Miracle in the Land, by the Ghanaian author, Christine Botchway, is a story that spans nearly twenty years – from 1977 through 1996. It captures the author’s memories, fears, joy and pain, despair and hope experienced from age 9 through 28. Over that period, Ghana went through two military coups.
The novel is set like a series of diary notes addressed to the writer’s grandmother, who lives in England and has never visited Africa. Christine and her parents relocate to Accra in 1977 when she is 9. She feels proud, knowing that her ancestors once walked on the soil of Accra, and she also feels elated at the wonders of nature that she sees around her. After staying with friends and relatives for some time, they finally move into their own home and she gets enrolled in a school.
She soon has to get used to the hustle and bustle of market life and the mosquitoes that are abundant and ubiquitous. A societal ill that she quickly notices but never comes to terms with is corruption.
Some months after their arrival, there is a coup d’état and after some initial faltering, it gains ground and Habale comes to power. The coup’s objective is to bring about an end to corruption and the exploitation of the weak by the strong; the rich by the poor. However, the coup falters and the coup leader and his collaborators are arrested. While they await trial and possible execution during the flagging period of the putsch, the writer prays for a miracle: their safety. As if as an answer to her prayer, Habale is rescued by some of his fellow soldiers a day before their execution and this sparks off wild jubilation. His address to the nation is passion-laden and what he says is overwhelmed by how he says it. The town is agog with cult worship of their new leader. A man of the people, he jumps down from his moving army jeep, talks and walks with the common man, and even attracts kisses from old women.
During Habale’s four-year rule, the nation is plagued intermittently with the shortage of consumer goods, fuel and food. Importantly, Ghanaians are taught the lesson of self-reliance. Christine takes cue from this counsel and grows her own corn which she harvests and describes as “the most delicious corn I have ever tasted.” She goes on to say that, “in fact this is the first time I have actually enjoyed corn on the cob.”
Her time in Ghana leads her to the conclusion that the root cause of corruption and the downfall of the land were attributable to abuse and misuse of power and the inordinate love for money coupled with not loving one’s neighbour as oneself. But one experience teaches her a lesson in circumspection: that one’s feelings of generosity can sometimes be abused, as a fictitious, crippled beggar, who cons her, turns out to be an able-bodied man who owns and rides a shiny new bicycle.
Her schooling years are fraught with stress, ardour, loneliness, bullying and misery. This leads to her developing duodenal ulcer at the tender age of thirteen. During these years she also learns to endure some of the rigours of life. Initially, she tries to run away from them, but her father insists that she go through them as a warrior undergoing training. She wonders what her weapon as a warrior will be.
School life is not all that gloomy as she finds in one of her classmates, Samuel, what turns out to be true friendship. She also discovers and joins a group of Christian students, one of whom happens to be Samuel.
In school, she also reads Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and finds it soothing and transforming – a real turning point- as it fills her “with courage and renewed hope.”
Later on, she discovers that the weapon of the warrior her father hinted at her becoming is her writing talent, and that writing is both lethal and cathartic.
Through the ups and downs of her life, she believes unequivocally that “these times are sent only to mould and train us.” Referring to the gift of being able to discern and to foresee good in misfortune and to endure the latter, she declares that, “We will never stop believing in, searching for and telling of the miracle that gave to us the gifts that we possess . . . the miracle I would have run from if I could . . . the miracle that shone upon me in my land.”
Whenever her friends assert that she has had a long life of ease and privilege, she smiles for she knows that the contrary is the truth: ‘It is not I who am strong. It is not from myself that my inspiration flows. . . . It is the gift I prayed for and the gift I fought to keep.”
Christine prays that the reader may also find her own gift so that “when the storms of life shake the earth’s foundations and shatter your world, open your eyes; open your heart and you will find the power to see the miracle in your own land.”
She employs such fine expressions as “hope burn in the eyes of many,” “a look of thunder,” “mother flew out of the car,” “the magnificent ball of gold,” to describe the sun, and “the sticky hands of greed.”
This novel is very inspiring. The title reflects the main theme of the novel, the activation of the power to harness the miracle in the land or in ourselves: the inner sinew to weather all storms in life. Miracle in the Land is published was published by Macmillan Education in 1996, as part of the Trendsetters series.