I don’t like you, Mommy

“I don’t like you, Mommy,” I whispered into my mother’s ear. “I love you.” I giggled, tickled with myself. I thought I was the cleverest 5-year-old she could ever meet. I nestled into her lap, certain I would fit there forever.

I asked her a few years ago if she remembered this moment, which is still so vivid in my mind. She said, “No, but do you know what I do remember? I remember the exact moment when I realized your world no longer revolved around me.”

- The rest of this post is at Families in the Loop, an amazing parenting site where parents let loose.

(photo credit: arztsamui/freedigitalphotos.net)

 

In Over My Head

Adoption from Mgazi’s home country actually requires stays in two different countries in Africa. I’m extremely pleased, relieved, and excited to say we’ve completed part 1 in our first country and arrived yesterday tired but still excited in Country #2! This is an immense relief to us, because it means we are one step closer to seeing our family again.

But I’ll miss the people I’ve met: Pastor, and his wife, Siphiwe, and children, Nokuphila and Siphamandla have become dear friends of mine and I plan to know them for years to come. Tony and Patricia for being excellent hosts. Liz and Mari for the same. And the cleaning staff (Cindy and Estelle) at the guesthouse  – for the excellent, non-judgemental hair advice. I have boldly decided to go where I never dreamed I would have gone in the world of hair.

In fact, let’s talk about that.

Several weeks ago, I met a woman named Pam. She was one of the first to adopt from Mgazi’s home country and her daughter, Thula, is absolutely adorable. Thula had these 1 ½ inch long twists in her hair that added to the adorableness. “Twists” was the word that Pam used when I asked her about the hairstyle. She said, oh, it’s easy and proceeded to give me simple instructions. She also told me that Maureen, the housemother at the orphanage, is the one who told her how to do it.

Mgazi hated to have her hair combed, although I was as gentle as possible. It was a simple matter of two people having the exact opposite idea of how the next 5 minutes should be spent. I wanted to come through her hair. She wanted nothing of the sort.   Picture me trying to gently comb the hair of a two-year old practicing a boxer’s duck-and-weave. It wasn’t pretty. When I started to lose more rounds than not, I decided to try the twists.

To be clear, it wasn’t a decision I made lightly. First I asked Russell. “Huh? Um… Okay, I guess.” Pause. “Why are you asking me?”

His reaction didn’t bolster my confidence. Didn’t he know that once I went down this path there was no going back? If I screwed up, I’d have to shave the kid bald and start over!

I’ll confess a fear that I’ve had since approximately four days after we decided to adopt from Africa: I fear that women everywhere, regardless of race, color, or creed, will take one look at the head of my child and know, just know in their gut, that she’s got a white mom. That’s how seriously I do not want to screw up the hair thing.

So, I decided to do the twists. The process is such:

Step 1: Put a small amount of soap in a damp washcloth.

Step 2: Rub the washcloth in a circular motion around the child’s head. Pick a direction and stick to it. Pam was very clear on this, she said, “You must commit!” I committed to clockwise.

Step 3: Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that there was no step 3 until I completed step 2. Now what? Mgazi had some very cute and tight curls in some spots on her head and other areas were just clumps of matted hair.

Pastor came to pick us up, took one look at child and asked what in the world I was doing. He pulled Mgazi toward him, licked his thumb and circled it around in the hair near her temple, trying, I believe to massage one of the clumps into submission. Instinctively, I slapped his hand away. (He was circling counter-clockwise!)

Thankfully, Cindy and Estelle came to my ego’s rescue.   They knew exactly what I was doing! And they applauded the effort! And each day, they assured me I was getting closer and closer to the final look I was after. I wished I knew what that final look was supposed to be. Mgazi’s hair is much shorter than Thula’s. In fact, I’d be guilty of exaggeration if I said the twists were a quarter inch long. But they are what they are, and I think they (and my child) are adorable. So, while I’ve been working on this every day, I’m not sure I’ll know when I “get there.”

I have been able to thresh out some of the details that should go with the instructions, though:

Step 1: Choose a washcloth and agonize over how wet it should be and how much soap should be left in. (One woman on the street told me that I wasn’t using enough soap, her hair was too soft. Maureen told me her hair was too dry. The fear I mentioned above? It’s now a reality.)

Step 2: Rub the washcloth in a counter-clockwise circular motion around Mgazi’s head.

