Incognito Press

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Archive for the ‘love’ Category

Rumania, Rumania…lost like the song

Posted by E on May 21, 2015

field haystacks

I’m writing this post while listening to the old Yiddish song, Rumania Rumania. It’s full of nostalgia for a homeland that has been lost and now forgotten, for its sweet wines, hearty cooks and pretty girls – I’m including a YouTube link to the song at the bottom of this post.

My birthplace. My original homeland. The apex of so much pain, grief and longing. A place that has suffered a thousand years of wars, invasions, pogroms, oppression and terror, and is still in transition. Where it will end up in another century, I have no idea. It is a place I love and hate all at the same time, for so many reasons that are all intertwined so tightly in my heart that I could never fully separate the individual strings and emotions which, like arterial veins, crisscross my connection to this place.

Elisa AteneuElisa haystack Romania2015

Romania is a painfully beautiful, lost country. From the moment you set foot within its borders, everybody from taxi drivers to people sitting on a park bench will tell you about the endemic government corruption, how the rich have ransacked the country and left the poor to despair. But what they don’t tell you, as they cling to the Orthodox religion with hateful fervour, is how religion and xenophobia has poisoned their own hearts.

Bucharest’s Gay Pride parade is on Saturday and already the hate and frenzy has begun online – on several blogs I’ve read people suggesting plans to attack the demonstrators in the name of Jesus and morality. Ever since the Revolution of 1989, the Orthodox Church has been growing in influence and, not coincidentally, so has hostility toward any change in humanitarian rights. Homosexuality has been legalized only since 1996 and to this day (despite having been part of the EU since 2007) Romanian courts still have not granted any form of recognition toward same-sex couples. Forget marriage – they don’t even acknowledge the union between a same-sex couple. Gays can’t adopt. Gays can’t donate blood. For all intents and purposes, gays cannot exist as gay without violent opposition.

I found it telling that, in contrast to North American Pride parades that celebrate fun, diversity and having a great time, the local brochure printed by Accept Romania to describe the march is focused on preventing attacks: after the march, make sure to walk away in pairs. Don’t wear things that can identify you for attack. Meet and leave via the metro, rather than on foot. In Romania, taking part in the Pride Parade is an act of defiance, of insurgency, of rebellion. It is the very definition of courage.

LGBT people here are literally prepared to fight for their rights, to risk being filmed on television and fired the next day, to risk being struck with stones and boots – something that we in the West take for granted. The Stonewall riots of 1969 are hardly on our minds as we walk down the street holding hands with our lovers, shoot our water guns and wear rainbow-coloured necklaces during our Gay Pride weekend street parties. It reminds me of the early days of suffragettes – where women who fought for the right to vote were assaulted on the streets and demonized in the press.

Stonewall-Riots-June-28-1969 

anti-gay protesters romania anti-gay-manifestations-romania

The Romanian public’s rampant hostility and religious fervour, along with the idea that “We’re not the sinful West, we don’t have many of THOSE kinds over here” (actual words I’ve read on a blog today) is partially fed by ignorance. They don’t realize that gay people are everywhere, including in their own families, because most gays and lesbians rightfully fear coming out to their families and coworkers. How can they, when they live in a country where gays are often called “sodomites” by people who also refer to Jews as “jidani” and openly express contempt toward those of a different ethnicity (i.e. the Roma people). People here have been beaten, assaulted, sentenced to prison and murdered for their right to love.

On a personal level, it disturbs me how many of my own relatives are so brainwashed by dogma that there is nothing left between us. It’s disturbing how a cousin told me a long time ago that she’d prefer if one of her sons died than become a “poponar” (a derogatory term for gay males). Why should it matter to someone, who I love and choose to live with? Who I sleep with is none of her business – just as I don’t care whether she still has sex with the ugly, irascible, xenophobic husband of whom she often complained. Why is her opinion, anybody’s opinion in fact, more important and valid than mine – who appointed her judge and executioner? How can love for your own child be overwritten by such deep-seated hatred for homosexuality that you’d rather he or she died than be free to love whoever they want?

It’s disturbing how easily the previously oppressed have become oppressors. It’s a process I am still working on capturing in my new book, a process that was recently featured on Romanian news.

