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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Daddy

Jaden, Rowan and I have so many wonderful things. But we don’t have a Daddy.

On the surface it doesn’t seem like we are suffering as a result – especially not here in Tanzania where I have all the child care, household help, car maintaining, and gardening assistance I could ever need.

But of course, those are only some of the ways in which a Daddy would be useful – the ways in which a Daddy might be useful to me.


* * * * * * * * * *

A few months ago, Jaden started calling the father of some friends of his “Daddy.” After several explanations that Phil is Graham and Miles’ Daddy, but not ours, he stopped. But then he embarked on a month of calling a whole range of men in our lives “Daddy” – the young man who works at his pre-school, another father of one of his friends, and finally – the icing on the cake – he called my friend, Alfred, who was visiting Tanzania from FHI “Daddy”. (You need to know Al to understand why this was the “icing on the cake”.)

I was actually mildly entertained by these episodes. After all, I thought, Jaden is just trying to figure out relationships. He was asking himself, “Are all older men called Daddy?” “Do I have someone called Daddy in my life?” I don’t think he was having an existential crisis. He was just trying to figure things out.

And interestingly, he didn’t try calling any Tanzanians of color Daddy. Just the white guys.

But after the Alfred incident I knew I had to do something. I pulled out Todd Parr’s Family Book, which has been sitting on their bookshelf waiting for such an educational opportunity. I read the whole book through for both Jaden and Rowan. When we got to the page with a Mommy bird and two babies in a nest I told them, “See, this is just like our family. There is a Mommy – me. There are two babies, Jaden and Rowan.”

Jaden looked down at the image and then back up at me. He said, “Oh, a Mommy, a Jaden and a Rowan?”

I said, “Yes. Our family doesn’t have a Daddy. We have a Mommy, a Jaden and a Rowan.”

And he said, “OK”.

Since that day, now several months ago, he has not called anyone “living” Daddy. But I hear him and Rowan playing games with their dolls and they often feature a Daddy character. And that’s just fine. Good for them for working through it in an age-appropriate way.

* * * * * * *
When I put out my APB for blog topics a few weeks ago my friend and fellow single mom of twins (in crime), Becky, asked me to write about what it is like to be a single parent in Tanzania. And it got me thinking – to the point of epiphany. I am the ONLY mzungu (foreigner) single parent I’ve met in Tanzania. The only one! And in addition, as far as I’m aware, we are one of only three “non-traditional” family units that I’ve met or heard about since I got here. (The others are lesbian couples with kids.)

So then, how is it to be a single parent in Tanzania?

Wonderful. Easy. Don’t know why I didn’t move here sooner.

But how is it to be the kids of a single parent in Tanzania? Well… I can’t answer that. I suppose in another year or so, Jaden and Rowan will be able to give us thoughtful answers to that question.

Compared to the diverse patchwork of families I socialized with in Washington, it is actually pretty shocking. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before. But alas, I don’t have a lot of interesting models to point to and tell Jaden and Rowan:

“See that family? They have two daddies and no mommy.”

OR

“See Bobby’s family? He has two daddies and one mommy because his parents got divorced when he was a baby.”

OR

“See Gabriel and Ruben? They are twins living with just their mommy, just like us.”

* * * * * *

I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing the fact that it will likely be hard for Jaden and Rowan to come to terms with the fact that we have no Daddy in our lives. Since they were born, I’ve been concerned about finding men who can serve as role models for them. They have a grandpa, a biological uncle and lots of honorary uncles (mostly named, David). But none of that will substitute for a Dad when they are 10 and it is Take Your Father to School Day.

They will have feelings of loss, and maybe anger – likely directed at me. I will have to face the consequences, whatever they are, of having created them without a male partner.

It may even be worse, because they there is really no hope of ever knowing the sperm donor I used to create them. They might long to have more information about him. They might not feel like whole beings without this missing part of their history. That is the difficult truth of our situation.

