The fat lady sings

The deed is done. Monster is now not only my legal son in any country in the world, but also his daddy’s. On the 5th of January 2017, in the High Court of London Town, my old manor, my stomping ground, Jake and I adopted my boy together, by order of The Right Honourable Judge Nice-Man QC.

One Autumny day last year I went to visit Rather Nice Lawyer in her offices to collect a stack of paperwork and ferry it to the High Court; this pile comprised our petition to adopt Monster. As I wrestled the pushchair through the Tube towards Camden I thought with glee of my next meeting, after the fly-by at the lawyer’s office; with Baroness King of Bow. After years of her helping and supporting me I would finally meet her and be able to thank her in person. Life has its own ideas though, as you know. The papers weren’t ready at RNL’s offices, partly due to her having a new PA who did not know my case nor exactly what she needed to provide me with. I waited in the reception area for my appointment and watched the staff coo over Small Fry for a cool hour, then spent an hour with RNL trying to establish where this document was and whether I needed to take that one, and what the hell had been dripped all over the other (it was tea, and I’m pretty sure it was me not them, but one does not admit a thing like that to someone whom one is paying £250 an hour and who has spent months preparing and guarding these documents). An agonising hour was then spent while the lovely but very new PA painstakingly photocopied six copies of absolutely everything – one for their records, three for the court, two for me. I tried in vain not to watch the clock and count down each minute that cut into my very short window of opportunity of seeing Baroness King and eventually admitted, as her small parcel of free time came and went and I still sat in Camden, that we would not be meeting today.

Three hours later I travelled from Camden, missed out Baroness King’s office, and made haste to the High Court which was by then due to close in an hour’s time. The stress of wondering whether I would even make it across the city in time and whether I would need to instead make another trip to London to complete this mission made me reminisce about Dar, and not in a positive way. In an attempt to make the ride more enjoyable, SF screamed for the 45 minutes it took us to get there.

After a short wait I took my turn, relieved, at the Children’s Services desk. I felt sorry for the other attendees, most of whom seemed to be locked in custody battles. With half an hour to go before closing time, I proudly handed the clerk my stack of documents and asked her to file an adoption petition on my behalf. She glanced at the top piece of paper and said ‘This is the wrong form.’

‘Um… are you sure?’ I asked, silently pleading in my head with, er, no one, because I’m an atheist. ‘Yep,’ she replied cheerfully.

‘Are you really sure?! My solicitor does this kind of case all the time and I very much doubt she has given me the wrong one. Could you check?’

‘Yeah it’s the wrong one. I know her, I’m surprised she’s made a mistake as well… Yes, I’ll wait while you phone her.’

I phoned RNL at her office, knowing as it rang that she would be instantly furious with me doubting her superior knowledge. She was. While she went off to get my file, the clerk brightly said ‘Oh it IS the right one!’

RNL came back to the phone and I grovelled and apologised, and grovelled more just in case. Then I had to ask her to fax a page (I hadn’t known fax machines were still in use) to the clerk because her new PA had omitted it. She was well happy about that and invited me round her house for dinner! Not.

Next the clerk, who revelled in having a job where she never had to think about anything she said before she said it, informed me that for the pleasure of submitting my petition I would be paying £170. I protested, reminding her that because I had paid that fee already when I submitted the request for permission to co-adopt, I didn’t need to pay it again. She disagreed and put on her concerned-for-you-but-can’t-do-anything-about-the-rules face. I had £6 in my pocket, about the same amount in the bank, and a grizzling, restless baby at my feet. I started to cry. She felt sorry for me and tried to comfort me. A colleague of hers breezed past and threw into the conversation a small but beautiful comment confirming what I’d said about not needing to pay again. The clerk took the petition and said that the fax had already arrived, and that I should go and have a cup of tea and wait for her to phone me about a hearing date. I legged it before she noticed that Small Fry had, during this time, scattered tiny bits of dried apple over six square yards of the carpet.

On the 5th of January myself, Jake and Small Fry attended the supposed first hearing of three with Judge Nice-Man. Monster had been ordered not to attend. Lovely Social Worker was there and so was a barrister representing the wishes of the child in question, which was strange as he had never met Monster nor even me before and was referring to Monster by his birthname. In the courtroom we all rose in perfect unison as Judge Nice-Man entered in an incredibly expensive suit. JNM asked each of us to identify ourselves, and listened patiently as we took turns to state our names and interest in the case, myself a little nervously. Then he grew more serious and gazed at SF wriggling in Jake’s arms. I had been ordered not to bring Monster along and now wondered whether I was about to get into trouble for bringing a baby into JNM’s court room. He pointed at Small Fry and slowly brought out his question: ‘And what… is that?’ He was well and truly on our side.

