In The Middle of a Love Donut

I wake this morning 7am  in my hotel in Calgary to the  invasive shout of my mobile telephone. Must answer it.   “Hi, It’s Robyn Hunter from theBBC  world service and I’d like to talk about  your childhood.”  Considering I had been riding a wild elk through the snow
capped forests of Canada  , aka Indiana  Jones, and considering I was being chased by a a herd of  angry (but comical) pygmies and considering Halle Berry   was clinging to my waist  I did good by   saying “Um Okay”.

A week or so ago  I was interviewed by  BBC World Service about  the alleged adoption by Madonna of a Malawian  child. Having some knowledge of the subject I did the interview by phone down   the line from Phoenix to Bush House   (World Service HQ) in London and   from there it was broadcast to the world.

But now it was time for   Robyn Hunter to explore  my story further   for the World Services excellent web pages.    I have put the page at the end of this article.  Check it out. No sooner had I put the phone   down than it was time to get ready for the stage. My bed, imagine sleeping on a   warm marshmallow,  was calling me. The pillows seemed  flirty “come   to bed darling”. I walked into the bathroom banged my head on the shower and
dressed thus:  FUBU boxers  True religion   jeans, Tommy Hilfiger jumper, Ted Baker socks, Nike Air Force One sneakers.   Splash of Allure,Ouch.  Scarf and Calvin
Klein Gloves.  I  have never ever ever  listed what I wear. But it’s a blog so, go figure. The truth is that  whatever you wear when you are  going to stand on stage you must
make an effort – even if it is  an effort to look scruffy – it’s all good – but
make an effort.

By 9.30am I’m on  stage in the packed Vertigo Theatre of Calgary Tower.  Calgary
tower is  525 feet high. The lights are  on, the introduction has been given by a fun and articulate Mexican academic  woman, the sponsors have been thanked “for making this event possible and now   ladies and gentlemen….” At this point I am back stage doing an impression of a   mime artist locked in an invisible box. “now ladies and gentlemen it is our
proud honour to introduce” At this point I am chewing my nails stretching my  legs and exercising my mouth doing a good impression of someone who should bee locked in an invisible box “ all the way from London
England Mr Lemn

And there’s the applause –  and  it’s time to begin, I walk into the spotlight.  My job is to inspire and be inspired. On the one hand I have them  falling off their seats in rapturous
laughter and on the other hand you can hear a pin drop as a poem weaves itself
into their minds. It’s an electric reading. The books sell out and finally at   about 12 noon after signing t shirts   and bookmarks and books and arms, all is quiet. I leave.  A  gust
of bracing air gushes  around the foot of   the tower like packs of excited children.

  “He’s there” someone screams and before I know it there’s  an hundred students circling me, like pygmies.  I am in the middle of a love   donut. One young male student asks “can I have a hug”. I check with the teacher   if this is okay. “This is Canada”   she says.  And right there and right then   I decide, after a hug, that it is time to read them a poem out on the street   with the traffic noise and the passers by, right there in the middle of  downtown amongst the suites, and the Starbucks coffee carrying office workers  –  this after all is were poetry should be. Right here, right now. And    maybe the wind will carry the poem to the top of Calgary Tower and  explode it into thousands of invisible pieces and maybe the revolving   restaurant at the top there will fan the poems all over this city.

So  in the sun dial shadow of the Calgary   Tower I read them a poem. They  applaud, take pictures with their cameras and before leaving I tell them “the  performer and the audience are one. Neither is better and both give their all.  And if you enjoyed the reading, thank  your teachers cause they brought you  here”.  You can feel and almost touch the electricity in the air as their circle opens and they  wave   goodbye. This is my last reading in Calgary as I am off to a theatre in  the mountains in a city called Banff.  I curl my scarf around my
neck  turn and cross the road  into the bustle of the next street  and  their  applause is replaced by the  footsteps of the lunchtime crowd and  the gentle ringing of the church bells..
The article:

19 thoughts on “In The Middle of a Love Donut

  1. From the moment I read your article on BBC World today, I could not stop but think about you and feel proud of your accomplishments despite all the hardship in your childhood. I can't help but wonder how my own son will overcome his upbringing in white dominated neighbourhood and schools. Things are a lot better than when you were a kid, but still heartbreaking when my son comes home called names just because he’s black.
    I grew up in Eritrea, and never had to face the type of challenged that those of you who grew up outside of your own culture and people had to endure. Sometimes I want to raise my family back in Africa so that they will grow up as proud of who they are as I was when I was growing up. But then I see people like you and say “what does not kill you makes you strong.”
    I’m wondering which other cities in Canada you will be visiting. I would love to bring my six year old to see your show.
    Hope to see you soon.

