Choosing to be in Each Other’s World

In January 2016, Chidiebere Nnaji moved across the world for a master’s program in electrical engineering at San Francisco State University. But economic instability and inflation in his native Nigeria caused his funds to dwindle sooner than he had planned.

Mr. Nnaji, who goes by Chidi, sometimes sought refuge at 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 over who noticed the other first, but they soon began talking. When Ms. Verhey’s friends left, she joined them.

Given that they had not yet exchanged numbers, Mr. Nnaji said, “I was gutted.”

On the sidewalk outside, as her friends said their good nights, Ms. Verhey had one overriding thought: “I need to go back in.”

With one friend staying with her, they spent the rest of the night talking and dancing with Mr. Nnaji and his friends.

Ms. Verhey, 31, spent her childhood in Mill Valley, in Marin County, Calif., and her teen years in Sheboygan, Wis. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she is senior marketing manager of partnerships at the Tillamook County Creamery Association in Portland, Ore.

Of the Ibgo people, Mr. Nnaji, 30, is from Mbaise, in the Imo state of Nigeria. He graduated from the Federal University of Technology Owerri in Nigeria, and completed his master’s degree from San Francisco State. He is an app developer advocate at AdLibertas, a San Francisco-based software company that helps developers grow their apps.

Both on a tight budget, their early dates consisted mostly of listening to Afrobeat music in Ms. Verhey’s San Francisco kitchen, while Mr. Nnaji taught her how to cook West African dishes like jollof rice and fufu.

Despite his financial stress, “I had a home in her where I could go and escape and feel relaxed,” Mr. Nnaji said. “She was so supportive, which built the foundation for what we have now.”

They had been dating a year and a half when, in 2018, Ms. Verhey interviewed for her current job. While she fretted over how a long-distance move might affect them, Mr. Nnaji convinced her to accept the offer.

“Chidi is incredibly emotionally intelligent and in tune with his feelings and his sense of purpose,” Ms. Verhey said. “That makes our relationship better, but I also benefit.”

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, Mr. Nnaji came to Portland to live with Ms. Verhey, thinking it would be a few weeks. In September, he officially moved to Portland.

“Since we had been long distance, it was so fun to be around each other, 24/7,” Ms. Verhey said.

In July 2020, Mr. Nnaji surprised Ms. Verhey by proposing at a rooftop bar in Portland.

“We’re so compatible even though we’re from completely different worlds,” Mr. Nnaji said. “It’s amazing how God brings people together.”

They were married July 31 in front of 80 guests at the Mill Valley Recreation and Community Center in Mill Valley, Calif., by Brenden Brown, the pastor of the San Francisco campus of Hillsong Church. The previous evening, they had a smaller, traditional Nigerian ceremony, in which they partook in an Igbo custom: the bride searches for her groom carrying a cup of palm wine, and then presents him to her father, who prays over the couple.

At their wedding, they changed into Asoebi, traditional Nigerian dress for the reception, at which West African food was served and Afrobeat music played.

Ms. Verhey, who will take Mr. Nnaji’s name, said she has always been interested in learning about cultures different than her own. While Covid postponed her first visit to Nigeria, the couple plan to live there at some point.

“Chidi’s culture is such a big part of who he is,” she said.

Taking pride in the fact that his bride has an Igbo language app on her smartphone, Mr. Nnaji said, “I feel so lucky that I found someone who wants to be in my world as much as I want to be in hers.”

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