Back at the hairdresser, the workers take a short break to order Chinese food. Aisha takes this opportunity to call both Igbo boyfriends; when she returns, she tells Ifemelu that one of them will come later so that she can talk to him about Igbo people being allowed to marry outside of their group. Ifemelu reflects on her mother’s beautiful hair when she was a young child, using it as a way to discuss her mother’s transitions through different religions. When Ifemelu was ten years old, her mother chopped off her long, beautiful hair and became "saved" (50) through the Revival Saints church. Her mother's new faith led to abstinence from food, dancing, and hair relaxer. Then, on Easter Sunday of that year, her mother saw an angel who told her to leave the church. Her mother joined the Miracle Spring church and then the Guiding Assembly church, where congregants demanded blessings and prosperity from God but the pastor clearly bought a big house and multiple cars with the church's donations. In the end, Ifemelu says that she did not mind the irony of people putting money into the church in faith that it would return to them as it had to the pastor because this faith made her mother eat again and returned some light to her eyes. Aunty Uju's relationship with The General is introduced through Ifemelu's mother's praying; she always calls The General Aunty Uju's "mentor" (54), though Ifemelu's treatment of this word and conversation with another woman from their building about it makes it clear that the relationship is more than this. The General finds Aunty Uju a job as a doctor at a hospital even though there are few vacancies; Ifemelu writes that it was her dream to own a private clinic but that this has been held up by the political and economic unrest of Nigeria.
A turning point for Ifemelu's family is when her father lost his job. He lost his job for being unwilling, out of pride, to call his boss "Mummy" (56). While her mother supported the family on her salary as a Vice Principal, her father attempted to get another job and then resorted to laying around the house all day. Flashing back briefly to what she knows of her father's childhood, she describes how her father always spoke to her and others in English with overly large words as a way to make up for lacking post-graduate education and the upper-middle class life that would come with it. Some time after her father lost his job, Ifemelu remembers their landlord banging on their door and demanding the rent the family owed for the past three months, an experience that shocked Ifemelu because she hadn't realized how bad things had gotten. That day, Ifemelu had to go to Sunday Work with a woman named Sister Ibinabo, a powerful woman in their church who led the young women in the church in charity efforts and scolded them with hostility for things like wearing tight pants in a way the mothers at the church evidently thought was beneficial. On this day, Ifemelu rebelled against Sister Ibinabo, refusing to do what she asked, and was sent home. At home, her mother scolded her (but never physically punished her the way that she threatened to) and then sent Aunty Uju to scold her further. Ifemelu discusses Aunty Uju's special role in their home: she was often around their house and spent a great deal of time with Ifemelu because she was Ifemelu's father's favorite family member (he even called her his youngest sister though she was actually his cousin). Throughout Ifemelu's childhood, Aunty Uju became like a second mother, especially because of Ifemelu's mother's obsession with religion, and helped her to learn about things like her period and sex.
Ifemelu's memory transitions to her and Obinze's relationship as teens. Obinze had been set to date Ginika, Ifemelu's friend, but Obinze and Ifemelu hit it off at a party thrown by a boy named Kayode. Obinze was new at the school and had already become the coolest of the cool guys. After dancing together, they sat and talked for a long time, including Obinze telling her about the real reason his mother left Nsukka University. Though people gossiped that she had fought with another professor, he told Ifemelu that a professor slapped his mother and instead of slapping him back she locked him in the committee room until he apologized. In reality, it was not even the publicity of this event that drove her away from the school but that she had planned to leave for a sabbatical anyway. Ifemelu and Obinze talked in Igbo and shared their first kiss. Within a few weeks, Obinze professed his love to Ifemelu and she returned the sentiment.
After this event, Ifemelu's relationship with Ginika was strained; however, when Ginika suddenly announced that her family was moving to the United States, the girls had to "wring out their friendship and lay it out newly fresh to dry to return to where they used to be" (77). Their friend group delighted in splitting up her pretty clothes between them and joked about her becoming an "Americanah" (78), a word used for someone who leaves Nigeria and comes back performing their Americanness too much. The group of mostly wealthy, upper-class teens discussed their foreign passports - American, British - and they laughed at a boy named Emenike unkindly when he talked about going to America after school because they knew his family wasn't as wealthy as he pretended.