I belong to an online community of other people who have used sperm donors, and kids who are the result of donor-assisted pregnancies, and I can tell you that there are kids out there who are hurting because this part of their story is missing. They are actually quite angry at people like me, who used an anonymous donor when I could have used one whose identity would be released when the kids turn 18.

I made the decision to use an anonymous donor purposefully. During the years I was working in Jamaica (on a parenting project, ironically) I met so many adults who were emotionally damaged by the fact that although they knew who their mother or father was, that person was not involved in their raising and may have wanted very little to do with them. I decided to use an anonymous donor because I didn’t want my kid(s) to have that feeling of longing – of knowing their biological father – but not having that person be part of their lives.

Really, there are so many ways I might have screwed up my kids. So I picked the thing that seemed like the lesser of two evils at the time.

I can only hope that since they are twins who share the same father, and since we know four of their half siblings, that perhaps this sort of identity crisis will be moderated in some way.

* * * * * * * * * *

The right-wing worries about families like mine because they think that kids in non-traditional families are missing something.

Recently I followed a link to a Today Show piece that showed some helmut-headed lady telling the new hostess who replaced Katie Couric that using a sperm donor, as a single woman, was a selfish act since children can’t possibly be healthy and happy without a father in their lives.

(When I see them out there on TV telling me that I’m a bad mother for having created my children without the help of a man, I take solace in the fact that 50% of their marriages will end divorce.)

But really, when you are surrounded by non-traditional families, you feel like you are missing very little. When you can teach your children that families come in all shapes and sizes, and when you live in a diverse community, you have more to celebrate than to miss.

Right now I’m just trying to do my best to ensure that they are missing as little as possible. And I hope that they will learn to celebrate the fact that their family is different from a lot of others – and that can be interesting and cool. As mothers, as parents, that is all that we can do.

In my opinion.

Jaden and Rowan my someday teach me that my opinion is wrong – as teenagers are apt to do with their parents. So be it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The News From Dar

Every morning we at T-MARC get about 10 newspapers – four of which are in English.

Up until recently I almost never read the newspaper here. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It’s just that I couldn’t figure out how to get it delivered to my house. (There is no formal delivery service or hotline number you can dial). You have to know someone who knows someone who independently delivers newspapers in your neighborhood and it turns out that I don’t know someone who knows someone who delivers in my neighborhood).

Besides, I get the most important local news from my household staff anyway. They keep me apprised of exciting tidbits like when the brownouts are going to become more frequent (because the water was is low at the reservoir or any other number of reasons) and why we waited two hours for the ferry to cross to South Beach (because it had an engine fire and was stuck in the middle of the channel for 4 hours). And for the international stuff I read the New York Times online every day and listen to BBC Africa every morning.

Nevertheless, I live here in Dar and see the value of keeping apprised of local happenings. Despite numerous requests join the office distribution list for the newspapers, somehow they never made it to me. That is until recently, when in a moment of PMS I complained bitterly during a staff meeting that the administrative staff was not taking adequate care of me, the newspapers being a case in point.

Now, since last week, when I walk into the office in the morning, there are four English language newspapers sitting on my desk. Four. And because I made such a big stink, not only do I have to read them all (or look like I’ve read them) but I need to read them within an hour and then pass them on to the rest of my colleagues on the distribution list.

For a few days this was a burden – that was until I discovered how entertaining the newspapers are here.

Most of the newspapers are a mix of well-reported international news (albeit they just copy Reuters articles) and sometimes funny, sometimes scary local pieces.

This past Thursday the newspapers featured a really thoughtful local piece on the death penalty, a pretty good rap up of the Golden Globes results, and a well-done Reuters article about the resignation of Israel’s military chief.

Also in the news were the following articles:


Witchcraft Accusations

Two women, Milembe Lumanija (28) and Mariam Ally (35), both residents of Isangijo Village, Keseasa Ward in Magu District, Mwanza Regon were on Monday this week arraigned in court.

