The current celebrity craze for child adoption took me down memory lane. I happened to be in hospital in Hargeisa, today’s Somaliland, at a very young age for injuries I sustained after an air raid on our border village.
Being very young, about seven-years-old, and due to the lack of a vacant bed in the male wards, I was admitted to the female ward. One day, an American woman, a Peace Corps teacher, visited me. She was walking outside and she saw me from the window. She stopped and looked at me for a while. Then she entered the ward and asked permission from the staff nurse to talk to me. She sat next to me on the bed, held my right hand in both her hands and looked at me with eyes full of kindness, motherhood and inquisitiveness.
As I couldn’t speak English at the time, we communicated through natural ways: touches, looks and feelings. I somehow felt that this strange white woman sitting next to me and holding my hand was not a stranger at all. I felt as if I knew her forever. I felt completely comfortable in her presence and I was gripped by a strange sense of not only familiarity but love of motherhood.
After more than 40 years, I can still envision her face. I can see a woman in her late 20s, a little plump, with an angelic face, a shy look and a held back smile. She said few words to me and when I couldn’t respond, she called the staff nurse, Sakin Jirde, to translate for us. Sakin told me that the American lady whose name I never learned wanted to visit me everyday and teach me English. I accepted it immediately. Then she left me but not without a motherly stroke to my head.
As soon as she left me I felt loneliness. I looked at her as she departed and she glanced at me several times. For the next six months she came to see me almost every evening and taught me English. She brought me a book called Fifty Famous Fairy Tales, which is still in my possession. When the time of her departure became closer, she showed her interest to adopt me. She loved me so much she said and wanted to make me her son. I had also developed such great affection for her. A word was sent to my father and his answer came back with a simple “No”.
The American woman did not want to give up and she asked the hospital staff to convince my father that I would be given good medical treatment and a good education in America and that she would bring me to visit my family once every couple of years. But still my father’s answer was in the negative.
I loved my father, my mother, my siblings and my village Dilla, but if I had been given the choice that day I might have accepted to go with the American woman because we had a genuine feeling of mother-son relationship for each other and I had such a burning desire to learn English and speak as she did. We departed each other with broken hearts. When I was discharged from hospital and returned to our home, I couldn’t stop crying for a whole week.
Retrospectively looking at the event, I cannot but admire my father’s wisdom in following his parental inclination of no other love or material comfort ever equalling that of a father looking at his own child growing before his eyes and passing down to him his people’s culture and history. I wonder if my culture and my village would have a home in my heart if I were raised abroad.
I have related this story to show that there was a time when child adoption was a case of a strong and genuine feeling of motherhood that a stranger child had evoked in a woman’s heart. A feeling that grew bigger with time until it became impossible to deny.
This is contrary to what we see today with American celebrities who go on a spree of child shopping to Africa and other poor countries. It just hits them like that - to get a toy brother or a toy sister for their pampered children - and all it takes is to make a media-hyped trip to the open African market to view poor, naked children and select the best toy money can buy to satisfy their fantasy: just like they would hit the nearest boutique to satisfy their craving for the latest fashion accessory.
Just as the Europeans justified the scramble for Africa in the19th century and the slave trade before it as being the white man’s burden to civilise the “half-devil and half-child”, the celebrities of today justify their child poaching as being in the name of philanthropy and altruism: saving poor children from the heart of darkness and bringing them to the world of light.
Anyone who thinks my argument is unfair or hostile would have to convince me otherwise. How could a person go to an orphanage in a poor, foreign country, ask the children to be paraded for them, pick up a “lucky” one, pay cash and get away with their prey.
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