Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on what it's like to live in fear of malaria (2023)


wo stories on malaria, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie written for the Malaria Summit, London.


I was about ten years old. My mother had brought me to the medical center on the campus of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where I grew up. As we sat waiting for the doctor, people stopped to say hello to my mother. The campus was a small community and everyone knew everyone else. Each person who greeted my mother would then turn to me and say, “Ndo, sorry for your malaria.’

Malaria was so common that everyone assumed that if you were in the hospital, it was because you had malaria. Actually, on that day, I was in hospital for an eye allergy but it occurred to me that it was the only time I had ever been to see a doctor for an illness that was NOT malaria.

(Video) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story | TED

We knew malaria. We knew malaria intimately. So intimately that we recognized the specific contours of its affliction. My malaria always came with an unbearable rumbling, aching feeling that I can only describe as an anguish in my stomach. It left me light-headed, weak, nauseous, helpless. My brother Okey’s malaria came with deeply painful aches at his joints. For my brother Kene, a bitter taste would cling to his tongue and his head would ache and feel twice its size. My friend Obianuju’s malaria came with a fever that made her look like a foreign, frightening version of herself, her eyes would bulge and her teeth would chatter and she would vomit and vomit until she felt weak and emptied.

We knew malaria so intimately that we knew the medicines well, fansidar tablets tasted like paint, chloroquine injections made us itchy everywhere, even beneath our fingernails, novalgin injections were too painful to bear.

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Each time I had malaria, I didn’t go to school. Once, in Class 2, at the age of 13, I had a very bad case of malaria that made me miss a whole week of school. My friends came to visit bearing cards, as though on pilgrimage, and when I finally went back to school, I felt left out, bereft, because so much had passed me by. It was during that week that quadratic equations were covered in mathematics class. I missed it all. And I have, since then, never been able to make sense of quadratic equations. So perhaps the only good thing I can say for malaria is that I can’t be held responsible for my poor grasp of mathematics. It’s all malaria’s fault.

We knew malaria so intimately that mosquitoes were familiar. In the evenings, when we played outside, we expected the mosquitoes to bite us, and they did. There was the sting, and then the itchy bump that would rise on our skin, red and painful. There was the delicious sense of accomplishment we got from slapping at a mosquito that had landed on our skin. And then the disgust we felt at seeing that insect swollen fat with our blood.

Our windows had mosquito nets. But mosquitoes found their way into the house anyway – all it took was a few seconds, the front door opened to come indoors, the back door opened to go outside. They seemed to be more active at night. There was often a mosquito buzzing at my ear as I tried to sleep, stubborn and patient and annoying, waiting to feed on my blood.

As one must have fed on my friend Ekumeku’s blood.

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Ekumeku was a bright, funny girl, two years older than me. She was pretty and popular and she had a skill that we children considered very exotic: she could crochet, she would hold a crochet needle and a ball of wool in her hands and before you knew it, a hat or a shawl had materialized. One day she fell sick. It was, of course, malaria. She took chloroquin tablets. Two days later she was shaking in bed. She had seizures, her skin so hot it almost burned and her eyes looked blank and she was delirious. She was talking, sentences running into one another, but nothing she said made any sense.

She was taken to hospital. She missed school for weeks. When finally she returned to school, we could tell that something was desperately wrong; her eyes were glazed, and it seemed as if a different person had inhabited her body. We were told that she had cerebral malaria. That the malaria had got to her brain. It changed her life forever. Today, I often think of her and wonder whether she can still crochet.


Growing up on the campus of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, my brothers and I had a happy childhood full of outdoor play – football and badminton and rolling old tires. During the rainy season, there would be stagnant water in an old basin in the backyard. Tiny wriggly things would appear in the water. Mosquito larvae. We watched them in fascination. Sometimes we scooped some up and put them in a container, which we took indoors to our room because we wanted to see them turn into mosquitoes. This was – obviously – a terrible idea. But we were children and we were foolhardy and curious in the way that children are. Today, I have two homes. I live in the US, and I live in Lagos. Each time I am at home in Lagos, I’m struck by how many neighborhoods, both in affluent and non-affluent areas, are full of stagnant water. And so I am vigilant about malaria, so vigilant that it annoys my family and friends. At home, I frequently examine the mosquito nets on the windows to check for gaps. I am obsessive about keeping fully-shut at all times the doors that lead outside. A frequent refrain that friends and family hear from me when they visit me is ‘Mechie uzo osiso maka mosquito!’ ‘Shut the door quickly because of mosquitoes!’ I always carry a repellent spray in my handbag. When I go out in the evening, to a restaurant or to visit a friend, I bring out the canister from time to time and spray myself.