JNM asked the barrister to explain why Monster’s documents featured three different names at different points in time. The barrister, fresh on the case since twenty minutes previously, had absolutely no idea what he meant and was therefore about to look like an utter plonker. I considered letting him, but decided to intervene, asking the judge (are you supposed to ask for permission to speak or something?!) if I may explain instead. He assented. SF was busy chucking grapes all over the floor, but hadn’t managed six yards at this point.

JNM casually stated that as he had enough to go on, he could forgo the next hearing and simply make the adoption order now if we so wished. I gasped and stared up at him, and saw a twinkle in his eye. It was a set-up! ‘Would you like me to do that?’ he asked, a grin decorating his face, and I managed to quickly blurt ‘Yes please’ before I cried at him. Jake laughed at me, then wiped his own little tear away, and LSW wordlessly handed me a tissue while trying to hold it together herself. JNM told the barrister to write the order. We rose as JNM did, and he disappeared through a door next to his swivelly leather chair.

We left London and arrived at my parents’ house that evening for champagne which Farv magicked out of the air (and fish & chips – we are British after all). I started to relay the day’s events to Monster but he interrupted me when I mentioned a twinkle in the judge’s eyes. ‘Am I adopted?’ he asked quickly, and when I told him he gasped as well, said nothing, and then buried his face in Jake’s shirt so that we would not see his tears.

Danger!

Along we merrily trundle, achieving fragments of the second and hopefully final adoption of Monster one by one. Most recently we and he each submitted to a medical examination ordered by the court, where we were subjected to various ridiculous procedures that have nothing to do with adopting.

– In the lead for being the most ludicrous request is the need for our height measurements: everyone knows short or overly tall people mustn’t adopt! Prospective adopters should evidently ideally be of an average height, so we are both lucky in that respect. There was a moment when Monster was identified as being slightly under-height for his age – uh oh! I almost changed my mind about bothering to finish his adoption! Even our lovely doctor was chuckling (groaning, actually) about some of the requests in the medical report. He managed not to moan though that the lengthy paperwork would be cutting into his free time at home.

– In second place for ludicrity iiiiiiiiis… establishing whether or not Monster has two testicles. I swear.

– Third place goes to the examining of our gums, because unhealthy gums show people likely to be irresponsible parents! Obviously.

– In fourth place, notable only by its absence, was any mention of whether either of us might be likely to die of an early heart attack based on family history, or anything similar which could actually have a bearing on an adoption.

For the privilege of enduring these and other silly questions we were supposed to fork out £185 each. Our lovely doctor raced through his work though and managed to get it done in an hour and a half instead of four hours, so that he could charge us only one set of fees.

The good and rather less stupid news is that after Rather Nice Lawyer took the application (for permission to adopt as a couple) with her to court one day and handed it in to save me and my ten-month-old baby (Small Fry) a trip to London, the good ole judge in the High Court has granted permission, despite Daddy and Monster not having lived together for long enough, which avoids another, third adoption after this one by Daddy who would by then be classed as his stepfather – which he ain’t.  My next mission is to deliver the petition to court on the 18th applying to actually adopt Boy.

In other news, details of our case will be presented in the House of Lords next week as evidence of discrimination in the British law which prevents foreign adopted and Looked After children from accessing any of the priorities and privileges that British-born children in the same situation are afforded. My beloved Baroness of Bow will try to bring about an amendment in the xenophobic law, so that foreign-born adopted children would also be allowed, among other things, to have their first choice of school places and to access the Adoption Support Fund set aside for the counselling and other support of children whose life even without being denied this important stuff has frankly been hard enough.

Monster has turned nine in the meantime and has suddenly changed from a little boy into a middley sort of boy. One of his dreams came true in the summer when he visited the Olympic Velodrome in Stratford. The happiness on his face was palpable inside me; the same feeling I had when he opened his little MP3 player on his birthday and shrieked with joy and brought a tear to my eye. He has joined a football team and plays every weekend. He’s breakdancing in a show in the city next month, with the troupe that has nicknamed him B-boy Danger. Daddy and I, and even Farv, offered to breakdance in it too but a look of sort of inane terror formed on his face so we packed that in.

