Arts Entertainments

305 Marguerite Avenue – A modern sanctuary?

#305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, University of Nigeria, Nsukka Campus For many staff and students of the University of Nigeria and others across planet Earth it may just be another home in the suburbs of the University of Nigeria staff, campus from Nsukka and for probably. The house in question is quite historic. Why do you ask? It has at one time or another housed two heavyweights of literature; the foremost novelist and acclaimed father of modern African literature, Chinua Achebe, and Chimamanda Adichie described by Nigerian Femi Osofisan as “a new voice bursting forth…”.

I was interested in this and that’s why I decided to locate the house. Along with two young men, Osondu Awaraka and Onyeka Nwelue who were just as interested in the place as I was. Of the three of us, I was the only one who knew the address because I had seen it in one of the newspapers and had embarked on a fruitless search for the house. Now I know I couldn’t find it because when I went looking for #306 there was nothing special, a pointer or a statue or whatever to indicate that two more than mere mortals had ever lived in it and the house number was almost inconspicuous as it was slowly fading.

The sun was a little far from handing over the relief of duty to the early darkness that sunset and the sleeping moon would bring that afternoon. It was 4:08 pm or something close to that Tuesday that we went there.

The motorcycles that took us there stopped around 205 Marguerite Cartwright Street. We went down and our wandering eyes traveled up and down, looking for details that would identify our destination. Soon, it looked like we would be stranded because the house numbers were slowly fading away. But fate smiled on us when we saw house #306, which we thought was our destination and we, unanimous, headed towards it. Green flowers (I honestly don’t know their names) that looked like nature had been playing with brushes. The welcoming driveway was royal and a rather old dark blue Peugeot 504 saloon was parked in a small garage attached to the house painted a white I couldn’t put an adjective to qualify, with a balcony behind it.

The young woman who answered the door to number 306 chuckled after we told her our mission and pointed out that Chimamanda’s house was across the street. She was probably amused to see some idle adventurers or treasure hunters stopping at her door. We went to #305.

Like all the other residential houses in the staff quarters, #305 was a whitewashed multi-story building that I couldn’t decide on an adjective to qualify, with a balcony behind it and a flowerless driveway at the entrance, like those of #306. Instead, there were rows of ixora (as tall as a ten year old), as green as the proverbial green snake under the green grass forming a fence around it. As you walk in, a driveway unblinkingly stars in a staring contest you know you can never win. The house sits in a central position in the courtyard like the nose on the face.

Something about the stillness of the entire scene struck me. It seemed that the house and the adjoining street were being attended by a male spirit, the one the Igbos call “mmuo”. Everything, even the plants and the birdsong in the neighborhood gmelina trees seemed to fear. I told myself it was probably Achebe’s Okonkwo (in Things Fall Apart) or Adichie’s Eugene (in Purple Hibiscus). His presence seemed so real that I have begun to imagine that the parents of these two writers were very strict. What do you think?

There was a couple of men knocking down a telephone pole and a pile of asbestos on the ground. It was obvious that the latter would be used for the renovations that were taking place in the complex because there were asbestos sheets hanging against which I constantly said prayer requests.

Osondu knocked on the door as Onyeka and I waited, my heart pounding so hard with excitement that I thought those inside the house would hear the sound. A chubby-faced boy who looked to be ten years old opened the door. At that moment, I remembered that a friend lived in this house, thanks to the similar features that I observed in the child. I wondered why he had forgotten that in a magazine he had read a few months ago, this address was listed under his name. Before Chinaza Madukwe appeared, my classmates were excitedly talking about something I couldn’t figure out because my blood was dancing wildly. Well, Chinaza came out, shook hands with all of us and said that we couldn’t go in because her parents weren’t there. Although we were really disappointed about that and our spirits dimmed, they rose immediately, she said that she’s fine if we just take a look at the courtyard.

We proceeded to look around. The lawn was pretty clean with a small circular patch and there was a rusty rectangular tank with a square hole in the top right hand corner of one of the sides. A blue tank stirred droplets of water that trickled slowly from its perch on top of a small brick podium covered in green algae that was a few feet from a faucet with buckets around it. A small garden that Onyeka said was probably Aunt Ifeoma’s at Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus was behind the house near the bedrooms of the children who backed us up in cowardly embarrassment.

We have a bit of information about your family gathered from your guide. They had moved into the house a little over a year ago and his father was Professor Michael C. Madukwe, the current Dean of the College of Agriculture. She is, as she already knew, a 300 level Electronic Engineering student from this very University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

We asked our guide if there was a studio. Oh yes, he agreed and went on to say that the study was quite small with two doors, one leading to the balcony and the other to the house. Surely Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie must have used that study many times, either for writing or for some other academic exercise.

Even though Chinaza told us that we would not be able to take snapshots of the building, we were quite pleased to have been visitors to the tranquil environment that Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie had once inhabited and been inspired to produce fine literary works.

Osondu’s face turned white as death when Chinaza told us that he hadn’t read Purple Hibiscus and had barely read Half of a Yellow Sun. It was more than a surprise. I wasn’t too surprised because earlier this year when I went to the University of Nigeria bookstore to buy the latest novel, the assistant said that they didn’t sell any of Adichie’s books because he hadn’t brought them to the bookstore.

As night approached, we decided to leave and promised to return later after obtaining official permission from Chinaza’s father to take pictures of the house. She in turn promised that we would get to see the inside of the house.

We walk back to the lodge, tired but satisfied. In particular, I felt as triumphant as a sailor who returns from a successful expedition after visiting the house that had housed two of Africa’s greatest writers. So we started listing the similarities between the two and the list seemed endless. Aside from the fact that they both resided at 305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue, UNN, I’ll list a few here.

First of all, both Achebe and Adichie are from the same ethnic group, the Igbo, and hail from Ogidi and Abba, respectively, two towns twenty minutes drive from each other in Anambra State in Nigeria. Conceived!

Next on the list of matches is the same educational background they both share. They both read medicine (although Adichie dropped out early) but later switched to the arts. While Achebe was a professor in the Department of English and Literary Studies, Adichie, whose father was the first Nigerian professor of statistics and whose mother was the first Registrar of UNN, attended the University Staff Secondary School, Nsukka and attended the pre-med here. at UNN as well.

Their names also have some amazing similarities that never cease to amaze me. His first names begin with the prefix “Chi-” which means God. Also, his last names start with an “A” and end with an “e”. Onyeka was quick to point out that Chinaza also began with “Chi-” and that his last name also ended with “e”. What string of matches?

Currently, they both reside in the United States of America and yet, both of them recently won literary awards. While Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize, Adichie won the Orange Prize for Fiction. There are so many other similarities that we may not know and probably never will.

I commented that I expected a crowd of devotees to flock down to see and worship 305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue and also that the Nigerian Authors Association (ANA) should have included a visit to such a historic place among the events scheduled for the celebration. of 50 years of Things Fall Apart that is celebrated between April 12 and 24 in various cities in Nigeria. We all would have hoped that so many Nigerians would want to explore this house that would have been a literary sanctuary and tourist destination had it existed outside the shores of this country that Achebe chooses not to call great.

Sometimes we always dwell on the fact that ‘a prophet has no honor in his own land’. But suppose that in time, things will happen. Maybe now. Maybe later.

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