I Love You, I Hate You: “Girl, Adopted”

After writing about some documentaries on adoption that used to be, but are no longer, available for online viewing, I finally went to the PBS site and found one that is still up—but not for long. If you want to see Girl, Adopted, you’ll have to watch it before the end of this month.

Weynsht with her adoptive parents before their flight to the States

Documentaries are at their best when the filmmakers step out of the way and just let the subjects of the films speak for themselves. That seems to be what happens in Girl, Adopted. It presents the story of Weynsht (pronounced win-shet), who, at the age of 13, is adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia by a family from Pyatt, Arkansas. The ups and downs don’t come in the adoption process itself—with the finalization providing the climax. Instead, the adoption is the beginning of the story, with the relationship between Weynsht and her new parents supplying the joys and frustrations.

Near the beginning of the film, Melanie, the adoptive mother, says, “We feel like everything happens for a reason and in perfect timing, and I think that we were meant for her and she was meant for us.”

After living in Arkansas for some time, Weynsht shares her own view. “Things happen for a reason sometimes,” she says, “and I still just waiting for a reason.”

Throughout the film, covering five years, Weynsht voices competing emotions concerning America, her parents, and her own identity. And, as young people often do, she talks a lot about love and hate.

Soon after her arrival in the States, she voices her love for Usher, her mother, a Barbie doll, and Wal-Mart.

Later, she says to her white girl friends, “I love you hair.” And when she talks about her desire to find another family, she tells her parents, “I never say, ‘I love you, too,’ because I hate you.”

After more time has passed, Weynsht says, “I really like being Ethiopian person, but I hate being black,” and, “I hate my hair.”

Weynsht on her visit back to Ethiopia

When her father takes Weynsht and her sisters to Ethiopia to visit her orphanage, she finds out that she has an older brother, and her confusion deepens: “I don’t care. I do care, actually, but . . . ,” she says. “I’m just . . . so many things in my head.”

Her mixed emotions turn to anger when she thinks that her father is forcing her to meet her brother. And then she’s afraid: “If I met my brother, why would I want you guys? What makes you think I need somebody else? If I have a brother, I’m wanna stay with my brother.” Then she adds, “And I don’t want that ’cause I love you guys, and just stop.”

Girl, Adopted is certainly not a simple advocacy piece for adoption. In fact, while Weynsht’s father, Chris, concludes that adoption is “worth it, even if it’s hard,” he also says,

At one point, I thought that everyone should adopt a child. It’s something that everybody can do. All they’d have to do is just open up their homes and their hearts and let a kid in, but I don’t really hold those same views today. I don’t think that everybody should do it. You have an idealistic view of adoption, and then as you go along, the details of that view are filled in.

Chris, Melanie, and Weynsht are brave to have let the cameras follow their lives for five years. I’m glad they did, because the result is a compelling work that helps the rest of us fill in a multitude of powerful details.

Produced and directed by Melanie Judd and Susan Motamed, Girl, Adopted (2013) is part of the Global Voices series from Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the WORLD channel. The 78-minute video is available for online viewing until October 30. It can also be purchased on DVD.

[photos courtesy of ITVS]

Repatriation: We Don’t Have a Clue until We Have a Clue

2265417682_ba2b629871I recently received an email from a friend, Sherrie Russell. She and her husband, Glen, have been missionaries in Panama since 1997, working with an indigenous tribe there. They have also served in Puerto Rico (10 years) and have ministered to international students at the University of Missouri-Columbia (6 years).

Sherrie was responding to an email from me, updating her on our transition back to the States. Looking for full-time work over the last two years has been a disappointing process for us, and she and Glen understand, as they were in a similar place when they came back from Puerto Rico. I can’t say the same for myself back then. I was one of those she is talking about when she says, “No one had a clue about what we were going through.”

Sherrie’s openness and honesty is an encouragement to my wife and me. I am grateful to her for letting me post some of her letter here:

I remember so well coming back from Puerto Rico and moving to Columbia and working with Latins at the campus ministry, how I had to take a job at McDonald’s and Glen had to drive a school bus while trying to reacclimate and keep it all together, and trying to understand “why” God didn’t supply what we needed to stay in Puerto Rico, in a work we loved (although it was hard and slow), with a people we wanted to see come to Christ, and in a place that was home.