So for the record, for the sake of any relatives or former classmates who stumble onto this page: I am and have ALWAYS been gay. I love my partner deeply and I am also proud of my East European background. I am not sick, nor am I confused. The abuse (from both genders) that I experienced as a child has nothing to do with my sexual orientation as an adult. And I promise you that I’m not the only lesbian you’ve ever met. In fact, there are people in your own family, at work, sitting on the bus next to you, people just like you, who are attracted to the same sex.

In the end, I will ALWAYS side with love over hate. I will ALWAYS choose love and human rights over allegiance to blood and nation. And if you’d rather choose Jesus over accepting me, my life, my Jewish religion and my chosen spouse, then I am sorry for you but don’t need your judgement in my life. I don’t want to lose hope, but feel that it will take several generations to wipe out the hate I’ve witnessed over here.

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Posted in hate, history, homosexuality, ignorance, love, news, personal, religion, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Heal your Wound, Transform the World

Posted by E on May 6, 2015

By now it seems that everybody in the world has seen yesterday’s Toronto Star article, which featured me and my journey toward understanding hate and its visceral, personal roots. I’m very grateful that Rachel Mendleson, a journalist at Canada’s largest-circulated newspaper, saw value in what I am trying to accomplish and worked so hard to share it with others.

Metro Toronto Screenshot 2015-05-06 2

The sad and painful truth is this: I have had hundreds of hits on my blog and website yesterday, but not many donations to the book campaign mentioned in the Toronto Star article. Which is the whole crux of the matter – for the last two months I’ve begged, borrowed and bothered people in order to fundraise for a project that I truly believe will make a difference in this world. But, with the exception of a few close, dear friends and a handful of people who believe in me, it’s all gone on deaf ears.

I cannot do this without your help. I’m not just talking money here – although without it, the research involved in this book simply cannot take place. But even dropping a word of encouragement. Sharing the story with others. Telling people on Facebook. Or just believing in me.

Anything at all.

But until now, everybody – yes, even YOU reading this – is probably thinking, Hey, this sounds like a cool project, so SOMEBODY’S going to help out. But the reality is, nobody will. We live in an age of indifference and self-absorption, where a guy on Kickstarter gets $50,000 to buy ingredients for a potato salad, and worthwhile projects and causes are bumped from the limelight in favour of potato-salad-guy or kong-fu-baby. It’s the reality of our time, where the trivial and the insipid have come to dominate social culture as we define it today.

So that somebody you’re thinking might be able to help me, after you leave this blog – well, that’s YOU.

There’s nobody else. If I had a dollar, even five dollars, for everybody who has checked out my blog over the last month but didn’t contribute anything, my book would have been funded by now.

There is just me. And you. And this moment – where you can decide to help me or you can walk away. This is, after all, your choice. But please don’t diminish that choice by assuming that there’s somebody else in line to help me out.

Because there isn’t.

If you DO decide to walk away, I don’t resent you. In fact, I’m kind of wishing I could walk away from it also. But the thing is, I can’t. My entire childhood and my adolescence was filled with hate, abuse and continuous trauma, and I realize today, in my 40th year, that running away from ugliness changes nothing. It’s cosmetic surgery of the heart, but doesn’t repair the wound inside your soul.

My wound goes deeper than my own childhood – it goes into the lives of my parents, and grand-parents, and great-grandparents before them. An epigenetic history of hate, oppression and suppression of the self. I carry in my blood the genetic memory of six hundred years of hatred, pogroms, wars, abuses and oppression. It’s a huge family tree of despair and longing to be remembered. Hence the name of my book.

remember meme

In Remember Your Name, I’m digging back into the personal transformations of innocents into monsters, as well as digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts (Sephardic conversos) in Europe, and the internalization of hatred and the transformation of victim into oppressor.

We see the consequences of this legacy of hate everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East. Whether it means torching a police car or turning around and inflicting violence upon someone else, we as human beings are collective beings – which means that, even at our worst, we cannot constrain our emotions. They will spill out, for good and for bad, and impact the universe around us.

Right before I converted to Judaism in 2013, I had to write an essay for the rabbis at my Beit Din (Rabbinical Council) to explain why I wanted to become a Jew. This is a segment of that essay:

“My father’s denial of his religion and heritage was like an invisible wall that kept me from my past, but with each day and each hour, the wall becomes increasingly transparent. The bricks fall apart and I begin to see a glimpse of something beautiful and mystical on the other side. The shadows of those great-grandparents and the whispers of their lives comes through to me, through me, and out into my very own existence.

