeks out her groom with a cup of palm wine and then offers it to her father, who prays for the couple.
At their wedding, they changed into Asoebi, traditional Nigerian dress for the reception, where West African food was served and Afrobeat music played.
Mrs Verhey, who takes the name of mr. Nnaji will assume, said she has always been interested in learning about cultures other than her own. While Covid postponed her first visit to Nigeria, the couple plans to live there someday.
“Chidi’s culture is such a big part of who he is,” she said.
Proud of the fact that his bride has an Igbo language app on her smartphone, Mr. Nnaji said, “I am so lucky to have found someone who wants to be in my world as much as I want to be in hers.”