April 18, 2008

305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, University of Nigeria Nsukka


Does the address ring a bell? Even here on the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria, very few students can readily recognize the address. Some time ago, that was the house address of Chinua Achebe, the internationally celebrated writer of the classic “Things Fall Apart”. The interesting bit is after he moved out of the building, the Adichie family moved into the residence with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She grew up and is now the author of two wonderful books - Purple Hibiscus (Winner of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Best First Book Prize) and Half of a Yellow Sun (Winner of the coveted Orange Prize for fiction). Imagine that! Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie lived in the same house at different points in time. This coincidence has intrigued thousands of fans including my colleagues and I, and so we set off one evening to see the building that at various times sheltered two of the greatest literary influences on our generation.

Eromo Egbejule, Onyeka Nwelue and I walked down Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, searching for house number 305. Looking eagerly from one side of the street to the other, we increased our pace, perhaps individually hoping to be the first to spot the house. We got confused at a point because the number of the house was not clear and so through the wire mesh, I asked the two men taking down a telephone pole if the house was number 305. Both of them had no knowledge of what number the house was, they were just there to work. We crossed the street and knocked on house number 306 to enquire. A young woman answered the door, stared curiously at us after we queried her and then pointed at the very house we were coming from. And so we went back across the street this time with our eyes out for interesting details.

We walked to the house slowly and my eyes ran over everything. The house seemed to be undergoing renovation, as there was a heap of broken asbestos ceiling boards in the corner next to plenty pieces of wood. We walked up to the front door, exchanged glances and then not sure what sort of welcome to expect I knocked.

We waited a while then a young boy of about ten answered. Before I could ask him to fetch an older family member, Eromo recognised him as the younger brother of a friend and sent him to fetch her. When Chinaza Madukwe surfaced my hope of getting a guided tour both inside and around the historic house rose but was dashed seconds later when Chinaza said she couldn’t let us into the house, neither would she let us walk around the yard. I was crushed. Disappointed, we resorted to asking her questions. “Did you meet any piece of furniture in the house?”, “Have any of the previous inhabitants visited?” She replied negatively. “Have you read Purple Hibiscus?”, “Have you read Half of a Yellow Sun?” Her answer to these two questions surprised me. I stared incredulously at her when she said she hadn’t read Purple Hibiscus and that she had read only a little of Half of a Yellow Sun.

She did not reveal much personal information. In summary, her family moved in about a year ago. Her father is a Professor of Agric Extension and the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture here in the University of Nigeria. While Chinaza conversed with Eromo, Onyeka and I looked around the side of the house. We stood on the lawn very close to the car port, and I stared eagerly at what had once been Chinua Achebe’s backyard and then later Chimamanda Adichie’s. While Eromo and Onyeka discussed similarities between Aunty Ifeoma’s house and this house, my roving eyes fell on the bright red mangoes at the very top of the tree in the backyard. I wondered if Chimamanda had ever climbed that tree. Then I remembered when she mentioned how she and other kids played in the neighbourhood in her essay “Tiny Wonders”. I turned to the street. It was empty. It was evening so I expected that by now kids would be hanging out, riding bikes, playing and yelling at each other. There was no such activity. I asked Chinaza about the neighbourhood kids and she said most of the families who lived on the street had big kids who had left home.

Our sojourn was declared over after a while and the three of us walked away from the dull white house towards the empty street. By the pile of wood, so inconspicuous I nearly missed it, was a plant with large red flowers and I picked it. It thought it looked a little like the flower on the cover of my copy of Purple Hibiscus (British publisher). After examining the petals I sniffed it. It had no scent. I dropped it and went on.

As I walked back the way I came, I ticked off all the similarities Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie shared that I could remember, the petty and the significant. Chinua is an indigene of Anambra State, Chimamanda is an indigene of Anambra State, but from a different area; Both their names begin with the same three letters “Chi”; Middle names not inclusive, they both have the same initials C.A, C.A; they both called 305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, University of Nigeria, Nsukka Campus home at one time in their lives; they both currently reside in the United States and they are both very important literary personalities in Nigeria and beyond its borders.

In a few days, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) will celebrate 50 years of THINGS FALL APART. The theme: Telling the world the African story. It kicked off 6 days ago in Lagos on the 12th of April and will end April 26th here on the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria. The keynote speaker is Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and the special guest of honour is the remarkable Nelson Mandela. People are expected to arrive Nigeria from various corners of the earth to celebrate what Chinua Achebe has done for African literature. If you are as interested as I am in Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie, when you arrive you will stop, even if it's briefly, and stare curiously at house number 305 on Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, Nsukka Campus, University of Nigeria.

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READ Onyeka Nwelue's version of this trip here
READ Eromo Egbejule's version of this trip here
READ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's personal account of family life at 305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, University of Nigeria, Nsukka here.
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UPDATE: Celebration of 50 Years of Things Fall Apart by the Association of Nigerian Authors
Post includes photos, quotes, and the keynote address by Professor Ernest Emenyonu

5 comments:

  1. Fabulous... An Incredible Piece of Writing.. Am proud to represent you... Very soon a lot of web clicks will hit this direction... You just have to watch... Long Live Your Creativity....! Dera

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  2. You're doing really well...this piece kinda reminded me of #4 privet drive (H.P).

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  3. Interesting to know they both lived in the same house...hmmn!

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  4. Have just finished reading "Purple Hibiscus" and was really happy finding your article, though I still search for more pictures from Nsukka, as I myself am from Germany, the place Father Amadi went to. :-)

    Franzi from Germany

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  5. Hello Franzi,
    It was very nice to read your comment. I'm pleased you enjoyed my article. Please, drop everytime you can...

    How did you find it? Google?

    Thanks

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