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Saturday, 1 June 2013

Blogging the Caine Prize: Tope Folarin's "Miracle"

"THIS IS WHAT I learned during my first visit to a Nigerian church: that a community is made up of truths and lies. Both must be cultivated in order for the community to survive".
                                                                                                                        
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Week 1 of Blogging the Caine Prize and the first story is Tope Folarin's "Miracle", which the quote above is taken from. 

I have never been to a Pentecostal Church, but I have heard many things about it and watched many clips, documentaries, and even Sunday services shown on TV on them. So I guess I could say I am familiar by association. I say all this because Tope Folarin's story is set in a Pentecostal Church, but not one in Nigeria. It is set in one frequented by the Nigerian diaspora in North Texas. 

I'm going to come out and say I liked this story. I liked its simplicity. I liked that it was about a diaspora community in the West, and how in a way it provided an understanding of their plight ("Each of us represents dozens, sometimes hundreds of people back home. So many lives depend on us Lord, and the burden on our shoulders is great"). More than that, I liked that it was not about what it was about. It may be set in a church, it may be called "Miracle", but it was less about performing miracles and more about belief and hope that religion gives to people, especially people in need of it. So what was it about then?

"Miracle" is set in a Pentecostal church with the congregation singing "joyful songs to the Lord" of redemption and hope because each person is there for some sort of solace. In fact everyone was there because they need a miracle:


"We need jobs. We need good grades. We need green cards. We need American passports. We need our parents to understand that we are Americans. We need our children to understand they are Nigerians. We need new kidneys, new lungs, new limbs, new hearts. We need to forget the harsh rigidity of our lives, to remember why we believe, to be beloved, and to hope".

When the congregation stops singing and the pastor starts praying, eventually a short, old, blind man - a prophet - is introduced. He is there because he "performs miracles that were previously only possible in the pages of our Bibles". With his presence, the story moves from the group to a young man, who then becomes the focus. This young man with asthma and extremely bad eyesight has been chosen by the prophet. His mission - heal his ailment and make him see without his glasses.

Now whether the prophet cured the young man and made him see depends if you are a believer in miracles or not. Here's a spoiler, it doesn't happen. While the prophet does not perform a miracle in the sense of giving the young man 20-20 vision, he does perform an entirely different kind of miracle. So you could say he made him see, but not in the literal sense. He made this young man, who was a bit of a sceptic at the beginning "begin to believe in miracles" by the end:


"I realize that many miracles have already happened; the old prophet can see me even though he’s blind, and my eyes feel different somehow, huddled beneath their thin lids. I think about the miracle of my family, the fact that we’ve remained together despite the terror of my mother’s abrupt departure, and I even think about the miracle of my presence in America. My father reminds my brother and me almost every day how lucky we are to be living in poverty in America, he claims that all of our cousins in Nigeria would die for the chance, but his words were meaningless before. Compared to what I have already experienced in life, compared to the tribulations that my family has already weathered, the matter of my eyesight seems almost insignificant".

At the end, while the prophet did not perform any true miracle, to me the story wasn't about that. It was about belief and leaving a group of people who might have needed it with that. As the young man said:


"This healing isn’t even for me. It is to show others, who believe less, whose belief requires new fuel, that God is still working in our lives".

If being a Nigerian immigrant in America is difficult, "Miracle" is about what is done (in this case a prophet who performs miracles and a young man who pretended in the end that his eyesight was cured) to help a community feel like they have not been broken and for them to believe that things are possible and their lives can be better. Because really who wants to hear that life is terrible and things aren't going to get better?


 For other reviews of Miracle: Aaron BadyAfrica in Words, Backslash Scott, Beverley NambozoBrittle Paper, Nigerians Talk, Okwiri OduorVeronica Nkwocha.

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