Ifemelu and Obinze grew closer and closer, spending so much time together that her friends complained. All seemed well between them besides the fact that Obinze had a fixation with the United States, particularly Manhattan, and with "proper books" (81), causing him to try to interest Ifemelu in the book Huckleberry Finn, which she did not care for. One morning, Obinze told Ifemelu that his mother wanted her to visit their house. Ifemelu was frightened and excited by the prospect of having lunch with his mother, which was not something girlfriends usually did with their boyfriends' mothers, especially at this early stage in a relationship. When she arrived at the apartment, it was large and beautiful. His mother was beautiful, with deep brown skin and a large Afro; the first thing she did was ask Ifemelu to translate her name. As Obinze's mother cooked, she and Obinze talked about novels and America; Ifemelu was transfixed and made speechless by her grace and intelligence. Ifemelu started to go to their house regularly. On one occasion, Obinze's mother embarrassed the two of them by calling Ifemelu to have a private talk about whether they were going to have sex so that she could be sure they were "being responsible" (88).
In Chapter 6, Ifemelu focuses her memories on Aunty Uju's time with The General. Though Aunty Uju is a motivated, well-educated woman, at this moment in her life she gave up everything to make herself beautiful and accessible for him, living in the house he paid for and staying out of the sun. Ifemelu at one point asked to live in this lovely house, but her father said she could only visit on evenings and weekends, not live there. Aunty Uju used her newfound wealth to give presents, like a new television, to Ifemelu's family. The landlord was still coming to her family's apartment but her father refused to ask Aunty Uju for a gift or a loan, only accepting money from her when she gave it as a present. Ifemelu was surprised one day when she found out that The General, or Oga, only gave Aunty Uju money in small sums and that her position at the hospital hadn't been paying her. The next weekend, Aunty Uju took Ifemelu to the hair salon because The General gave her even more money than she requested. Though Ifemelu continued to criticize her aunt openly about her decision to be with The General and her vulnerable life living off his money, Aunty Uju insisted that she would change him slowly. They then went to the family's house where she and Ifemelu's father exchanged money without looking one another in the eye. Ifemelu goes on to describe The General, meticulously documenting his appearance, his bad manners that he explained away as part of being "a village man" (95), and the way he talked about Aunty Uju. No matter how much Ifemelu did not care for the relationship, Aunty Uju was very emotionally tied to The General; significantly, on the day of a coup, The General couldn't be found and Aunty Uju had a terrible asthma attack that only subsided when The General called to say he was okay. On one holiday, The General told Aunty Uju that he would spend time with her and she was incredibly excited: laughing, asking Ifemelu to trim her pubic hair, and cooking a special soup. When he called to say that he couldn't come, she knocked the soup off of the stove and slapped Ifemelu for a wise comment. Aunty Uju's "friends in quotes" (99), other vapid women always on the prowl for rich men, came over to try to comfort her but were shocked when she said she didn't want to go out and meet men. The next day, a driver delivered Aunty Uju a cake that said "I'm sorry my love" (100) in icing which she kept in her freezer for months.
Aunty Uju got pregnant by The General and decided not to have an abortion. Over the next few months, both Aunty Uju and The General were excited for the baby and he arranged for her to give birth oversees in a Western country, as many wealthy Nigerians did; Aunty Uju chose America. She had a baby boy; she named him Dike and gave him her own surname rather than the General's, though she was adamant that The General would not "deny his child" (103). The narration skips a year to Dike's first birthday party on which The General spared no expense and at which he carried around his child with great happiness and pride. A week later, The General died in a military plane crash that was rumored to be an assassination. Before Aunty Uju had time to process her grief, she had to take the most expensive things from the house and flee, since The General's family had already come to her door to call her names and attempt to force her away from their lives and money now that The General was not in their way.
