Americanah Has Levels of Relatability

I did say, in Reflections After My First Semester, that I would re-read this book. And I’ve ky33, but I finally have.

Americanah is probably one of the heaviest, most condensed books I have ever read. And I am not, in my opinion, hero-worshipping Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, though I certainly have a stupendous amount of admiration for her. I am simply stating my opinion, based on my second, more enlightened reading of the novel.


I first read Americanah near when it came out in 2013, borrowed from a friend’s parent. I was in my second year of high school at the time and had still never lived anywhere outside Ghana. I had visited England, the US, and Canada, but hardly stayed more than two weeks. I liked Chimamanda because I had already read Half of a Yellow Sun, and thought it was interesting, though I don’t think I have a natural affinity for books with events surrounding war. After my first read of Americanah, I was amused and entertained by all the complicated relationships the book held. The thing was, though, it was still all just fiction to me, and after reading it, I didn’t particularly know what to do with it.

Fast forward to the end of college freshman year, when I restart Americanah, get only a little way through, then watch all existing episodes of the Netflix series, Dear White People, after which I return to Americanah and complete it. Interesting (and probably irrelevant) observations: I went through the series much quicker than I intended to; the binge disease caught me – and I took a much longer time than I expected to complete the novel; it is way longer than I remembered.

These two things have at least one theme in common: the experience of being black in American college. I thought Dear White People was an excellent show, which, despite its apparent brevity, managed to condense a lot of key elements into ten episodes. I haven’t watched the movie yet, though I intend to soon. I enjoyed it immensely. There’s just one glaring flaw: Rashid, the Kenyan, the show’s token African. I first began watching DWP with a group of African girls, and legit, aside from that one time Rashid clapped back when some American insulted his English, we were all rather unimpressed by him. HashtagGetAfricansToWriteOnscreenAfricansAndStopYourNonsensePlease. Don’t get me started on his West-African-East-African-Generic-Hollywood-African hybrid of an accent. Anyway, I’m being tangential. Oya, back to the matter (open and close, touch your toes…).

So, that one thing they failed, Chimamanda nailed. I kept thinking how crazy lit the series would have been if Rashid had been replaced with Americanah’s Mwombeki, who, though a minor character, gave every newcomer African student his classic intro speech.

Voici, an excerpt:

“Very soon, you will start to adopt an American accent, because you don’t want customer service people on the phone to keep asking you, ‘What? What?’ You will start to admire Africans who have perfect American accents, like our brother here, Kofi. Kofi’s parents came from Ghana when he was two years old, but do not be fooled by the way he sounds. If you go to their house, they eat kenkey every day. His father slapped him when he got a C in class. There’s no American nonsense in that house. He goes back to Ghana every year. We call people like Kofi American-African, not African-American, which is what we call our brothers and sisters whose ancestors were slaves.” -Mwombeki

Anyway, the question of who the story is for is important: Dear White People, though we (Africans) are able to relate a lot to the content of the series, was not intended for us. Americanah, on the other hand, I believe, was. I am also not postulating the idea that it is every African-in-America’s experience. It’s a fictional story, mostly based on one-and-a-half main characters from Nigeria. (And I’m proud of it for that; attempting to be general and all-encompassing can make a story rather useless.) I have no doubt that a man from Nigeria’s experience would be different, a Tanzanian’s different etc.

So, with all this context – the combination of my experience and the media I had consumed – Americanah took on a whole new level of relatability for me. It’s the second level.

The first level was just the classic West African upbringing: seeing fiercely religious adults who will blindly but willfully attribute society’s kuluulu to God’s blessings, the adults that are too ashamed of their (lack of) education to use anything “inferior” to unnecessarily long words, the secondary school romance, the squad boys of the class etc. etc.

Then I reached the second level: the transition from West Africa to America. The liberal nature of college classes. The race politics, inside the classroom and out. the burden of being frugal when everyone around you seems to be splashing money around. The stress of searching for a job. The onset of depression in college etc. etc.

There was a lot of stuff that was more generally relatable – by which I mean not restricted to the college experience – like Ifemelu’s encounter with the too-known white woman in the hair salon.

But then, after level two, for the most part, a lot of the story starts calmly feeling like a fiction novel again, to me; a relevant fiction novel, but still just a novel. There is a knowledge you can only acquire with experience.

For example, if I were to start and end a relationship with a half-woke, half-baffling, doting, rich white boy and I read the book again, I’d have unlocked another level. If I were to start and end a relationship with a high-principled, academic, African-American man and I read the book again, yet another level unlocked. If I were to witness any of my African-but-raised-in-American cousins go through severe, mental-health-affecting identity crises, another level, and so on.

This is why I intend to keep rereading Americanah as my college career and life progress, to see what potential levels I can unlock. It’s a ridiculously heavy book, I swear.


The Façade

The Façade

Push the dirt under the rug, even if our continent is known for being dirty. Sweep it, vacuum it, heck even mop it if you like. The dirt doesn’t go away. The more you leave it untended, swept under that rug, the more it accumulates. How much can go under before the lump of dirt starts to show?

