In her debut book, ‘Definition of a Miracle’ Farida Nana Efua Bedwei’s touches on a subject I think a lot of people have a hard time dealing with – children with disabilities and the challenges they face on a day to day basis.
Eight -year-old Zaara and her family move to Ghana when her parents get tired of life in the U.K. A precocious child with Cerebral Palsy, she finds herself thrust into a society where her disability is not understood and is attributed to a spiritual cause. As a result, she’s taken to various charismatic crusades and other spiritual prayer houses in search of a seemingly elusive healing. Her Christian mother and Muslim father who’d lived harmoniously in the past, start squabbling incessantly, to the extent that Zaara and her siblings fear their family is disintegrating. Going through culture shock, she searches for her place in a society where she’s often stared at and talked about, as she discovers her inner strength and comes to terms with her disabilities.
Definition of a Miracle is real, moving and poignant. Farida tells the story without any ‘dilly-dallying’ but still takes her time to draw out particularly challenging moments in Zaara’s life that reflect the anguish and triumphs of her journey. Although the story isn’t an autobiography, Farida herself was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 10 years old and so she tells Zaara’s story in a way that comes across as real, sincere and honest. Definition of a Miracle is a beautiful, inspirational book and I truly admire Farida for writing it.
If you haven’t read it yet, you need to get a copy. For now, Farida’s kind enough to share an excerpt of Definition of a Miracle. Enjoy.
The drive to Jamestown took about half an hour; we drove through Osu and stopped for a few minutes at the Black Star Square admiring the colossal monument declaring our freedom and justice. It was at this spot, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first head of state, declared its independence. A few meters away, was the Independence Arch, three parallel arches’s which looked a bit like the McDonald’s symbol, depending on the angle it’s viewed from. This was the venue for Independence Day celebrations. The Accra Sports Stadium was across the street, it is the biggest of the three stadia in Ghana; Daddy promised to bring us all to watch a football match one Sunday. We got back into the car and drove on past the Ministries, where the various government departmental offices were housed, got on to High Street and drove past the High Courts, Central Bank, Barclays bank and kept on going, catching glimpses of the coast between buildings. Driving past Ussher Fort, Daddy explained that it had originally been built by the Dutch in 1649 and was a slave trading post. It’s now being used as a medium-security prison; I thought this was quite fitting.o Across the street was Sraha Market where Grandma’s fish stall had been, before she’d gone on retirement eight years ago.
Turning off the main road, we bounced and tottered for a few meters on a severely pot-holed road, with Jalal and Bash holding on to the door handles, trying to gain a modicum of balance. The houses were rundown; the once silver aluminium roofing sheets had browned with age, big open gutters clogged with rubbish, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. We passed in front of a woman stirring a big pot of banku on a coal pot, who was in the company of a bare-chested breastfeeding mother, cradling a baby in the crook of one arm and had bent over, grinding pepper with the other hand. Daddy stepped on the brakes suddenly, as a young man, wearing only a towel around his waist, and carrying a pail of water, on his way to the bathhouse, crossed in front of us. The man approached the car, hurling insults and accused Daddy of trying to kill him. Mummy started insulting him back, all in Ga of course. Although I didn’t understand what was being said, it sounded crude and vulgar and they kept on gesticulating with a fist and the thumb. I later found out that sign was the ultimate insult amongst most of the southern tribes in the country.
My siblings and I exchanged bewildered glances; we just couldn’t believe Grandma lived in this area amongst these people. Heck, I couldn’t believe my mother was one of these people.
“Mummy, is this where you grew up?” Jalal asked hesitantly, dreading the answer.
“Yes, our house is just a few meters up the road.” She pointed excitedly at a white wall. “There it is!”
Daddy stopped the car in front of the gate and blew the horn twice before a teenage boy came to open it.
“That’s your cousin, Nii Tackie. He is Uncle David’s son,” Mummy told us, referring to her only brother. Uncle David and his wife lived in America, but had sent Nii Tackie down here to live with Grandma when he was five. He was now sixteen and would be writing his O’levels at the end of next academic year.
Mummy got out of the car and embraced Nii Tackie, remarking on how he had grown up. What is it with these adults anyway; don’t they expect us to grow up or something?
Grandma, hearing my mother’s voice, came out of the house singing and dancing to the glory of God; her baby was home. Mummy rushed into her embrace whilst we walked towards them. Daddy held my right arm to lend support lest I fell on the sandy, uneven ground. There was also a dog, a skinny ugly black mongrel, we had to walk around (since it refused to budge from where it was lying) to get to the doorway where Grandma and Mummy were standing. This house could do with a coat of paint I thought, looking at the peeling paint on the outside walls. We were given tight hugs and ushered into the house. Granted, the house was in a much better state than those we passed earlier on, but still wasn’t much to write home about. Our house in Nyaniba was by far nicer than this one.
The sitting room walls were painted bottle green and with the little sunlight being stifled by a red curtain, lent the room a dismal, claustrophobic feel. Hanging on the wall opposite the window were framed pictures—mostly black and whites of Grandma and her children when they were growing up. The room had a set of cane furniture, consisting of a sofa, three armchairs and a center table. The cushion covers were lilac with some dreary looking designs; decorative strips covering the chair joints had long unravelled leaving the head of the slightly rusted nails exposed. We, the children squeezed into the sofa, whilst the adults sat on the armchairs.
Grandma shouted, “Nii! Nii! Go and get bottles from the kitchen and buy soft drinks for your cousins.”
“I’m coming. I’m just wearing my charleywote,” Nii called as he came out of the bedroom area.
“Here is a 1000 cedis, which should be enough for the drinks.” Grandma turned to us. “What mineral would you like?”
“Please can I have a Dr Pepper?” Jalal replied.
“Ehem, I don’t think you’ll get Dr. Pepper here,” Mummy said.
“You might get the canned ones at Multi-Stores, a supermarket on High Street. But I am going to the bar around the corner and they only have fanta, coke, sprite and muscatella, which one do you want?” Nii asked.
“They still make muscatella? I haven’t had it in ages, why don’t you try it; it is very sweet and tastes a bit like Dr. Pepper,” Mummy told us.
Jalal and I opted to try it, whilst Bash, being the unadventurous soul she was decided to go for a fanta. Daddy said he didn’t want anything to drink and Mummy went to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of water. Nii packed three empty mineral bottles from the kitchen into a plastic bag before going. When I asked why he had to take the empty bottles, Daddy explained the whole bottle saga; apparently you had to take an empty bottle to the barkeeper when buying soft drinks, beer or Guinness else you’d not be allowed to take the drink out of the establishment. If you didn’t come with a bottle then you’d have to pay more money for the drink so the balance can be used as collateral to ensure the bottle would be returned. Once you returned the bottles your balance is refunded to you. I got the impression that the empty bottle itself was more valuable than the actual drink.
“So how does it feel to be back home?” Grandma asked when Daddy quieted down.
“Very good actually.” Mummy got up stretching and walked over to look at the pictures on the wall. “Considering all the stories I’ve heard of soldiers storming into people’s homes during the wee hours of the morning, snatching them from their beds and taking them to unknown destinations, not to be seen again.”
“Yeah, well those happened mostly at the beginning of the revolution, about five to six years ago,” Daddy put in. “During those days too, I hear market women were stripped naked and publicly flogged for selling above the controlled price.”