I’ll never forget feeling so alone among so many kind people after we moved and began to know all of you. . . . It was like no one had any clue about what we were going through (not your fault and we knew that at the time)!

And eventually, when we did decide to go to the Dominican Republic and started trying to raise support . . . I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend at DQ.  We were there talking, and I was expressing my doubt about raising support (I mean, we couldn’t even raise a little more to stay in Puerto Rico) to her and she said something like, “You know the Lord will provide if it’s His will.” Of course she was just trying to encourage me . . . but out of my mouth and heart came this response, “He didn’t!”  And as soon as I said it, I realized how wrong I was!  I was so shocked that I felt that way and knew I had to remember that He does provide . . . but it was a very difficult time for us!

Even thought the Russells had made plans to move to the Dominican Republic, Sherrie says, “God took us to Panama instead.” About their six years in the States, she adds, “We began to learn how to wait on the Lord in Columbia, but it’s one of the hardest lessons in my opinion!”

And living abroad, too, hasn’t been easy for Sherrie. In 2007 she contracted mononucleosis and has suffered from bouts of severe exhaustion since then.

I haven’t been able to go to church or Bible studies this week because of my health situation. It’s been six years now, but I know God is faithful, and He is teaching me so much that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  One thing is that I’ve become so much more content!  Being able to cook sometimes in the morning to help Glen prepare some of the dinner for that day makes me so happy and thankful!!

One morning I posted on my wall on Facebook that I was listening to Andrea Boccelli and making spaghetti sauce with fresh basil and loving it!  A friend from Columbia whose child I taught at the preschool where I worked wrote that I was easy to please!  I thought about that, and I have become easy to please, and that’s good!

My wife and I enjoy Bocelli’s music, and while we were in Taiwan we bought our first Bocelli CD. Sherrie’s letter got me to look him up on YouTube, and I came across a video for his “Canto Della Terra” (“Song of the Earth”). If Steve McCurry made music videos, they might look like this.

[photo: “Loneliness,” by Flavio Spugna, used under a Creative Commons license]

An Ambassador from the Brazilian Rain Forest to New York’s Concrete Jungle

516818391_0849517be5_mIn September of last year, Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui traveled from a village of 600 in the Amazon rain forest to New York City. The 29-year-old Tuwe has a unique way of describing jet lag: “First you arrive physically and you are very tired,” he told BBC. “But only after a while, your soul gets here, too. Because the plane is very fast, but the soul takes longer to arrive.”

Tuwe is set to finish up his nine months in the US at the end of May, having come to New York to study English as a Second Language and to take filmmaking and film-editing classes. His trip is sponsored by Tribal Link’s Indigenous Fellowship Program and the Nataasha van Kampen Foundation. Tuwe is working on a documentary called Us and Them, showing the challenges faced by peoples living in voluntary isolation near the border of Peru and Brazil as they are confronted by illegal loggers, narco-traffickers, and oil prospectors. His goal is to learn English and sharpen his technical skills so that he can become a professional filmmaker, to get the message out to a wider audience.

This is not Tuwe’s first trip as an ambassador to the outside world. Tribal Link originally met him five years ago at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity‘s 9th Conference of the Parties in Bonn, German, and then, last summer, talked with him again in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20.

Following are a BBC video highlighting Tuwe’s introduction to New York and an interview from Tribal Link in which Tuwe further explains his role as “a spokesperson and a messenger of [his] people.”

I can only wonder about the effects of reverse culture shock on Tuwe as he returns to his tribe. It may take even longer for his soul to catch up on the return trip.

(“Culture Shock for Amazon Chief’s Son Who Left Rainforest for New York,” BBC News, March 17, 2013; “Tribal Link Welcomes to New York Nilson Tuwe Huni Kuin, 2012 Indigenous Fellow,” Tribal Link, December 15, 2012)

[photo: “New York City,” by Kaysha, used under a Creative Commons license]

Eleven Tips for Helping Someone with Cross-Cultural Transitional Loss

7016973613_ded8a0eac1_mIf you want to help people in transition—cultural, geographic, and vocational transition—then you’ll need to deal with the grief that comes with their losses. Here’s a great resource for that, A LifeCare Guide to Helping Others Cope with Grief. (LifeCare is a leading provider of “work-life services.”) While this publication is aimed at comforting people who have lost a loved one, the advice it gives can be applied to those with cross-cultural transitional loss as well.

