Date Read: January 4th 2016
Published: July 1st 2015
Ifeanyi Awachie, a Nigerian-American Yale University student, was tired of images of terrorism, corruption, and poverty– the only images Western media seemed to use to portray her birth country. So she went back to Nigeria for the first time in nineteen years to change the narrative.
Through Awachie’s vivid photos and honest, poetic writing, Summer in Igboland presents contemporary Nigeria from a unique perspective. The book takes on everything from Nigerian nightlife to the politics of hair to vibrant foods to meeting extended family for the first time as an adult.
As intimate as a diary and as informative as a travel blog, Summer in Igboland is a story of finding fun, personal struggle, and most importantly, one’s roots in a country whose negative stories are often the most prominent. Explore it, and discover modern Nigeria through the eyes and voice of an adventurous, passionate first-generation Nigerian.
Review – ★★★ (3 stars)
Ifeanyi Awachie, a rising senior of Yale at the time won a fellowship to conduct an independent study in Nigeria. The aim of the study was to use photography to challenge the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria. Ifeanyi was born in Nigeria, left when she was eighteen months old and was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She had never been back to Nigeria since her move to the United States, so this summer project was supposed to be a great way to connect with her heritage.
Summer in Igboland is a travelogue where Ifeanyi takes readers to different towns in Nigeria and discusses random happenings of the places she visits, while trying to gain a sense of belonging at the place of her birth. This was a fast and easy read! I enjoyed how the travelogue was written with a personal diary feel and that it wasn’t heavy with historical facts about Nigeria.
As Ifeanyi interacts with Nigeria natives and some relatives, she begins to feel her ‘Americanness’ is a flaw, as her differences are very apparent, like: her American accent, her natural hair (she did not wear a weave as most young Nigerian women did), being a vegetarian (even though she hides this from her family) and her inability to speak the language – Igbo. She poses a lot of thought provoking questions with respect to her identity as she navigates her way through Nigeria. When people call her oyibo (which means ‘white person’) or make a fuss about her not speaking the language, she found that her own people tended to relegate her and made her feel less Nigerian. I could completely understand Ifeanyi feeling her Americanness was a flaw, especially with respect to sounding American and not being very fluent in the native language. Why is it that whenever people find that you are different from them, they tend to make you feel guilty for being different? Will we ever live in a world where differences are appreciated?
I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes on Ifeanyi’s new love for fufu*. Before her trip to Nigeria, she detested fufu. Whenever she was forced to eat fufu as a young girl, she would take bites of it with a fork. Fork? WHO EATS FUFU WITH A FORK? is what I asked myself as I read this. In Ghana, when you don’t use your fingers to eat fufu, you simply use a spoon! But then it occurred to me that Nigerians eat fufu differently from Ghanaians – Ghanaian fufu is usually embedded in bowl of soup. Whereas, the dense pounded yam of Nigerian fufu is usually in a separate bowl from the preferred soup. Once I remembered these differences, I was able to understand why Ifeanyi used to eat fufu with a fork, I guess. Check out what Nigerian fufu looks like – here ; Check out what Ghanaian fufu looks like – here. (Nigerian readers, please correct me if I’m wrong with the fufu comparisons!)
Throughout her exploration of different types of fufu and soups, Ifeanyi even states some fufu facts she learned while in Nigeria:
- One does not eat fufu with utensils.
- One does not chew fufu – one simply swallows.
With respect to the latter, lots of people chew fufu – myself included! *sigh* I can write a whole thesis on this swallowing of fufu phenomenon but I’ll save that for another day. But it was cute to read on Ifeanyi’s love for a dish she initially disliked as I could completely relate to her fufu-eating experience.
I’m glad I read this ebook. I just wish some of the anecdotes were concluded in a more cohesive way. From the blurb, Ifeanyi wanted to change the negative stereotypes associated with Nigeria, but I didn’t really get that from this short ebook. Nevertheless, Summer in Igboland made me think back to the time when I first arrived in Accra at the age of 10 and how I now identify as Ghanaian as well as American. Reading books like Summer in Igboland affirm my love of reading books written by people of African descent / people of the Diaspora because you see yourself in these stories! You start to see and feel that your experience as African, African-American, Caribbean, Black – whatever your heritage or (bi-)cultural upbringing, are all valid. Please consider reading this book, I’d love to discuss it with other readers!
- fufu* – Fufu is a West African dish that consists of pounded boiled yam, cassava, plantain or coco-yam tubers; usually pounded into a dough-like consistency and eaten with soup.
- Other travelogues on Nigeria from a semi-outsiders’ lens you should also check out: Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole and Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
★★★ (3 stars) – Good book. I recommend it, I guess.
Purchase Summer in Igboland on Amazon