I feel terribly sad that I have had thousands of Jewish ancestors from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Romania, whose truth, lives and stories have been wiped off in only two generations. One hundred years is all it took to wipe out my family’s connection to their own lineage and heritage. I look at the world and wonder how many others walk around unaware that the blood of Sephardic conversos or Ashkenazim forced to hide their religion runs through their veins. But I aim to reclaim that heritage.”

By reclaiming this heritage, I reclaim the pain and the beauty of everyone whose blood gave birth to me today. Maybe I’m being idealistic or naïve, but I keep feeling that if I could SOMEHOW depict how pain and oppression, innocence and brutality, are so closely intertwined, then I might be able to show that there is no such thing as black or white in this world.

There is no ME or YOU. There is no Jew, Arab or Christian. We all laugh, we all cry. We all bleed.

We are ONE. Your pain is my pain, and my memories are your memories now.

Within each and every one of us there is the potential to be a victim and a victimizer, a tormentor and a tormented soul. There is love, and there is hate. And it is the uniqueness and beauty of our human experience which allows you to make that choice – the choice to get involved, to show kindness and compassion, or the choice to walk away.

Ultimately, it’s your choice.

Posted in ancestry, canada, commentary, hate, heritage front, history, jewish, journalism, love, media, news, racism, religion, revolution, romania, toronto, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The most important book I’ll ever write, and it needs YOU

Posted by E on March 20, 2015

remember meme

“This story needs to be told and widely read” – reknowned human rights lawyer Paul Copeland

Dear friends, supporters and occasional voyeurs 🙂

everyone who knows me is probably aware of how reticent I am to discuss the details of whatever it is I’m working on – it’s a weird idiosyncrasy common mainly among writers and is the result of a befuddling combination of nerves, superstition (if I talk about it, I’ll jinx it!) and just plain discomfort at being asked questions that demand answers you haven’t quite worked out yourself.

But it’s time for my manuscript to come out of its closet and introduce itself – until now, only a handful of close friends ever knew of its existence. Until last night, I kept it under wraps for many reasons – but now circumstances force me to appeal to all of you and share my first-ever crowd-funding effort for this book.

Please, PLEASE take a moment to click on this link and check out the detailed story behind this manuscript. I feel so strongly about it that I have no doubt it’s the most important, and powerful, book I will ever write. So please – even if you can’t spare a dollar, at least share the Project link among your friends, relatives and whoever you think would be interested in supporting a book that will hopefully make a difference.

REMEMBER YOUR NAME is a memoir that depicts a journey into the roots of hate, identity, human trafficking and self-discovery in Eastern Europe.

It’s also the story of my family, the story of my country, the story of my people.

We all have our own story, but that story doesn’t belong to us: it’s the story of the hometown we came from, the people who gave birth to us and the people who came before them; the kids we went to school with, the neighbors across the road. It’s the story of every individual who came into our path, who added their own presence, experience, emotions, light and darkness to the universe that became our own.

I picked GoFundMe over Kickstarter because of its flexible funding model – which means every single dollar you donate WILL actually reach me, whether I meet my funding objective or not. So please be part of my team and together, let’s make this book happen!

Remember Your Name is a memoir about memory, heartbreak and belonging. Tying together six hundred years of revolutions, cruelty, despair and transformation, this is a luminous journey of love, loss and hate into the heart of a memory that refuses to be forgotten.

I am deeply grateful for anything you can do to help. Thank you.

Posted in abuse, ancestry, hate, jewish, love, manuscript, media, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

An open letter to Rita Atria

Posted by E on July 26, 2012

This is a love letter to the sister I never had.

On July 26, 2012, the twentieth anniversary of your death, I want to say that I will never forget you, Rita. I want to shout your name from the rooftops, and hope that somewhere in the echoes that bounce back, you are still there. I want to say that even though I never met you, I will always consider you a sister of my heart. You are my shadow self – a firefly in the darkest sky, a girl who never grew to be a woman.

We were born 3 months apart in the latter half of the same year, in the same part of the continent. We were both loud, vivacious, black-haired, brown-eyed girls endowed with a penchant for mischief. You were born into a small village of Mafiosos and I was a street urchin seeking out a family among a group of hateful extremists who envisioned that they would one day rule the country.

