Stewart "Stone" Riley is the US spokesman for Africa Beat. His biography reads like a rocker's creed: born in a small town, formed a group in high school, suffered under commercialization, was crucified by the press, rumored to be dead, rose again in the charts and the rest of it. He claims he is influenced by rhythm and blues. Deola has heard his music and it sounds nothing like the R&B she listened to in the eighties, music with a beat she can dance to. In London, the spokesperson for Africa Beat is Dára, a hip-hop singer. He is Nigerian, but because of the accent over his name and his tendency to drop his H's, Anne mistakes him for French West African. Deola tells Anne he is Yoruba.
"Dára?" Anne says, stressing the first syllable of his name instead of the last. "Really?"
"His name means 'beautiful.' It is short for 'beautiful child.'"
"That's appropriate," Anne says. "He is very beautiful."
Deola does not know one Nigerian who thinks Dára is beautiful. They say he looks like a bush boy, not to mention his questionable English. It is almost as if they are angry he is accepted overseas for the very traits that embarrass them.
"Do you speak the language, then?" Anne asks, hesitantly.
"I thought you were British."
She tells Anne she was born in Nigeria and grew up there. She went to school in England in her teens, got her degree from London School of Economics and has since lived and worked in London. She doesn't say she has a British passport, that she swore allegiance to the Queen to get one and would probably have got down on her knees at the home office and begged had her application been denied.
"You see yourself as Nigerian, then," Anne says.
"Absolutely," Deola says.
She has never had any doubts about her identity, though other people have. She has yet to encounter an adequate description of her status overseas. Resident alien is the closest. She definitely does not see herself as British. Perhaps she is a Nigerian expatriate in London.
"Atlanta doesn't have any programs in Nigeria," Anne says.
"London doesn't either."
"I suppose that's because you haven't been approached."
"Actually." This slips out with a laugh. "The management team doesn't trust Nigerians."
Anne frowns. "Oh, I'm not so sure about that. It's the government they don't trust, but it's a shame to hold NGOs responsible for that. I mean, they are just trying to raise funds for for these people, who really don't need to be punished any more than they have been already."
Deola tells herself she must not say the word "actually" again on this trip. "Actually" will only lead to another moment of frankness, one that might end in antagonism. Nor will she say the words "these people" so long as she works for LINK or ever in her life.
She tells Anne that Kate Meade is considering a couple of programs in Nigeria. One is to prevent malaria in children and the other is for women whose husbands have died from AIDS. The London office funds programs in Kenya, South Africa and other African countries that have a record for being what they call "fiscally reliable."
"Do you like living in London?" Anne asks.
"I do," Deola says, after a pause.
"It's very European these days."
"It is also very American."
"You know, with hip-hop and the obsession with celebrities."
Anne shuts her eyes. "Ugh!"
Sincerity like this is safe. As a Nigerian, Deola, too, is given to unnecessary displays of humiliation.
"Do you think you will ever go back to Nigeria?" Anne asks.
Deola finds the question intrusive, but she has asked herself this whenever she can't decide if what she really needs is a change in location, rather than a new job.
From A Bit of Difference by Sefi Atta. Copyright © 2012 by Sefi Atta. Excerpted by permission of Interlink Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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