Step 3: Panic as you realize that you are rubbing the wrong way!

Step 4: Rub the washcloth in a clockwise motion around Mgazi’s head. Agonize over how big the circles should be.

Step 5: Search and destroy the little clumps that have a mind of their own and refuse to yield under the circular motion. Agonize about how much pressure to apply to those suckers.

I followed the above ritual religiously every morning and slowly my confidence came back. Until I met the lady at the wine shop. She picked up Mgazi and started a private conversation with her. Women do this in Country #1. They pick up your child and wander away… it’s up to you to follow, they don’t wait — you are no concern of theirs. So, the lady picks up Mgazi and starts talking to her in their native language and the only thing I hear is “rasta.”

Gulp.

Rasta means…

No… it couldn’t be. Surely, I didn’t…

Or maybe I did!

twists

This is what twists look like after a couple of weeks.

I don’t know it for sure – I need someone in the know to confirm this for me. But I believe I may have unintentionally started Mgazi on the path to dreadlocks.

I’ve considered taking a close-up photo of Mgazi’s head and posting it here for opinions. But then it would look like I’m obsessed. (So I did it anyhow.)

P.S. Anyone know how to get playdough out of dreads?

Crank Calling in Africa

Mgazi on the phone

So, it’s been five weeks. Five really long weeks and I so want to be home. But, I’m not and that kind of thinking doesn’t gel with the “roll with it” attitude that I’ve committed to. So, to put myself in a better mood, I’m going to relate this funny story that just happened about four minutes ago.

I was in the kitchen, sitting at the counter tryng to do a little bit of catch-up email for work. Mgazi wandered into the bedroom. I hear her pick up the guesthouse phone and say, “Halloo?”

There was a pause and then she said, “Ngiyaphila (I’m fine)” as though someone had asked her, “How are you?” Then she prattled on for a couple of minutes.

It occurred to me that this would be a cute session to record on my iphone but I knew if I went into the bedroom she would stop her pretend conversation. So I picked up the phone in the kitchen to see if I could hear her and possibly record her that way.

Imagine my surprise when I found that there was a person on the other end of the line, actually talking with her! I started laughing, Mgazi started laughing, the mystery person started laughing. Mgazi said “Bye bye!” and so did mystery person and they both hung up.

I wonder who she called. More importantly, I wonder if the call was long distance.

I’ve since unplugged the phone, but it hasn’t stopped her from periodically going in there, picking up the receiver, “Halloo?” Her phone sessions are shorter, though. I’m assuming that this is because she tires of keeping up both ends of the conversation.

——

Oh gosh, oh gosh… you are NEVER going to believe it. During the time I typed the above, Mgazi has had perhaps four or five pretend phone conversations with the unplugged phone. And so I think, you know, I’m going to go take a photograph of her talking on the phone to put up with this blog. SO, I’m rummaging through my bag looking for my camera and I hear a tentative knock on the door. (This just happened, literally 30 seconds after I typed the last line to my blog entry.) I opened the door to find a staff worker who seemed to be embarrassed to be there. He says to me “they say, downstairs, to stop letting your child play with the phone.” Then he bows, and walks away.

I’m abashed, because here I am about to encourage her to play with the phone so I can get a pic and  apparently the phone connection was still intact! So, the conversations weren’t shorter because  Mgazi got bored of talking to herself, it was that whoever was on the other end was sick and tired of talking to her!

Where’s the Fire?

The petrol pump between our cottage and the fire.

The petrol pump between our cottage and the fire.

Something exciting happened three nights ago. There was a fire. In and of itself, that’s not so exciting. Fires happen here all the time. Every day I see at least a dozen or so in the miles surrounding town. Farmers burn patches of land in order to make it more fertile.

But this fire was special because it happened about 50 yards from my cottage! I guess that someone’s intentional fire got out of control, or there was a stray spark or something, but at about 3 am, three nights ago, the property next to this one had a pretty raging brush fire.

Embers. Still burning two days after the fire.

Embers. Still burning two days after the fire.

The staff here has their own water system for just such emergencies, but the water pressure was dismal and the dousing was only just a dribble. (I’ve been told that the nearby swimming pool is an integral part of the back-up plan.) Boys from a neighboring carepoint came to help as the fire was getting uncomfortably close to a Petrol Pump that is stationed between my cottage and the edge of the property.