Chapter 7 returns to the story of Ifemelu and Obinze when they were deciding where to go to college. Both wanted to go to the University of Ibadan, Obinze because of a poem he loved and Ifemelu because Aunty Uju went there. However, around this time Obinze's mother had a fainting incident and he decided to go to the University of Nsukka so that he could be close to her; Ifemelu decided that she would go there as well. Once in Nsukka, Ifemelu got to see Obinze's childhood home, and often she would go there simply to use the toilet or have lunch. University life was good at first. Ifemelu became popular quickly, especially with boys, but soon student demonstrations began and the lecturers went on strike. The students had to go home and time passed slowly as Obinze and Ifemelu were separated; Ifemelu had to call Obinze from Ranyinudo's house since her family didn't have a phone. Ifemelu started to get close to a boy from university named Odein who gave her rides to places. Obinze confronted her about their relationship but once school resumed they returned to normal. One day, she and Obinze had sex and Ifemelu felt conflicted; though he teased her about the fact that they would someday move to America and have children, she couldn't help but imagine his mother watching them. A week later, Ifemelu woke up with pain and nausea and convinced herself that she was pregnant. She called Aunty Uju who advised her to take a pregnancy test. The test was negative. It turns out that Ifemelu's appendix was inflamed, which Obinze's mother briskly dealt with by calling in a doctor and sending Ifemelu to surgery; under these circumstances, Ifemelu's mother and father met Obinze and his mother for the first time. A few days later, after Ifemelu healed some, Obinze's mother lectured the two of them again about safe sex.
The strikes continued on and off at the university and some students began applying to universities elsewhere so that they could be sure when they would graduate. Obinze encouraged Ifemelu to apply to American universities and she got a visa surprisingly quickly. Like Ginika before her, she gave away her clothing to friends staying behind and her friends sent her off warning that she would be a "serious Americanah" (123) next time they saw her. Obinze's mother was sad to see her go but wished her well, telling her to make sure that she and Obinze "have a plan" (124) which somehow comforted her.
The narration returns to the present, as the Chinese food arrives at the hair salon. The hairdressers eat, start another movie on the television, and talk scornfully about one of the customers who looks very young but already has two children. The smell of the Chinese food mixed with the incredible heat outside and inside the salon reminds Ifemelu of her first summer in Brooklyn. She showed up in thick sweaters for the snowy America in her imagination and instead found herself sweltering and meeting many more surprises about American life, such as the dirtiness of poor cities and the fact that a Hispanic woman, who she says would have been considered white in Nigeria, is considered low status. Ifemelu also noticed that Aunty Uju started to pronounce her name differently. Over that summer, Ifemelu took care of Dike while Aunty Uju worked three jobs and studied for medical exams. She grew to love Dike, who was very American in his choices of food and entertainment, and also became friends with a woman named Jane from the neighboring apartment who was from Grenada and shared her experiences of childhood elsewhere and the immigrant life in America. That summer, Ifemelu taught Dike much harder math than he was learning in first grade in his American school, cultivating a skepticism toward American education. Aunty Uju began to date a Nigerian man living in Massachusetts named Bartholomew, whom Ifemelu did not care for. The man had bad skin from a village upbringing, used bleaching creams, and would often write about Nigerian politics and Nigerian women living in America in online forums.
When Aunty Uju passed her licensing exam, she and Ifemelu hugged and discussed the need to take out her braids and relax her hair before the interview process. In America "if you have braids, they will think you are unprofessional" (146). As the summer came to a close, Ifemelu got anxious about starting life outside of Aunty Uju's home and she tried to spend as much quality time with Dike as possible, even taking Dike for a perfect day trip to Coney Island. Aunty Uju sent Ifemelu off with a Social Security card and driver's license belonging to a woman named Ngozi Okonkwo who Ifemelu said looked nothing like her. Aunty Uju responded that nobody would notice. Ifemelu traveled to Philadelphia where Ginika, her friend from childhood, picked her up to start part two of her American experience. Ginika talked to Ifemelu in Nigerian English, but the phrases were clearly out of date. Ifemelu met Ginika's friends who were all from different countries and she thought about how Americanized Ginika had become. Ginika told Ifemelu that she needed new clothes and took her shopping; while shopping, they had a racially charged encounter in which both she and a shopkeeper refused to say the word "black" (155).
