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The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~ Nelson Henderson

Now that I’m no longer ignoring my blog, I’ve been prompted by another (Thank you, Lori, for your post that stirred me into action!) to do a bit of gap filling on gap filling.

As do all internationally adopted children, my kids have gaps in their personal stories that can’t be filled. Not only do they have little information on their genetic links and the specific circumstances that preceded their adoptions, their country of birth is also somewhat of a mystery.

They know a lot about Cambodia, of course, from books and photos and films and the tales of our family history, but those can’t convey the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Southeast Asia any more than breathing into a freezer compartment can relate the experience of being cold enough to see their breath.

It has long been in the works for the kids to spend time in their birth country, and this happened for Sam back in February.

Some years back I wrote about Gay’s plan to have him accompany her on an annual housebuilding trip for Tabitha. She’s been doing this every year since Sam came home in 2003, and now that he’s eleven-years-old, it seemed the right time.

I had my concerns, of course, as any mother would seeing her young son travel far without her, but knew most of the building team (Brits, Americans, friends … ) and trusted in their dedication to my son’s safety and had the team leader, Dave Richter on my radio show just a month before, assuring me that Sam would be well looked after.

I won’t say that I was thrilled by him going, as I knew I wouldn’t relax until he was back under my wing, but his excitement was contagious and I knew he was leaving on the trip of a lifetime.

After almost two full days of travel, the first item on his agenda was a 10K walkathon benefitting the building of a women’s hospital in Phnom Penh which he completed with no problems whatsoever … and had raised almost £600.00 for on his Justgiving page. (He’d also raised over 3,000 Seychelles Rupees at a carwash conducted here!)

More difficult were the orientation visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing field at Choeung Ek. Although he has been familiar with the tragic history of Cambodia since he was old enough to turn the pages of a book, there’s a lot to process in those places for anyone, even more so a Cambodian-born 11-year-old.

The housebuilding days were a joy for him. Meeting and playing with the children in the village reaffirmed his hope for his compatriots. Working hard felt good, too, empowered as he was at his age to contribute something so substantial to some he knows are his people.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~ Anne Frank

Gay had wisely decided to end the adventure at Angkor Wat with its evidence of the rich and grand history that is also Cambodia … an amazing wrap to an amazing time had by my amazing son.

My love and my gratitude for my children are the greatest gifts I’ll ever know. They are all spreaders of light … candles all.

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton

Here’s a video Gay put together showing some of the highlights of the trip. Huge thanks to Gay, to Tabitha Cambodia, Dave Richter and everyone involved in making this such a wonderful experience.

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Not dead today ... just at the beach ...

Not dead today … just at the beach …

Today is my 15th Not Dead Day.

Yes, I have had a few thousand days of being not dead, but on this day in 1999 I very well could have been.

During the course of what I thought was a routine checkup with a cardiologist while on holiday in Singapore I was yanked from a treadmill after about 10 seconds, told to lie down, had a Heparin patch slapped to my chest and was informed that I was within one to thirty days from a massive and certainly fatal heart attack.

Good thing I took that vacation, huh?

I’ve written before about the process, recovery, etc., so no need to do that again. What I would like to do today is talk about living. Fifteen years … nothing to sneeze at. I would have missed a lot had I not been around. Not that everything has been peaches and roses (sometimes not even coming close with pizza and rotgut), but an unpleasant slog through what we know as real life. There have been times I’d have rather avoided, some that almost broke me …

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave. ~ Quentin Crisp

But so much has been worth much more than the price of admission. Fifteen years of sunsets and puppies and laughs and love and friends and fresh fruit and hugs and cuddles and kisses and great books and conversations and new experiences coming seemingly from out of the blue.

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~ Erich Fromm

I’ve had

They're growing, and I get to watch the process...

They’re growing, and I get to watch the process…

another fifteen years to learn new things, to confront my personal ghosts, and wrestle them for lessons, to put effort into making the world a better place.

Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I’m still around to see Sam at 11 and Cj at 9, to fill their heads with as much wisdom as I can and as little baggage as possible, to do my best to leave them with as few gaps as I can … and I have no doubt I will leave them before the gaps are full, just as all parents do … and to live up to Walt Whitman’s edict in “Leaves of Grass”

“…the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

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Twain quoteWell, hello! I know it’s been a while … about a year and a half since my last post on this blog … and although I’ve been grateful to the nagging readers as they did their best to prompt a bit of writing here, I’ve had neither the time nor the inclination to blah, blah, blog.

An experience last night, however, set fingers to keyboard as I was forced to recall just how important it sometimes is to watch idiots twitch and sputter no matter how futile the activity so often is.

The inspiration for this post is Lori Carangelo, a screech from the distant past I’d had the pleasure of forgetting … until last night when she apparently learned how a search engine works and found a blog post from 2007 and decided to try to chew my face off with her wrath … and show off her writing skills at the same time.

Of course, she has a book she’s trying to flog, so most of the comments included a sales link in amongst the ridiculous blather. Fine by me, as anyone silly enough to actually pay real money for poor punctuation, bad spelling and nonsense either deserves what they get or will see she’s done the work of showing what a moron she is all by her lonesome.

Feel free to read her comments I allowed to post, and my responses, and if you can figure out what actual points she’s trying to make … well … you must have some sort of super power that sees through stupid.

Although I’m guessing she has a blog, the way they work and the concept of moderating comments seems to have escaped her. One long ramble not posted takes issue with me referring to her as “Honey” in a reply, so the idea that this is my blog she’s plopped herself into, a fact that conveys upon me the right to call anyone “Honey” if I so desire, must be beyond her. She also took to accusing my children of being terrorists, mentioning assault weapons and drones FFS!, which is more shit than I’ll allow anyone to throw at a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old.

On the moderation thing …

I rarely filter comments, choosing almost all of the time to approve what comes and let the chips fall where they may. As I slept last night, a flurry of them came in from her, each wackier than the last. Now, I’m no fan of hers, but I’m also not a cruel person, so opted not to publish the comments she sent overnight. Should anyone think this was an attempt to edit her, it was for her own good.

One small example in a screen shot so no one thinks I’m making this up …

Carcarangelo comment

No way I’m posting any more of that stuff than necessary to make the point …

On the adoption front, over the years I have made it very clear that I am a strong advocate of ethical adoption, that I favor children having families over some horrible alternatives, that I support all efforts to open records, believe that everything possible should be done to rid the world of poverty, cruelty, war, greed and selfishness, all of which impact children, and I don’t suffer fools.

Now …

I’ll suggest Lori Carangelo stop spiking the Ensure, become friendly with her meds and stop haranguing those who don’t agree that adoption creates mass murderers.

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I haven’t written about adoption in a rather long time … Heck! I haven’t written about much of anything … but an article in today’s BBC sets wheels to spinning and fingers to keyboard.

Hundreds of parents in Nepal are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their children have been adopted by Western couples without their consent.

The article goes on to say that there are “about 20, mostly female, agents operating in Kathmandu, obtaining children for orphanages …”, and I don’t doubt the accuracy of that estimation.

Reactions from the gut happen … my gut, too. The photo looks fake, the girl in it a faded insert, and the copy states the woman had just one female child yet the caption reads: Sarita Bhujel says that she is devastated that her baby daughter appears to have ended up in Italy.

Horrible. Rotten. Dirty tricks played on illiterate parents in poor countries and hopeful adoptive parents in more affluent lands that must be addressed.

Yep.

At the root of the problem … ?

Adoptive parents pay thousands of dollars in fees and “donations” to orphanages and government officials who process their cases, creating what many observers describe as an incentive for widespread abuse.

Many observers say that, heh? I’m sure they do, and to a certain extent they’d be right to do so.

But …

The root of the problem has nothing to do with potential adoptive parents; it goes so much deeper than that, deeper than the roots of the Himalayas themselves.

