Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choosing Joy

This blog has been a long time coming. I've started and stopped it in a couple of nap times (which have become a regular way of marking my days now). I've had some time of self-instated maternity leave/doing less work over the last few months--but that time is officially over. So it's about time I share the process of bringing home our baby. I was reading something a parent of adopted children wrote about "learning to be a family" and then how at some point, you just feel like you are a family. The last 5 months has been like that. It's really strange, bringing home a child that you don't know, but is your child that has existed totally independent from you in the world. A stranger--that you love, but don't even know how to love yet. Who you comfort, in a way that feels familiar to you. But your hands stroking her back aren't familiar to her yet and it doesn't make her feel safe. You say "shh" softly in her ears when she cries, but she doesn't respond until you think to whisper "lingo" Acholi for quiet. She adjusted amazingly quickly, but when I look back at those first few days I realize how far we've come.

We didn't have 9 months of preparation for her birth. But the journey of becoming a family has been a gestation period of sorts--just much less predictable. No one has written the book "What to Expect when you're expecting" for adoption outlining a finite timeline of what will happen each month until you'll finally be holding a child in your arms. We had years of knowing we wanted to be part of a family that was formed through adoption. We had 8 years of marriage, 4 years of being ready to start a family. And 4 years of having hope deferred, again, and again. A few months of paperwork. And then, we had one week after being asked to parent a baby before welcoming her home.

In June, we decided to start the adoption process. We applied and were accepted as potential foster parents at several babies' homes and they told us to wait--that they would call if a potential baby was brought to them. Ever day we knew we might get a phone call telling us there was a child for us, or we might wait a long time.

She was the first baby we met. She was 4 months old then. It was our first babies' home visit as potential adopting parents. The administrator nonchalantly called across their grassy compound to a woman carrying a baby, plopped the infant into my arms and said, "Do you want this one? See! She already looks like you." We laughed when they told us her nickname--in Acholi, it means "white girl." I looked down into the face of a particularly fair skinned baby girl (She is beautiful--but looks nothing like me) with sweet chubby cheeks and thighs that had a pitiful little cough and wrapped her miniature hands around my finger. Ben and I laid in bed that night and wondered if the baby we'd held was our child or "just another baby." We wondered who would comfort her if she woke up that night. If she was going to be ours, we thought, we should bring her home as soon as possible, but how do we know or decide? How do you choose a child? This was one of the strangest things, and I'm tempted to re-write history a little, so that the narrative of our adoption story has a certainty of direction in its plot--like love at first sight, knowing "this is the one" and an instant connection. But I had a lot of ambivalence right up until we made a decision. We'd planned to adopt a newborn, and besides, at that point, a number of efforts were still being made to see if there were any known relatives that might be able to provide a home for her, so we needed to wait.

Then in the beginning of September the social workers from the babies home came to our house and asked us to take her. They had the blessing of the government social workers, the police and the babies home administration. Two months had past and she was 6 months old. In the grand scheme of things, it's not that long, but in the life of a baby--so many things happen. I'd already missed so many firsts and it made me sad. I just didn't feel peaceful, so I took a couple of days to do some things that help me still and quiet my soul.

Right at the beginning of the first day, something happened. I realized that I needed to let go of my feelings of entitlement to the first 6 months of my child's life. Entitlement. I've had multiple opportunities in the last years to experience and relearn how entitlement is a thief of so many good things. It makes decision making a more jumbled mess of ugly motivations. Letting go of entitlement to something doesn't always mean not having it, but it creates freedom to accept and appreciate what I'm given instead of demanding what I feel I deserve. So, I took a deep breath, and let go. A few more deep breaths and I let it sink in. And I watched all that yucky entitlement vacate my heart and a peaceful grateful feeling rush in to take its place. And then I felt peaceful about being her parent. Not just peaceful--happy, excited, appreciative. I wanted to be the mother to this particular baby, and so instead of spending the rest of my prayerful time wondering if she "was the one" I CHOSE her.

