Happiness, Like Water

Mool0a7yjwyk t
"Astonishing. Okparanta’s narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the reader’s heart, with the power and force of revelation."—Paul Harding

Here are Nigerian women at home and transplanted to the United States, building lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, the burden and strength of love. Here are characters faced with dangerous decisions, children slick with oil from the river, a woman in love with another despite the penalties. Here is a world marked by electricity outages, lush landscapes, folktales, buses that break down and never start up again. Here is a portrait of Nigerians that is surprising, shocking, heartrending, loving, and across social strata, dealing in every kind of change. Here are stories filled with language to make your eyes pause and your throat catch. Happiness, Like Water introduces a true talent, a young writer with a beautiful heart and a capacious imagination.

"Intricate, graceful prose propels Okparanta’s profoundly moving and illuminating book. I devoured these stories and immediately wanted more. This is an arrival."—NoViolet Bulawayo

"Okparanta's prose is tender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humor. What a remarkable new talent."—Chika Unigwe

"A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America. Happiness, Like Water is a deeply affecting literary debut, the work of a sure and gifted new writer."—Julie Otsuka
Curriculet Details
56 Questions
59 Annotations
3 Quizzes

These short stories contain a lot of mature content (e.g., rape, physical and mental abuse, etc.) and themes. This free digital curriculum for high school students contains interactive multicultural videos and articles exploring Nigerian culture and history, as well as annotations describing figurative language, tone/mood, and point of view/cultural perspective. Students will explore the themes of happiness and love. The Common Core aligned questions, answers and quizzes in this free online unit will increase student engagement in the book while supporting reading comprehension.

The curriculet is being added to your library

On Ohaeto Street

Port Harcourt is a village in Nigeria located in West Africa (see map below). (This annotation contains an image)
The author, Chinelo Okparanta, was born in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, and was raised there as a Jehovah's Witness. When she was ten, her family relocated to the United States. She received her BS from The Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the University of Iowa. She has worked as a middle and high school French and English Language teacher, and an undergraduate writing teacher (bookcourt.com). (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video below. Notice the author's use of imagery to set the scene for the reader. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Chinwe's reaction to Eze? 
Why do you think the author includes this information about Chinwe's father? What does it add to the story? 
Why does Chinwe's mother take a liking to Eze? 
Click on the link below and read the National Geographic article about Nigerian Oil. (This annotation contains a link)
Watch the video below. In Chinwe's mother's story, the wedding gown is used as a symbol. What does it represent? (This annotation contains a video)
Watch the video below on foreshadowing and look for examples as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What are Chinwe's feelings about her marriage to Enze? Give two examples from the text to support your answer. 
All of the following are statements that reveal that Chinwe does not really belong in the Ehoro's Estate EXCEPT: 
Pay attention to the author's word choice particularly in reference to Eze. Words like "cross," "flogging," and "belt" tell a lot about Eze's character and his relationship with Chinwe. What kind of a husband is Eze? 
Do you agree with Eze's decision not to payoff the robbers? Do these events change your opinion of him? 
What's the purpose of the italicized text? 
What events lead up to Chinwe's decision to leave her husband? 
Who is telling this story? 


Wahala is a Nigerian word meaning trouble or a problem. 
Dreams often serve as foreshadowing in a literary text (hints or clues about future events). 
A dibia is a West African term to refer to healers, experts, and doctors. As you read, see if you notice other words that may be a part of Nigerian or West African culture. 
What does this paragraph reveal about the author's culture? 
Watch the video below. Notice the tension created between characters because of a couple's difficulty conceiving a child. (This annotation contains a video)
Okparanta includes this imagery to show the difference between city and rural life, as seen in the picture below. (This annotation contains an image)
What are two similarities between Chibuzo's dream and Ezinne's healing? 
Many cultures, past and present, have healers or shamans. They call them all different names, but people use them to help heal their physical and/or spiritual illnesses. Click on the link below and scroll through the photo album featured in Time. (This annotation contains a link)
What is Chibuzo's role (the man's role) in helping prepare for the party? 
An agbada is a traditional robe or gown. (This annotation contains an image)
Describe how Enzinne is feeling. Give two text-based details in your response. 
Why do Chibuzo and Nneka choose to ignore Ezinne's pain? 


