Odogwu Emeka Odogwu met 4 hours with Chimamanda Adichie in her country home Abba as captured below.
It was Tuesday. The last day of the year ( 31st December 2013). I was in Abba, Dunukofia local government area. My mission was simple. Visit the village and interview, Chimamada Ngozi Adichie whose book , Americannah has just been voted as one of the Top 10 Books of 2013 by New York Times, The Guardian, and even BBC .
On getting to the House, I was ushered in by a lady who could not answer our questions before Prof Mrs Adichie appeared and did the necessary. She laughed when I introduced myself but led us in and never re-surfaced. The compound was a modest one and devoid of the avalanche of security apparatus normally offensive to our sensibilities. Her younger brother ‘K’ who looks like a Briton came find out if I was on appointment but I said my office did. K apologized to me that her sister couldn’t remember having any appointment with me or any journalist. I understood the game but I applied the tactics of ‘’nothing but a story from the source and nothing else’’. So , I pleaded that I was directed to get just answers to three questions.
The long wait
K went up and down he was informing that Ngozi has accepted to give me answers to the three questions. I was happy and adjusted for her to appear but he added she was indisposed as she was making her hair but will be down in 30 minutes. Smarting from the Golden jubilee of their parents attended by the high and might in the society including Governor Peter Obi, K informed that there was enough to drink including stout but I wasn’t in the mood. I observed that apart from the young girl at the gate who probably has nothing to do with the family other fiver girls around during my visit were so respectful and even ‘marriage materials for those who have not climbed the ladder of conjugal bliss’’.
Genuine bachelors and would not miss that wonderful encounter but that distracted me for a while as my imagination is what Ngozi’s reaction would be when she eventually surfaces. By that 1 hour was over. And exactly 2:30 pm , one of the respectful ladies came and apologized on her behalf that she was tidying up things to come down and by 3 pm their launch was served , though not for me anyway. I was offered drinks and Chin-chin which is African, I wasn’t in mood for that but the two accompanying me were and they had their fill.
I looked at the family picture and what a lovely family, 3 girls, 3 boys. A request for water brought out another side of the girls. The bottled water was no more and she does not know how to say it until I interjected and she was relieved. She brought the sachet water ‘’Harvest table water ‘’ produced in Abba. Chioma, a cousin to Chimamanda made our day with her lively discuss to escape boredom.
But by 4:30 p m , three hours of waiting, a delectable figure emerged with an aura never to be mistaken by anyone with the eye for the news. She was fresh but a bite stressed probably for hours sitting plaiting one of the African best hair styles and her posture and slight apology expressed all to me. I could write a book about that a chanced encounter. But again her hair took my attention and I thought aloud,’’ you look dazzling in this our African hair style…..’’. She smiled and thanked me.
I didn’t like the way she kept me waiting for long but I couldn’t have done anything either had she said no interview. The news was important to my medium, and to write I must but what would I write?
Grace of the Father
She was not happy I was there in her father’s compound for an interview without invitation and appointment. She expressed that and queried to know why I did not book an interview with her manager. I went some extra mile explaining to her, all I could remember, but I was convinced she wanted to speak with me, hence she was still trying to emphasis on booking appointment and meeting with her manager. I pressed it on her that she is now an International figure and situations like this would always come since she is my ‘’ sister’’. She reminded me that she was giving me the opportunity because I was in her father’s compound. I thanked her.
She took her time and was looking amazingly fresh and demanded that I stick to my three questions. She speaks very low and I had wanted to ask her to speak up but she is more than a celebrity and needed not to be provoked.
I fired my first question on how she feels about the award giving to her by the New York Times, She said, “well, I felt happy. I didn’t expect it now, it came at a very closest time, especially the New York Times Award because it’s a prestigious award to young Writers. I am pleasantly surprised. I didn’t even check for who was listed because I wasn’t thinking about that and I wasn’t interested in checking who the New York Times listed.
I didn’t expect it at all, it was my editor that called me and was shouting and told me this and I was happy. I feel very grateful but for me the most important thing is that people read my work and it was always a good thing for people to appreciate what you have done.
I was happy but after a while I forgot about that and faced some other things as a normal person. I don’t focus my interest on honours but on my work because without the awards I will still be an author.
I don’t wake up every morning and feel that I am the top Writer of the New York Times, in fact I don’t even always remember .. ‘’.
Talking about her place in the world literary circle, the writer said,” I am not the right person to answer that. But what I do know is that I am a writer. I don’t know but am a writer, I seat down, what I do is to write, I don’t seat down and wonder where am I in the World Literary, that’s not why I write. Am very fortunate that my writings has gone a while, that people are reading my books all over the world.