  2. I am the mother of an adopted Ethiopian child and I was appalled by your article. Your experience was not at all a typical adoption experience and your “parents” clearly had some serious emotional issues. Most parents adopt, not because they think they can “provide a better life” with their money, but because they love children and have a heart for children who have no one to care for them. My husband and I lived and worked in Ethiopia for three and a half years. We adopted our son, because he was close to death and was abandoned. We love him with all our hearts and he has never been an “alien” in our home. We are devout Christians and the beliefs your “parents” describe are appalling to us. Our child is a gift from God and he is treated as such. I am so sorry that your experience was so negative but to actively discourage loving parents from taking a child from another culture into their home due to cultural or racial differences is simply wrong. Many of these children would then be condemded to life in an orphanage, devoid of love and attention. You need to think very carefully before you sterotype adoptive parents, when in reality, your experience has been limited to exactly two members of that group. Your thoughtless words may have resulted in children being deprived of a loving family. Shame on you!

  3. Dear Anonymous: As an objective reader of Mr. Sissay's adoption experience and his interview, I came away with a glimpse into one side of adoption. That is, it sometimes says more about the adoptive parents' needs than of the child being adopted. Of course, this is not a generalization but a point of view. It behooves all future and current adoptive parents to take such inventory lest the damage be revealed when it is too late.
    That said, I also know adoptive parents who are loving, nurturing, and have a well-balanced religiosity. In fact, they are inspirations to all. Reading Mr. Sissay's opinion didn't cause me to question the devotion or motivation of my friends. Like I stated, it merely gave me a different view.
    Dear Anonymous: your comment and your reprimand sounds profuse with subjectivity. Apparently, his story hit home. Mr. Sissay's experience with 'only two members of that group' (as you state) happens to have impacted his entire life. Perhaps you feel you know his experience because you have adopted a child.
    But were you adopted?
    I have no doubt you are the dedicated and loving parents that you describe. Perhaps you should let your adopted son be the judge when he comes of age.

  4. To the commmentator above. I was struck by the defensive tone of your comment. Moreover, I believe that you have missed the point of Lemn's BBC article.
    Adoption in the west assumes that children can be owned and that the property rights over a child can be bought and exchanged. But I believe that the history of adoption in Canada with First-Nations people has already taught us that we need to find more thoughtful ways to care for those who may not be able to care for their children. This would involve suppprting both individuals and communities so that they can build the social institutions that would allow them to reproduce themselves and their communities, rather than simply taking their children out of the community. Or is it that poor people do not deserve to raise their children?
    Children in Africa belong to the community. If we see that a community cannot support a child it would better if we could work to support the community instead of taking the child out of the community. Is it not selfish to simply take the child out of the community, and abandon the rest of the community?
    The question Lemn poses is why is it better to simply take the child out from an environment to which the child and the child's parents belong? Is parenting an individual act of love or a community affair? If it is true that it takes a village to raise a child, how can it be that two adoptive parents can replace the love, and social institutions that a community can provide? When children are taken out from their communities, and at the same time the community is alredy having problems reproducing itself both socially and materially then what does adoption do to that community? But, also what does it do the child? What are you telling the child about the place where s/he comes from? Doesn't this kind of adoption already set up a hierarchical relationshiip between who the parents are and who the child is? And for those of us from poor countries how then can we not see adoption as part of the on going policies that already weaken our communities; how is this noy part of neo-colonial destruction?
    These are things you should think about as you raise your Ethiopian child. Because, even if your child cannot articulate these questions s/he will be sure to act them out!
    And to Lemn, your ethiopian friend welcomes you home.
    Elleni Zeleke

  5. Hi,
    I have just read your childhood experiences from the BBC website. Sometimes i can't believe what people can do to others especially the children who are very innocent.
    Good that you have grown up to be a model to the world. Me and my brothers have grown up without our parents but with people in our community who have helped us to understand the world better. There are some things that are hard to forget but i have decided to forgive and move on. I have decided to look after my young brothers and if i ever have children i will never give them to anyone for adoption or “in name of loving and providing for them”.
    I love poetry, thanks for that poem.

