Alliterates would have been delighted with recent headlines “No Mercy for Madonna in Malawi”. The singer’s adoption denial of three-year-old Chifundo James, whose mother died at childbirth, resulted from a residency requirement snag that the mega-star obviously overlooked because she is, well, Madonna. The story revisits the celebrity adoption trend which divides people on the two sides of the fence: those who believe that an adopted child from a Third World country will have a better life brought up in a Western society; while others refer to colonialism “when a rich American or European sweeps into a poor African nation and grabs a child”, thereby robbing the child of his or her culture. A unanimous consensus on this will never be reached, but the question of a child’s upbringing being healthier in his ancestral country is always worth exploring.
Pulls in different directions
Palestinian writer Said K Aburish (The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud and Children of Bethany) coined the phrase “cultural schizophrenia”, a condition from which he suffers. Born in Bethany, Palestine, Aburish was sent to West-town, Pennsylvania in America at age 15; later he moved to England and then twenty years later came to France. We have approached the subject of mixed marriages and intercultural families in our pages over the years but what Aburish refers to is something that some ex- pats – like Tokyo-born Hiroaki IIzawa (see Promenade des Anglophones previous page) who has lived in Australia, America and Eu- rope can relate: “conflict between two cultural pulls going in different directions.” This displacement can be disheartening at best, and soul-destroying at worst.
I do not pretend to share the complexities of Aburish’s Arab-Western torment, but Athens for me was more than just a new destination being serviced by Nice-Cote d’Azur airport. I am adopted, born to Greek parents who are believed to be from the capital. The subject of adoption is a non-issue. My parents had two children the old-fashioned way and then decided to adopt two. Open discussions on adoption were customary growing up and, honestly, I could not have been blessed with a kinder, more generous and encouraging family. My siblings and I are equal in the eyes of loving parents and the only visible difference is that while the rest of the family has blue eyes and blondish hair, I am dark: hair, eyes and skin tone. Never for a moment would I want a different family; yet, a subtle genealogical nudge exists.
That reflection in the mirror
Wandering around the streets of Athens, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was amongst my cousins, nor could I avoid the question: how would my life have turned out differently if I had been brought up in Greece? Specifically, would I possess the same characteristics – determination and compassion, for example – or are these a product of my upbringing? I have and always have had (as my mother will attest to) a hot blooded temperament and feel much more at home on the Mediterranean than anywhere else I’ve lived. There’s always been an open offer by Mom and Dad to help my brother or myself search for our birth parents if ever we wanted, but I couldn’t have cared less, until recently, that is. I suppose this comes with age: the desire to know the history behind the reflection staring back at you.
I recently met Jacques who was told at the age of 30 that his biological father was actually his father’s lifelong best friend. He said it took him about a year to get his head around the shock, but essentially it didn’t change anything for him; his dad is still his dad and he sees his biological father, as he has all his life – whenever the two families get together. However, as he pointed out, both his “families” are from the same part of France and from a similar upbringing where as in my case, they are different, and consequently I am inherently confused about my Greek background. Who am I culturally speaking? Yes, for me it does matter.
A final point: as an adopted child who’s been given so much opportunity through the selflessness of my birth mother’s decision, I sympathise with the octuplets recently born by embryo implantation to Nadya Suleman, the Angelina Jolie wannabe who already has six children. What an incredibly hollow and morally-challenged world we live in when ovaries can be a used as a negotiator for fame. So many of my friends and friends’ friends cannot have children or adopt easily and would do anything to provide just one of these newborns with a decent and cared for life. Instead they will be brought up by a PR machine, not a mother, who will always put her own interests first. No mercy, indeed.
Half and half, cultural confusion
- Nancy Heslin