Chinua Achebe

As published in Igbo Basics Quarterly Vol. 1 No 5 July 1996.

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There may be some truth to this however, I think the bigger truth is that we came along when you were getting ready for the world stage and we had to share your time with the world. I also realized that you encouraged and rewarded academic excellence. My brother Emeka excelled in school/academics and you rewarded him with a fine pen. On one of your trips to Ogidi in 1979 you learned that I passed the Common Entrance Exam to IMT (Polytechnic). You were happy for me and you immediately pulled out $20.00(Naira) and gave me. That was a lot of money for a young man back then. You just rewarded me for my academic achievement. Now I did not feel as unlucky as I used to feel. Too bad Nigeria never got her Conway Stewart pen.
I remember the first time I went for US Visa and was sent back to get more supporting documents from my office. Blazers International was Sponsoring the trip. I came back with the supporting documents on the appointed day. As I stood in the line, I was praying that I did not get to the man that attended to me the first time. When it was my turn a lady consular officer was available and I heaved a sigh of relief. As soon as I got to her counter, she looked at my passport and called over to the man that attended to me on my first visit and said “here is one of yours”. She sent me over to the man. I said to myself what could be worse. The man looked very serious and I could not read his mood. He took my papers and went through them. Once he was satisfied with the documentation, he decided to have a conversation. He said “is that an Ibo name?” I said yes and he proceeded to ask the question every Achebe has been accustomed to. Are you related to Chinua Achebe? I said yes. He proceeded to tell me how Uncle Chinua paid them a visit recently and they gave him a tour of the Embassy. Although the man checked to make sure that all the required documents were in the packet, I saw a different human being that could open up and have a friendly conversation. I did not feel unlucky for not being the older set of your nephews and nieces.
In my school days at Rutgers University New Jersey in the US, I had to take the college requirements such as literature, history, afro-American studies etc. My brother Nzeamalu Sir. Oyibo Achebe suggested I took literature from the Afro American Studies department. The idea was to kill two birds with one stone. It did not quite work out that way because I was still required to complete a certain number of credits to fulfill the requirements. Anyway the Chairman of Afro American Studies Dr. Jean Pierre Waddel was your fan. He taught literature by African and Caribbean writers. Once he saw my last name you know what followed next. Immediately I became an authority in African affairs. Then I knew I had to study and keep up… like the kids in the inner city America would say “I had to represent". Dr. Jean Pierre Waddel introduced me to Dr. Saidi Samata a tenured Professor of history. He was from Somalia. Professor Samata made it his duty to tell his fellow professors whenever I came around that I was a celebrity. I took his class (History of Africa) and I had to “represent.” I avoided running into Dr. Samata and his professor friends because of his never ending “embarrassing” introduction. It made me wonder what my younger cousins Chinelo, Ike, Chidi and Nwando went through. Like the inner city kids would say “it's all good.” 

Uncle, you touched our lives in so many different but positive ways. You never took family for granted. You were always happy to see us. I remember coming to New York during the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart I was in constant communication with Chidi and wanted to see you before heading back to New Jersey however, towards the close of the event I lost communication with Chidi. I did not realize that you would be wheeled through where I was standing. As soon as you saw me your face lit up. Your eyes showed how surprised and happy you were to see me. You called out my name and stretched out your hand for a quick hand shake as Chidi wheeled you to your vehicle. I remember your phone call when my sister Omelora Nanma Uju Okoye PhD died in a car crash in Nigeria. Your heart was so heavy that you could not talk. You had to get off the phone immediately as you sobbed. That was Uncle Chinua my siblings had fond memories of growing up. You and your siblings had a common thread of being good listeners and full of wisdom. Dike e ji eje mba you have done mankind proud. Ugo n’abo nodu mma

Your Nephew
Okay Achebe