Her story: Ara Adewole, 29, came to Catonsville from Nigeria when she was 14. She works as a registered nurse at Mercy Medical Center. Her parents, Fibi and Olu Adewole, live in Catonsville.
His story: Yemi Ajayi, a 31-year-old doctoral student in biochemical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is also from Nigeria. He moved to Maryland when he was 19. His parents, Grace and David Ajayi, still live in Nigeria.
Their story: Ara and Yemi grew up in neighboring villages in Nigeria. But she has no memory of meeting him at a party while they were both were students at UMBC. He would eventually become her friend and confidant when a long-term relationship ended.
"Every time I would discuss a quality I wanted in a guy friend, I realized I was describing him," said Ara.
Yemi said moving from friendship to love with Ara was easy. "I just sort of knew. I saw exactly how kind and loving she was," he said. "The things she would do for me, I had never experienced."
The couple now live in Ellicott City.
The proposal: When Yemi asked Ara to marry him while dropping her off at her parents' home after a date, she said it seemed absolutely right.
Then Ara graduated with her nursing degree and Yemi decided to go to graduate school, and they knew it would be a while before they could have the kind of wedding their families would want. So they married in a courthouse ceremony in May 2011. "We decided we didn't want to wait anymore," said Ara.
She actually didn't get an engagement ring until last year.
The wedding events: When it finally happened, the wedding of Ara and Yemi went on for days. There was a rehearsal dinner on Thursday night. And on Friday night, there was a traditional Nigerian "engagement" ceremony at the Knights of Columbus Beaumont Banquet Facility in Catonsville, where members of the groom's family brought gifts of food and clothing to woo the bride's family.
"Before Christianity, that's how you got married," said Ara. "The groom's family comes to ask for your hand in marriage, and the bride's family welcomes them. There is a lot of back-and-forth between two representatives of the families. It is almost like barter."
There were bags of rice and baskets of fruit, as well as shoes and an umbrella — symbols of how the groom would provide for her and protect her. "You don't come empty-handed," Ara said, laughing.
On Saturday, the couple were married in a religious ceremony officiated by Hezekiah Ilufoye of the Christ Apostolic Church Salvation Center. But midway through the reception, both changed into Nigerian garb and the 300 guests enjoyed traditional Nigerian dancing and music played by the band Akin's Melody. On Sunday morning, there was a service of thanksgiving at the church.
Venue: The Saturday ceremony and reception were held at the Newton White Mansion in Prince George's County. "A family friend attended a wedding there, and Mom and I went to check it out," Ara said. "We were planning a fall wedding, and I could just imagine the colors outside the atrium."
Flowers and decor: Ara knew the atrium would be resplendent with a backdrop of fall foliage, so she chose red, orange and yellow-gold as color scheme to light up the glass-enclosed reception. "Nigerian weddings are very colorful," she said.
Radebaugh Florists in Towson did centerpieces of gerbera daisies, sunflowers and roses. Ara's bouquet was of calla lilies, colorful roses and red berries, while her four bridesmaids and five junior bridesmaids carried roses.
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Her dress: Ara wore a Stella York mermaid-style gown from Cameo Bridal Salon in Glen Burnie for the service. "I was looking for something that was flattering and not too fussy. Something I could move well in," she said.
She changed into a traditional Nigerian gown and head wrap for the second part of the reception. Her attendants wore red dresses, also from Cameo. The wedding party also changed into traditional Nigerian garb during the reception.
His attire: Yemi wore a suit from Givenchy that he first spotted on actor Zachary Quinto, who plays Spock in the rebooted "Star Trek" movies. For the traditional part of the reception, he changed into a long tunic, flowing pants and a lavishly embroidered robe called an agbada.
Food: Rice is a favorite Nigerian food, and Ara and Yemi served two kinds: jollof and coconut fried rice. There were also two kinds of salmon — one broiled and the other piled high with seafood — and a meat stew that is common at Nigerian weddings. All the dishes were prepared by Flora's Restaurant in Lanham. Food for the 160 guests at the engagement ceremony – also steeped in Nigerian tradition – was prepared by Justine Catering of Lanham.
Special touches: Yemi's parents traveled from Nigeria for the wedding. "It was very important to me to have traditional aspects to our wedding," he said. "Granted, the bride's family are the ones who own the wedding. The groom's family are guests. But I was really happy that tradition was part of the weekend."