He is revelling in being a big brother to Small Fry. He adores him and the feeling’s mutual – in fact Monster is Small Fry’s favourite person. Boy was the first person to make SF laugh, and he is forever asking me if he can share his lollipop or whatever with him – still no. He sings to him and tells him stories, delights in learning how to pick him up and loves the fact that after I’ve given up on trying to get any food down SF’s neck, SF will eat it if Monster feeds it to him. He plays with him every morning before school so that I can have a shower and has begged me to let them share a room specifically when SF is eight (?). I have explained that when SF is eight, Monster will be sixteen and most disinclined to do so, but he insists. I have observed Monster being jealous of the attention SF gets from us adults only once, and even then he decided not to act on it. He is wunderkind.

As for Mama, I feel like I have been adopting him forever. I feel like I’ve always done this.

Along the way, as well as the usual expected crap, I have encountered strange obstacles that I never considered I would have to face. On returning to the UK last year one of my oldest friends, who I’ve even lived with, decided to end our friendship because of a small conversation over her saying when I was pregnant with Small Fry that I was about to become a mummy. Upon my reminding her that I had spent five years as a mummy to Monster, she became greatly offended at my POLITELY sticking up for my son and pointing out that it was lucky he hadn’t seen the card she had written it in and come to the conclusion that he didn’t count as my child, and she cut off all ties. Now that she has done so, because of the nature of her personality I know that I will never be allowed to see her again. This, for standing up for the very simple right of the adopted child not to be forgotten or overlooked as a family member.

Something I am enjoying this year is observing from afar while my former students venture out into the world – and shake it up! At times when they were children I used to struggle to explain the world’s deficiencies and prejudices to them; now they are out there striding ahead and pulling the world behind them, shaping it, being the change. One of ‘mine’ is now on the executive board of his university’s committee dedicated to helping bring about racial equality in the USA: I feel like one tiny particle of the reason I became a teacher has been realised. This one though was always destined for greatness, with or without my input.

It being my second autumn in the UK does not make wearing shoes any easier; they still feel weird and uncomfortable – a bit like life here. I still stand out as soon as I open my mouth, I still struggle to explain why I act the way I do or lose my temper with a fraction of a second’s notice. I am insanely excited about the last, twenty-year-old piece of my jigsaw puzzle family, who with luck should arrive, at last, in the UK in a fortnight. And I’m grateful to my long-suffering partner, who puts up with all my tears, tired grumps and occasional despair with admirable patience. A shoulder to cry on doesn’t even come close. Think rock. Think actual physical collapse without him. But hear this – we are going to adopt Monster and it is nearly over. IT IS NEARLY OVER.

Olympic gold

After almost a year in the UK Monster has changed a lot of course, imperceptibly to those who do not share a home with him, but rather more drastically so to Mama. Most notably he suddenly wants things, material things, a trait rarely seen in our household in Tanzania, when he considered the best treat ever to be a mango. In terms of consumerism he does still lag far behind his peers in Britain. He is shit at understanding advertising and still thinks that adverts on the telly are short films in which a product that’s cool just happens to be featured – which is endearing, and somewhat of a relief to be honest. If asked, he would like some sort of computer game set-up, but it isn’t something that preoccupies him and he never asks for anything that he deems large or expensive. He has no qualms when passing the cake shop, however, so some things never change. (And while on the subject of morphing into something more like his British classmates, either consciously or unconsciously: if you’ve never heard a small East African starting to develop a Norfolk accent, you haven’t lived.)

His favourite thing about having moved to Britain is that he now has cousins and knows his Bibi. His Daddy has a few dozen brothers and they each have a few dozen offspring (it seems that way at family parties anyway), some of whom are now among his favourite people in the world. The cherished bracelet one of them presented him with lives by his bed and is donned on special occasions. He wants perpetually to travel to Bristol to see another of his new, small gang, and he’s happy at weekends if he can swap ridiculous stories on Skype with anyone under the age of ten, which should ideally include lavishly embellished tales of playground football matches and a sort of ‘show & tell’ session with whatever new stuff one of them happens to have.

