Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oh, Those Poor Africans....

Partial picture of Nairobi - picture lifted from http://www.nairaland.com/nigeria/topic-51356.0.html.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through the eyes of most adoptive parents of Ethiopian kids – wonderful and descriptive descriptions of heavily laden donkeys on the city streets, beggars everywhere happily taking candy handed out by the adoptive parents, the colors of the famous gates of the various orphanages and transitional houses, the wonderful nannies at the orphanages, the dogs barking at all hours of the night, the beautiful children left behind that the adoptive parents just want to scoop up and bring home, those poor people at the leper colony, the obligatory coffee ceremony and of course the beautiful people of Ethiopia. All of which forever changes the describer of these travels.

Kigali, Rwanda, the newest destination for International Adoptions – wonderful descriptions of the green country, the land of a thousand hills, the nice hotel with the beautiful gardens, the wonderful POAs, the traditional dancers, learning how to strap a child on the back Rwandan style and of course the genocide memorial.

Nairobi, Kenya – transit point for a lot of adoptive parents of Rwandan children: pictures of a day safari, perhaps some pictures of the kids feeding giraffes at the giraffe centre, pictures outside the clinic where you have to wait for hours for the U.S. Embassy required medical exams needed for the children’s visas and oh sometimes a description of the traffic nightmare that is downtown Nairobi.

Perspective: most parents stay in five star hotels – most in a lot nicer hotels than I have stayed in the U.S (at least true for vast majority of the five star hotels that dot Nairobi, Kenya), the opportunity to be chauffeur driven and have the driver be at your beck and call all day (when was the last time you had a taxi driver in the U.S that was at your beck and call), access to clean bottled water, excellent customer service (shhh, don’t tell anyone, but Americans around the world are thought to be some of the most generous tippers – the British – not so much, hence Americans generally get preferential treatment). On inconvenient facts that may destroy some of the stereotype of Africa? Deafening silence. I mean, how much can you appreciate my sacrifice if I tell you of the fact that there are cities in Africa have modern buildings, modern amenities, some world class hotels and restaurant, and yes, even paved streets? I mean, I have to keep with the American stereotype of the perpetually malnourished African child, with the runny nose, huge belly, ribs sticking out with flies all over their body. And the African woman who has had 10 children too many, with a child strapped to their back begging in the streets of Addis Ababa and grateful for candy from the American philanthropist who is guilty they did not bring more candy. The ramshackle kiosks where those desperately poor men are trying to eke out a living? Now these are the perfect backdrops for good pictures to show back home. Because really, could you really appreciate that I have been to Africa without these? Never mind that there are a million images in the western world that perpetuate these stereotypes, thank you very much. And the fact that it annoys most Africans to be thus depicted – as the objects of our pity, instead of someone, anyone telling of the progress made towards westernization? We never get to know that they get offended, because seriously, after numerous squeezes of the hand sanitizer after an African shakes our hands, and as we take these obligatory pictures, it never leaves room for real relationships with the citizens of these countries to really ever know. And this, my friends is the lopsided perspective we give our children adopted from Africa of their countries of origin. Because even if we tell them the reality of their countries of origin, they will still be surrounded by our families and friends who still fondly hold on to these stereotypes (thanks to those countless pictures we took).


Heidi said...

Thought provoking, and I'm sure it's true to a certain extent. Yet I don't think it's fair to say this is what "we all" are passing onto our children of African descent.

Room4More!!! said...

As an adoptive mother of two Rwandan boys, I plan to tell them that the people of Rwanda love children, that they take enormous pride in their nation and that they are doing all the can to overcome the tragedies of the genocide. I share with everyone I meet the immeasurable amount of love for Rwanda that I have, how it is clean, beautiful and safe. I think that it is our job to end the stereotypes of Africa and I really don't think that the majority of adoptive parents are doing anything other then sharing their love of their children and respect for their birth countries.

waitingarms said...

I so sorry ladies - I never meant to imply that the negatives or the stereotypes are the only things adoptive moms are passing along to the children re: their countries of origin. It just got me thinking since it appears most blogs siscus the exact same experiences about a country - this must mean that this is what stood out most to the blogger. If this is what stands out and what someone blogs about, than most likely this is what they are sharing with friends and family. This only serves to further the stereotypes. And how can we really prevent our children from hearing about these stereotypes if we are blogging them/sharing them enough for them to have an accurate and healthy view of their country of origin. Even when we are saying positive things - like how all the people of Ethiopia are beautiful and nice - that sometimes comes of as pretty patronizing.

Lindy said...

As someone who has been running a guesthouse in Kenya for 2 years I can tell you that there have been many... not all... who have come through doing that SAME THING you spoke of with the sanitizer. DRIVES ME CRAZY while making me mad all at the same time. I even had someone ask before going into the slums with our ministry "Will we need to throw away whatever clothes we wear in the slum?" Seriously? Um... no, but you can give your brand new columbia/ patagonia clothing to me and I will def give them to some street boys who's clothes are ...well...."dirty" if you would call it that.

I could really get on my soap box about some of this stuff and the things I've seen, but I won't b/c I realize something. These people who come over to serve or help out are simply naive. They have been raised in clean comfy America where if you drop food on the floor you toss it in the trash b/c there is PLENTY MORE! They were raised that if they didn't "like" something on their plate- it was okay to throw it out. I've yet to hear a Kenyan say "I don't like (whatever is on my plate)"

As far as raising our adopted African children... I surely hope to raise them on foreign soil if God sees fit to keep us overseas. Its about the people. I want them to KNOW their people and what they are really like... not know stereotypes .

thought provoking post

waitingarms said...

Thanks Lindy because you get it! And seriously, you guys have the most respectful blog of any missionary blogs I have ever read. I am so touched by the respect you show the people you minister to/alongside (your partners) and you don't simply go for the missionary default of evoking pity for those ministered to. And I am not simply saying this because you get it - but seriously, I talk about you guys and your ministry like you are my best buds (I so loved the blog when you washed and repaired the street boys clothes and also the broiler project to enable your ministry partners to be self-sufficient).

I am learning to have more grace towards those raised in ignorance (though it annoys me that even after they have "seen", they still project the same images). I thought I was getting there (on grace) until I read the Compassion International bloggers' trip to Kenya! Nary a mention of the Holiday Inn in Westlands they were staying in or the safari to Masaai Mara, just blogs of the horrific and pitiable conditions of mathare and kawangware slums - and of course the pictures!

Prayerfully, I will get to take the kids on a trip to Kenya next year and I can finally meet my most admired missionaries (along with the blessed additions).


Only Servants Ministries said...

girl- you know you are welcome ANY TIME! Your room awaits you!

Eve said...

Very interesting post and comments. If I adopted from Africa I would want to give a well rounded view, as best I could, of the country the children come from.