If that has not happened may be I will be in my Fathers house still writing and making my contribution to the world and probably still writing a good book that somebody would read and keep it in his shelve.
Out of Questions
My questions have been exhausted and I wanted to get a story for another day and equally find out her true identity behind the celebrity flank. So I asked about a petty project the Litrary Village with the state government but she said there was nothing like that as far as she could remember.
She insisted it was a dream and not a partnership project. A dream project for young writers in Anambra State and added thus, ‘the project is a dream and is still a dream and it is not just for people who want to become a writer, I want to do it not only in Anambra state but each and every part of the country. I think our educational system is failing many young people, if I read what young people write, I think it is not encouraging…..’’.
‘’People write letters as if they are writing text messages, they do write ‘u’ instead of ‘you’ and you can’t compete in the world, if you write like that, whether you want to be a writer or a doctor. So, that is the kind of thing am interested in. when I talk about Literary Village, I don’t know if I may work for that, I will like a literary centre, a centre that is about Literacy and a center that would be about writing which are two different things. For now it is a dream.
I deviated to her family life. I wanted to know something about her Medical husband Dr Ivara Esege who she is married to for some years now unknown to many.
No go areas
And I asked how her marriage affects her writing due to circumstances surrounding family affairs but with a prefix ‘now that you are married’; she fired back,” I don’t talk about my personal life. If I were a man will you ask me that? This is kind of question you ask women and I don’t like it. I want to talk about my book because you are not talking to me as a person who is married or not. The reason you are talking to me is because I wrote a book that has been acknowledged by the love of the world. Whether I am married or not is not relevant.
She spoke of assumptions reporters allude to female writers on marriage related issues demanding to know whether the assumption that she has been married may some how change her writing life; adding that it is also an assumption that will make it great because is a female.
And concluded that,’’ So, what I want from you is to ask me a question you ask a writer’’.
Chimamanda fired again,’’ What information do you think you have when you say now that I am married? The reason you are talking about me is because I am a writer, You are not here because I am a woman. There are many woman different from the assumption reporters have about women . I don’t talk about my personal life , I DON’T. Women are difference …………………….’’.
She even advised me to stop provoking my interviewer if I want to get something tangible from the person as a good reporter.
But I was not done. I asked her again about her family even when I saw she has been provoked. Then she did what I had expected by apologizing that she has no comment to that and added that it appears that I have finished my mission.
Then I asked her what she understood by feminism because of her stance appeared to me as a Feminist? She fired back at me demanding that I explain Feminism for her. And I said women fighting for equal rights for women. And went further to asked her to giver me her own version and she concluded, you can’t ask me a question and want me to define it for you so what do you mean by Feminism.
At that point I allowed the sleeping dogs lie. I did not explain further her defenses for equal treatment for economic and social rights for women though her answers made me ask her that.
Change of roles
The interviewer Chimamanda asked, what do you think the young people in Anambra state need, Young people who are interested in reading and writing?
What do you think she asked? The interviewer now become the interviewee but I gave her honest answers that made her look at me twice and realized I was just myself and not out to embarrass her or be unappreciative of the golden opportunity she gave me.
I thanked her for that privilege she offered me despite not going through her managers and equally appealed to her to take her pictures but she declined again before my friend pleaded for her to allow him take a shot with her, she obliged. I cashed in started directing the best position and when she was showed the pictures it was good despite she was a bite dull and wanted to get some drugs at a Pharmacy near by. She then gave her approval for the usage.
We exchanged the last pleasantries and complimentary cards although her contact is to be through her managers. She was happy at last and gave me a name ‘’Odogwu-na-enye nsogbu’’— (Odogwu the trouble maker). She speaks spotless Igbo and English Languages probably some others I did not witness. She is indeed an African woman with her sense of originality and boundaries as a woman in midst of ‘tormenting’ men.
But before I left she hinted that she has a lot on her shoulders and would not like to leak her next plan to the public. She however said she is embarking on a cultural/ historical expose about Eri kingdom having heard I am from Amanuke in Awka North. She demanded to know if Amanuke Community in Awka North local government area of Anambra state , South-Eastern Nigeria had any relationship with Nri and I said yes. She nodded. Maybe the new book would be ‘’Jews in our backyard’’? What a wonderful stay with the most powerful writer of our time— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-Esege.
Written by Odogwu Emeka Odogwu of The Nation Newspapers
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