Guests even poured out of their lodging to beat at the flames to keep them back.  Finally, amid lots of shouting and alarms, the local fire brigade arrived.

Or at least, that’s what I’m told.  Mgazi and I slept through the whole thing.

Technology Woes

So, I’ve been having serious technology woes in Africa: couldn’t find adapters; power cord on Mac not working; power cord on Mac working; no internet; slow internet; no internet.

I’ve been in the midst of a no-internet period and it really dampens my spirits. Having no easy access to my family, friends, and work simply brings me down. I have a harder time staying positive and my sparkling personality has a hazy sheen. Even Pastor has noticed.

Four days ago, we lost internet again, and yesterday it popped back up. I spent 2 hours answering about 15 work emails

This is why it took 2 hours:

Load email in browser (45 seconds, wait expectantly)

322 emails… gre-at.

Open first email (30 seconds, wait patiently)

Read it (15 seconds. Eek! Urgent response needed!)

Hit reply (30 seconds, mind wanders. Darn, who was it I’m replying to?)

Hit back button (10 seconds)

Oh yeah, it’s the President of my Board, wouldn’t want to forget him, heh heh. Hit forward button (10 seconds)

Write response (34 seconds – short and sweet)

Hit send (60 seconds, staring at the ceiling, practicing my multiplication tables)

Return to inbox (30 seconds)

Open second email…

You get my drift? It’s infuriating. But not as infuriating as not having any connectivity at all. So, I was happy to have it back. But this morning, it’s gone again.

I can’t even post this blog entry.

Never Get Between Mgazi and her Dinner

This is what Mgazi looks like if you touch her meat.

This is what Mgazi looks like if you touch her meat.

Today, we were in a chicken restaurant in Southern Africa. I was the only non-African in the place. I ordered Mgazi a children’s chicken plate and did what I would do with Zaffron: I took her drumstick from her plate to cut a chunk off, to make it easier for her.

She reacted immediately and loudly, semi-shrieking, “BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH! BLAH BLAH BLAH!”

This was all very fast in a high, squeaky voice. I started to laugh a bit uncomfortably because I didn’t know what the words meant; she wasn’t shrieking in English. It was, however, very clear that she was not happy with what I was doing. And everyone in the restaurant was looking at me – I could feel my face getting hot.

Pastor was with me. He was laughing too. At me. He told me what Mgazi was yelling.

It was, “DON’T TOUCH MY MEAT!! DON’T TOUCH MY MEAT!!”

Growing Love for my Daughter

Day 1: Mgazi, Me, and Pastor

Day 1: Mgazi, Me, and Pastor, one of the most amazing people on the planet to whom I will be forever grateful. Pastor spent every day with me for 5 weeks straight.

Luyanda’s birth mother gave her her name. I’ve been told it means “growing love.” Of course, she goes by Mgazi, so that’s what I call her. One week after meeting Mgazi, I was able to bring her back to the guesthouse with me. During that week, I visited her every day at the orphanage. This is what happened during those visits (as written to Mgazi in her lifebook).

Day 1: We met for the first time. You would barely look at me. You held my hand. You wouldn’t smile at me or talk to me.

Day 2: Checking out my mother, her new gogo

Day 2: Checking out my mother, her new gogo

Day 2: You ran into my arms as soon as I got out of the car. I kissed you on your neck — the only clean spot I could find. And my love for you grew.

Day 3: You fell asleep while I was holding you. My love for you grew as I felt your breath on my cheek.

Day 4: You smiled at me for the first time. And you giggled because I tickled you, asking, “Unjani? Unjani?” (How are you? How are you?) My love for you grew.

Day 6

Day 6: I don’t know why she has her hand in her pants.

Day 5: You hugged and cuddled with me. “Unjani? Unjani?” You giggled, but you still wouldn’t talk.

Day 6: You pushed the other children away from me. It was like you were saying, “get away, she’s mine.” Except you did it all without saying a word. My love for you grew.

Day 7: You came home with me. The best day of all.

On day seven, I wanted to believe that I was really going to go get her… bring her home… live happily ever after, but I was wary. The trip so far had been fraught with road bumps. At the same time, I thought it was a good sign that the day was September 9th. Russell will have to verify, but I think we met on September 9th way back in 1994. (Another aside: Before we married, Russell made quite a big deal about wanting to wait 12 years before having children. We waited 10 before having Zaffron. Now, 14 years have passed to get child number 2! If you average that out… 12 years, on the nose! You’re welcome, Honey.)