The issue is poverty, poverty compounded by corruption, a global circumstance of real life for many of the world’s people.

What happens to children in poor countries? Well, let’s take a look at Nepal, shall we, since this is where this story is set?

– Statistics shows that of about 7 million children between 5-14 years old working in Nepal

– The number of bonded children is estimated as 33,000

– It is estimated that at least 1 million children in Nepal are working as child labourers in difficult circumstances, often as slaves in carpet factories, brick kilns, domestic service, agriculture, plantation, construction, transportation, stone quarry, mines and as migrant workers.

– Available data suggests that approximately 7,000 girls between 10 -18 are lured or abducted into prostitution each year. In many cases, parents or relatives sell young girls into sexual slavery.

– As an illustration, it is believed that 200,000 of the prostitutes in India are Nepalese. 20% are thought to be under 16.

– Half of 100,000 girl prostitutes between 10-14 in Bombay are from Nepal and are kept in brothels against their will.

– Poor, uneducated young women from Nepal’s rural regions are trafficked to India to work as prostitutes and for bonded labour. Nepalese citizens also are trafficked to Hong Kong, Thailand, and countries in the Middle East. Government officials suspect that organised crime groups and “marriage brokers” are the primary traffickers in Nepal and state that parents and other relatives of trafficking victims are sometimes complicit.

– A survey done in Kathmandu on 52 commercial sex workers by the Department of Research and Planning suggests that out of the total commercial sex workers surveyed, 13% were between 13-17 years.

– The NGO CWIN alleges that 2000 brothels exist in Nepal and a high percentage of the prostitutes working were children.

– Notorious in their own right for appalling working conditions, Nepalese carpet factories, where 50% of the workers are estimated to be children, are common sites of sexual exploitation by employers, as well as recruitment centres for Indian brothels.

It has longed seemed that outrage aimed at adoption is a red herring. Sure, shit happens and it should stop and those who profit in any way through corrupt practices should be strung up …

BUT …

wouldn’t it be more helpful to take on the bigger issues of real life?

No. I’m not suggesting adoption should not be subject to examination, controls, effective protocol or that it’s the be-all-end-all-warm-fuzzy-fix, just that it’s too damned easy to slap “Adoption (insert negative emotive word here)” into a headline and prompt a diverting knee jerk that shifts focus from the shit that is our world, no matter how far from our neighborhood where everyone’s heard stories about bad adoptive parents who sent their kid back to Russia.

Countries that conduct business under a layer of sleaze are crooked on all levels and those making money selling kids aren’t picky about who they sell them to … not even biological parents more often than most would like to think … so how about a global push to chop the balls off any man who has sex with a child? That seems a much better use of time and funds and energy, seeing as how the bottom would fall out of the kiddy sex industry pretty fuckin’ fast if there was a real chance they’d be separated from their testicles … not to mention all the extra duck food around.

Of course, some will argue that such drastic action would rob girls of a way to make a living, and in far too many circumstances that’s exactly what child prostitution is, so there would have to be provisions made, but perhaps a population lighter in the scrotum might find ways of being more creatively concerned with methods of living better suited to the welfare of all.

As this in The Independent suggests, the turn against adoption has not been the answer to the needs of children.

Only 60 babies were adopted in England last year – startling evidence of how Britain’s system for adopting children is grinding to a halt despite record numbers being taken into care.

Thousands of children are being held in limbo in care homes, secure units and temporary fostering because so few adoptions are being signed off by social workers. Their guidance has been to try to keep families together, which has also led to some children being left with negligent or abusive birth parents for too long.

Sadly, I can almost hear the standing ovation inspired in some by the news of adoption “grinding to a halt” and hope they read far enough to get to:

Three-quarters of the children in care, or about 48,000, were placed with a foster family. Twelve per cent, almost 8,000, were cared for in residential accommodation. A third of young adults who left care were not in education, employment or training last year.

The world is not a fair place. Bad things happen to good people, and many of those people are children.