It opens with the second half of this quotation from Henri Nouwen, from Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life:

[W]hen we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Here are eleven tips from Helping Others Cope with Grief to guide us in being that “friend who cares.” Each one is followed by a short excerpt to help explain the idea. I have, when necessary, replaced some words (in brackets) in order to to apply the advice to people experiencing loss due to cross-cultural transition—a group including all cross-cultural workers, their parents and family left back “home,” Third Culture Kids, expats, and repats:

  1. Mention the [lost relationships, places, and things], and acknowledge your awareness of the loss.
    . . . . Many people avoid mentioning the [loss], fearing it will remind the grieving person of his or her pain. . . . [B]ut behaving as if you don’t remember or are unaware of your [friend’s] pain often leaves him or her feeling very alone.
  2. Listen to your [friend].
    . . . . The most important thing you can offer someone who is grieving is your ability to listen without judgment. A good rule to follow is to listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent. . . .
  3. Insist that your [friend] see a doctor if he or she exhibits signs of depression.
    Intense grief can lead to depression. If your friend seems unusually depressed or withdrawn, suggest that he or she seek professional help. . . .
  4. Encourage your [friend] to make wise choices.
    Urge the person who is grieving to pay attention to his or her own needs, and make choices accordingly. . . .
  5. Offer practical help; don’t wait to be asked.
    . . . . Make specific offers several times, and encourage your friend to take you up on your offers. Avoid phrases such as, “Let me know if I can help.” Usually, he or she won’t let you know for fear of imposing on you. . . .
  6. Remember that grieving is a long process.
    The person you care about may be grieving for a long time. Several months or more after the transition, he or she may actually be feeling the loss more acutely, and much of his or her support system will have backed off. . . .
  7. Offer your companionship.
    Your presence can be comforting to a grieving [friend]; you don’t have to do anything special. Often, grieving people just do not want to be alone.
  8. Don’t minimize the loss.
    Be careful not to say, “I know exactly how you feel.” . . . Instead, use statements such as, “I know this is difficult,” . . .  or some other statement that is heartfelt and accurate, but leaves room for the uniqueness of your [friend’s] experience.
  9. Encourage your [friend] to share his or her feelings.
    Avoid saying things like, “Be strong for…” or “Don’t cry.” This sends the message that you are uncomfortable with your [friend’s] intense feelings and, therefore, you will leave him or her emotionally alone. . . . Instead, encourage your [friend] by saying, “It’s okay to cry,” or “You don’t have to be so strong.”
  10. Help your [friend] create new traditions/rituals/activities.
    . . . . Holidays and other events filled with tradition can . . . be especially hard to deal with; try to help your [friend] discover new ways to experience these events. At the same time, he or she should be encouraged to cherish the memories and/or traditions associated with the [people and places no longer close by].
  11. Give advice cautiously.
    Avoid offering advice with phrases such as, “You should…” or “You need to….” . . . . Instead, give advice that encourages the grieving person to trust him or herself and make choices based on his or her needs, rather than on what others think he or she should be doing or feeling.

(A LifeCare Guide to Helping Others Cope with Grief, LifeCare, 2001)
[photo: “B,” by Eugene’s Likeness, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 1)

In the hallowed tradition of “You Know You’re an Expat / Third Culture Kid / Missionary when . . .” lists, I offer my own version for repats. This is for the times when you’re reminded that your plug doesn’t always fit the outlet.

Since I’m a former missionary to Asia who’s repatriated back to the US, a lot of my list leans in that direction, but I hope there’s something here for repats of every stripe (or voltage, as it were).