Before the District Magistrate, the Public Prosecutor, Assistant Inspector of Police Raphael mselle, claimed that the suspects were confronted with two offences: being found with government trophies and being involved in witchcraft.

Reading the charges against Mariam, Inspector Mselle claimed that the suspect was caught on January 11th at Isangijo Village in possession of a lion’s claw worth Tsh 450,000 contrary to the law. She was also found with instruments signaling that she deals in witchcraft.

Reading the charges against Milembe, Msella told the Magristrate-in-Charge of Magu Urban Primary Court, John Methusela (working on behalf of the District Magistrate who was on leave) that the suspect was caught in possession of a lion’s skin (hide) worth Tsh. 450,000; four hartebeest’s skins worth Tsh. 150,000 and a hyena’s skin worth Tsh. 200,000 on Janurary 11th at 1:00 p.m. at Isangijo Village.

Msella claimed further that Milembe was charged for another offence of being involved in witchcraft after she was found with a divining board, ankle bells and a calabash, contrary to legislation.

Both accused were not required to answer anything as the magistrate had no power to hear such charges legally. They were returned to remand prison until January 29th when their case will be mentioned again.
__________________________


Kids – How to Bring Them Up?
By Wendo Dickson
Dodoma

It has been observed that a decline in ethics has added to parents and guardians’ inability to discipline their children these days, thus worsening the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Dodoma Deputy Mayor, Jafari Mwanyemba, put this forward on Monday when he opened a seminar on AIDS for suburban leaders and others, in Dodoma.

Mwanyemba said that the AIDS problem has been increased by parents and guardians failing to tell their children off when these run into danger and letting them go on with it, scared they will commit suicide if punished.

He himself admitted that he has been unable to tell his daughter off for wearing dresses of a kind contrary to Tanzanian ethics, “Many times have I seen my daughter wearing attire foreign to our morals, but I daren’t rebuke her or get angry in case she kills herself,” said the Deputy Mayor.

Mwanyemba advised parents to find alternatives for warning their children to distance themselves from AIDS and temptation, like discussing things in a friendly way.

__________________________________

Kenyan’s Celebrate as Obama Eyes White House
Nairobi

Kenyans rejoiced yesterday after Barack Obama plunged into the US presidential race, saying if the youthful senator for Illinois wins the White House he will not forget his African roots.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and white American mother, was greeted like a long-lost son in August when he visited his ancestral village in the remote western Kenya. His vow on Tuesday to “change our politics” with a campaign that could make him the first black president in U.S. history was greeted with cheers of joy and pride on the streets of the capital Nairobi.

“Obama can win,” Giddings Ochanda, a trainee medical technician, told this reporter.

“He has experienced a hard life as an African growing up in the United States, and that experience will make him a good leader for everyone. It will be good for Kenya-U.S. relations.”

Others were overjoyed that someone they saw as a “fellow” African could aspire to the world’s top job.

“If an African can make it to the White House, it will show Africans anywhere can make it,” said office worker Moreen Chirchir. “It will show we can make it.”

When the 45-year-old Obama visited Kenya last year, he was welcomed with a carnival atmosphere and cheering crowds thronging his motorcade.

Despite his efforts to play down local expectations during that trip that his role as a U.S. senator would have an immediate impact in Kenya, many still revered him as one of their own who had succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Obama’s father grew up herding goats before studying in America and then returning to Kenya to become a noted economist.

“He has the people at heart,” said Nairobi teacher Leah Alisa.

“He will have American interests as his priority, and he should, but he will change their foreign policy,” she said.

“He won’t forget Africa.”
______________________________

And by reading this blog… neither will you!

As an extra special bonus - here is a photo from my birthday party last week. In it you can see a Tanzanian, a Dutch woman, a Swedish woman, two Brits, a woman from the Philippines, some lesbians, a gay man, and, of course, the birthday girl. Long live diversity, it is the spice of life!



Monday, January 15, 2007

What Now?



Have you ever reached a place in your life where you stop, look around, and wonder:

What now?

