Adopting in Tanzania: Flip your life upside-down in three easy steps
Five years ago this month, adventure beckoned and I disappeared into the sunset on a twelve-month sojourn to teach in Tanzania. I had had no plans to move to Africa, and in fact was seeking work in Peru, so imagine my surprise when I read the job advert in the TES and the realisation of my forthcoming move struck me. It was a rare moment that features in a person’s life but once, when they are led not by any decision or any instructions, but simply by the way things are… off I went to Tanzania late that summer, compelled and excited, but without really knowing why I was doing so.
That Christmas I was visiting an orphanage, strolling through the gardens, if one can call it strolling when there are eleven three-year-olds attached to one’s jeans. I saw a baby on a blanket, a boy of four months, who was lying on his back returning my gaze. We stared at each other and alarm bells started ringing in my head. Something was officially ‘going on’; something I had not previously considered possible. At one point in my life, there was a man who upon entering the pub reduced me to having to hold onto the bar I was behind in order to remain upright, because I loved him so much despite not having met him yet. I subsequently lived with him for five years and almost married him. Much later in life, I trembled quietly every time I heard a particular man’s name. When I finally met him, I fell in love so hard and fast I thought my body would shatter from the sheer intensity of it. My instincts were right again.
But a child? Surely this was not possible within the realms of human existence. Women give birth and they are handed their miniscule babies by nurses and they experience a brand new type of hitherto unknown love – but a little boy, already born? Some mechanism inside my head was forbidding me from touching this baby, and I knew that should I disobey myself I would make worse whatever it was that was happening. The whole of this episode took place within three seconds. I picked up the baby and held him to my chest, and in that one instant everything flipped and became unstable, malleable, non-Newtonian. I suddenly felt that this was the way life should be. I felt a rush of love so hard I thought I would fall over. I was in love; completely, uncomprehendingly, irrevocably.
From then on I visited him religiously, and every time I saw him I felt like crying and usually did afterwards, because I felt that he should have been with me. Whenever I visited the home and came away from there without him, I vomited. I no longer slept at night but used to lie awake imagining him sleeping next to me in the bed, his open mouth in that pouting position it relaxed into when not in use. I couldn’t eat properly. I spent hours of each day wondering what he would be into when he was five, twelve, sixteen. Football? Dancing? The sousaphone? Girls, or boys? At times I wanted to run to the children’s home and get him. The thought that I wanted to be his mother petrified me, and yet clearly he wasn’t another one of those cute kids that I take a shine to wherever I go. This baby was something else, he was my baby… I didn’t know how, I only knew what. I spent every minute of every day deliberating what to do, sometimes consciously and sometimes otherwise.
Once over the initial stage of being entirely freaked out by what I was feeling, I awoke one glorious morning to discover that part of my old self was back at the helm and in control. I felt light, as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was oblivious at first as to what was causing it, but later in the day I realised that, without really making any decision, I was going to adopt the baby. When I moved to Tanzania I had no idea why I was doing so. The baby was born the week after I arrived.
Five years on: life has changed somewhat from that time, and from what I expected would happen. After three years of red tape and bureaucracy, I finally managed to get permission for my boy to live with me in November 2010. I am currently his legal foster mother, and that’s all. He is still a ward of the state of Tanzania and the Department of Social Welfare are in charge of our lives. At the same time as he came to live with me as a foster child (a pre-requisite here to adoption), the laws changed and now state that a foreigner who is not married may not adopt in this country. Hence my predicament – I have a son who is not legally mine. I am no longer allowed to adopt him as I am single and foreign. I can either foster him until he turns eighteen, but he is not allowed out of Tanzania until that time and Social Welfare will remain able to dictate what I do and where I can and can’t go even within Tanzania, or I can “put him back” in the orphanage, as one social worker suggested, and go back to the UK alone. I have a lawyer fighting my case for me, and he is good, but there’s only so much he can do. He is currently trying to obtain permission to go to court using the old law, under which I applied, which allows single foreigners to adopt.
He tells me not to lose heart, but sometimes it’s difficult to see any end in sight. I am desperately homesick and more than anything want my family, my friends and my country back. My dad visits occasionally, but my mum has a long-term illness and cannot travel and therefore has never met my son. I can’t visit the UK unless it’s by myself. My son often tells me I’m stuck with him forever, which is a great relief, and sometimes I remember that really none of this matters – what matters is that we’re together – and that I will lay down and die before I ever give up on my boy.
I try to remain a pragmatist. There’s a song by Dar Williams that features the line ‘accept your life and what it brings’, so I did. Sometimes people get too caught up in what they want, or what they think they want. Sometimes life throws something right into your face, and you can’t do anything about it but find a way to amalgamate that thing into your entire being and let it get involved with everything you are. To some people life brings money, or a little good or bad luck, or they perhaps fall into the unenviable life of royalty or pauperism. To me came something unexpected; something unbidden. Life threw my boy at me, and I caught him.Tagged in: Adoption, adoption law, adoption rights, Africa, law, Tanzania
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