We were both seventeen years old when we saw our “family” for what it really was and tried to get out. We were both seventeen when we began to compile information on the men who we had once trusted, looked up to, even loved. We were little girls who wanted to pretend that we were soldiers in a war greater than ourselves.

In the greater scheme of things, we were little children. Disobedient children who spied on our families and turned against men who had once held us close to them and called us “daughters.” We sat in open court and pointed to such men, denouncing them for the vile criminals that they were. You testified against the Cosa Nostra, men responsible for murdering your father. I testified against the Heritage Front and helped shut down Canada’s largest white supremacist organization, bankrolled and condoned by Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

We both betrayed the only family that had ever embraced us.

I am you, Rita, and you are me. We are no more or less than any other teenage girl who wants to make a difference in her life, who wants a better world for her unborn children. We are every girl who lives in fear today, yet holds within her heart the flicker of hope that she will one day be counted. That someday she might make a difference.

We both know the seclusion of safe-houses, the anonymity of a new haircut and a bottle of scalp-burning dye. The unfamiliar utterance of a new name in our mouths. We know what it is like to have an entire world hate us and call us traitors. We know the words grown men have spoken after us, the threats and hits that were placed on our heads. And the truth, Rita, is that we were both children. We were idealists with hardly any concept in our minds of the ugliness of the world, of the seclusion and loneliness that would come.

When you’re in hiding the sky is always starless, muffled by an oppression of perpetually-low clouds. There’s only the stillness of empty apartments, where the silence of incalculable whitewashed walls closes in on you. After a while, the danger is no longer as relevant as walking to the window to tear apart the curtains, regardless of who might be lurking below. Because all you can say to yourself is, When the gunfire erupts I will not duck, I will not retreat.

I wish I’d met you, Rita. I wish that I could hold your hand and call you Sister. When you climbed over that balcony and flew down to your death, broken-hearted after the Mafia assassinated your only friend, magistrate Paolo Borsellino, convinced that nothing would ever change, a part of me was there with you. A part of me has always longed to take flight too.

Every year that passes since your passing, after the great snowfalls recede and give way to the delicate beauty of new growth in spring, I think of the shadows of us two – two teenage girls who wanted to make this ugly, senseless world a better place.

You live in me, Rita. And I will never forget you.

Posted in activism, beauty, cosa nostra, csis, family, freedom, history, identity, innocence, italy, letter, life, love, mafia, media, news, paolo borsellino, politics, revolution, rita atria, truth, Uncategorized, violence, war, women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Love Springs Eternal

Posted by E on February 14, 2012

For this Valentine’s Day, I want to remind all of you that love springs eternal — the love we carry in our hearts for our loves ones, our friends and our dear and cherished animals. Just as energy never dies, love as sentiment connects us with one another and has the power to traverse time and space.

This is why I have chosen today to share this letter with you. It was written by a Civil War soldier by the name of Sullivan Ballou from Smithfield, Rhode Island, and addressed to his wife one week before he died in battle.

 

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah,

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days – perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. Our movements may be of a few days’ duration and full of pleasure – and it may be of some conflict and death to me. “Not my will, but thine, O God be done.” If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my Country, I am ready.

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing – perfectly willing – to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and burns unresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me – perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar – that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield you and your children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the Spirit-land and hover near you, while you buffet the storm, with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights, advised to your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours, always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys – they will grow up as I have done, and never know a father’s love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the deep memories of childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their character, and feel that God will bless you in your holy work.

Tell my two Mothers I call God’s blessing upon them. O! Sarah. I wait for you there; come to me and lead thither my children.

Sullivan

Posted in letter, longing, love | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

In memory of Nadia, in memory of myself

Posted by E on June 23, 2010

Now that I think about it, it was about two springs ago, around that time of the year when the ice thaws out and winter dissolves into spring, that I was watching the news and a missing person alert flashed over the airwaves. The haunting photos of a beautiful brown-haired girl proclaimed her disappearance from Carleton University in my old alma mater town of Ottawa. Her name was Nadia Kajouji, and this June she would have turned twenty-one years old.