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

1. Your passport is your preferred form of ID.
2. You comment on how cheap gas is in the US.
3. You ask your friends who they’re picking to win the World Cup.
4. Your CNN web page is set on “International.”
5. You accidentally try to pay for something with the strange coins from the top of your dresser.
6. You don’t trust your friends when they say they’ve found a “good” Italian restaurant.
7. You ask the clerk at the convenience store if you can pay your electric bill there.
8. You don’t know how to fill out taxes without Form 2555.
9. You think Americans are loud.
10. You talk about Americans overseas and call them “foreigners.”
11. You find out that living overseas is not the top qualification employers are looking for.
12. You learn to stop talking about the nanny and groundskeeper you used to employ.
13. You have to ask how to write a check.
14. You forgot how many numbers to dial for a local phone call.
15. You tell your toddler, “No seaweed until you finish all your hamburger.”
16. You try to order fried chicken at Burger King.
17. You check prices by converting from what a similar item cost overseas.
18. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
19. You don’t know how to respond when people say, “I bet you’re glad to be back home.”
20. You prefer to hear news reports from someone with a British accent.
21. You wonder why all the commentators on TV are yelling.
22. You wish you’d brought back ten of your favorite kitchen utensil because you didn’t know it’s not sold in the States.
23. You realize international students are you’re kind of people.
24. You ask where you can get a late-model, low-mileage Toyota for around $2000.
25. You turn on the subtitles on an English movie because you don’t want to miss anything.
26. You ask the clerk at the video store if they have VCDs.
27. You wonder if organization should be spelled with an s.
28. You load up your suitcase and you try not to “pack like an American.”
29. You stop bringing your bi-lingual Bible to church.
30. You just smile at people who say, “So I guess you’re all settled in now.”

(Part 2Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 2)

(Part 1)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

31. You stock up on Mountain Dew because you never know when it won’t be available again, and you check the expiration dates.
32. You think the public schools are great because the teachers are all proficient in English.
33. You read all your junk mail because it looks important.
34. You don’t hang pictures on the wall in case you’ll be moving again soon.
35. You still have unopened boxes shipped from overseas, and you don’t have a clue what’s inside them.
36. For Christmas, you open up one of those boxes.
37. Even though you own a house, you still catch yourself turning the music down so you won’t “bother the neighbors downstairs.”
38. You’re invited to a bar-b-que and your first thought is “I hope they don’t give me the fatty part of the goat’s tail.”
39. You hand the cashier at Wal-Mart your credit card instead of swiping it yourself.
40. You put your hand lotion in 3 oz. containers just to drive to visit grandma.
41. You’re frustrated that you have to ask for chopsticks in a Chinese restaurant.
42. You have to ask what’s the right amount to spend on a wedding gift.
43. You give up trying to decide which shampoo to buy.
44. You ask your friends to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
45. People ask where you’re from and you just answer with the name of the city where you live now.
46. You skip reading the Facebook posts of your former coworkers overseas because it’s just too hard.
47. When you buy clothes, you check to see that the brand name is spelled correctly.
48. You stop telling stories about your old host country because people stop asking for them.
49. Now that you’ve returned, your family members can tell you they didn’t know why you went over there in the first place.
50. People who knew you before you left ask if you’ve “gotten that out of your system.”
51. You go to the hospital for surgery and you take your own towels and gauze.
52. Your high schooler is pulled over for a routine traffic stop and gets out of the car before the policeman approaches.
53. You question the waitress’s math skills until you remember she simply added tax.
54. You realize that Taco Bell isn’t quite as good as you remembered it.
55. Your daughter calls herself an “African American” because she was born in Africa.
56. You look forward to mowing the lawn, because you have a lawn.
57. You say “here” and you mean the US, not the town you’re in.
58. You take an umbrella outside when the sun is shining.
59. “Made in Taiwan” labels fill you with nostalgia.
60. People correct you when you pronounce foreign names the way they’re supposed to sound.

(Part 3)

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Remember You’re a Repat when . . . (Part 3)

(Part 1, Part 2)

You remember you’re a repat when . . .