Sometimes those moments represent major turning points in your life. Other times, they are mini-moments. They need to be recognized, contemplated, soothed, and then usually you can move on. Usually…

I’m having a confluence of “What now?” moments. Anyone who stepped back and looked at my life over the last 10 years or so would be pretty impressed with the speed at which I’ve been living life.

Three examples:

Mama Wa Wile is now Mama Wa Wile Na Tatu. Jaden and Rowan turned three last Monday. It feels both like the three shortest years and the three longest years of my life. The decision to have a child, the race to get pregnant, the worries and joys of a twin pregnancy, and then the craziness of the early days and the toddler years (which although are not over yet, have certainly changed with the introduction of full sentences) – it all passes through my memory like a giant whirl. The sleep deprivation has resulted in a giant black hole in my brain.

So they are three years old. The worst of the craziness is behind us – at least until they turn 13. So now what?

I’ve been in Tanzania for 8 months. From the first (and only) interview I had for this job (in early December 2005) things started moving quickly. I left my job of 13 years. I negotiated terms for a new job. I traveled out to Tanzania to arrange my life. I ran home to pack it all up. I came back out with toddlers and mother in tow. I was asked to save a project. It is saved. (Well sort of, but although people like to give me credit for that it wasn’t really me.) I went back to the US for 10 days in September to wrap up my old job. I had family and friends visit for safari, beach, etc. I went back to the US for 12 days in December – and it was really like a visit – not going home.

So I’m in Tanzania. I’m not going anywhere for at least another year and a half. So now what?

I’m turning 39 on Wednesday. My youth was mostly fun and harmlessly experimental. My early and mid-career was filled with adventurous travel, exotic locations, an occasional celebrity, and wonderful, wonderful friends. I got degreed. I embraced my 20s, I embraced my 30s. I’ve never felt that age was something that needed to limit me or push me. (Well… perhaps with the exception of my ovaries. But let’s face it, those are shutting down now, too – making the three vials of “just in case” sperm still sitting on ice at the doctor’s office inconsequential.)

So I’ve done a lot, studied a lot, and seen a lot. I’ve developed meaningful adult relationships. I’ve reproduced. I’m 39. So now what?


Those of you that know me well know that I’ve never been good at uncertainty. Since I was a teenager – maybe even before – everything has been well planned, like an army preparing for war. (And not under the leadership of George W. Bush. Rather like one of those more successful WWII generals who I can’t seem to name at the moment.)

But for the first time in my life I honestly can’t tell you what next.

And that is making me uncomfortable.

One of my best friends, David Letiecq, introduced me to the concept of mindfulness several years ago during his journey into Buddhism. He told me that when I was surrounded with too many inputs I should try to sit still and be mindful and that maybe the answer or the next step would come to me from the Universe.

So that’s what I did. I’ve used the opportunities provided by New Years Revelations and down time at home to sit still and be mindful. And I think I actually got a message from “the Universe” addressing the “now what” problem.

The message was…

You just need to fucking chill out.

(BTW, fucking was emphasized - by the Universe - for those of you who don't like it when I curse.)

________________________________________

In other news... I'm still taking your blog suggestions - see the entry below.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Enough about me. What do YOU want to know about me?


I think I've reached an impasse.

I have writer's block.

Actually, I don't quite have writer's block, as I've started at least three blog entries over the past few days, but I can't seem to complete any of them. I'm not convinced that they are going to be interesting or witty enough. So I'll sit on them a while longer.

It is pretty pressured - trying to write a blog at least once a week. In order to keep up your fan base - to make sure they they don't forget about you - you need to produce. And it helps to produce interesting tidbits that people can tell their friends about... "oh, well I've heard that in Tanzania they...."

Since March 31st, 2006 I've produced 54 blog entries - if you include this one. Back last year, I would have never imagined that I could have been this productive. But the truth is I've enjoyed writing for you and for me. It helps me process what I'm experiencing, keeps you up-to-date with my thinking and activities, and even gives me brief glimpses of fame (of the one minute variety).