Read this article from the New York Times for a text-to-world connection. (This annotation contains a link)
As it's used in this context, fairness means 
Watch the video below. Notice how the author includes similes to compare things in her culture to things most people would understand. (This annotation contains a video)
Read the below article about the dangers of skin bleaching (also known as toning or whitening). (This annotation contains a link)
How does the author's use of imagery help you understand the setting of this story? Give two examples from the text in your response. 
A tamarind is a fruit native to Africa (see picture below). (This annotation contains an image)
Papa does not outwardly agree or disagree with Mama's views, but the reader can most likely infer his opinion through 
Mama's concept of beauty comes from all of the following EXCEPT: 
What happens to the girls when they bleach their faces? 
Quiz 1 
Is Uzoamaka happy with her decision? Does she think it was worth it? 

Story, Story!

Identify one simile in this passage. Explain what is being compared to what. How does the simile add to your understanding of the text? 
Watch the video below. What is the point of view of this short story? How is this different from the first three stories? (This annotation contains a video)
This attitude about bearing children is similar to the one presented in which short story? 
Watch the video below. What do we learn about Nneoma? (This annotation contains a video)
Remember from "Wahala!" that a dibia is a healer. In that story, Enzinne visits the dibia to help her conceive a child. Why does Nneoma visit the dibia? 
What character trait best describes Nneoma? Give two examples from the text that support your answer. 
A wrapper is a type of skirt or dress similar to the one seen below. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the significance of this name? 
Watch the video below. How is the author pacing this story (consider the use of flashbacks, the building suspense about Nneoma's story, etc.)? (This annotation contains a video)
What is Nneoma's role in the death of Ezioma and her baby? 

Runs Girl

In many cultures, crows and ravens are omens (signs) of bad luck or death. References to crows and ravens exist throughout American culture in literature, television, and movies. A recent example is the television show Ravenswood (see poster below). (This annotation contains an image)
NPR interviewed Chinelo Okparanta in 2013 asking her questions about her writing. One of the interviewer's questions focused on the mother daughter relationships presented in this book. Chinelo answered, "I am from a family of many, many women, and so, clearly that opens up my eyes to the issues that women have with their mothers. I do have a very close relationship with my mother. And so it makes sense that some of the issues that come up in these stories will be things that are from my own personal experience. For example, I will say that my mother has pressured me very much about getting married. She doesn't pressure me that much any more, but you know, that's a topic that comes up very often in my family." 
How does Mama change after Papa's death? 
How does Ada feel about the wealthy students at her school? 
Njideka describes the wealthy people Ada sees at school. Their outward appearance does not tell the whole story of where their money comes from. 
What does Njideka want Ada to do? 
Why does Ada agree to one job? 
Njideka lies to Ada about being a Runs Girl. She makes it seem glamorous when really it's illegal prostitution. 
What does the author reveal in the highlighted text? 
At the end of the story, Ada is full of  


Chinelo Okparanta was interviewed by NPR in 2013 and the interviewer asked her if she was worried about the portrayal of her native country, Nigeria, in this book. Chinelo responded, "No, I wasn't worried about that. The things you see, the images you see in these stories, this is reality. I am not making these things up. There are trash heaps, and there are littered roads. And, in as much as people would like to say 'Oh, you're portraying Nigeria in such negative light,' but they all know, deep inside that all I'm doing is saying the truth ... This is my experience of Nigeria and that's all I am doing is just writing." 
Use the map below for reference.  (This annotation contains an image)
In this passage, what do the big madam's special clothes represent? 
How does the narrator feel about her teaching position? 
Read this article about the Nigerian government's law against gay relationships. (This annotation contains a link)
How does Papa respond to the narrator's news about being gay? 
Describe two ways in which the narrator believes life is different in America. 
The narrator describes snow in very visual ways (e.g., lace or bleached cotton balls). She seems to be fascinated by it. 
The narrator wants to go to America for all of the following reasons EXCEPT: 
To learn more about the Gulf Oil Spill in 2010, scroll through National Geographic's photo gallery. (This annotation contains a link)
For more information about the BP Oil Spill, read this article from Scholastic News. (This annotation contains a link)
What do you predict the narrator is going to do? 
How does Nnenna use the oil disaster to help her accomplish her goal? Give two text-based details in your response. 
As you read Mama's folk tale, see if it reminds you of a famous fairy tale. 
This story is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. Remember that folk tales change to fit the culture in which they're told.  
What is one theme, or message, from Mama's folk tale? 


