Ifemelu and Obinze decide which university they want to attend. Obinze wants to go to the University of Ibadan, mostly because he loves a poem called “Ibadan.” Ifemelu cannot understand this, but she wants to go to Ibadan as well, because that’s where Aunty Uju went. Before they submit their applications, however, Obinze’s mother has a fainting spell in the library. Obinze decides to go to the university at Nsukka to be near his mother, as she is moving back there.
Aunty Uju is off living in America now, her physical distance echoing the growing distance between her and Ifemelu over The General. But she is still the adult Ifemelu feels closest to, and so Ifemelu wants to follow in Uju’s footsteps at Ibadan. Ifemelu and Obinze’s romance is strong and important enough that it informs their university decisions.
Ifemelu then decides to go to Nsukka as well, though her mother is upset at how far away it is. Some of her friends are going too, and also Emenike, whom Obinze agrees to room with. Later Obinze wonders if his mother’s fainting episode was deliberately planned to keep him near her in Nsukka.
Obinze stays with his mother, while Ifemelu moves farther away from her own. Her mother remains disconnected from Ifemelu’s reality, and so Ifemelu feels closer to Obinze’s mother than to her own.
Ifemelu likes Nsukka, partly because it helps her understand where Obinze came from. She quickly becomes popular at the university, and befriends a young man named Odein, whom she finds attractive. Odein convinces her (and she convinces Obinze) to join in a student demonstration protesting the lack of electricity and water at the university. A car is set on fire during the protest. Later Obinze’s mother says that she understands the students’ anger, but there is no money for the professors either. The school is then shut down when the lecturers strike.
The students protest because there is no electricity and water, and the teachers strike because they aren’t being paid. The corruption at the upper levels of government trickles down and leads to a lack of resources for the majority of Nigerian citizens. Ifemelu and Obinze’s romance first starts to be tested at the university.
The strike lasts a long time, and Ifemelu goes back to Lagos and gets bored with all her free time. Odein lives in Lagos as well, and he takes her to parties sometimes. Obinze finds out about this and gets jealous. Ifemelu says she is just curious about Odein, and she asks if Obinze ever gets curious about other girls. Obinze says he doesn’t, and tells her that she doesn’t realize how different she is from other girls.
Ifemelu and Obinze are separated by a relatively short distance (only Lagos to Nsukka, not Nigeria to America like later), but already the separation puts strains on their relationship. Ifemelu’s restlessness manifests itself in her curiosity about Odein.
The strike finally ends and Ifemelu goes back to Nsukka. Her relationship with Obinze is briefly disturbed by their fight over Odein. The harmattan (a dry, dusty trade wind) begins and everything dries up in the wind. One day Ifemelu gives Obinze a massage, and then they have sex. Obinze doesn’t use a condom, as he says they will surely get married anyway. Ifemelu is slightly disappointed by the sex, especially by how unplanned it was after waiting so long.
The major arc of the novel’s plot follows the progression of Ifemelu’s relationship with Obinze, and here they cross a major landmark in an anticlimactic and very human way. Adichie portrays romantic love and all the mundane interactions between people in a very realistic but sympathetic way, like here with the couple’s first time having sex.
A week later Ifemelu has a pain in her side and she starts throwing up. She fears that she is pregnant. She calls Aunty Uju, who tells her to go to the medical center and get a pregnancy test. Ifemelu feels angry at Obinze, though he offers to go with her. The girl at the medical center looks down on Ifemelu self-righteously. Her pregnancy test comes back negative.
Obinze’s mother is relatively unique in her lack of judgment regarding sex, as seen through the disapproving attitude of the girl in the medical center. The pregnancy scare briefly hints at an alternate future for Ifemelu and Obinze, one where they settle down with a child in Nigeria.
Ifemelu’s sickness worsens that night, and Obinze’s mother takes her to the doctor. In the car Ifemelu suddenly blurts out that she and Obinze had sex. At the doctor Ifemelu learns that she has appendicitis. She calls her mother and tells her that she will have the surgery in Nsukka, and then stay at a friend’s house. Ifemelu’s mother assumes the friend is a girl, but Ifemelu corrects her.
Ifemelu’s mother is now denying reality again, this time regarding Ifemelu herself, assuming that any close friendship she might have must be chaste and with another girl. But now Ifemelu’s relationship with Obinze is forced to reveal itself because of her medical emergency.
After the surgery Ifemelu sits in the hospital bed and watches Obinze’s mother greet her parents. Ifemelu’s father is very impressed by Obinze’s mother and her education, and Ifemelu’s mother is impressed by Obinze. A few days later, Obinze’s mother has a talk with Obinze and Ifemelu, and she tells them to always use a condom when they have sex. Obinze gets embarrassed and angrily leaves the room.
Obinze’s mother is again frank to the point of embarrassment, especially for Obinze, but she proves her value as an intelligent and practical role model for Ifemelu. The couple’s parents meet and it goes well. Everything seems in place for them to eventually get married.