It had been approx. five years since I’d graduated and moved away, first to teach English in South Korea, then to find better opportunities for employment back in the Toronto area. But Ottawa has always been the one Canadian city closest to my heart. Some of my happiest memories involve the long walks I used to take by the leafy Rideau Canal, or writing poetry under the shade of a tree on a hill overlooking Major Hill’s Park and the turbulent waves of the Ottawa river.

Although I had gone to Ottawa u., I was quite familiar with the Carleton campus, particularly with the gymnasium where I used to practice fencing with their varsity team. As I now watched Nadia Kajouji’s parents plead for information about their daughter’s disappearance, my mind replayed my winding walks across the Carleton grounds – from the bus stop where the inter-university shuttle spat me off, past the flock of tall concrete buildings that formed the campus residences, and down the steps that led to that all-too-familiar girls changing room, which always smelled like chalk, cedar bleachers and dusty corners, and resounded with the sound of combination locks clanging hollowly against locker doors.

As soon as the newscasters told of how Nadia had left her radio playing and her wallet on the counter of her dorm room, taking only a pair of skates with her on that terrible evening, I knew what she had done. While I was her age, all those terrible winters ago, I’d also walked across the Macdonald Bridge and looked down into that endless sheet of ice, wishing badly that I wasn’t such a coward.


Throughout my fourth year of school, I fantasized about dying, wrote letters and feverish entries in my journals, packed my things neatly into boxes, and stocked up on pills and online how-to tips. I knew precisely how I was going to do it, and no Ottawa U prof or concerned friend knew how to broach my change in personality.

And yet, so many friends and classmates undoubtedly had noticed my dark eyes, my lack of sleep, my A-average grades slipping down and down and down…..I didn’t care, I was already dead inside. I’d come out of a psychologically-abusive relationship with someone who couldn’t care less about me, who broke every promise made and shattered my heart into a million pieces. And I thought that without this person’s love I was nothing, that I was totally worthless.

Finally, a close friend who was doing her masters in a medical-related field, insisted that I go see an MD. Not a counselor, but someone who could actually prescribe me something. “There’s no difference between what is going on with you,” she said, “and someone suffering from a physical ailment. There’s only stigma. But if you’d fallen and broken your leg, would you not go to a doctor to mend it? You just have a deficiency in serotonin, and a MAO-inhibitor would help you get back up.”

But guess what? Unlike what I’d learned in my psychology classes, awareness doesn’t mean that Poof! everything magically goes away. I knew without a doubt that I was clinically depressed, and it still didn’t stop me from wanting to put my plans into action. Within a month of being on Prozac, I felt amazing. Able to concentrate, to read again, a pleasure I thought I’d lost forever – and with all that newfound energy, I was invincible. I could finally put my energy to use, and complete the plan I’d set in motion months earlier. I emptied all the sleeping pill packages I’d hidden in my bedroom and woke up in the hospital hours later, having been found by my landlady’s daughter. After that attempt, I saw a counselor twice a week and my dosage was increased. It was another couple of months before the self-destructive thoughts receded.

As I now watched the news and learned with the rest of the world that Nadia’s depression had escalated so visibly, yet nobody had taken measures to assist her, I was certain that it was only a matter of time before the Rideau river thawed and her body would be found. Her poor, poor parents, I thought, looking at their photos on the Facebook group that had been created to publicize her disappearance. Having grown up in an abusive home and the foster care system, I’d never had any parents of my own to turn to; to think, Nadia did have a supportive family. And still, this happened to her.

And sure enough, the day when they found Nadia came six weeks later, just as the birds were returning from their southern burrows and new leaf buds were bursting through the trees. As her grieving family was laying her to rest back in the Toronto area, police began to launch an investigation, prompted by information that was seized from her computer records.

As it turned out, not only had nobody stepped in to help Nadia at her most vulnerable time, but someone she had been chatting with online in a support forum had encouraged her to take her own life. This person turned out to be a pudgy, middle-aged man in Minnesota with a perverse fetish for watching attractive young people hang themselves via webcam. He posed as a young girl while talking to Nadia, expressing a similar desire for suicide, and urged Nadia on and on toward her inevitable demise.