I can’t tell how many times I’ve complained to myself and other people how much people in my immediate surroundings in particular like to pretend as if problems – especially mental problems – don’t exist. My frustration was the influence for my poem ‘The Things You Overlook’:

“…change is necessary

If you believe a problem does not exist

Until it gets serious, it merits disregard

Until it results in


I thought it was something only I’d realised – this deliberate brushing under the rug – until I read Chimamanda’s ‘Americanah’ a few months ago. The characters said exactly what I believed was true: Africans either don’t believe in mental illnesses or don’t want to (except, perhaps, outright deliria). But whether one believes in it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s something going on in someone’s head that they don’t know how to control.

And who, my dear, are they going to talk to? How are they going to solve the problem when they don’t so much as have a person who is even willing to understand? We don’t teach each other enough about our mental health. We can’t help people if we don’t acknowledge the existence of their problems, you see.

I am not always mentally alright. (If I say I’m depressed, there are people who will probably want to shoot me just to get me to shut up.) I’ve tried hinting at people that I’m not mentally alright, too. But what do I get when I attempt to unburden my personal truths to most adults? Always stuff along the lines of “Oh, don’t say such things!” or “Don’t think like that!” or “Stop feeling like that.” As if deep sadness is a place I chose specifically to reside in, because oh, misery looked so dang attractive.

Sweeping our problems under the rug doesn’t make them not exist. Getting our internally-suffering young person to shut up doesn’t stop the thoughts from flowing, sorry. Try as much as you can to improve their mentality, why don’t you? Feeble attempts like motivational quotes and random, barely relevant stories will do very little.

Before you’ve heard the story, you’re trying to think of ways to keep it from ever coming out. And in the end, the sufferer never gets heard, never gets understood, and never gets cured. That’s not right.

Aren’t we tired of the facades we keep putting up? Nobody should be forced to appear perfect when they don’t feel like it. (Unless you’re like the President of Somewhere Important. Then please, for the sake of the people, act like you’re Superman.) This is what I’m secretly and obviously rebelling against: the façade. So I’m being real, and I’m being 100% me.

It’s no use trying to tell me what I can and can’t post on my blog, because there is a 90% chance that I won’t listen to you.

Positive is good. Positive is motivational. Positive is a near-utopia, and a utopia is something no-one [should] believes in – at least on earth. Reality is real and it isn’t utopian.

Imagine a world which looked perfect and every person put on a façade of being healthy. The one person who tries to show the other inner struggle would be told to shut up because nobody wants to hear it. They’d rather continue to pretend life is perfection. So there’s that: everyone physically around you is out of the ‘I-can-relate-to’ zone. In this 21st century, where else do you go? The internet. And if people like me chose to listen to things like Society and only post positive forever, then this person in question won’t even find the assurance they’re looking for online. What’s next then? Misunderstood, afflicted, hopeless…suicide? No, please. I’d like to avoid death as much as I can.

I don’t think we realise how dangerous it is to keep up appearances such that troubled people believe that they are the only people with their problems. Sometimes, all they want is at least one person to be able to relate to, or be able to say, “I understand.” Feeling understood is just about a preliminary step to helping people solve their problems.

That’s why I was so happy when Chimamanda recently came out with the confession about her struggles with depression. Perhaps, now people can see that it is real, and yes, it DOES happen to Africans too.

As I said, I insist on being real. I live in such a community which chooses to overlook these kind of struggles. If I have something to say, who, then, am I going to talk to, other than the internet? So, I apologize insincerely for defying the orders I’ve been given, but I’ll blog my heart. I’m tired of facades. I’d like to finally be REAL. I’m a teenager. Teenagers go through stuff. I am allowed to post about how bored I am, for example. And if the problem is that people might use it against me in future, then, well, those people suck. Who is there to fear? My future university? Are you trying to tell me the admissions officer has never experienced boredom before?

I don’t see why my university, or anyone else, for that matter, should think I’m prefect. We know nobody is. But this façade is what separates the romanticists from the naturalists. I won’t apologise for being a naturalist.

I like to give my attention particularly to the mental well-being of my friends, because we can’t keep trying to keep people positively charged without observing their electrons. Ask, “How are you?” and then bother yourself to care about the answer.

Can we please recognize THIS problem and stop trying to sweep it under the rug too? It’s so tiresome. I don’t ever want to present myself as perfect or at the least, fine, when I’m so dang far from it. Sorry if I’m “different” from everyone else and what they want.

“If I gotta sacrifice

Who I am on the inside

I’d rather be an outsider.”

-Lecrae, Outsiders

Even from a Christian point of view, the argument of the façade is still not legit. Just as we like more often to hear the success stories that started from the bottom, we need to read the stories of people who went through the wilderness and got out of it. The fact that when man is born again, he still has the tendency to sin should tell you something. Imagine how insecure Christians would feel if everybody mentioned in the Bible was 100% righteous. Who could we relate to when everyone else is making us feel amazingly ‘less than’? You must be hypocritical if you’re one of the façade supporters and yet are not advocates for the book of Job to be completely removed from the Bible.

Maybe my sense of reality is biased, but I’d still like to call myself a realist.

“I know you don’t want to hear the truth

And you hate the fact that I actually got the proof

But I just need you to believe

The good, the bad, the ugly.”

These are the lyrics from Lecrae’s song ‘Good, Bad, Ugly.’ The song tells very personal stories about terrible childhood experiences and molestation. The point I’m trying to make is that the song emphasizes how the story has to be told of his life: the good things, the bad things AND the ugly things.

Here’s to peace, reality, smiles and unicorns.