I have been a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for many years. I was introduced to her work when I was studying in college and I was immediately hooked. I instantly read all of her writing that I could get my hands on. I also wrote about her and her stories many times over the course of my time in college. That is why I was so shocked and saddened when I heard that her father was recently kidnapped. It is strange when you hear stories about your favourite writers or musicians because although you don’t know these people you often feel like you do because their work means so much to you. Back in the beginning of May Adichie’s father who is 83 years old was kidnapped in Nigeria. James Nwoye Adichie became the first professor of statistics in Nigeria and he thought at the University in Nsukka for 50 years before he retired. It was reported that the kidnappers demanded 50 million Naira before they would release her father.
Kidnapping members of wealthy or prominent families is not uncommon in Southeastern Nigeria however the number of abductions has been declining in recent years. The kidnappers identified Chimamanda by name and asked that she bring them the money herself because she was known to them as a writer. She has spoken of her own guilt that her father was targeted because she is a public figure. Although it is in no way her fault or the fault of anyone but the people who commit these terrible acts it is an understandable reaction when your loved one has been hurt. It’s instinctual to try to protect the ones we love the most. Thankfully this story has a happy ending and her father was returned to his family unharmed after three days. The amount of money that they were forced to pay was never disclosed to the media.
As I read Adichie’s own account of this terrible incident in an article that she wrote for the New York Times it really made me think. Adichie regularly speaks out about many important issues such as women’s rights, gay rights, religion, mental health and the political instability in her own country. When I was reading her work or listening to her speak it never really occurred to me that she was taking such a huge risk. Of course I thought of the risk in terms of putting herself out there as a writer. I thought this was exceedingly brave but I never really thought of it in terms of a risk to anyones safety.
When you read Adichie’s work the love she has for Nigeria is glaringly obvious but she does also acknowledges that there are many problems in her country. She has written and spoken in a very frank and courageous way on these issues and many others, countless times over the course of her career. I recently saw a speech that she gave just days after this incident occurred and I was amazed by the way she spoke so openly about the fear and the anger she felt towards the people who did this to her father. She also spoke once more of her own guilt about the incident. it is of course impossible to know why anyone does these things and there is no telling if Adichie’s family would have been targeted anyway because they are a prominent family in the area. That being said Adichie is no stranger to criticism and she is aware that there are those who do not share her views. She has received negative attention, as well as receiving many accolades in the past for expressing views that others in Nigeria do not agree with. This has not stopped her from voicing her opinions and standing up for what she believes in, in spite of what others may think.
She has made many impassioned speeches about feminism and condemned those who do not support gender equality. One of her most recent speeches was a commencement address at Wellesley College. In this speech Adichie refers to the fact that critics have often tried to silence her but they cannot. She tells these college students not to waste their time on earth trying to please other people. She also tells these woman who society tells to change who they are for others, saying they shouldn’t try to twist themselves into shapes in order to be liked.
Another story that resonated with me this week was a video that I saw on social media called Honor Diaries. This video is about a group of female activists who are working for woman’s rights. This particular movie deals with violence against woman in the name of “honor”. I found this video really shocking and also quite moving. I feel very strongly about women’s rights and so I was amazed by these woman’s bravery in talking about such important issues. They receive regular hate mail and even death treats for talking about these matters but they do it anyway because they feel it is so important to speak out against this type of violence. Once again they admit to being afraid but they say they can still show bravery.
In recent months I have had a lot of reservations about putting my own words on things, about putting them out there for others to see and let’s be honest to judge. We are now in an age where people have no problem criticising each other especially anonymously behind the safety of a key board. I haven’t used this blog in almost a year so of course all of my insecurities raised their ugly heads again and I began to worry what if I sound stupid? What if no one cares? What if people do care? What if I make a fool of myself?” And so on and so on…. Watching this video and reading Adichie’s story made me stop and reevaluate my thought process. So, what if that does happens? What if I make a fool of myself? Will disaster strike? Will I die of embarrassment? The answer is no. No major damage will be done, except maybe to my ego and well, I will recover from that…eventually!!
These activists and writers take much bigger risks every time they put their work out there. They risk judgement, ridicule, criticism and even their own lives if people don’t like what they have to say but they do it anyway because it’s important to use your voice. I am not taking half the amount of risks they are when I put my opinions out into the world. Even though this is true I have to admit I still feel scared to do it because it is always risky to put yourself out there. But if they can show that kind of bravery then I suppose I can be scared and still show some bravery too. So here’s to not silencing your own voice and to taking a few more risks….