But now I'm reaching out to you. I'd like to know what you'd like to hear next. Is there some aspect of living in Tanzania, working in the developing world, raising a pair of three year-olds, managing a crazy household staff and even nuttier workplace that you'd like to know more about? Is there another angle you'd like to see me cover?

By writing back to me, I'll also be able to know who out there is listening. I know there are a lot of you who are silent. Most of you only respond directly to my e-mail, rather than via comments on Blogger. That's fine. Just let me know you are there and what you want.

I'll make you a deal. You request it, I'll write it. I'll try to make it interesting enough for everyone to enjoy. And I'll give you credit for the topic.

Thank you in advance! You are awesome.

_______________________________________


And as an extra treat... here is a photo of Jaden and Rowan on their 3rd birthday, January 8.



Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Years Revelations

A friend recently told me that instead of New Years resolutions she has New Years revelations. She spends December and January waiting for the revelations – as they are hard to predict and don’t come on command. But once a revelation comes to her she immediately knows what it is – and it is always something helpful or insightful – something that helps her reflect on the status of her life as it currently is.

Although skeptical at first, I thought that this approach to New Years might let me off the hook from coming up with a plan that I would just fail at anyway. Since past New Years resolutions have included going on a diet and giving up Diet Coke (although these sound conflicting they happened in different years) – neither of which was successful for more than several months – I decided this year to wait and watch for my revelation.

Lo and behold… during my time in New York (including two 26 hour travel periods) I had a couple of revelations – all but one of which I am happy to share with you here…

Revelation One: Although I can easily switch the side of the road I drive on, I now walk on the opposite (if you are in the US or continental Europe) side.

This revelation should have come to me earlier since I kept running into people on the street in Larchmont (my home town). But alas, it was in the airport in Amsterdam – with Jaden, Rowan and I walking three abreast, that I realized that it was ME who was going against the flow, not them. While this might not seem like a giant revelation to you, to me it meant that I am now acclimated to living in a left-driving country – and that’s just not right.

Revelation Two: Not everyone in the world works in development or health and that makes them intrinsically interesting. This is a corollary to, Most people don’t talk about electricity (or the lack thereof) during every conversation.

Two wonderful evenings in NY I went into the city to have dinner with good friends and THEIR friends. These were two wonderful meals (one Spanish, another Japanese – both of which are hard to come by here) and they were accompanied by really interesting people who do things that don’t involve international development and who didn’t talk about the inability to find blue cheese salad dressing in the supermarket or the fact that Cheerios cost $10 a box. The first meal featured people who work in the media and I learned about different types of production jobs and what they entail. The second dinner featured a gay couple who have been together for 26 years. One was a New York State Representative for a big chunk of NYC, the other is the Special Events Coordinator for the American Ballet Theatre. We talked about interesting and new topics – such as the “three I’s” in NYC politics (Ireland, Italy and Israel), and who is the up and coming male ballet dancer at ABT who prances just like Baryshnikov (Angel someone-or-other – just in case you are interested).

Am I rambling here? Well my point is that these people (and I’m including all the friends who visited me in this) were really interesting and I got to talk about things other than health and development which RARELY happens here in Dar. I didn’t realize how small my world had become – intellectually that is. But guess what? It IS small.

(Before my Dar friends get upset at this – I’m not criticizing the wonderful conversations we have at dinner – but if you think about it – I’m sure you are aching to have dinner with people who know nothing about the 2-7-10 goals.)

Revelation Three: I was burnt out.

You probably already figured that out from the last post I wrote before I left Tanzania for vacation. But I didn’t realize it until I had told friends for the 100th time about the challenges of working in this environment. When I wrote that post I think I started the process of healing from my burnout. Being the in US and not working for more than two weeks has been therapeutic. I’m back in Tanzania now. We’ll see how that goes.


So there you have it. I’ve revealed my New Years revelations to you.

What are yours?
Mahlers on safari in Connecticut - at the Norwalk Aquarium