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My friends roll their eyes at all this. ‘It’s just malaria,’ they say. They’ve become so conditioned to having malaria, malaria has become so commonplace, that they are blasé about it. They think malaria is inevitable. But it isn’t. We don’t HAVE to have malaria. I certainly don’t want to have malaria. And so, dramatic as it may sound, I live in fear of malaria. Because it is such a miserable experience, because I worry that if I get malaria after not having had it for a while, it will be even worse. Still, despite all my precautions, I got malaria in December and was indeed beyond miserable. It left me unable to write, to think, to do. A waste of a week. But it is my two and a half year old daughter that I worry the most about. There is much from my childhood that I would like my daughter to also have - the outdoor play, the sense of adventure. But I do not want her to be as intimately familiar with malaria as I was growing up. I do not want her to be familiar with getting injections of malaria medicine, as I was. I still remember starting to cry even before my parents and I got to the medical center, and into the nurses room full of terrifying little vials of medicine.

I would be feverish from malaria, my head aching and my stomach in an acute stage of unrest. My father would hold me across his lap, gently but firmly so that I didn’t move, and my mother would soothe my forehead, while everyone coaxed me not to tighten my muscles so that the needle wouldn’t break, and I would lie very still, holding my breath, anxiously waiting to feel the first prick of the needle – and then my screaming would begin anew. Now, because I am so vigilant to prevent my daughter from getting malaria, I spray every exposed part of her skin whenever she is in Lagos. I spray her ears, her toes, her neck. I am curious about repellents and I try different ones. Should I use the repellent with DDT on a two year old or should I not? Does the repellent made of natural oils really work? And so in Lagos my daughter smells of insect repellent, and each time I hold her and hug her I wish she didn’t have to smell like that. I wish she smelled of more innocent scents, the scent of babies, of fresh talcum and baby lotion and lavender. I wish she did not have to wear on her skin the proof of her mother’s eternal vigilance against malaria.

Still, despite these efforts, a few months ago I discovered a red and itchy bump on her forehead. A mosquito bite. I went into mild panic. I bought camoquin in readiness for malaria. I watched her like a hawk for symptoms but fortunately malaria didn’t happen. But it could very well have happened. And I found myself thinking of how wonderful it would be to be free of this vigilance. How wonderful to let her play outside without worry. Of course playing outside means being bitten by some insect, because that is the nature of nature after all, but how wonderful to know that insect bites, while perhaps painful, would not be the possible precursor of a horrible disease. How wonderful it would be if children no longer missed school because of malaria, if workers no longer missed work, if people no longer wasted days and weeks in the lethargy of malaria. How wonderful it would be if those roadside medicine hawkers no longer had to dispense dubious pills for people who cannot afford to go to the doctor. How wonderful it would be if Nigeria were a country where foreigners could travel to without first anxiously taking malaria prophylactics. Today we are talking about self-driving cars and drones that deliver our groceries and yet this ancient disease, this disease that we know can be conquered because it has been conquered in different parts of the world, is still killing so many people in the Commonwealth. So many that malaria is responsible for half of all the deaths in the Commonwealth. We have the science and the knowledge to beat malaria. It is doable. May we also have the will to do it.

(Video) Let's Fight Malaria & Other Tropical Diseases In Africa | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


What is the main point of the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? ›

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice -- and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. This talk was presented at an official TED conference.

What is the main idea of Adichie made in her speech? ›

Adichie argues that single stories often originate from simple misunderstandings or one's lack of knowledge of others, but that these stories can also have a malicious intent to suppress other groups of people due to prejudice (Adichie).

What is the main point that Adichie makes in her TED talk when she describes her experience of reading Western children's books? ›

What is the main point that Adichie makes in her TED talk when she describes her experience of reading Western children's books? She is emphasizing that the characters are similar to her.

