Meeting Chimamanda

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie photographed by Soikramari Bestman

When you luckily get tickets to an event you aren’t certain you can attend and watch people scramble to get the same tickets, you get appreciative of luck. When you think of how much you love the speaker at this event, you start to think of possible ways to go. Your excitement has been building up all week, manifesting in extreme fangirling that gets you in a fight with one of your parents. It is difficult for him to grasp how important she is to you.

The program was slated to begin by 3 but you over-dicked around (real phrase) and got there twenty minutes late. So, you race there and pray that the event hasn’t started without you. On arrival, you sigh in relief. The show hasn’t begun, your wait does though and lasts longer than you had hoped for.

Who is one hour late? You wonder. Tardiness is never cute.

Thirty minutes later, the show starts. The moderator reads the accomplishments of the long-awaited speaker, you have read it all before. Your patience already stretched to points it had never reached asks of you “where is the reason for your attendance”?

Then you hear shouts and she is here, you didn’t even hear them announce her entrance and yet she struts in, a glorious view with magnificent hair and polka dots that tell how fun she can be.

She was late but 1 Peter 4:8.

After getting asked the first question by the moderator about Beyoncé and Dior, she makes a joke and then proceeds to answer the question. This is the pattern we are presented with all evening. Answers that tackle serious issues infused with some humour.

I cannot possibly give in details all that transpired between her and us, but I will say I felt at home.

Being contrarian in almost every gathering is tiring. Having eyes rolled at you or a collective sigh that says “here we go again” when you start to speak is deflating. I was at home at the feet of my queen, listening to a woman who was saying the same things in my head.

Only that morning, I had a long conversation with someone about the program only to get there and hear her saying the exact things I had shared with this person. It was nothing short of ethereal. I tried to hold back the tears, I am proud to testify that I succeeded.

She spoke on writing, feminism, love, fashion, poetry, hair, the country. Everything that could be squeezed into that short time was spoken about.

Have you ever felt so much that you begin to have physical manifestations? That is how strongly she made me feel, my chest hurt with the love I felt for her in that room. This love was felt by almost everyone in that room, she touched us in ways that made us giddy.

Chimamanda was a writer first to me, I fell in love with her stories. Kambili’s weakness irritated me, and the stories in The Thing Around My Neck have not left my head, I along with the rest of the world hope Kainene is safe wherever she is and I want to have an ordinary yet private nickname with the love of my life that is heavy in meaning.

Her activism was a welcome comfort because she was saying the things I had always thought of gender relations. When Beyonce put her on Flawless, I felt immense pride. Here was a woman whose literature I was in love with on the song of another woman that I loved. It got to a point that I copied out her part of the song and only listened to that, tagging it Flawless (Chimamanda). “But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?” all the questions she asked I had been asking for years.

There is something revealing about reading non-fiction from fiction writers. We are given a window into their real lives, into their thoughts and feelings not wrapped up in characters but direct correspondence with them. That is what it felt like with Chimamanda, reading her for years and listening to her on that song, subsequently listening to her Ted Talks and then meeting her in person. She was a living person who rolled her eyes at her jokes, said “on a serious note”, shouted “amen” excitedly, spent hours on Instagram, could think a person’s name is cool, loved chocolate and is a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic. Listening to her speak, I could tell she was a full person, who like all the people in the world was not just two things, feminist or writer as I had previously thought. To me, she had been just that for the longest time until yesterday. I am disappointed in myself and ashamed to say that it took me all that time to recognize her personness.

When my mother called by 6 to ask about my whereabouts, the first thing she said was “was it worth it?”. She was referring to the fight, to braving the rain, to going over to the other side of the state, to disrupting my culture of an uneventful Saturday.

Yes, it was worth it and more.

There aren’t a lot of things I have experienced in my life and this was one of the few that stand out. Writing this is to expel some of the joy I feel and give it timelessness, it still doesn’t sufficiently capture all that was woken in me from meeting Adichie. Sometimes, words are never enough for the people we love.

I am having a great year for a lot of reasons but mostly because the previous year pales in comparison to this year. Sitting in that room and having to hug the woman beside me multiple times out of pure excitement to be in the presence of one of the best things to come out of this dreadfully terrible country has been one of the top two things this year has given to me. And it isn’t number two.

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I enjoy telling stories. The problem? I am too lazy to write them.

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Nkem Oyaghire

I enjoy telling stories. The problem? I am too lazy to write them.