It took more than a year of inquiries, along with a Fifth Estate documentary investigation that determined that the pudgy middle-aged man, whose name is William Melchert-Dinkel and who is a registered nurse no less, had had a virtual hand in the suicides of scores of other desperate people all over the world, including a 32-year old British man by the name of Mark Drybrough. Apparently he had used some of the knowledge of his profession to assist suicides via the Internet and posed as various individuals in order to coax people into taking their own lives via suicide pacts. He is also estimated to have personally helped at least five others kill themselves.

At the end of this month we will find out if William Melchert-Dinkel is going to be convicted and serve the maximum thirty-year sentence that he’s facing. But no matter what happens to this sadistic, pathetic excuse for a human being, nothing will bring Nadia or Mark back. As I mourn the loss of a girl I never knew personally, yet shared so much with, I am reminded of the wise words uttered by sixteenth-century English reformer John Bradford: “There but for the grace of God go I.

Any of us – our friends, siblings, children – could suffer from depression. It’s not something to turn the other cheek to. If you suspect that someone you know is chronically affected by this, don’t act polite. Don’t “give them space” and assume that they’re going to be fine. Talk to them. Go along with them to a clinic. Keep them close, in heart, in mind, in spirit – or you might lose them forever.

Posted in death, depression, life, love, media, murder, news, ottawa, suicide, uk | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Helping out at the orphanage

Posted by E on July 12, 2007

s with pencilcase 

This week I received news that the little girl I sponsor through a private arrangement in an orphanage in Sri Lanka has received my second care package.

Over the last year I have been involved with various small charities around the world. This one is closest to my heart. This little girl, who I will name Sarita (not her real name) to protect her privacy, has been abandoned on and off by her mother since she was an infant. Growing up in an orphanage has been difficult for her, but at least she does receive the odd visit from her mother, and she does get to go home on school vacations.

orphanage.jpg

This is Sarita’s home, the Orphanage for Orphaned, Abandoned and Destitute girls. Below is one of the children’s bedrooms, which has been recently renovated through sponsor donations. 

 bedroom2.jpg

My monthly contribution is a private one, to help in providing the extra little things that she would not receive otherwise: new clothing, vitamins, English lessons, school materials, extra tutoring, and the occasional field trip. Sarita is one of 50 destitute girls living in this wonderful orphanage close to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Their matron is supposedly a very loving woman and tries to give them each individual attention, but that can only go so far.

  girls-to-school.jpg

Each girl has a special friend from overseas who writes to her, sends her little things and care mail, and tells her how special she is. We also cover things such as birthday parties.

s birthday party2007 s with teddy

Sarita has thrived over the past year. I’m so proud of the way she’s growing up. I hope to meet her someday. We try to email each other as often as we can through the only dial-up computer inside the home. I send her photo albums that are emailed to me from school trips, etc. 

 with gifts again

At the very least, I hope to be a constant reminder in her life of how special she is, and how she can accomplish anything if she puts her mind to it.

s group of 4 village-trees.jpg

Sarita’s beautiful village, a Sri Lankan tropical oasis. Her orphanage is 1km from the ocean.

Posted in charity, children, cute, family, girls, love, orphanage, sri lanka | 7 Comments »

An Open Letter to a Future Mother

Posted by E on July 6, 2007

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

This entry started off as an answer to a woman who wrote that she wants to adopt, but doubts that she can find an “ethical” adoption agency. I put a lot of thought to her comment, and decided to write a response that I wanted to share with all of you.

Dear Amanda,
You mentioned that you had fears about finding an ethical agency from where you could adopt a child without feeling guilty about potentially “stealing” or “coercing” a birth mother. I want to take this opportunity to put your fears to rest.

I don’t blame you for being guilted into believing that adopting a child is somehow akin to kidnapping. There is a lot of propaganda on the internet where a small group of biased people are determined to compare all adoptions to the underground trafficking of human beings.

I need you to know that you have it wrong when it comes to the idea that expectant mothers are coerced or seduced by money and gifts to “give up” their babies. First and foremost, how can you coerce someone with expensive gifts?
If they are the type of individual who would take jewelry and a trip to Europe (as happened in a real case I’ve heard about) as a thank-you gift, then what kind of person is she to begin with??
Would you take a fur coat and a trip as price for your child?? Not if you are a “mother”.

There are women who want their child to go to a good family, and there are those (yes, they do exist) who will indeed look for profit. But the women who barter their babies to the highest bidder are not “mothers.” They are business women who profit from the pain of infertile couples.