What is the central idea of the danger of a single story? ›

The risk of the single story, the one perspective, is that it can lead us to default assumptions, conclusions and decisions that may be incomplete, and may lead to misunderstanding. Operating from the context of a single story can prevent us from a more complex, nuanced view of a situation.

What main theme or idea does Adichie develop in her TED talk Why is this important in our society? ›

Quick summary: it's about the danger of a single story. Adichie explains that if we only hear about a people, place or situation from one point of view, we risk accepting one experience as the whole truth.

What is the main point Stevenson is making during his TED talk? ›

Bryan Stevenson's Ted Talk was almost 60% pathos.

He uses this light, touching tone to set the stage for something much more important—that inequality and racism in this country have led to the imprisonment of too many poor, black youth and that their identity is unfairly judged based on one moment in their lives.

What themes does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie write about? ›

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer and storyteller, best known for her themes of politics, culture, race, and gender. Her novels, short stories, and plays have all received both public and critical acclaim.

What does Chimamanda Adichie argue in her Ted talk about the danger of a single story quizlet? ›

The message behind Adichie's TED Talk is that the danger of a single story can result in perspective based stereotypes. She wants us to learn that a single story shouldn't affect our view on other people before we get to know them.

What shocked Adichie's roommate in the US according to her TED talk the danger of a single story? ›

My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language.

What is the author's purpose in the text a Adichie wants to show people how she has managed to avoid being influenced by a single story so that they can do the same? ›

Q. PART A: What is the author's purpose in the text? Adichie wants to warn people that if they primarily consume stories of Western culture, they have likely been influenced by a single story.

What is the central idea that story is trying to convey? ›

Theme is the main or central idea in a literary work. It is the unifying element of a story. A theme is not a summary of characters or events. Rather, it is the controlling idea or central insight of the story.

What is the central idea of this story? ›

The central idea is the central, unifying element of the story, which ties together all of the other elements of fiction used by the author to tell the story. The central idea can be best described as the dominant impression or the universal, generic truth found in the story.

What examples does Adichie give of a single story? ›

Adichie gave several examples of the single story in action: The single story of Africa as a place of catastrophe; the single story of Mexicans as “abject immigrants;” the single story of poor people “as [nothing] else but poor.”

What is Stevenson's message to his audience? ›

Stevenson gave the audience a heartbreaking lesson on the need to get close to problems in order to help solve them. Representing a child in custody awaiting trial as an adult after killing a man who had hurt his mother, Mr. Stevenson said the young boy would not speak until he put his arm around the child.

What is the main idea of the TED talk the danger of Silence? ›

"We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don't," says poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

How does chimamanda define the single story? ›

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses the phrase “single stories” to describe the overly simplistic and sometimes false perceptions we form about individuals, groups, or countries. Her novels and short stories complicate the single stories many people believe about Nigeria, the country where she is from.

What lesson does the speaker learn the danger of the single story? ›

The speaker says that we must reject the single story, and that stories matter because they have the power to break or create dignity.

What are the three consequences of the single story? ›

The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

Who is Adichie's intended audience? ›

Chimamanda uses some very specific rhetorical techniques to try and shed light on a problem that she sees that needs to be fixed. Her Audience is the everyone of all ages, but more specifically to white Americans.

What is the author's purpose in this story explain? ›

An author's purpose may be to amuse the reader, to persuade the reader, to inform the reader, or to satirize a condition. An author writes with one of four general purposes in mind: 1. To relate a story or to recount events, an author uses narrative writing.

What is the author's purpose if he or she is trying to convince the reader to do or think something? ›


When a text is written to persuade, it will aim to convince the reader of the merits of a particular point of view. With this type of writing, the author will attempt to persuade the reader to agree with this point of view and/or subsequently take a particular course of action.

What is the story about what is the main topic of the text in the story of the forgotten ones? ›

This is the main theme of The Forgotten Ones. It's a storyline that draws you in and doesn't let go until you are done with the last page. It's a story about Allison and her schizophrenic mother who lost her mind when the love of her life didn't come back to her in Ireland.

What message is the author trying to convey? ›

The term theme can be defined as the underlying meaning of a story. It is the message the writer is trying to convey through the story. Often the theme of a story is a broad message about life. The theme of a story is important because a story's theme is part of the reason why the author wrote the story.

What was the conflict in the story? ›

Conflict in a story creates and drives the plot forward. External conflict refers to the obstacles a character faces in the external world. Internal conflict refers to a character's internal or emotional obstacles.

