After Kayode’s party, Ginika and Ifemelu feel awkward around each other, even though Ifemelu apologizes and Ginika isn’t angry. Soon afterward Ginika’s family decides to move to America, however, and in their last weeks together Ginika’s friendship with Ifemelu is restored. Once, at Ginika’s house, Ifemelu hears her father say that the current government is treating people like “sheep,” so he must leave if he is to do any real research instead of just organizing strikes.
We see things through Ifemelu’s young eyes right now, but there is clearly trouble in the government: professors and teachers aren’t being paid. Ginika’s departure sets the stage for her future reunion with Ifemelu in America. But for now the best friends experience a painful physical separation.
Ginika doesn’t want to leave her friends and go to America. Ranyinudo says that maybe she’ll come back and be an “Americanah” like another girl who came back from America with an affected new accent. Almost everyone is jealous of Ginika, however, especially Emenike, one of the “Big Guys” who pretends to be rich even though everyone knows he isn’t. Ifemelu feels uncomfortable in the discussion about foreign travel, as her family is too poor to have ever traveled.
The word “Americanah” is first introduced here. It is a slang word making fun of Nigerians who go off to live in America and then come back pretending they are superior or foreign. Ifemelu is like Emenike—too poor to travel—but Emenike builds up a false identity for himself, even though everyone knows it’s a lie.
Obinze, on the other hand, seems worldly and comfortable among the rich popular students. He is obsessed with American culture, and whenever he wants to compliment Ifemelu’s appearance he says she “looks like a black American.” He tries to get Ifemelu interested in American literature, but she doesn’t like any of it. Sometimes Ifemelu feels insecure and thinks that Obinze would be better off with the wealthy, well-traveled Ginika.
Obinze’s lifelong fascination with America leads to a cruel irony when he is the one denied an American visa and Ifemelu ends up becoming an American citizen. Obinze’s compliment doesn’t elevate lighter skin over darker skin, but it still elevates American culture over Nigerian culture.
One day Obinze tells Ifemelu that his mother wants to meet her. Ifemelu is surprised, as usually kids their age keep any dating secret from their parents. Ifemelu is nervous but comes to Obinze’s flat. She meets Obinze’s mother and is surprised by her beauty and confident intelligence. Obinze banters easily with his mother, and they discuss literature and her romantic life. Ifemelu is shocked, and thinks of how, compared to Obinze’s mother, her father’s big words seem pretentious and crude, and her mother “provincial and small.” Obinze cooked the meal, and Ifemelu admits that she doesn’t ever cook at home.
In Obinze’s mother, Ifemelu has a female role model she can aspire to. Obinze’s life with his mother is much more liberal, intellectual, and nontraditional than Ifemelu’s life with her parents, showing where he gets his thoughtful maturity. Ifemelu connects at a deep level with Obinze’s mother.
After that Ifemelu often visits Obinze’s mother at her apartment. One day the three of them are watching a movie, and then Obinze’s mother leaves to go pick up her allergy medicine. Immediately Obinze and Ifemelu pause the movie and start kissing and touching each other on his bed. They return to the living room when they hear Obinze’s mother’s car, and press play on the movie. Obinze’s mother walks in and notices that no time has passed in the movie. She calls Ifemelu to her bedroom to talk.
Ifemelu is afraid that Obinze’s mother is like her own mother, and would see any kind of unmarried sex as sinful or evil. Obinze and Ifemelu are still in the throes of their teenage romance but they haven’t slept together yet.
Obinze’s mother discusses sex frankly with the embarrassed Ifemelu. She says she knows how it is to be young and in love, but “Nature is unfair to women” and so she would wait to have sex with Obinze until they are at least in university. Obinze’s mother tells Ifemelu to tell her when they do start having sex, so she can make sure they’re being responsible. Ifemelu nods, thinking that the whole scene feels surreal, especially the absence of shame or secrecy in Obinze’s mother’s voice. Later Obinze is embarrassed about his mother’s directness, but he and Ifemelu joke about it.
Obinze’s mother truly shows her progressive nature in the way she deals with sex. She is very practical about the subject, and there is no shame or mention of sin in the whole conversation. Obinze’s mother recognizes that society (and the nature of pregnancy) is unfair to women, so Ifemelu must be more careful than Obinze.