Extract Question – Westerner attitudes to Biafra

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How does Adichie present Westerner attitudes towards Biafra in the following extract?

The redhead did not laugh. ‘We don’t know for sure that it was Nigerian fire. The Biafrans could have put it on.’

‘Oh, come on!’ The plump one glanced at Richard, but Richard kept his face straight. ‘Of course it was Nigerian fire.’

‘The Biafrans are mixing up foods and guns in their planes, anyway,’ the redhead said. He turned to Richard. ‘Aren’t they?’

Richard disliked him. He disliked his washed-out green eyes and his red-freckled face. When he had met them at the airport and handed them their passes and told them he would be their guide and that the Biafran government welcomed them, he had disliked the redhead’s expression of scornful amusement. It was as if he were saying, You are speaking for the Biafrans?

‘Our relief planes carry only food supplies,’ Richard said.

‘Of course,’ the redhead said. ‘Only food supplies.’

The plump one leaned across Richard to look out of the window. ‘I can’t believe people are driving cars and walking around. It’s not like there’s a war going on.’

‘Until an air raid happens,’ Richard said. He had moved his face back and was holding his breath.

‘Is it possible to see where the Biafran soldiers shot the Italian oil worker?’ the redhead asked. ‘We’ve done something on that at the Tribune, but I’d like to do a longer feature.’

‘No, it’s not possible,’ Richard said sharply.

The redhead was watching him. ‘Okay. But can you tell me anything new?’

Richard exhaled. It was like somebody sprinkling pepper on his wound: Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man. Richard would write about this, the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person. ‘There is nothing new to tell,’ he said. ‘The area is occupied now.’

At the checkpoint, Richard spoke Igbo to the civil defender. She examined their passes and smiled suggestively and Richard smile back; her thin, tall, breastlessness reminded him of Kainene.

‘She looked like she was real interested,’ the plump one said. ‘I hear there’s a lot of free sex here. But the girls have some kind of sexually transmitted disease? The Bonny disease? You guys have to be careful so you don’t take anything back home.’

His presumptuousness annoyed Richard. ‘The refugee camp we are going to is run by my wife.’

‘Really? She been here long?’

‘She’s Biafran.’

The redhead had been staring out of the window; he turned now toward Richard. ‘I had an English friend at college who really went for coloured girls.’

The plump one looked embarrassed. He spoke quickly. ‘You speak Igbo pretty well?’

‘Yes,’ Richard said. He wanted to show them the photos of Kainene and the roped pot, but then he thought better of it.

‘I’d love to meet her,’ the plump one said.

‘She’s away today. She’s trying to get more supplies for the camp.’

He climbed out of the car first and saw the two interpreters waiting. Their presence annoyed him. It was true that idioms and nuances and dialects often eluded him in Igbo, but the directorate was always too prompt in sending interpreters. Most of the refugees sitting outside watched them with vague curiosity. An emaciated man was walking around, a dagger strapped to his waist, talking to himself. Rotten smells hung heavy in the air. A group of children was roasting two rats around a fire.

‘Oh, my God.’ The plump one removed his hat and stared.

‘Niggers are never choosy about what they eat,’ the redhead muttered.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

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