  6. I think it is important here to note that Mr. Sissay was never “adopted”. He was in a foster home with foster parents, after his mother made the decision to have him fostered. This not adoption, nor can in any way be described as an adoption experience.

  7. All I can say is thankyou. I have an avalanche of emails from people due to various broadcasts and my perspective on this. I am just glad, in some ways, that I am out of Britian on tour with my play at the moment – I have some adopted friends whose phone has not stopped ringing. The press. Thanks again for not picking the easier route to misunderstanding a complex journey.
    Best of all though i have come to realise that however horrendous my own experience, at the end of the day (and the beginning for that matter) it is all relative. One pain may understand another and so too one healing may understand another. Ain't that just the peach!

  8. I am so sorry for your sad and unfair experiences as a child growing up. I don't know all the answers, but I believe adoption can work as long as people realize it is/will be difficult. The 'happily ever after' may not play out. At the same time Malawi is at a distinct disadvantage. If it takes a whole village to raise a child, yet most of the (adult) villagers are sick with a terminal illness, perhaps the global village then must step in. A fair question is, does the country even have the resources left to cope on their own? Sadly I don't think money can turn back the clock on this one.
    I wish the world had woken up sooner to the Aids epedemic, but it didn't. Now what? Well money will only go so far either way. It can't make an adoption experience perfect, nor can it properly help all the children in Malawi (with not enough adults able or well enough to care for the children, buckets of money can't help this situation) so I guess it is up to every one to make the best of a terrible situation.
    Taking a child out of a healthy but not wealthy culture is one thing (your experience in Ethiopia would be compairable) but taking a child out of a dying culture is not removing them from something that will necessarily be there in the future – it is more like pulling passangers from a sinking ship.

  9. Hello Lemn,
    Indeed, it is all relative! And most important of all nothing is all bad or all good. Your bad experience made you stronger, it could have easily broken you, only if you had let it.
    Keep up the good work Lemn.

  10. Dear Mr Sissay,
    My name is Nassima, I am adopted myself (from Kashmir), I found my family of birth (whether this is a gift, I don't believe, but it certainly tought me a lot on human nature), and my husband and I are now about to adopt a child in Ethiopia…
    I'd like to thank you for having the courage to speak out, share your pain and make it something useful to others. Too many people just don't know what adoption (or foster care) is about and say insanities (just as on the Madonna case, referring to BBC's forum “Have your say”).
    Everyone has his/her own personal story, no one can judge on someone else's feelings.
    I also strongly believe that bad or painful experiences can teach you how to grow and how to become yourself. It seems to be the case for you; you found a beautiful and enriching way to do so and wish you the very best in your current and future endeavours. And if you ever come to Belgium, let us know!
    Thank you,
    Nassima, Belgium

  11. I have to take issue with this description of Ethiopia as “healthy and wealthy” and “prosperous” in the 1960's. The reality is that those who were Amhara were quite well off while the rest of the country lived at or below poverty level, deprived of basic education and health care. The majority, described quite openly by the Amhara in power as “peasants” have never enjoyed anything even close to prosperity and, in fact, at various points, due to the government's desire to cover up the country's severe issues have almost literally starved to death before the government allowed aid to come in.

  12. And youa re right, and I apologise. I had one referrence to Ethiopia at 18 and it was the beautiful book compiled by the ministry of information (Amhara) – the book outlined the industries, the airline, coffee etc and this was my first impression of Ethiopia. That I should still relate to that impression has alot to do with my stuff , rather than a political choice to ignore something I had no knowledge about – I do now and thanks for bringing it to my attention
    Many thanks

  13. I certainly shall. The woman who did the lights for my autobiographical play “something Dark”, she is from belgium and is there now. Love your country. Been to leuvern and brussels

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