Adoption is not a perfect solution, nor is it an evil foisted on the world. It is nowhere near the scale or condition of the sale of children into prostitution, yet one could be led to equate the two and with adoption far less a challenge to halt making that focus an easy rant.

And a BBC headline that shouts, “NEPAL COMES TO TERMS WITH FOREIGN ADOPTIONS TRAGEDY” misses the point that Nepal … for one … needs to come to terms with corruption and the sale of its children to pimps, that children in Britain languish for years in foster care and institutions and that a lot of men will pay money to have sex with kids.

By the way, writing about this again after all this time has brought to mind why I don’t often have adoption as a topic any more …

It just fucks with my head.

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Let’s hear it for the United Nations and their brave and “historic step” to pass a resolution supporting “equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation” … or let’s not.

Suzanne Nossel, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations, told CNN, “It really is a key part in setting a new norm that gay rights are human rights and that that has to be accepted globally.”

“It talks about the violence and discrimination that people of LGBT persuasion experience around the world,” she said, “and that those issues … need to be taken seriously. It calls for reporting on what’s going on, where people are being discriminated against, the violence that is taking place, and it really puts the issue squarely on the U.N.’s agenda going forward.”

Woopie fuckin’ zoopie doo.

Anyone with a lick of sense and a brush with recent history will get what a limp dick sits squarely on the UN’s fat ass agenda. Take, for example, the great job done in Sudan, the effectiveness of their “Racism Forum” that featured “that wonder of gentle tolerance, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Holocaust denier extraordinaire”, and the “Climate Change Summit” in Copenhagen that did such wonders for promoting the case of prostitution but little else, then the one in Cancun that accomplished even more bugger all.

“Their insatiable lust for power is only equaled by their incurable impotence in exercising it.” ~ Winston Churchill

Subtract from all the job they’ve done … or not … in protecting children in places like the “Democratic Republic of Congo, in Haiti, infant mortality in general, female genital mutilation and the rights of children and women to education and a normal lifespan.

It all rather pulls one hand away from any applause the United Nations gigantic PR machine solicits with statements like:

Friday’s vote “marks a victory for defenders of human rights,” said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “It sends a clear message that abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity must end.”

Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping? No. Me neither. But that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the bullshit spreading one little bit …

Nossel told CNN, “it’s not like discrimination or violence are going to end overnight” because of the U.N. resolution, “but now … when there are proposals in parliaments or legislatures around the world to illegalize gay activity or repress people because of their sexual orientation, opponents can point to this and say, ‘Hey, the U.N. has spoken out, there is a resolution that rejects this squarely.’

“That is the way these international norms are built,” she said. “It’s not from scratch. On women’s rights, on minority rights, it builds up over time. So this is really a critical beginning of a universal recognition of a new set of rights that forms part of the international system.”

International norms? New set of rights? International system?

Go ahead … pull the other one.

The UN does have a place and a purpose; the place is New York … and Geneva … and on First Class seats toward Five Star hotel rooms in some of the poshest places on the planet. The purpose is to keep a bunch of people highly-paid, well-dressed and traveling while seeing the sights from lily-white convoys of SUVs …

“Our chief usefulness to humanity rests on our combining power with high purpose. Power undirected by high purpose spells calamity, and high purpose by itself is utterly useless if the power to put it into effect is lacking.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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Although I understand the BBC feeling the need to place a few items of “good news” on their website since there’s so much nasty crap going on in this world of hurt, they shot wide of the mark with this story on a “baby bin” in South Africa.

As if the photo alone doesn’t provide quite enough bleak, the copy in the report is gag-invoking on many levels and was very obviously written by someone who has no clue to the sensitivities of the adoption world.

Most people would not give a second glance to the metal hatch on a wall in Hillbrow Street in Johannesburg’s tough Berea suburb.

But the “Door of Hope” is saving the lives of scores of unwanted babies.

Mothers can place their babies, usually newborn, inside and leave them anonymously to be found and cared for.

Awww. How warm and fuzzy, heh?

