Chimamanda: The Secret around Her Neck
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THE cool breeze from the Lagos Estuary blew across the venue of the reception. It was the home of the Consular General of the United States. There was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the famous author of popular works, The Thing around Your Neck, Half a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. The American Ambassador, Mr. Terence Mc Kulley was the chief host at a welcome reception for Mr. Jeffrey J. Hawkins, the Consul General of the U.S. Consulate in Nigeria. There were other diplomats from other embassies in Nigeria; and of course, parents of Chimamanda — Professor and Mrs. Adichie.
The reception had in audience notable Nigerians and members of the international community. Part of the evening programme included a reading session by Chimamanda. She read from the book, The Thing around Your Neck. As she serenaded the gathering with her clear, soothing voice, which pierced through the quiet night across the estuary and beyond, the audience listened with rapt attention. No drinking from glasses and movements; the atmosphere seemed to stand still.
As she read “The Shivering” one of the short stories in “The Thing around Your Neck,” she took the audience through dramatic moments full of entertainment in the hilarious book.
Within few minutes of the reading, dignitaries laughed at the power of her pen, creativity and craft. I noticed Dr. Newton Jibunoh, the man who crossed the Sahara Desert twice not far away from me. The last time we saw was in Bonn, Germany exactly 10 years ago during the United Nations’ Conference on Desertification. Jibunoh smiled at the reading which was dots on cultural issues that affect Nigerians living in the USA, their nostalgia and how they relate to the general malaise — politics, corruption and religion — in their home country.
Chimamanda read how a Nigerian was praying; “bloodying”, “binding” and “turning faith into a pugilistic exercise” to stop plane crashes in the country. And in the process of the prayers with a Nigerian lady she just met for the first time, the lady whose hand were held in the prayer session found it difficult to extricate herself to use the toilet even though she was pressed.
This drew another round of laughter in the extremely still atmosphere. And the dignitaries at Consular-General’s home wanted more. The writer went on and on. Suddenly, she ended the reading. There was a thunderous ovation. No cameras were allowed into the premises. But as a reporter, I saw stories unfolding before my very eyes.
At a corner was the Deputy Governor of Osun State, Chief Mrs. Titi Laoye-Tomori and other notable colleagues and recipients of America’s IVLP award. Then Mrs. Bennie Uche, a staff of the Public Affairs Section of the Consulate, who anchored the ceremony beautifully announced to the floor to begin networking. I was far away from Professor and Mrs. Adichie. I wanted to break through the dignitaries to interview them about their illustrious daughter.
Surprisingly, I saw them walking through the big gathering and straight towards me. The dignitaries exchanged pleasantries with them as they networked. But somehow, the old Adichies walked towards me. I just stayed on the spot. I was happy. Rather than go for the news, the news this time came my way. I forgot that we were supposed to unwind at such a function.
“Good evening professor!” I greeted and the journalist in me took over. I began to interview.
I introduced myself and handed over my complimentary card. The professor looked at the card and remarked; “I know this name. I have seen this name before…”
And so, the interview commenced earnestly.
How was Chimamanda as a child and how did she get into writing? We were living at the University of Nigeria Nsukka when she took her West Africa Examination Council (WAEC). At Nsukka, there were teachers, lecturers and professors all over the place. She had the best result in the WAEC. She had aggregate of six. She had one, one, one, all through. She did Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and passed. She said she would do Medicine. I said fine. What I told all my children was this; “if you pass, we will try to pay your bills. If you fail, I cannot beg anybody.”
She got into the university and after sometime, she said; “Daddy, I don’t want to do Medicine again.” I asked; “what do you want to do?” She answered, “Pharmacy!”
I said, fine! I went to the Dean, Faculty of Medicine and said; “My brother, look at me o! My daughter said she wants to change to Pharmacy! The Dean said; No… no. I cannot have that!”
This was because she did very well in the courses. The Dean pulled out her result sheet and said; “we won’t do that because she did very well.” I begged the Dean. He later allowed her to change to Pharmacy grudgingly. But we did not know that she was planning something else.
I remember that she was very good in Chemistry. Without telling us, she took this American Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and passed. She passed in such a way that they gave her partial scholarship. We could not stop her. She went over to USA and attended a college in Philadelphia. Her senior sister was a Medical Doctor in the USA. So, she went to her. But the senior sister resided in Connecticut and she called Chimamanda to come and live with her. That was why she finally got a degree in Connecticut.
That was why she later got a degree from a university in Connecticut USA. She did very well in university too.
She had something like our First Class. I saw the result.
From there she went to another university. She had double Master’s Degree. And all these while, she was writing. She started her fist novel when she was an undergraduate in Connecticut.
How will you view the comments being passed by some people that Chimamanda is a chip from Chinua Achebe?
People keep talking about this. But me, I don’t know o! (laughs). People are trying to juxtapose her with Chinua Achebe. Chinua Achebe lived at House Number 305 in an Avenue in University of Nigeria Nsukka; and we also lived there. When Chinua Achebe left, we packed in there.
The same building?
Yes. The same house!
Perhaps she tapped from the Spiritual ambience there…
People are saying; “Ha, that’s what must have happened.” But I said, I don’t know o! (laughs)
You saw how Chimamanda read from her book tonight and made references to Pentecostalism in Nigeria. The issue of binding, bloodying and so on!
Let’s go into the story in the Bible. Could it have been like Elijah and Elisha, she got the mantle of Prof. Chinua Achebe from House Number 305 at Nsukka and that she was able to grab the mantle of Achebe before he left?
I don’t know about that! (Chuckles)
Listening to my encounter with Prof. Adichie and his wife was Mr. Sam, another guest who was at the event with his wife too. According to Sam, he was proud being a Nigerian that night. He reasoned that the American Consulate could have invited an American writer to read to the gathering but they didn’t do that. They brought a good Nigerian writer — Chimamanda to thrill the gathering with her stories. Hecontinued, “That will show you that Nigeria has come of age. This is where God is no matter the challenges we are going through in the country. America realised that fact. Chimamanda is a world class writer.
But the evening left some people talking about how Nigerian government does not value its own human capital until they are given foreign recognition.
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Author of this article: By Tunde Akingbade