Earlier, I'd had this dream about her. She was a baby still but she was having a conversation with me like an adult. I don't remember details of it, but I remember her asking me about why I wasn't sure I should take her home. She wasn't being manipulative, or pleading with me. Her tone was very matter of fact and she logically explained why my objections, and inhibitions weren't very satisfactory reasons not become her mother and concluded that she thought I should take her home. It's odd to think about how tumultuous I felt from this side of the decision. I can't imagine not having her in my life. Ben and I are so totally in love with her. And I know her now. She's not a stranger. She's my daughter.

About a year before all this happened, I was at my parents house while they were out of town. I took long walks in the woods and prayed. That was the time when I first started feeling like maybe, the person who would become our daughter existed somewhere. Now, we know she was probably the shape of a peanut in her mother's womb. I thought about her mother, and what situation she might be in, in her pregnancy and what painful or broken circumstances would somehow make her child an orphan that would eventually form our family. It made me sad and simultaneously hopeful. A picture of how beauty can be made of ashes and mourning turned to joy.

Elliyah Joi Akidi.

There is a lot of discussion in adoption literature and circles surrounding an attitude of "rescuing" or "saving" orphans. So many people here thank us for our "good hearts" to care for a needy child. Others will say how lucky she is. I see the formation of our family differently. It's true that part of our motivation for adoption is a response to what we believe is God's call to care for orphans, an extension of what He's already offered to us--adoption as his children and heirs of his kingdom. But that call--I think, is less about obligation or altruism and more about love. It's not a humanitarian endeavor. It's not charity. We WANTED her. With the exception of our partners, we don't ordinarily get to choose our family members. But we got to choose her. And I'm so happy we did.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Justice for the victims

Concerns About Gender Justice at Kampala ICC RC from Skylight Pictures on Vimeo.

A friend just told me she did a Google search on women’s empowerment and gender justice and found this video of me. It was a surprise, since I’d forgotten about the interview at the ICC Review Conference and didn’t know that it had been posted online. It was one of those moments when without warning a camera is suddenly in your face and a microphone clipped to your shirt, you have no idea what you’ll be asked and you were already thinking about lunch—not being interviewed--and then as soon as the camera is pointed somewhere else you think of all the things you wanted to say—in fact, all the things you’ve been saying to anyone that would listen and finally you have a possibly wider audience and you didn’t say any of them! And then you have a pretend interview in your mind. (you all do this right? Tell me it’s not just me.)

My pretend interview begins after he asks me what the victims that I interact with in my research are asking from the Court:

Interviewer: What are they asking from the Court?

Me: Nothing.

Interviewer: Really? I would have thought that they would have many demands on justice, and critiques about how the ICC is addressing their needs. Why aren’t they asking anything from the Court?

Me: There are a number of things that they might ask from the Court, but because they have no idea that they are entitled to anything, or how they might access it, they aren’t.

Interviewer: If they were more informed, what do you think they would ask from the Court?

Me: Victims are so often evoked as the ultimate benefactors of the ICC—it’s always “justice for the victims” but in reality very little of the Court’s work seems to prioritize them. They would probably ask that aspects of the Court that were intended to be to their benefit be given more priority, such as the Public Outreach program, and Victim’s Participation. Perhaps most importantly, because their primary concerns are often material, they would ask that reparations and the Victims Trust Fund be used to their benefit.

Interviewer: Isn’t the Trust Fund supporting victims of rape now? I saw there was a presentation by a project they’re supporting on gender-based violence run by Coopi (an NGO).

Me: Yes, they’re supporting a great project on preventing and responding to gender-based violence with Coopi, but tragically, not one victim of rape that is a war crime or crime against humanity has ever benefited from that project. I talked to the manager of the project about this. The violence they respond to is domestic violence or cases of defilement (sex with a minor) or in rare instances, rape. The perpetrators of the crimes are teachers, farmers, husbands—but she admitted that none of them are soldiers or rebels. It seems like they are doing good work, and deserve to be funded—by someone. But not the ICC. The Trust Fund for Victim’s is meant for the victims of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court--not one of the women benefitting from the Trust Fund’s support to Coopi is a victim of a crime in the Court’s mandate, while many of the women I work with are within the Court’s mandate, they are in deplorable situations and are given no assistance.

