Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Okey Ndibe’s Memoir and Its Intriguing Title

Okey Ndibe’s Memoir

Never Look an American in the Eye is the title of Okey Ndibe’s memoir. How did he choose the title? He says, Never Look an American in the Eye, A Memoir of Flying Turtles, Colonial Ghosts, and the Making of a Nigerian American, came from advice his uncle gave him when he first came to America.

The uncle, it turns out, had no experience in America. But he had seen Western movies where two men tried to stare each other down. When neither gave way, one would pull a gun and shoot the other. So he warned his nephew!

I will be with Ndibe next month at the African Literature Association Conference at Yale.

On the first full day of the conference, June 15, I’ll be part of a roundtable with him and three others. The title is, “Okey Ndibe and Life-Writing: Looking Igbos in the Eye with Okey Ndibe.” Clever use of his memoir title to name the roundtable discussion, don’t you think?

Connections Abound

Okey with his wife Sheri Fafunwa, my friend's daughter.

Okey with his wife Sheri Fafunwa, my friend’s daughter.

I first knew Okey Ndibe as the husband of Sheri Fafunwa, daughter of my friend and fellow Nigerwives co-founder Doris. I saw Doris in Nigeria in January. Now of course I also know Okey as a famous author!

On the panel with me is John Masterson from Sussex University in England. Another interesting connection, I thought!

A few days ago I wrote to Matthew Lecznar at Sussex. I had seen they were also doing a conference on Biafra and he was the contact. I wrote just to establish a connection. Matthew wrote back to say he’d enjoyed my presentation in London! Now I’ll write again to tell him I’m sharing a roundtable with a colleague of his, another Sussex African scholar.

Never Look an American in the Eye got excellent reviews. It’s been on my to-read list, but I realized I better read it soon! It’s now waiting on my iPad.

I'm eager to read Ndibe's memoir, Never Look an American in the Eye.

I’m eager to read Ndibe’s memoir, Never Look an American in the Eye.

If it is as enjoyable as his novel Foreign Gods Inc. I should have a good time reading.

I’m also on a panel the next day called, “Inter-Racial Encounters in Life and Fiction.” That’s when I’ll give my paper about Nigerwives. I will mention Doris Fafunwa, Okey Ndibe’s mother-in-law, in that presentation. Small world indeed!

I believe Yale Bookstore is ordering my memoir to have for sale during the conference. I’m sure Ndibe’s memoir will there too so I’ll be in good company!

Girls Rescued from Boko Haram

The news a few days ago about the 82 Chibok girls exchanged for 5 Boko Haram militants was exciting. Today the NYTimes tells us the girls are in Abuja, being treated, but have not yet seen their families.

The government officials have said, “they could not reunite the newly released girls with their families until they verified the girls’ identities and matched them with their relatives. They were circulating photos to family members, many of whom were scattered across the rural countryside of the northeastern part of Nigeria where both internet service and smartphones are rare.”

Can you imagine the frustration of the parents who have seen their daughter’s names on the list but are not yet united? And of course the desperation of the parents who have not.

Boko Haram Captives Now in Camps

There has been news of other women and girls who have escaped or rescued from Boko Haram and are now living in camps for internally displaced persons.

Author Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s essay talks about them. It is a well-told story, but so sad.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Tender Tale of Women Living with Boko Haram Will Break Your Heart

You can read the beginning of his essay on the Brittle Paper blog, or all of it in Granta online.


I’ll give you a taste of the chapter about Nigerwives for my second book. I think my paper at the ALA Conference will include this scene.

“You saved my life.” A woman of about forty with short brown hair, wearing a little eye-liner and mascara, was addressing me in her American-accented voice. “I came to Nigeria eighteen years ago. I had no idea what I was getting into. I was going crazy in the first year. I nearly left,” she said. “Then I got pregnant.”

I reached out to touch her arm as she continued. “One day before my first baby was born I met Brenda in the market, and she brought me to Nigerwives.”

“What’s your name?” I said, leaning forward but still unable to read her name tag without my glasses.

“Michelle. I’ve met so many friends here. They’re like family to me. They’ve even helped me understand my husband. I’m glad I stayed.”

With other Nigerwives at their January meeting in Lagos

With other Nigerwives at their January meeting in Lagos. Doris is in the center.

It was January 7, 2017. I was at the monthly meeting of Nigerwives in Lagos, Nigeria. On Friday the 6th I had returned to Lagos after spending Christmas and New Year’s in my husband’s village in eastern Nigeria. Nigerwives met on Saturdays. Would the meeting be the next day? I called my friend Millicent on Saturday morning.

“Yes, the meeting is the first Saturday of the month, so it’s this afternoon,” she said “Have you forgotten?”

“I’ve been away a long time,” I said. “Where is it? Are you going?”

“It’s at Corona School, Ikoyi. I can’t go today but I’m sure Doris Fafunwa will be there,” Millicent said.

I went, Doris was there, and she introduced me to the group as co-founder.

I thanked her and said she was one of the other founders! I felt so at home in this group of women, my own “tribe” in Nigeria.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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