Ifemelu moved into an apartment with three other girls - Jackie, Elena, and Allison - who were all thin, white, athletic, and wealthy. They didn't understand Ifemelu and often made her uncomfortable with their assertions about her or her cultural background. Ifemelu began to look for jobs to pay the remainder of her tuition, and she remembered that she was taking on another name to do so. After forgetting this during one interview, she practiced it repeatedly and obsessed over why she wasn't getting jobs. Soon her bank account was almost empty and the university was sending notices that her records would be frozen if she didn't pay. Though Ifemelu stayed afloat by talking to Obinze and Dike, making light of her problems, these worries and microaggressions, such as by a girl named Cristina Tomas who acted as if Ifemelu couldn't understand English, wore Ifemelu down, causing her to hide her identity further under a practiced American accent. Ifemelu also had to adapt to American education, which she found easy except for professors' insistence on embarrassing and at times banal practice of grading participation. Ifemelu cultivated a love/hate relationship with America - she criticizes Americans for walking without rhythm and overusing the word "excited" (165) but she still yearns to have a football team to support and to enjoy Twinkies. She began to read tons of books from the libraries, especially enjoying James Baldwin. She started to take on some American expressions and enjoyed her classes more. In one class on media, there was a discussion of representation in film and why the n-word was "bleeped out" (168) in a certain movie. One girl, Wambui, who was especially forceful during this discussion and introduced herself after the class to Ifemelu, invited Ifemelu to join ASA - the African Students Association. Ifemelu enjoyed this group of people who understood the plight of grappling with American culture from an African perspective. Interestingly, one of the most important things they talked about is how to interact with African-Americans on campus, who ranged from insulting to obsequious regarding Africanness, and Ifemelu began to wonder where Dike would fit into this picture someday.
Ifemelu's troubles with getting a job continued, and she was forced to interview for a job with a short, lewd man seeking a "female personal assistant" (176). He told Ifemelu that he was looking for someone to "help [him] relax" (177). She left without giving him an answer, but continued to fail to secure a job, including a babysitting job for a woman named Kimberly. Tensions rose as Ifemelu became overdue on her rent and almost hit her roommate Elena over an insensitive comment. Spurred by the need to make rent, Ifemelu returned to the tennis coach's house where they got in bed and touched one another, though they did not have vaginal sex. He gave her a hundred dollars and asked her to come back twice a week; she didn't cry until she was on the train. Ifemelu was overwhelmed by emotions at home, and when she heard Obinze's voice on the answering machine it felt "suddenly so far away" (191). As winter came with the first snow, Ifemelu sank into a depression, not even talking to Ginika or Obinze. In the midst of this, Ginika broke through to Ifemelu to tell her that Kimberly offered her the babysitting job now that her other babysitter left. Though Ifemelu was glad to have the job, Ginika had to come to the house and force her to get up and dressed; Ginika told Ifemelu during this trip that she thought she has depression and comforted her when this leads her to crying, even though Ifemelu still kept what happened with the tennis coach a secret.
Though the job with Kimberly took care of Ifemelu's bills, she continued avoiding the calls, emails, and letters from Obinze. She got to know Kimberly's kids, Morgan and Taylor, and cared for them well by being playful with the younger boy and indifferently cool with the older girl. Morgan listened to Ifemelu more than her mother, who she generally ignored, and her father, Don, who she seemed to feel extremely angry toward. One day, Ifemelu had to stop Morgan when she attempted to tear up all the pink things in her room. While Kimberly and her family can be annoying with their privilege and wealth, Ifemelu came to feel kind and protective toward Kimberly. Kimberly's sister Laura, who had always been against Ifemelu for no apparent reason, continued to encourage Kimberly to not trust her, but Kimberly soon invited Ifemelu to live with them and use their car freely. For her part, Ifemelu was critical of the way Laura raised her daughter Athena, giving her too many choices and not enough food. On one occasion Ifemelu talked back to Laura when she complimented a Ugandan woman she once knew for not having "all those issues" (207) like other African American women. At a party the next day, Kimberly introduced Ifemelu as "our babysitter and my friend" (209), but Ifemelu had to slog through many of the guests telling her about the beauty of Africans and about their charitable donations to various causes in Africa. Soon after, on a phone call to Aunty Uju, Ifemelu's aunt told her that Dike was becoming curious about his name and his origins and that his teachers had been calling him aggressive and wanted to place him in Special Ed.