There are – frankly – more cases of that happening, as you can see in the news and shows like 2020 and 48 Hours, than the other way around.
How can the receiving half of the adoption industry (namely the adoptive parents) be unethical and seeing the children as commodities, yet the mothers be victims who were coerced??

It doesn’t work that way. Most of the time, both parties (adoptive parents AND birth mothers) want the best for the children involved.

Yes indeed Amanda, adoption is a legitimate business, with professionals involved, i.e. social workers and lawyers. Calling it a “business” and implying that by definition it’s immoral simply because there are fees exchanged is ridiculous. All legitimate enterprises operate under a business model. Hospitals, schools, etc all are businesses – employing staff, doctors, lawyers. Making a business out of adoption by no means designates adoption as “unethical.”
If it WASN’T for agencies, I would be much more worried about the state of the children.

And by the way, let’s talk about the ethics of covering birth mothers’ expenses. These days, the feelings and emotions of A LOT of infertile couples are being manipulated because of short supply-excessive demand for children. As a result, a lot of people get second mortgages and work their asses off to impress young pregnant women who KNOW they are peddling a “commodity”. So just who is being taken advantage of here?

There are lots of well-meaning people who still see pregnant girls who wish to place their infants for adoption as the same naive waifs pre-1950’s Homes for Unwed Girls scenarios; please realize that in today’s world, the tables have turned. Women are much more educated about their rights. To think less of our capability to make our own judgement is to make us less than what we are: intelligent human beings.

The mothers who want to keep their kids, do – with support from social services, welfare, whatever. And the ones who don’t – get to pick the family they give their infants to. And yes, they do have their expenses covered.

But what is wrong with that? What some might call “selling” a child is to the rest of the world a way to recompense someone for her troubles. I mean, the woman carries the child for 9 months for another couple – why NOT have her expenses covered? Why NOT have extra money for food, or have her rent paid (as so many people have done)? Why NOT make her life as comfortable as possible?
If that is “selling”, then take it up with those birth mothers! They did after all agree to those conditions and accepted payment for their expenses. I somehow don’t think they see themselves as selling their children. Yet if they do, then they could hardly be regarded as “fit” mothers, can they?

In a perfect world, children would be WANTED, pure and simple. REGARDLESS of whether they were carried in a different person’s stomach for nine months.

You mentioned the fact that some adoptions can cost upwards of $30,000, and you couldn’t understand how that could be – unless there was something morally reprehensible about it. Or involved the sale of white children only.
So to address that query – the $30,000 fee is not just for white children. It’s for healthy children. People adopting Asian, Hispanic, Black or Bi-racial kids from overseas have had to pay that much, and sometimes more to adopt healthy infants.
Yes, fees would be much less if kids from foster care were adopted – but often they are not up for adoption, they are older, disabled, or have been traumatized by abuse and neglect. A lot of a-parents might not be prepared to handle such complexities, and they have read studies that show that bonding is less complicated with infants or very young children.

That’s not to say those children are any less valuable – but unfortunately, people may not have the emotional and monetary resources to care for traumatized kids over the span of a lifetime. I wish all those youngsters would find permanent homes, and in fact I wish the government would offer more incentives and support for people to adopt every child in the system. Perhaps if they felt they were not alone, potential parents might adopt more. As it is, it’s hard emotionally enough to adopt older kids in the “system”, and those efforts are compounded by “angry Adoptees” and other psychologically-scarred people who give a bad rap to all kids still in need of a parent.

Many people who are not adopting tend to confuse what the money is about – most of it has to do with paying social workers’ fees for those home studies, lawyers to process applications, fingerprinting fees, background check fees, psychological assesments – and in the case of internationals, having to fly to the country, stay a minimum number of days, etc etc etc. And then, yes, there are those agencies fees too. But remember, the $30,000 figure represents the ADDED cost at the end of the road. It’s not just the myth of a large envelope being passed under the table.

Certainly there have been some abuses of the process, as in any arena where there are strong feelings involved. Yes, some people have paid adoption brokers above and beyond what the adoption papers state; yes, money has found its way around the legalities of this normally well-regulated system. But those situations were extremes, the minority of cases that contravened the law and were prosecuted when the law caught up.

There have also been cases of birth parents who actively sought out “buyers” for their babies. Whether in the slums of Guatemala City, the villages of rural Romania, or a parking lot in New Jersey, babies have been sold – just as often by brokers as by their own parents.

