Just a few weeks ago, Johnny and I were outside at night. "Look, Mommy, the moon! I see the stars too!" he pointed out with his little-boy lisp. A pause. "I saw the moon and the stars at my Baby Home," he added thoughtfully. "I had a balloon with a light."
I wrapped up his words in my heart, because it's one of the only times he's verbalized a real memory of his life from before he joined us. I pictured him there, dancing in the dark with a glow balloon in the garden at the Baby Home. He remembers. It's his own memory, not planted there by photographs or my own prodding.
Today is one year since my boy came home.
I think back to that day, which seems like just yesterday and yet a lifetime ago. I remember how utterly overwhelmed he was that night we put him on a plane and took him away from everything he knew and loved. I watch him now, my fearless boy roaring around on a scooter, covering himself with scratches and scrapes which barely slow him down from keeping up with his siblings.
He was three, almost four, when he came home, and now he's almost five. He has been nothing but joy to us. If there are scars on his heart from the circumstances of his early life, we don't see them. He is so resilient. He is happy and earnest and flexible. Josiah regularly tells me, "Mommy, I love having a brother!"
Johnny is the picture perfect example of the beauty of adoption. He had no one, and now he has everything. When we took him home, he was months away from being transferred to a long-term institution. I'm so pleased that he decided on his own that he wants to stay with us, but I shudder to think about the little-boy tears he would have shed if he was now growing up in a place where the Baby Home would have always represented his best years. It was a happy place, but never meant to be a permanent place. The children were always meant to go on to something better--a family. But for some of them, that will never happen. I think of many I know by name--Boniface, Baraka, and of course, George.
It's ironic that the year we we have integrated Johnny into our family and experienced the best things that adoption offers is the same year that I have become such an advocate for adoption reform.
On one hand, I have been devastated by the reality of international adoption in many countries. As I started this journey to understand why illegal international adoptions are happening in Tanzania, more and more horror stories kept filling my inbox. One woman wrote to me after reading my series. Her family had been pursuing a sibling set from a non-African country, and my posts opened her eyes to what could be going on behind the scenes. They began asking difficult questions and hired their own investigator, and were shocked to find out that the birth mother actually did desire to raise her own children, if given the chance.
Another family contacted me after reading my series, and this one was pursuing a Tanzanian adoption (as non-residents). I shared with them everything I had discovered about the illegal international adoptions happening in Tanzania, and as a result, they changed their mind and cancelled their application. Many others do not.
I am writing this post as I am attending Swahili language school in the very city where the illegal Tanzanian adoptions are taking place. Since this is one of my only chances to be here, I was able to meet with the managers of two orphanages and talk with them face-to-face about the illegal activity and what we can do to stop it. It was enlightening and helpful but oh so disturbing. My quest is not over.
And yet, on the other hand, this year I have watched an orphan become a son. We completed our adoption legally, and I know with confidence that Johnny had no other options but us--unless you count a life-long institution as an option. And until things change in Tanzania, until the culture changes its attitude toward adoption; until the Tanzanian church takes on a greater responsibility to help widows and prevent orphans, then there will be plenty more children in Tanzania like Johnny. Who have no one.
How do I walk this tightrope? How do I dearly love adoption and yet hate the way it is abused? How do I simultaneously fight for the child and yet fight for his mother as well? Through this journey, I have come into contact with many in other countries who are working hard to do both. It has been inspiring and invigorating and I'm not yet sure what my part will be in all of it. But I do know that there will always be tension between those questions. There is no straightforward answer; it's not always black and white.
One thing I do know for sure: The answers need to come from within Tanzania. It should not be the foreigners who waltz in with solutions; it should be the Tanzanians. I have absolute confidence they can do it. If you live here, tell me what you think. And consider the part you might be able to play in the solution.