What is the main idea of the paragraph? ›

The main idea of a paragraph is the author's message about the topic. It is often expressed directly or it can be implied.

What is the purpose of the essay this is the main central idea? ›

Just as you would create a thesis statement for an essay or research paper, the central idea statement helps focus your presentation by defining your topic, purpose, direction, angle and/or point of view.

What is the plot of a story? ›

Essentially, a story plot is what happens in the story. More specifically, the plot is the series of events that take place. It's the action of the story that drives the narrative forward.

What was Adichie's purpose for giving this speech? ›

In her speech, Adichie uses these rhetorical strategies to profess her message of inclusion to her audience,to boost her audience's trust in her, and to educate her audience as well as entertain.

Why does Adichie believe stories matter in the world? ›

Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. Adichie has become a prominent voice engaging younger readers to African literature.

What does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie write about? ›

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer and storyteller, best known for her themes of politics, culture, race, and gender. Her novels, short stories, and plays have all received both public and critical acclaim.

What is TED talk summary? ›

A TED talk is a recorded public-speaking presentation that was originally given at the main TED (technology, entertainment and design) annual event or one of its many satellite events around the world. TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks, often called "TED talks."

What is the TED talk we should all be feminists about? ›

In this classic talk that started a worldwide conversation about feminism, Adichie asks that we begin to dream about and plan for a different, fairer world -- of happier men and women who are truer to themselves. This talk was presented to a local audience at TEDxEuston, an independent event.

What is the major theme of the essay the other side of silence '? ›

Urvashi Butalia in her book, The Other Side of Silence, attempts to analyze the partition in Indian society, through an oral history of Indian experiences. The collection of traumatic events from those people who lived through the partition gives insight on how history has enveloped these silences decades later.

Why are TED talks so impactful? ›

TED Talks can teach you about how to think critically about new or difficult information which is a skill that will benefit you almost immediately. Listening to experts present can also help you grow as a leader by providing you with advice about how to lead others and yourself with confidence.

What is the paradox of the sound of silence? ›

What are we listening to when we feel we are listening to silence, and what makes the non- sounding to be perceived as silence? This is what I call the “Sound of Silence Paradox”, a term quite rich in associations, even sounding ones.

What is one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's most popular novels called? ›

She later wrote several short stories about that conflict, which would become the subject of her highly successful novel Half of a Yellow Sun (2006).

What is Adichie's motivation for writing? ›

Her motivation to write stemmed from reading the novels of Chinua Achebe and seeing herself represented in the lives of his characters.

What are the most popular TED talks? ›

The Top 10 Most Popular TED Talks
  1. Ken Robinson – How schools kill creativity. ...
  2. Amy Cuddy – Your body language shapes who you are. ...
  3. Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action. ...
  4. Brené Brown – The power of vulnerability. ...
  5. Jill Bolte Taylor – My stroke of insight. ...
  6. Pranav Mistry The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology.
Feb 3, 2022

What are the three main feminist thoughts? ›

Groupings. Traditionally feminism is often divided into three main traditions, sometimes known as the "Big Three" schools of feminist thought: liberal/mainstream feminism, radical feminism and socialist or Marxist feminism.

How would you summarise the argument of Adichie on feminism? ›

Adichie suggests that boys and girls are taught inflexible gender roles, a situation that hurts both sexes equally. Boys are raised to be aggressive and stoic, while girls are raised to please boys and to consider marriage as a central goal.

What is Adichie's thesis in We Should All Be feminist? ›

Keenly, Adichie emphasizes how men will benefit from femi- nism just as women do—that the pressures that patriarchy places on the masculine role can be just as det- rimental as those placed on women. Hence, the title's argument—We Should All Be Feminists—rings true for persons of all genders.


1. We should all be feminists | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | TEDxEuston
(TEDx Talks)
2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "If we lived in a more fair world, I would be lying in bed reading poetry"
(Det Kgl. Bibliotek)
3. Nigerians Think They Are Better Than Everyone Else | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(Africa Web TV)
4. Life Changing Motivational Speech I Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie #feminist #chimamandangoziadichie
(Inspire Setter)
5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The responsibility of being a feminist icon - 100 Women, BBC World Service
(BBC World Service)
6. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Closing Story


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