But to be afraid of adopting because of extremes doesn’t make sense. You can’t judge a legal process like adoption by looking at those who break the law as representatives and ambassadors of that process.

The only country I know of where an envelope full of cash is demanded is China (about $3000). But guess what? Although the Chinese government undoubtedly profits from this “sale” of babies, there are no mothers who are being coerced.
Those mothers abandoned their girls by the roadside, in market stalls or on the orphanage doorstep.
That’s if they didn’t kill them first.

(And please, before someone tells me that the Chinese government created this nightmare of abandoned girls with their one-child policy, let’s not forget that the parents COULD have chosen to keep their daughters as that one child. Nobody held a gun to their head and forced them to throw their baby girl in the trash.)

So you see, Amanda, you can freely let go of your guilt and fears – all you have to ask yourself is: Will I be a loving mother? Will I be able to provide and nourish this child as if it were my own?
If the answer is yes, then welcome to the wonderful world of motherhood.

Posted in adoption, children, china, commentary, family, infertility, letter, life, love, mother, orphanage, parents, personal, pregnancy, surrogate, thoughts | Leave a Comment »

The Red String, and how we are all connected

Posted by E on July 4, 2007

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An ancient Chinese proverb talks of “an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet. The thread may tangle or stretch but it will never break.”

I believe that everyone you meet, you meet for a reason, and every experience presented to you is a challenge to be learned from. This is not a religious belief but a personal, albeit somewhat spiritual opinion I hold.

I also believe that a parent is not one who carries a child for nine months, but someone who carries a child in their heart for a lifetime. Someone who is there for the smiles and the tears, the temper tantrums, the loss of baby teeth, the first day of school.

Adoptive children and their parents are brought together because they were meant to be together. Because they are on a spiritual level, if not genetically, parent and child. They are connected, not through blood, but through love.

Lately I’ve received some venomous mail from birth mothers who were using the same boring rhetoric about how adoptive parents  are acting “entitled” and “arrogant” about taking “other people’s children” and separating them from their birth families. (Basically suggesting that adoptive parents are legally kidnapping babies from their mothers via a subterranean, demonic ring of evil adoption lawyers).

I was astonished at their accusations. I wanted to say back to them: “Nobody held a gun to your head. You signed the papers. You may have been a teenager, felt pressured, etc, but YOU GAVE UP this child. (Maybe due to social stigma, poverty, depression, or simply not being ready to have a kid). BUT when you did that, the child became SOMEONE ELSE’S CHILD.”

I don’t understand how anybody can deny being responsible for giving a child away.  So you didn’t feel that you could be a parent to the baby. Fine. So you went and gave up all rights to him/her. I understand that there were tremenduous emotions involved in that decision, but WHERE ON EARTH do these people come from, to act as if these kids were kidnapped from them at gunpoint???

I wish there was some degree of respect for the people who actually TOOK that parentless child and raised him/her. They didn’t rob a mother of her child. That child didn’t HAVE a mother! Birth parenthood ended when the papers were signed. 

Dismissing a child’s adoptive mother and father (their REAL parents legally, and the only family they have known) as nothing more than arrogant, “entitled” jerks who want nothing better to do than satisfy their sadistic urges to kidnap and mentally torture a child by forcing them to “conform”, is insulting not only to them, but to that child.

Do these birth mothers REALLY think that they are helping their relationships with those adopted children (if and when they’d happen to meet again) or their psychological well-being by expressing such open-faced hostility toward their mom and dad?

Regret, jealousy and rage for having missed the most important milestones in the life of the person you gave birth to ought not to negate or deny the love that this child received from someone else: his or her parents. I would be thankful that someone loved them.

I’m certain that not all birth mothers feel like this – in fact, perhaps only a small fraction have such strong feelings. So before everyone in the adoptee camp freaks out, please remember that this post is about that small margin.

The relationship of parent and child goes so far beyond the nine gestational months spent in a womb. It’s about love, magic, and a connection that is much more than blood type. A red string ties each mother with her baby, even if the child is born thousands of miles away.

Posted in adoption, children, china, commentary, culture, family, ignorance, infertility, korea, love, parents, pregnancy, red string, surrogate, thoughts | 19 Comments »