One day in July, Ifemelu decided to stop "faking an American accent" (213) and met her future boyfriend Blaine. Though she does not give an exact sense of the time that passed since was living at Kimberly's, Ifemelu was now living in the "first [apartment] that was truly hers in America" (213). On this day, she got a call from a young telemarketer who told her she sounds "totally American" (215), which she thanked him for and then felt ashamed for doing. Later that day, Ifemelu sat next to Blaine on a train; they flirted and talked about Africa and academia. They talked for much of the trip, even getting beers and food together, but in the end he seemed hesitant to give her his number. When she called later that day and on the weekend he didn't pick up. Ifemelu visited Aunty Uju every weekend in Warrington around this time, listening to her gripes and spending time with Dike. One day, Dike came home upset from camp and told Ifemelu that one girl wouldn't give him any sunscreen, saying that he didn't need it and causing everyone to laugh. Ifemelu interjects here with another blog entry, this one on "American Tribalism" (227), which she breaks down into class, ideology, region, and race.
In Chapter 18, Ifemelu returns to the present time in the hair salon. New patrons enter, including an enthusiastic white woman who wants braids and annoys Ifemelu with her comments about African literature. Ifemelu eventually lashes out at the girl's comments and then watches in silence as the woman is surprised by the idea of extensions and leaves with her thin hair already coming out of its plaits.
Ifemelu is reminded through this encounter of her relationship with Curt and starts remembering their meeting. Curt is Kimberly's brother and always told people he fell in love with Ifemelu when he saw her laugh at Taylor's antics while babysitting. He made her feel beautiful and wanted to make her comfortable by being self-deprecating about his whiteness and wealth. He admitted to her that he had never "been with a black woman" (240) before and he complimented her constantly for her body - "her perfect breasts, her perfect butt" (240). She did not talk to him about Obinze, still her most recent serious relationship, as it still felt like "sacrilege to... refer to him as an 'ex'" (241). Ifemelu was swept up in the ease and happiness of Curt's life - laughing, drinking, and going on trips together. Though Curt encouraged Ifemelu to give up babysitting, she kept working and sending more money home to her parents. She did not tell them about Curt or the fact that she was unsure what she wanted to do after college. When she told this to Curt, he pulled some strings and got her an interview for a position in public relations with a company his father once did business with. She got this job and it paved her way for a work visa and green card while other people Ifemelu knew from ASA were working multiple jobs and arranging fake "green-card marriages" (250).
Ifemelu took out her braids and relaxed her hair for the interview, something she acknowledges she once laughed at Aunty Uju for suggesting was necessary. Not only did she not like the style much, but the relaxer at the salon gave her relaxer burn that Curt obsessed over, saying "it's so fucking wrong that [she has] to do this" (252). In a brief interlude, Ifemelu writes a blog post about the so-called "oppression olympics" (253). Back in the past, Ifemelu "comes to love Baltimore" (255), her post-college home. One day, a taxi driver told her that she doesn't "look African at all" (255) because of her tight blouse. She got her own apartment but lived most of the time with Curt, getting closer and closer to him, better understanding his inability to sit still and his intense insecurity. Her hair began to fall out for some reason and she had to decide what to do with it; eventually she chopped it off, leaving herself with a tiny afro and causing her to stay home from work in shame. Her friend Wambui suggested that she go to "HappilyKinkyNappy.com" (259), a "natural hair community" (259). When she went to use Curt's computer though, she found out he had been cheating on her. She forgave him quickly and returned to work after two more days off. Ifemelu fell in love with the online community at HappilyKinkyNappy.com and through this she "fell in love with her hair" (264). Here, a blog post is interjected about why dark-skinned black women love Barack Obama.