Day 7:

Day 7: We’re about to leave. Mgazi is extremely quiet and withdrawn.

When I arrived at the orphanage, everyone was inside.  It was just too cold to play outside! The kids were all in one small bedroom just hanging out. Mgazi greeted me warmly. I tried for the umpteenth time to get her to talk to me. She had never said a word directly to me only to her caregivers or friends. I think it had become a game. I would tickle her and jiggle her, while asking, “How are you? How are you?” in a silly, sing-song voice.”Unjani? Unjani?” And she would just stare back at me, holding back giggles. I kept encouraging her to talk to me, “Say, I’m fine! I’m fine! Say, ngiyaphila!” And at that point, where I’m begging her to tell me she’s fine, she would laugh and laugh. Today was no different. She just cackled in response to my cajoling and tickles. I think she thinks my attempts at her language are funny.

She was all smiles and cuddles until I started to change her clothes to leave. She got very quiet and she resembled the girl I met on day one more than the giggly kid I had gotten to know over the last few days. She was nervous. She knew something was up.

We stayed for about ½ an hour, asking last minute questions, saying goodbye to the kids. Mgazi never smiled. She wouldn’t even look at the camera during some hastily arranged group shots.

Finally, after a teary farewell (between me and Mgazi’s orphanage mom) we drove off. Mgazi seemed sad looking out the car window, silently waving her little hand. I felt horrible taking her away from everything she had ever know and loved. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I nuzzled her neck and gave her a little jiggle and tried our standard tickling game.

“Unjani? Unjani?

This time, and I’m so thankful for this, she said in a tiny little raspy voice, “Ngiyaphila,” (I’m fine) before she broke into a fit of giggles.

And that broke the silence. She’s been talking ever since. Of course,  I can’t understand a word she’s saying.

Every once in a while, I think I recognize a word or two. She’ll be singing or babbling to herself, “something something something JESUS! Something something HALLELUJAH! Something something something BANANA!”

It’s music to my ears!

Day 1: Smile kid!

Day 1: Smile kid!

Day 10: After three days with me at the guesthouse

Day 10: After three days with me at the guesthouse

Day 21: We've know each other for 3 weeks

Day 21: We’ve known each other for 3 weeks. This photo was taken after Mgazi and I had already lived together for two weeks.

Personal Space? What Personal Space?

You know those documentaries on Africa where some person walks into a village, an orphanage, a hospital, whatever, and they are inundated with children? They are SWAMPED by children? MOBBED by children?

Well it doesn’t just happen in the movies, folks.

Today, when I went to see Luyanda/Mgazi I innocently pulled out my camera. I had used it twice in front of the children and there had been mild interest. I don’t know what was in the water, but when those kids saw the camera I became the most popular thing since… I don’t know… is sliced bread popular in Africa?

“Take my photo, take my photo,” and older girl said. The younger ones just looked up at me and grinned, “CHEEEEEEEESE!” and jostled each other out of the way as they fought for maximum positioning.

After I snapped a couple pics the mayhem began. These kids know a thing or two. They know about instant gratification. They know that you can see the picture you just took on the back of the camera. And they ALL wanted a peek!

I had children tugging on my sleeve, crawling up my leg, straddling my shoulders. I only slightly exaggerate. It got to the point where I grabbed an older kid who spoke English and begged, “tell me how to say ‘back off’ in your language!” Of course, the only reason I could reach him was because he was sitting on my head! Even little two-year old Luyanda was pushing people back. She seemed better equipped at handling the onslaught than I.

But I can’t complain. Even with the lack of oxygen that is the natural effect of being buried by wet, dirty, terribly excited children, I still loved it.

And the day was capped off with an entirely sweet note. Luyanda giggled. And it was because of me.

Meeting Mgazi

Day 9 of my trip. The day I met my daughter.

A good good day.

Shortly after my mom and I arrived at the orphanage, which is made up of the main living quarters and a recreation center which has rooms for different age levels, we were led to the living room where a gaggle of children sat quietly. Some were at a low table, some on the floor, one was in a highchair and several sat on caregivers’ laps. None of them uttered so much as a peep.