Interviewer: One could argue that actually, their choice to fund a more general Gender-Based Violence project indicates a progressive understanding of how violence in conflict affects women--that they recognize the linkages between violence in war and the heightened level of violence against women in the domestic sphere. How would you respond to that?

Me: Part of what I’m doing in my own research is highlighting the links between war related violence and ordinary violence and how it effects women. But what the Fund is supporting right now is not evidence of an expanded definition; it is rather focusing funding in the wrong place. If the Fund was already assisting all the women that were direct victims of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Court, and they had resources to expand assistance along with their expanded definition of “victim” or if they were at least funding a project that assisted victims of rape in general but included victims of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court—that would be better. The Trust Fund has defined what “victim” means for them—a victim of a crime that falls within the jurisdiction of the court, those crimes that are detailed in the Rome Statute and were committed after July 2002, but in practice that definition is not applied to their decisions regarding funding—at least in the situation of victims of rape in northern Uganda.

Interviewer: That’s odd. Why have they chosen to designate funds for women who fall outside their mandate while there are so many women who fall within it that are being neglected?

Me: It’s a good question. I asked it to the head of the Victim’s Trust Fund in Uganda. I suggested to him, that there might be value in focusing their funds on projects designed to respond to specific harm that was suffered as a result of crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court. This is what they have done by providing plastic surgery for victims of mutilation. Why not apply the same principles to victims of rape? I mentioned a few examples of women in my research who would fit into the category of “within the jurisdiction of the court” and what kind of assistance would be meaningful to them. His answer revealed some level of identity confusion. He said that the Fund is sort of a “donor of last resort.”

Interviewer: A donor of last resort? That sounds like it should be the role of someone else, perhaps a UN agency, the EU, DFID, USAID or other donor countries and agencies, not like the International Criminal Court or the Victims’ Trust Fund. Besides, aren’t there many projects on Gender Based Violence in northern Uganda that receive regular funding from other sources?

Me: You’re right on both accounts. Seeing their role as a “donor of last resort” rather than the providers of reparation for the worst crimes of humanity undermines the overall potential benefits of a system of international justice that the court is trying to realize. For them to be successful there must be more direct links between the crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court and the court’s role in retribution AND reparation for those crimes. There are lots of donors supporting projects including responses to gender based violence in northern Uganda. The Trust fund loses all significance when it becomes just another donor. Its contribution must be unique if it is going to be meaningful and if the justice of the ICC is going to have a right to make claims their justice is “for the victims.”

*It might seem like I’m confusing reparations, and the more general work of the Trust Fund. The ICC has never done reparations, and the first will occur after the first conviction. Actually, I think it is the very specific nature of what at this point, it looks like is going to count as formal reparation (successful decisions in requests for restitution, compensation and rehabilitation of crimes that an accused person has been convicted of) which make the general work of the Fund so important. Because the scope of reparation is so specific, victims that, in my mind, should be entitled to reparations wouldn’t benefit unless they are assisted under the more general work of the Trust Fund. So, for example, the victims of the crimes in Raska Lukwiya’s arrest warrant are now out of luck since he’s dead and will never be tried or convicted. Or the decision not to include any crimes involving sexual violence in Lubanga’s final warrant means that all the victims of those crimes would not be entitled to reparations even if he’s ever convicted of recruitment and use of child soldiers. This is grossly unfair. It seems equally unfair that the byproduct of linking criminal conviction to victim’s entitlement to reparations is that being “defined” as a victim in this instance has the same burdens of proof, etc. as criminal conviction. But anyway, I digress and this is the topic for another pretend interview or blog.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ben is cheatin'...

It's been almost a year that I've wondered what was going on. Especially the last few months I've noticed my husband's lack of devotion...

And now I know why.

He has new blog.

Read his blogging infidelity for yourself here.