For the first time in his life he is faced with not only being the only black kid a lot of the time (inevitable in Norfolk) but also being the only adopted kid. Children as a rule do not understand adoption nor have they usually even heard of it, so allowances have to be made, by him as well as me, for the way they phrase their questions. There has been one racist incident at school and one… what do we call it? Adoptist incident? Adults doing the same thing though, using upsetting or offensive terminology, do not always receive the same patient treatment from my tired self. Unexpectedly the streets here are just as treacherous as in Mwanza in terms of our feelings being hurt deeply by strangers. Frequently whilst shopping for trainers or other such mediocrity we are faced with yet another person we have never laid eyes on asking what happened to his “real” parents. This is painful on so many different levels that I often feel it impossible to summon the energy to explain why it isn’t polite to reinforce such negativity to an eight year old. They do not notice his eyes (or mine) when yet again they refer to someone other than me as his ‘real’ mother, which by process of elimination leaves me as his fake mother. He is happy to share some information about his birthmother but is bewildered as to how to respond to an adult stranger who chooses not to see they are hurting us both with their casual enquiry about his deepest, most private and most traumatic life event – that of parting from her. I find it a little disturbing that people desperately need to know, to the detriment of him – like watching the aftermath of a car crash without stopping to help, or asking a soldier about the blood on their uniform. People think it is their right to know everything they want to know, without even considering the consequences. There are also people though, glorious people, who without even blinking refer to me as his mother or Daddy as his father in shops and cafés and barbers’, and treat us like any other family, and at these people I silently stare my thanks with teary eyes. They will never know how much I value their simple acceptance of us just the way we are.

Some aspects of life are more difficult for me as his parent here rather than in Tz, even though he might not notice these ones himself. Despite us not having a television for example, as we didn’t in Tanzania, news here is unavoidable even if one is eight, so he regularly hears or sees footage and reportage that induce anxiety in him. He is now frightened of terrorists and bombs, whereas he had never heard of either before arriving in the UK – they give him nightmares, and the way they were dealt with and delivered to the pupils at the school he spent his first two terms in (oh don’t get me started on THAT) exacerbated it. It breaks my heart to hear him, my little son, verbalise his thoughts on terrorists blowing up theatres, hear him ask me whether or not they will one day appear where we are, that he does not have the same opportunity as I did, to simply be a child without the worries of the screwed-up adult world, that I inhabited unknowingly. I seem to spend at least half my waking life racing against various unquantifiable forces to ensure he has as easy, as smooth and as child-like a life as possible, whilst the evil that men do continues to bombard him with anxiety and something resembling stress.

Despite these worries Monster has become more confident and braver than I could ever have imagined. Having moved countries, cultures and schools all at once at the age of seven, I made him move schools again at Easter to a progressive and fantastic school in the city. He opposed this move quite strongly due to his little mates at the old school, but still only cried once; then trusted me when I said to do so, and duly started the new school with a dignity that Cameron would do well to take note of. (Incidentally: “If I see David Cameron, Mama, I’m going to kick him in the goolies.”) He sent me packing after the obligatory three minutes of letting me hang around on his first day of the new school (I was permitted to stay that long as a favour), which he now loves, and he goes weekly to a basketball club populated almost entirely by fifteen year olds. Last month he started a breakdancing class at the local dance venue (I’m not permitted to even go in the front door of that one. Daddy is – WTF?).

The only differences he can see, even now, between Tz and the UK are the weather and the fact that he misses his friends from Tz. Having said that, he went to school in shorts until mid-November, rain or not, and has not even mentioned missing the sunshine. His favourite day ever was when it snowed here. He has made new friends here but is loyal and cites his old Mwanza buddies among his best friends despite not having spoken to most of them in ten months. Around his friends here he is newly self-conscious about having his parents be witnessed, which is strange for me because in Tz most of the parties he attended, I attended as well with my friends, the parents of his friends. I’m not keen on this relegation but what can you do? I suppose when he’s fourteen he’ll be one of those kids that walk past their mother in the street and pretend they didn’t see her because they’re with some cool dude from footie practice.

One of Monster’s big wishes for the future is that he wins a gold medal at the Olympics. He would like to win the long distance running or the cycling, but what’s looking more likely is that he’ll take gold for being adopted the largest number of times by the same person.

