Chimamanda. I think it was the name I fell in love with at first, I had never heard that name. My secondary school was in the heart of Umuahia, with over 300 Igbo students and no one had the name – CHIMAMANDA. But we sure had an abundance of the regular Igbo names : CHIDINMA, CHIOMA, CHIAMAKA etc.
There and then, at the age of 10, I decided I would give my first daughter that name – CHIMAMANDA (MY GOD WILL NEVER FALL/FAIL). I think I’ve changed my mind though, everyone seems to be bearing the name. Maybe I’ll go for the unique names she gives her STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS : KAMBILI, KAINENE, IFEMELU, RANYINUDO (There’s something about this name)…
I remember conversing with my younger brother few weeks back, I went on and on talking about CHIMAMANDA. You see, I had just CUT my HAIR that day and everyone at home said : CHIMAMANDA SURE HAS A STRONG INFLUENCE ON YOU. And when Chimamanda is mentioned in my house, that discussion that brought her up must continue until I’m tired. And so, I was talking to my younger brother about Natural hair and all that, of course he didn’t understand it much and wanted me to stop the conversation. He found a way. He said: I MAY NOT BE A BIG FAN OF CHIMAMANDA, BUT I WANT TO YIELD THE KIND OF INFLUENCE SHE HAS BEEN ABLE TO YIELD IN THIS WORLD.
Today, I won’t be talking about how much I love her or how much I care so less about those that dislike her. I’m just here to remind you that CHIMAMANDA is a story and TRUTH teller, a truth teller because she makes strong comments like these :
If you are female and you stand your ground and challenge and push back and boldly speak your mind, you are labelled “arrogant”, “difficult”, “bossy”. If you are a male and have the same qualities, you are considered in a more positive light : “tough”, “strong”, “a good leader”…
Arrogant is not a word that scares me. Arrogant is not a word that will ever silence me. I have heard it many times.
In general, I think it’s a waste of precious life to pretend. I don’t talk behind people. I say what I want to say in front of people. I don’t have patience for people who don’t wish other people well. I dislike falseness. If we don’t care about each other, why bother fake-smiling with each other? When you are about to die, are you going to be thinking about how many frenemies you accumulated throughout your life or are you going to be thinking of how….
But I do feel strongly about the way the global idea of female beauty is so narrow. ‘Fat’ should never be used as a pejorative. Women should not be made to feel that they have to over-focus on their weight. If anything, both men and women should focus on being healthy, so that the question should be: whether you are fat or thin, can you comfortably run up a flight of stairs? I know slim people who cannot and overweight people who can.
She loves teaching, she says. “I want to make it valid, to dream about books and writing. Because in Nigeria it’s very hard; people will say to you, what do you mean, ‘writing’? Nigerians are a very, very practical people. And while I admire practicality, I feel we need to make a space for dreaminess. But life is short. I’ll say, don’t give up your job. Get up earlier, make the space. If it matters to you, make it matter. I wrote Purple Hibiscus when I was an undergraduate. I was my sister’s unpaid housekeeper, I was cooking, taking care of my nephew – I got up at 2am to write.”
But for all her fame and success, she remains down-to-earth. When she was asked if she sees herself as a feminist heroine, she looked puzzled. Her heroines, she says, are “the nameless women in the market, who are holding their families together. They are traders and their husbands are out drinking somewhere… It’s those women I admire. I am full of admiration for them.”
Our society gives women who like to wear their hair in a short Afro or cornrows with no attachments or in twists, but they can’t because there are social consequences. Their boss at work will say they don’t look professional. Or their mother will say they look “rough.” Or somebody will say that men won’t find them attractive.
All over the world, girls are raised to be make themselves likeable, to twist themselves into shapes that suit other people.
Please do not twist yourself into shapes to please. Don’t do it. If someone likes that version of you, that version of you that is false and holds back, then they actually just like that twisted shape, and not you. And the world is such a gloriously multifaceted, diverse place that there are people in the world who will like you, the real you, as you are.
Now girls are often raised to see love only as giving. Women are praised for their love when that love is an act of giving. But to love is to give AND to take.
Please love by giving and by taking. Give and be given. If you are only giving and not taking, you’ll know. You’ll know from that small and true voice inside you that we females are so often socialized to silence.
Don’t silence that voice. Dare to take.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here… I don’t know if I’m ever going to give my first daughter that name. But I know I’m going to raise my daughters to see the world differently. I’m going to teach them this : TO WRITE IS TO REJECT SILENCE.
With all the love in my heart, I wish this Queen Of contemporary African Literature, A very big and special happy birthday! I can’t wait to read the next book. I can’t wait to see the next feminist. What will she call her? Chimdinma?!