Well … no.

The reality being that much of Johannesburg is dirt poor, AIDS infected, drug-riddled and that many pregnancies occur outside the realm of ability to care for a child, there are many, many babies born in conditions that offer few options.

Yes, putting a baby in a “bin” that will lead to food and warmth, rather than death, is an option and it does save lives, but the fact that an average of sixteen babies per month are being deposited is not “good news”.

These are the lucky few – they are alive and have someone to care for them.

And if the orphanage has its way, they will soon be adopted by families who can provide for them.

The lucky few … hm …

Sure, when paragraphs like that are juxtaposed against the following, it can warm some cockles …

Child Welfare South Africa (CWSA) – the country’s largest non-governmental organisation – says more than 2,000 children are abandoned in the country every year – a 30% increase in the past three years.

Many of them are found near death in rubbish bins, wrapped in plastic bags, inside toilets, shoe boxes, open fields and parks and often die within hours of birth from dehydration, starvation or hypothermia.

Horrific thought, heh? Sure. An orphanage is certainly a better fate, and those who get the baby bin rather than the rubbish bin can be considered “lucky”-ish, but stories like this miss the point by so wide a margin.

For starters, the issue isn’t one of babies, but the entire shredded fabric of South African society, and a piece here and there about a few babies being “saved” does nothing but provide a tiny diversion from the truth of the matter that is life in Johannesburg.

As adult adoptees will point out through the benefit of their experience, there’s nothing lucky about being stripped of all history, and although I have often taken issue with those who state they’d “rather be dead than adopted”, starting life in a loss as great as abandonment is devastating at a cellular level.

Orphanage care, no matter how compassionate, is still institutional, and orphanages in South Africa are far from well-funded. The more babies they have, the more institutional the care out of necessity.

We then come to specifics on the adoption thing, of which even a mention is ridiculous to the point of cruelty. South Africa is such a bloody mess that potential adoptive families in the country are almost nonexistent. As for adoption by families from other countries … well … here’s how it looks from the USA.

South African law recognizes two kinds of adoptions by foreigners:

1) Local adoptions of children resident in South Africa by foreign residents of South Africa, and

2) Intercountry adoptions of children resident in South Africa by foreign citizens residing abroad.

The first category (“non-Hague adoption”) requires the foreign adoptive parent(s) to be resident for five years in South Africa, and the adoptions are handled by an accredited agency and finalized by the Department of Social Development under laws relating to local adoptions. Note: Under applicable U.S. laws and regulations, children adopted in non-Hague adoptions will only be eligible for immigration to the United States after a waiting period of two years’ residence and two years’ legal custody with the adoptive parent(s).

The second category (“Hague adoption”) is only available to citizens of countries with a working agreement between the prospective adoptive parent’s country of origin and South Africa. As of this writing, there have been no working agreements finalized between South African and U.S. adoption service providers. Please contact the U.S. Consulate Johannesburg Immigrant Visa Unit (contact information below) for the latest information regarding adoption in South Africa.

There have been a number of cases in which American Citizens have been issued “Guardianship Orders” from the South African High Court. These orders do not constitute “irrevocable release for adoption and immigration” as required by United States Immigration Law. As such, they cannot be used for immigration purposes.

In other words … uh … nope.

Bottom line on the BBC’s “feel good” efforts?

Show us something on real efforts tackling AIDS prevention, controlling drug cartels, rights and education for women, stemming violence and alleviating poverty.

Yes, I know. That’s not easy, is it?

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I don’t want to say this very loudly, but … I have both water AND electricity. Shhhhhhhhh …

Yep, toilets are flushing, showers miraculously have water come out when the tap is turned and lights go on when a switch is flipped. Amazed? I am. Maybe there is something to this Year of the Rabbit thing after all.

Funny how days of island shit ups the appreciation ante when it comes to stuff many so take for granted, but even those of us who do without need reminding regularly that blessings are heaped upon us even when when we’re toting water by the bucketful and trying to read by candles.