61. You describe a city as “small” because it has only a million residents.
62. You hear yourself saying at the dinner table, “Where’s the garlic?”
63. You pull out the winter coats when the temperature gets below 70 degrees; or you pull out the shorts when it gets above 40.
64. You get a bill from the doctor and you call to see whose clerical error made the amount so high.
65. Glade’s “Ocean Breeze” scent isn’t any substitute for the real thing.
66. You assume everyplace in the US has WiFi, just like in the city you used to live in.
67. Wearing your traditional ethnic shirt isn’t as much fun now that you’re not going back again.
68. You ask at the grocery store if they have KLIM powdered milk. When they say “No,” you ask when they expect it to be in.
69. You buy three cartons of Hagen Dazs ice cream because it’s one third of the price of Hagen Dazs in your old host country. When you get home, your spouse reminds you it’s still too expensive.
70. You reset your new computer’s clock to military time.
71. You need to convert to the metric system to make sure of distances and temperatures.
72. You get fully dressed to sit in your living room because someone may be peeking in the window.
73. Airports feel like home.
74. The thought of moving again sends you into a panic attack. But your spouse feels the same way about staying put.
75. Your college-age children resent that you took away their opportunity to go “home” for the summer.
76. You can’t remember why anyone would like pineapple from a can, the same for orange juice from concentrate.
77. You understand why the restrooms in LAX have signs saying, “Do not stand on the toilets.”
78. People say, “football,” and you ask, “Which kind?”
79. A friend sends funds to a scammer who sent out an e-mail saying he’s you, stranded abroad, and your friend believes it because, hey, you travel all the time and you’re always needing money.
80. You don’t know what to buy your parents for Christmas now that you can’t give them souvenirs.
81. You shed a tear after finally eating the last package of dried fruit that you brought back with you.
82. You do your happy dance when you find another package of dried fruit in the outside pocket of your carry-on bag a year later.
83. You cringe because you hear someone say she’s “starving to death.”
84. You realize that all the documents on your computer are formatted for A4 paper.
85. You tell your waiter, “I’d like my water with ice . . . if you have any.”
86. You get nervous about buying tickets at the movie theater, because you forgot what the “rules” are.
87. You still can’t drink water straight from the faucet.
88. Your children are happy to see that the US has Costcos, too.
89. You miss the familiar sound of the daily call to prayer . . . or a rooster crowing . . . or late-night traffic . . . or the song the trash truck plays.
90. You show up at a party 2 hours late because you don’t want to be the first one there.
91. You put your favorite DVD in the player and it says, “Region Unsupported.”
92. You understand that some things just take a lot of time.

[top photo: “Electrical Outlet,” by grendelkhan, used under a Creative Commons license; bottom photo: “Having It Both Ways,” by Keith Williamson, used under a Creative Commons license]

Disenfranchised Grief and the Returning Cross-Cultural Worker

Disenfranchised grief, also called “hidden sorrow,” is caused by “a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported.”  This definition comes from an article I recently came across from Australian Family Physician, discussing the response of general practitioners (family physicians) to repatriated cross-cultural workers affected by grief.

What makes their grief disenfranchised is that their losses are not typical to the population at large, so others often discount those losses or don’t understand them. It is difficult to have compassion for a person when you don’t recognize why he is grieving. Others with disenfranchised grief include “ex-spouses, caregivers, nursing home staff, pet owners, children, adoptees, individuals with developmental disabilities, . . . those who may be grieving suicide or AIDs victims or other forms of stigmatised death, . . . victims of sexual abuse, indigenous people and prisoners re-entering their original subcultures.” While this seems to be a list made up of disparate groups, their commonality is that the losses they suffer are often easy to ignore or downplay.

The part of the article that most helped me understand the concept was the authors’ explanation of six types of disenfranchised grief. I am presenting the list here, but I’ve taken the liberty of providing my own examples of how they might apply to repatriated cross-cultural workers:

  • The griever’s relationships are unacknowledged
    [“You can enjoy yourself now that you’re back with your own people.”]
  • Lack of acknowledgment of the griever’s loss
    [“People move all the time. It’s not like somebody died.”]
  • Exclusion of the griever as not being capable of grieving
    [“She’s just a child. She’ll make new friends.”]
  • Exclusion of the griever due to the circumstances of the loss
    [“You knew what you were getting into when you decided to go overseas.”]
  • Exclusion of the griever due to their way of grieving which is not deemed appropriate by the community
    [“The Bible says ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.'”]
  • Self initiated disenfranchised grief where shame plays a significant role
    [“Why don’t I trust God more?”]

The authors go on to stress how important it is that general practitioners understand disenfranchised grief and take steps to deal with it. Not only may family doctors be asked to treat physical symptoms that are a result of grief, but they may also be the only affordable and “safe” help that is available to the re-entering worker.

I wish that we could all understand and acknowledge others’ grief, whatever the source, so that we could “mourn with those who mourn,” giving them the community they need so they don’t have to grieve alone.

(Susan Selby, et al, “Disenfranchised Grievers: The GP’s Role in Management,” Australian Family Physician, Vol. 36, No. 9, September 2007)

[photo: “grief,” by Tomek.pl, used under a Creative Commons license]