One weekend, Ifemelu brought Curt to visit Aunty Uju and Dike. Curt was charming toward Aunty Uju and played basketball with Dike; Aunty Uju complained about her marriage with Bartholomew who fretted about money and didn't connect with Dike even after years of marriage. One morning soon after, Aunty Uju saw a blob of toothpaste that Bartholomew left in the sink and decided all at once that their marriage was over; she and Dike moved to a condo town called Willow that weekend.
After a blog post about the fact that Africans are considered black in the United States, whether they see themselves as black or not, Part 2 closes with the memory of Ifemelu running into her childhood friend Kayode at a mall in White Marsh. She found out from him that Obinze was in England and, whether from shock or from the distance between her current and previous life, treated Kayode coldly and exited the conversation quickly. Later that day, she wrote an email to Obinze apologizing and saying that she missed him -- he didn't reply.
In Part 2, Adichie makes two important metaphors using the concept of wearing parts of one's character like layers of clothing. The first is when describing Ifemelu's father, saying that "His mannered English bothered her as she got older because it was a costume, his shield against insecurity" (58). Not long after, Ifemelu describes the way Obinze acted early in their relationship, saying, "She liked the way he wore their relationship so boldly, like a brightly colored shirt" (76). The way one presents their identity to the world through their language, behavior, and dress is very important to Adichie and to her character Ifemelu, so these negative and positive metaphors explaining self-presentation through clothing resonate strongly with the themes in the book as a whole.
In these chapters, readers see the rapid growth of Ifemelu and her friends from childhood into young adulthood, bringing both the good and the bad. It is sometimes hard to tell why the group of friends formed in exactly the way it did; for example, the reader may wonder why they remained friends with Emenike or why he remained friends with them when they laughed at him for pretending to have wealth his family did not actually have. However, one can be sure that in their laughter there was a certain insecurity with their lives in Nigeria, the same insecurity that caused them to seek out study and work abroad even though their fates there were unknown.
Another iconic pain of the transformation from youth into maturity is shown when Ifemelu and Obinze began to have sex and a subsequent pregnancy scare. Adichie directly reflects on their youth in this scary moment by writing that when Ifemelu told Obinze that she thought the pull-out method didn't work, "He suddenly seemed like young, like a confused small boy looking helplessly at her" (115). This is contrasted just a few pages later when, after they discovered Ifemelu was not pregnant but rather had an inflamed appendix, Obinze told his mother, "I'm not a small boy!" (119). This contrast shows that at this time in life, there is a push and pull between retreating to childhood in times of fear or struggle and at other times wanting to grow faster and leave childhood and relationships behind.
The issues that Dike will face as a teenager are also foreshadowed through his childhood struggles with identity in this part of the book, as shown through Ifemelu's conversations with him and with Aunty Uju over the phone. Aunty Uju told Ifemelu that he had been asking questions about his name and his father, even asking if he didn't have his father's name because "his father did not love him" (211). However, Aunty Uju attempted to protect herself by not telling him the whole story. Though Ifemelu seemed judgmental of this, she did not feel able to help Dike cope with these missing pieces of his identity, so she simply tried to help him by staying close to him and being a listening ear. Despite this, Dike began to show problems: "[He was] difficult to read, his head perennially bent towards his Game Boy, looking up once in a while to view his mother, and the world, with a weariness too heavy for a child. His grades were falling. Aunty Uju threatened him more often" (211). Though Dike was able to keep an outwardly bright spirit for most of his childhood, he continued to have trouble in schools where he felt the teachers were pitted against him. Ifemelu believed that his problems with identity as either African or an American black led to his suicide attempt.
As Part 2 progresses, posts from Ifemelu's blog begin to be interspersed with the novel's normal narration, and these become more frequent as Part 3 approaches. The blog posts at times seem incongruous with the sections being narrated, but provide juxtaposition that emphasizes certain themes such as language and race in politics and foreshadow topics and people that will become more important as the story goes on, particularly the Obamas.