In Obinze’s first months in England, the first job he finds is as a janitor cleaning toilets. Another worker at the company is a woman from Ghana, but she ignores Obinze and only is friendly to the white cleaners. Obinze wonders if this is because she hopes to invent a new identity in England, which she won’t be able to do around another African. Obinze doesn’t mind the job for a while, but one day he discovers “a mound of shit on the toilet lid,” and he decides to quit. That same day he gets the first email from Ifemelu.
Adichie shows the difficult struggles facing an African immigrant to Europe, as the well-educated and cultured Obinze is forced to stoop to the most menial of jobs just to survive. Obinze recognizes that every immigrant, no matter their class in their home country, has to build up a new identity when they move to a Western country.
Obinze had been deeply hurt and unable to sleep when Ifemelu’s sudden silence began. He had been even more wounded when Ginika told him that Ifemelu had depression, and that was why she needed space. Obinze resented that Ifemelu talked to other people, but not to him. In the five years since then he has been sometimes angry at Ifemelu, sometimes confused, and sometimes sad. The email he gets seems to not acknowledge all the distance between them or how much he has suffered, and he impulsively deletes it.
We finally get Obinze’s side of the sudden separation between him and Ifemelu. Five years have passed, but his romantic feelings and their accompanying pain are still intense. Obinze’s feelings are almost an echo of Ifemelu’s—as the silence and distance between them grew, it seemed impossible to overcome it, and so not worth it to even try.
Back when Obinze first went to England, he stays with his cousin Nicholas. In Nigeria Nicholas had been the most popular student at the university. Girls liked him, but he remained unattached until he met Ojiugo, Obinze’s mother’s student and research assistant. Nicholas and Ojiugo fell in love and became the wildest and most glamorous couple on campus. In England, however, Obinze finds that not a trace remains of Nicholas’s youthful personality. He and Ojiugo are married and have children, and he is very sober and responsible now.
Nicholas and Ojiugo are the first example Obinze sees of people completely changing personalities or identities after immigrating from Nigeria. In Nigeria Nicholas and Ojiugo were carefree and wild, but the difficulties of adjusting to life in England have made them serious and practical.
Obinze stays with Nicholas and Ojiugo, and reminisces with Ojiugo about how she and Nicholas used to act in Nigeria. She says that marriage and all the difficulties of immigrant life changed Nicholas—he was illegally working under other people’s names for years, and constantly in fear of being deported. Obinze cooks dinner one night, and Ojiugo praises his cooking, and then asks about Ifemelu. Obinze says she went to American and forgot about him.
Nicholas experienced the same hardships Obinze is now facing, as he too was forced to work menial jobs and use other people’s identities to find work. Obinze and Ifemelu’s romance was well-known to all their friends, so Obinze has to talk about Ifemelu when reminiscing.
Obinze is constantly waiting to hear back from a job, and always nervous. Nicholas’s young son Nna comes home from school that day and says he wants to become a rapper. Ojiugo laughs and says she didn’t come to London for her son to become a rapper. Nicholas and Ojiugo have their children involved in lots of extracurricular activities, and all their time is scheduled.
Nicholas and Ojiugo’s children face similar struggles to Dike, as they must grow up and reconcile their parents’ identities and wishes with their own, as well as with the culture they are living in. This echoes Aunty Uju’s statement about African-Americans having too many “issues.”
Nna talks back to Ojiugo, and Obinze wonders if she would allow that if Nna didn’t have a British accent. Ojiugo denies this, and says that in England parents want their children to respect them instead of fear them, like they do in Nigeria. Obinze talks more to Ojiugo about their past, and is surprised that she has no regrets about how things might have turned out differently.
Ojiugo is different from Aunty Uju in that Ojiugo prefers the parenting methods of England to those of Nigeria—instead of thinking that her new country is corrupting her children. Obinze is still idealistic and ambitious, and so the disappointing present is especially painful to him.
Ojiugo has gained a lot of weight, and sometimes she goes to different weight loss groups. She complains that white people want to turn everything into a “mental problem,” even her simple love of food. Sometimes Ojiugo’s friends visit while Obinze is around. Ojiugo complains to them about how people don’t expect “people like us” to be talking about private school and music lessons for their children. She especially complains about one rich black woman who seems threatened by her, as the woman always “wants to be the only black person in the room.”
This is another comment on the prevalence of mental disorders like depression and anxiety in the West, and also on how many non-Western immigrants refuse to label their own issues as such for fear of seeming too “white.” In England, as in America, there are differences and tensions between black English and black Africans.