On investigation into the ludicrous situation whereby I have to readopt Monster in this country, I discovered several important facts. 1) For six months, nobody at Social Services knew what type of adoption this would be. It was not domestic, as Monster was not being adopted from within the care of the government. It was not international, as the Tz adoption was not recognised here and so didn’t count. It was not intercountry, as I had not brought him into the UK specifically for the purpose of adopting him having not met him before. It was not private, as he was not a member of my biological family needing adoption by a blood relative. After that I stopped listening to all the types of adoption that mine wasn’t. 2) Monster could not be adopted by Daddy. Well, not at the same time as by me anyway. Or at all, possibly. Or maybe he could, but not now. Or could he? Mwah ha ha. Et cetera. 3) Monster would have to be adopted by only me, as soon as anyone could figure out which type of adoption this would be. 4) Monster could be adopted by Daddy, once they had lived together for three years as parent and child. 5) No one knows why point 4 is true. But it is true. 6) Monster would end up being adopted a total of three times – by the same family.

Ultimately, Lovely Social Worker (LSW) and Rather Nice Lawyer (RNL) (both of which were alien concepts to me after my experiences in The Farce) worked out what the hell any one of us was supposed to be doing about getting my kid fixed up with his two parents legally, forever. All hail those wot I just mentioned.

Papers have now been drafted, checked, rewritten, cross-checked, translated, collated, checked again and signed, and now await hand delivery to the High Court in London town, not this town where I am, because why would I be able to do this in the place where I actually live? Of course I have to go the High Court, BECAUSE IT’S ME. Of course I have to take Monster and the baby on the train to London every time court is in session for us. Additionally I have to represent myself because despite RNL taking care of all the paperwork and offering to do me some kind favours where possible, it would cost us an extra £****  for her to actually appear in court beside me and who the hell has that kind of money?

We are applying for special dispensation from the rule that disallows us from adopting together, based on the fact that Monster has lived with me for far longer than the prerequisite three years and the fact we are classed as a ‘stable’ family because we have a bio-baby together as well as Monster. No comment on that. Should we receive special dispensation (I’m going for my own record here with the exemption orders) we will apply to the court to adopt Monster as a couple. Should this application for dispensation be rejected, I will apply to adopt Monster alone and Daddy will wait eighteen months and then apply to adopt him in a step-parent adoption. By now, I’ll just take what I can bloody well get.

There was one hairy moment when RNL requested a certain document which lives in a cardboard file at Social Welfare in Mwanza and has never been copied. She suggested I email them – can’t – then that I write to them – no point – then that I call them – no – then there was some amusing discussion and she conceded that we could live without it when I decreed that in order to retrieve that document either she or I would have to go to Tz and it sure wasn’t gunna be me. LSW has been extremely supportive throughout and pops round monthly just to clock up visits on her record (and to cuddle the baby – I know that’s a factor. Because she told me it was). Things could be moving faster, but RNL is the best (complicated) adoption lawyer in the UK and as such is a rather busy bee. My stress levels have retracted and refracted, a lot. They’re still hovering around the treetops but it’s better than up there with the aeroplanes where they used to reside. It feels nice to have the professionals on side. When one of them rings (they ring!), I actually want to answer the phone rather than throw it into Lake Victoria. And that, my friends, is worth its weight in gold.

On acquiring a father for one’s seven-year-old

People acquire their fathers in many different ways. For me personally it was a matter of simply being conceived. Less common is a seemingly little-known route called adoption. Other ways include having one’s mother or current father marry or partner a man who then becomes one’s father. I have not previously met anyone however who has been instructed to simply ‘get’ a father for their child, by the child. Until now.

Monster’s first main articulated wish (having not even been consulted about me becoming his mother, poor darling) was for a father. At first he simply wondered about it, then moved on to asking for one – a stage which continued for several years – and eventually started suggesting ways in which I might be able to procure a father for him. If your small child has never suggested to you using only their own limited, broken-English vocabulary exactly how you could and should find yourself a partner, then just take it from me that it’s not a situation conducive to you feeling grown up or like you have ever achieved anything independently in any way. Or, if you are unbelievably bored and are single, have a ‘laugh’ by asking your young child (the younger the better) how best to go about getting yourself un-singled.

Monster would put down his cutlery and gaze at me innocently (cunningly) at dinner.
‘I do love you Mama…’ he would begin. I would play my part. I am a good mama, after all.
‘But?’
‘But can you get me a daddy too?’