This is a reference to the 1982 movie E.T. where a troubled child summons helps a friendly alien escape Earth and return to his home. Watch the trailer below. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does the woman look at the narrator's lips? 
The family most likely moves from Nigeria to America because 
This passage reveals that 
This story takes place in Boston, Massachusetts. 
Domestic violence is a very serious issue. For more information, visit the website below. (This annotation contains a link)
How does the narrator feel when she arrives at the shelter? 
Why can't the shelter help protect them? 
Quiz 2 


Watch the video below. How would you describe the mood in the beginning of this story? (This annotation contains a video)
How does the professor feel about this Bible class? 
A paradox is a contradictory statement. The narrator is describing Grace saying that she is both young and old looking. Can both be true? 
What is the professor's response to Grace's question about knowing how God inspired the Bible? 
Arranged marriages are still a practice today in many countries around the world. Think back to the other stories you've read in this book and the importance of marriage in Nigerian culture. 
The highlighted sentence best resembles the fate of  
Grace is in a similar situation to Nnenna in the story "America" because they are both gay. Remember that gay relationships are illegal in Nigeria. 
How are Grace and her brother, Arinze, different? Give two examples from the text explaining their differences. 
Marriage traditions and customs are deeply tied to a person's culture. Everything from the ceremony to the food to the dress displays a group's culture. Read CNN's article and browse through the photo gallery honoring wedding traditions from around the world. (This annotation contains a link)
This is where the title of the book comes from. What does Grace mean by this? 
This explanation supports the adage "love is blind" meaning when people are in love, they only see the good. 
What gift does Grace give the narrator? In the end, do you think Grace marries Nwafor? 


This paragraph is a good example of which of the following literary devices? 
Watch the video below. Notice the contrast between life in America and Nigeria. This has been a recurring theme throughout many of the stories. (This annotation contains a video)
In this scene, the narrator 
Watch the video below. What conflicts are developing in this story? (This annotation contains a video)
This story also takes place in Boston, Massachusetts. 
What does the narrator continually do? 
For a brief history of Nigeria, visit Time for Kids' timeline below. (This annotation contains a link)
Explain two similarities between the plot in "Grace" and the developing plot in "Designs." Be sure to give specific details from the texts. 

Tumours and Butterflies

This next section of text is a flashback. 
In which other story is the father enrolled in an engineering program? 
The author uses first person point of view and because of this we are limited to only finding out what the narrator sees or hears. This narration builds our suspicion and fear as we read about Mama and Papa. 
Typically, coming home is a joyous occasion for many people, but this is not the case for the narrator.  Give two examples of the narrator's experiences returning home that illustrate this fact. 
The narrator uses butterflies in a simile comparing them to  
Uchenna looks ahead to the future and realizes she will soon move out of her house and will be away at college. What she doesn't realize is that without help, her problem, her mother's problem, and most importantly her father's problem will not go away. 
Below is a diagram of the thyroid (notice the shape). (This annotation contains an image)
How is Papa different after his surgery? 
Now we know why Uchenna says earlier that she had not been allowed to come home for 10 years. 
If you were in Uchenna's situation, what would you do and why? 
Why does Uchenna agree to write her father an email? 
How would you describe the tone of this email? 
What is Mama's reason for not wanting Papa to prepare his own food? 
Quiz 3