What follows is one slap up the ungrateful side of my head that comes in regularly … an update from Janne Rikkes, founder of Tabitha, an organization that does great work in Cambodia.

February  2011

Dear friends and partners,

It’s been a week of mixed emotions. Pat, our manager in Prey Veng, asked that I come. Pat is one of our senior managers; he has been with us almost from the beginning. Pat’s area is one of our toughest. In the areas we work, the poverty is rather stark. Pat wanted me to see Prek Komdieng, an area we have worked in since 1998. It was always frustrating to visit because, despite a lot of effort, very little has changed.

As we drove into the area, Pat had us stop. I was looking at a lot of barren fields with splashes of green, here and there. A number of people were working in the fields and came to meet us. The first man to reach us didn’t smile; instead I got a look of utter defiance mixed with pride. Touk looked at me and stated bluntly, I have all my children back from the border. Touk has five children and like so many in the area, when life got too difficult, he would get a loan in exchange for one of his children. The 3 girls and 2 boys had been at the Thai border for two years, the girls in the sex trade, the boys as carriers for heavy loads and of course, the occasional appointment with a man. What Touk did was not uncommon in this area – many families used the practice. Touk was waiting for me to say something.

I looked at Pat who was excited – he shared the story – last year he had asked Touk to be a model for the village. Pat would put in a field well and together they would grow rice and vegetables. It was unheard of in this village – many of the men had gone off to find work, many were too ill to do work – primarily because of malnutrition. Touk agreed and in the past year grew 4 crops of rice and 2 crops of vegetables. He earned enough to get his children back. They don’t need to work anymore, he said. Other men had joined us and the talk began – there were now 12 field wells installed – they needed 20 more – and then what, said I. Come back in March and you will see. We will have rice and vegetables covering 150 hectares. And the children, I asked. And the children they replied, will all be home and in school. March is not a long way off – it’s quite a challenge.

Touk was watching me intently. He was expecting me to pass judgment on his past behavior. All I could think of was who am I to judge these people – what do I know of hunger – I see it but I eat whenever I want and whatever I want. What do I know of being ill and not having medicine? What do I know of having to chose which child is next to go? I know nothing of this – I just know pain when I see it – and hope when I see it. I agreed and so in the latter part of March I will come and see. The challenge is on.

Yesterday I went to see Thary’s projects – she is near to Phnom Penh and easy to get to. Our first stop was at Preah Put village – we walked into the fields – 80 hectares of dry season rice was growing, all from Tabitha wells. The families grow year round food for the first time and their lives are changing rapidly. The husbands and the children are all at home. The smiles are wonderful to see.

We went to the new area of Duang. What a different story. I met 18 of 50 families who have been deeply affected by AIDS and by malaria. In this process the families have sold off their farmland and all have less than 5 square meters to call home. There are lots of children – it seems that this is the one thing in life they can do. None of the children go to school – they cannot – they need to scavenge whatever they can in order to eat each day.  Each small shack has two families living in them – 3 square meters is not a lot for 15 or more people. These families had heard of us and asked us to come and work there. The estimate is that there are 1000 desperately poor families in this area – half of them are ill. Some still have land and so the pressure is on to put in wells. One young husband is growing mushrooms in a space 10 meters square. His income for the next 6 months will be $600 a month but then the rains will start and the mushrooms can’t be grown. So he planted another small field with cucumbers and another with trakun, a type of spinach. He gives us the energy to hope and to do as much as we can. For those who no longer have land – the problems are much greater – I pray that the children don’t become the victims.

It’s been a week of sadness – it’s been a week of hope. I thank my God for all that I have, for the choices I can make, for His goodness to me. I thank Him for each of you – for standing with us as we go through these cycles of sadness and hope.

Janne

Here are some links to Tabitha branches around the world:
http://www.tabitha.ca     http://www.tabithauk.com     http://www.tabithasingapore.com
http://www.tabitha.org.au    www.tabithausa.org   http://www.tabithanz.com

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