Monday, 22 December 2008

All I Want for Christmas Is..... Milk

A few weeks ago, we had a really worrying email from a woman on the (wonderful) yah.oo email list for UK Ethiopia adopters. The foster home that most of us here work with is rapidly running out of infant milk for the babies.

Oh no! Well, obviously we'll get together and donate some money so she can buy some. Except that... there isn't any to buy.

Is anybody travelling in the next few weeks? No. Right, so nobody can take any.

Okay, then, we'll SEND it. Buy it here, send it by DHL, sorted.

No, Ethiopia won't accept any milk imports from the UK (even if the milk was manufactured elsewhere).

Alright, we'll send it from somewhere else. A very resourceful PAP found out that Ethiopia is in the region controlled by Nestle Egypt.

Who, it seems, can't really help us.

At this point, my head really starts to spin. It suddenly comes home to me that this is where my baby is going to be living, at some point, and there isn't enough food. This is the point at which my head and my heart start having a fistfight:

heart - These poor babies. I can't believe this is happening.
head - but you KNOW there are food shortages in Ethiopia.
heart- yes.
head- you KNOW there is grinding poverty.
heart - yes.
head - you KNOW that lots of people can't afford to buy food.
heart - yes.
head - you must know that these sort of circumstances are the context, and possibly part of the reason for your own adoption. Why are you so surprised all of a sudden?
heart - I didn't know it was the kind of food shortages that meant babies could go hungry!
head - excuse me while i roll my eyes at your stupidity.
**heart runs out of the room, crying**
head - I swear, she causes me nothing but trouble.

I think part of what is difficult in this situation is that we, in the West, are used to being able to fix things. No food in my house? Go to the supermarket! No food in another country? Donate a whole heap of money! The only limit to our fixing power is the amount of our money. Even think of (fantastic) organisations like charity: water - the whole premise is that we, in the West, have the *power* to change other peoples lives by giving money. (I think a lot of charities are very adept at this kind of marketing, and a lot of them seem to do it very consciously). Obviously these organisations DO need our money, and we SHOULD donate where we can, but we should also be aware of the power buzz we get by doing it.

I think a lot of us are getting pretty good at being generous, but a situation like this reminds me that we (okay I) are not very good at being impotent. I have the will to change this situation, and I even have the money to change this situation, but I don't have the power to change this situation. And that really stinks.

With this kind of context, you can probably all imagine exactly how much I'm looking forward to Christmas. I think I'm currently in the running for some kind of 'worst person imaginable' award, based on my attitude towards the festive season. The feasting upsets me, because we all basically feast every day so I'm not quite sure what the point is. The emphasis on family togetherness upsets me, because I keep on seeing an empty space where I want Hypothetical Future Baby to be. Also, I keep remembering that HFB is probably spending this Christmas inside their first mother, and for our family to come together another will have to be separated. The consumer waste and unwanted presents really really upset me. The fact that everyone (with one noble exception, thank you mum and dad) seems to have ignored my request for Kiva loans or something similar, rather than yet more consumer goods, upsets me, because it makes me feel like nobody is even interested in acknowledging the fact that we're going to be forever linked to a part of the world that doesn't share our plenty. The way that Christmas feels like yet another milestone upsets me, when my life feels completely up in the air. Here's the clincher, though - even watching the wide eyed wonder of small children opening their presents irritates me, because I'm thinking that if Christmas celebrations are mainly for children, as so many people seem to think, it shouldn't just be about well fed white children getting YET MORE STUFF.

So I'll have my award now, please.

I guess you want to know how the milk story ends, and here it is: Someone managed to find some formula, at EXTORTIONATE prices, somewhere insanely decadent like the Sheraton, and we (the group of UK adopters) bought it. All of it, I think. So yay, westerners, we did manage to throw enough money at the problem to make it go away, at least temporarily. And while I'm really, really glad that 'our' babies have milk, I'm consumed with guilt that lots of other babies still don't. And I keep wondering how I'll feel about all this festive madness in a year's time, if HFB is home by then. (I think I have a pretty good guess about how I'll feel if he / she is NOT home). Will these feelings of cultural resentment fade? Should they fade? I don't even know. Whatever happens, I don't want to slip so deeply into a loved-up family coocoon that I refuse to remember a time when these things were piercingly clear.


  1. Caroline,
    I think that I know how you feel about the holiday madness... we have some well fed white children in our home (whom I adore beyond reason) but I find it neccisary to damp down some of their wide eyed innocence at christmas in order that their eyes and hearts might see that other children, very close to our home, as well as far away are not always warm, well fed, or the recipients of electric guitars and computers. We will be making food for the local homeless shelter on Christmas eve (and I feel like an ass for such a mediocre gesture, but it was all that my bronchitis addled mind could come up with this year) I feel it my job to get my kids out there to help others because I think our television has brainwashed them into thinking that this is the season of "how much of the things I want can we shove under the tree?" and not the season of giving.
    The grief that underlies that adoption process is not lost on me either. I will learn to live with it a day at a time. (I long to be brave enough to really explore that aspect!!)
    Wow!! this is supposed to be a comment section, not a chance to blog back, so I will stop.
    Have a happy holiday and we will be thinking of you and wishing you a speddy union with your HFB :)

  2. I promise you that even once you have your wonderful HFB(s) these things will not fade...

    You, my dear, will never be one to suffocate in your "loved-up family coocoon" and forget the decisions and sorrows that brought you through these moments...

    On a lighter note, when your post first came across my reader I thought it said 'MILF' not 'Milk.' I thought to myself, whoa this looks like an interesting post...

  3. Caroline - well said. Today my sister emailed me and told me that she and her family opened many of their gifts last night and that she is only bringing 3 gifts per boy (she has 3 boys) to my mom's. She went on to complain that my mom and my brother usually only buy the boys gift cards. The entire time I'm reading this, I am thinking "Maya only has 3 gifts total from us minus the Santa gift". For a split second I felt guilty that I didn't buy much for Maya. Then I thought "Are you kidding me? She is too young and does she really need all this stuff?" I just don't think it is important to shower her with gifts. I think it is important to teach her the meaning of Christmas and to provide for her. I know that traveling to Ethiopia and having an adoptive Ethiopian daughter, it changes you. It changes what you think, feel, and do in every way. I mourn for Ethiopia and I can't wait to visit again.

    Merry Christmas and thank you for your lovely post.


  4. Wow - head v heart. That sort of encapsulates right there a lot of what pre-adoptive parents in general feel, I think. You are so right, we in the West are always throwing money at problems and financially wishing them away... the tension of how do you allocate resources when all we ever hear is that we need to give money and that if we do, we're better people for it? We're going to heaven then? Geez, I don't know.

    My word verification is "saliva"...weird!


  5. Wow, Caroline. Wow. You said it all so well. I would love to copy this and send it out to all my friends and family members. Sadly, I don't think many would still get it. People just get so caught up in their own "keeping up with the Jones'" attitude.

    Your head vs. heart weighs heavy on my heart. I'm sorry this is such a struggle right now. I think it is so hard for people to realize what is going on somewhere else. They live in the here and now and can't see much past their own day to day lives. I'm sorry you are going through these thoughts, but am glad that you are putting them out here to share with us all.

  6. Hi Caroline! Merry Christmas! This is a lovely post that really hits the nail on the head. This year, JF and I did not exchange presents. We bought each other shirts from the Mocha Club ( a charity for African issues) and called it a day. After Ethiopia, it seemed unnecessary. (We also feel like we got an early present:o)) We hope that we don't lose this perspective. We like it!


Over to you!