Adopting in Tanzania: Both sides now
A lot of people have offered to marry me over the last few years… but only out of pity. Whilst I wouldn’t mind a husband now and again to do the washing-up, it wouldn’t help my case. Married couples have to be residents here in Tanzania for two years before they can apply to adopt.
At one point I was told by Social Welfare that should I marry and apply as a couple, I would have to return my son to the orphanage and start the three-year process again. I’m not entirely sure that’s true but sometimes the truth is bent a little or a great deal, depending on what it is people are trying to coerce me into doing.
I have been told that the reason I can’t adopt is that I haven’t tried to have a baby “by using sex”, that a woman cannot raise a child alone, and that I am too young to be a parent. I’m 36. On a different occasion I was told I was too old. As for bribery, I plan to avoid ever having to tell my son anything that he could construe as me buying him. I will do this thing properly, I will do it honestly and I will one day tell him that I did everything the hard way and it took years. I will tell him that I did it because he was worth it. My mother calls me bloody-minded.
You’d think I’d feel special, asking to have allowances made by the law-makers and being the only one able to do so. But unsurprisingly being the only single person in the country who hadn’t finished their adoption before the law changed isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s no one to refer to, lean on, consult or compare notes with.
Equally entertaining is the fact that certain members of the local bureaucracy like to shake their keys at me constantly to remind me where the power lays. I can’t leave the country. I can’t leave town without written permission. I’m not allowed to let his hair grow because it’s neglect. I can visit one city in the north but not another in the south, for no reason other than someone’s whim. I am reprimanded if he stammers over a sentence in his mother tongue and again if he can’t express it in perfect English. More and more frequently I feel like throwing my toys out of the pram and storming off into a corner to sulk and cry. I might try that tomorrow actually.
I can make the stories sound amusing if I’m out to dinner but the truth is I’ve looked at it from all angles, and the way things are benefits absolutely no one. Even the higher level officials tell me they are sick of my case! It seems so long since I received permission to foster albeit in formal Swahili which I could not understand.
Full of excitement, I panicked briefly before thinking of my friend who could translate it. I called him, demanded rudely and incoherently that he drop whatever he was doing and meet me right now. Somehow he understood what I wanted and agreed to.
When I met him, he rapidly scanned the letter with a poker face and looked at me solemnly. ‘What were you expecting this letter to say?’ he enquired. ‘What does it say?’ I asked with fervour. ‘What do you want it to say?’ he posed, cocking his head slightly to one side. I screamed. He started to read: ‘The Tanzanian Department of Social Welfare would like it to be known that you, Bibi Jane Rose, have been approved by the state to become the foster parent of the child known as…’ . I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both at once.
At that moment commenced an arduous part of the most monumental journey of my life – that of gaining full and legal custody of my boy. This journey has so far robbed me of sleep, the capacity to think rationally and any sense of patience I had. It has instilled in me a deep-rooted anxiety, stemming from the uncertainty and insecurity of our situation. It has brought me frequent dreams where my son is being hurt in some way and I am unable to save him. However, with that letter came a small whirlwind, radiating love and with energy spilling out of him. When I’m worn down by the laborious process and weary with the whole thing, along potters my boy with one of his comments (‘you a gorgeous and dat dwess mama’) and suddenly, somehow everything’s alright.Tagged in: Adoption, child care, social care, Tanzania
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