My heart was pounding. Would I know which one she was? Her? No, not her, Luyanda has fuller cheeks. Her? Nope, that’s a boy! Wait, is that a boy? No matter. Her? Well, maybe…

Someone said something to the children that I couldn’t understand and Luyanda separated herself from the rest and slowly, cautiously walked up to us. She was scared. She stood in front of me with her chin pressed to her chest. I bent down and slowly took her hand. She placed her palm on mine. She seemed to be studying our hands and I couldn’t help but wonder what particulars held her interest. Was it the difference in size? The difference in color? She didn’t look up. She didn’t smile.

After a short while, I gently placed her in my lap. Still, she kept her chin pushed into her chest. Different people mildly chided her… “look up, this is your new mother!” She didn’t look up. “Say hello, your mother came to see you.” She didn’t speak.

I felt for her. She was so frightened.

Luyanda and her make (mother), Maureen

Luyanda and her make (mother), Maureen

Mom and I stayed for probably an hour and a half. Luyanda smiled twice. Once when mom picked her up, and once when Maureen, the woman in charge, nuzzled and tickled her. Right then, her face was a sunbeam and I felt for the first time that I was seeing my future child.

She and I had our moments. She played with my hair. She took out my earring. She slowly got semi-comfortable. She leaned against me almost as though she wanted to see how much of her could touch how much of me. She was very concerned that her fingers were as intertwined with mine as possible.

Two things greatly held her interest. 1) My camera… she likes to push buttons. 2) The family album I brought along. It’s got photos of me, Russell, and Zaffy and every few pages is a picture of her that I got from the agency. I felt bad taking the album back from her at the end of the visit. I could tell she didn’t want me to, but she didn’t fuss. She was very compliant. I would have left it, but she wasn’t the only child who loved it and I was afraid neither of us would ever see it again.

Luyanda is less than thrilled here.

Luyanda is less than thrilled here.

Just before we left, Pastor, our facilitator, asked her where her mother was. He wanted to see if she would indicate that I was her mother. All while looking down to the dirt, Luyanda tilted her head past me (I was standing right in front of her) toward the orphanage main building. It was an awful lot for her little brain to take in.

For me, it was surreal.

As we were driving back to the guesthouse Pastor told me that the children were good at teaching each other. He said, “Tonight, all the children will have a forum. They will talk to Luyanda about her new mother and how she will soon be leaving them, just as other brothers and sisters had done before.”

Here is something interesting. The people and children at the orphanage do not call her Luyanda. She has a nickname. It’s Mgazi (MM GA ZEE with the stress on the middle syllable). It’s a praise surname. I’m guessing at the spelling. Two people have spelled it for me two different ways.

I’ve gotten permission to visit Luyanda as often as I like until she comes back with me to the guesthouse. So, Mom and I went back yesterday. I was nervous. Would she look at me this time? Would I maybe be able to get her to smile?

As Pastor drove up the drive, we saw perhaps a half dozen children playing in the yard. Again, I feared I wouldn’t recognize her. Once I was reasonably confident that she wasn’t outside, another, more awful thought snuck up on me. What if she didn’t come out? What if she didn’t want to see me? What if the kids held their forum and Luyanda announced, “Actually, she’s not what I’m looking for… I’ll wait for the next one.”

I was feeling small and unsure and helpless, when her stout little self appeared in the doorway. She looked up. Saw me. And ran into my arms.

Dude, Where’s My Cow?

Things do not always go as planned.  I didn’t meet Luyanda today. Extremely disappointing but I’m rolling with it.

Mom and I spent today getting acquainted with the local mall. So, I don’t have much to report. But I did learn something fun a few days ago that I haven’t mentioned yet. This country tows cows. If a cow wanders away from wherever it’s supposed to be (I believe this is a regular occurrence… we see dozens a day grazing by the sides of the roads), it gets collected and taken to the cow impound. If the owner doesn’t collect his cow in the time alloted, it gets auctioned off.

It’s cowpitalism.

HA HA HA —–  sorry.

A sad thing did happen today. We were eating pizza at the mall today when an elderly woman approached and began talking to Pastor.  She was asking us for money. Her child had died recently and she didn’t have the money to bury him or her. She had brought documentation with her — a mortuary notice that said her child had died on August 25th. Cause of death: long illness.