There was a close encounter of the paternal kind when Finn entered our lives. Monster was only four or five, and when Finn and I split up Boy cried for weeks. He had hoped Finn would end up being his father and was devastated, despite constant conversation, explanation, reassurance and mangoes. Finn remains to this day one of his dearest friends and allies.

Then the man who was to become Monster’s father materialised in our town in Tz. A scruffy-looking git with holes in his trousers and stubble through laziness rather than any sense of fashion (of which he has none), I liked the look of him as soon as I spied him sitting cross-legged on the wall outside the office like a disaffected teenager. I discovered that he had taught in Korea and studied and written in Ghana, and the fact that he had lived in a wall-less wooden hut in the Guatemalan rainforest with a large spider named Gordon and had paddled his canoe down the river to work each day pretty much guaranteed that I wanted to at least hang out with him. After a few months of hoping to be asked out by him but not bothering to ask him out because I was a bit tired, there was a revelation about our feelings at a party and the next day he sodded off to South Africa for a month. What a charmer.

On his return he rather quickly moved in to our home, mostly because he’s a better cook than me. Oh dear, thought I, and promptly commenced negotiations with Monster about how this man was NOT going to be his father so he shouldn’t get his hopes up. Ahem. Man fell in love with Boy and proved to be an infinitely patient and caring boyfriend-of-Mama. Boy soon wouldn’t go anywhere without him and each week came to me saying ‘I know he won’t be my daddy…’ whilst studying my poker face. Man even took me on a date once, but only because the friends in Dar that we were staying with convinced me to leave Monster with them for the night and then Man couldn’t get out of it.

At some point Man asked me, seeing as it was becoming increasingly evident that I was going to be letting him infiltrate my life (see aforementioned point re: cooking), if he could be Boy’s father. ‘No way,’ said I; give the boy a father so that he can break his tiny heart when you bugger off and leave us? No thanks. Over the following months a conversation not dissimilar to that between Mrs Doyle and Father Ted ensued:
‘Go on.’
‘No.’
‘Go on.’
‘No.’
‘Go ON.’
‘Nope.’

After a while however I began to notice that this scruffy-haired bloke was actually alright. I mean, you know, he was sort of okay, or whatever. So I thought long and hard about him being Monster’s father and it turned out that I felt it was rather a splendid idea. Consequently one morning Man asked Boy whether or not he could be his daddy. Boy widened his eyes and looked at me for permission, even though I had already discussed with him the possibility of this happening and checked a thousand times whether or not he did indeed desire the scruffy git for a father. I winked at Boy; Boy looked at Man; Boy replied to Man in the affirmative; Man and Boy hugged; Mama cried all over the fucking duvet.

Who knew? The way to acquire a father for one’s seven-year-old is just to give in and let him.

Faces of Forever Angels

Here’s a little deviation from our story, so that I can bring you stories of other people for a change. I probably talk about myself too much on this blog anyway.

In Mwanza then, there is a baby home like no other, called Forever Angels, and it is so much more than an orphanage. (This is not where Monster used to live, by the way.)

Most orphanages in Tanzania look after children, to varying degrees. Some don’t even do that, but let’s not nitpick. Forever Angels does the following good stuff, among other things:
• Looks after children aged 0-5 (this is their official purpose – what follows is just extra)
• Teaches the children in their on-site classroom (designed and built themselves)
• Hosts volunteers, to get extra hands-on attention for the children
• Encourages any relatives of the children to visit regularly, preferably with a view to eventually taking them home (often with continuing support)
• Gives jobs to said relatives to facilitate financial stability
• Develops training programs specific to individual staff members’ needs
• Builds on-site homes for long-term staff
• Provides micro-finance schemes for extremely poor parents in the local community to avoid them having to give up their children for lack of food
• Encourages adoption of their children within the Tanzanian and international community, and works with Social Welfare to ensure this continues to be an option for as many as possible of the children who have no one
• Takes in children that are neither abandoned nor orphaned but are facing other challenges; for example children with albinism whose parents want them to live without the fear of being murdered for their body parts, which are believed to bring good luck.

So many lives have been impacted by Forever Angels it is actually just ridiculous. The place is a force to be reckoned with. Babies who arrive literally at death’s door (through destitution, malnutrition, neglect, or just ignorance of childcare) are transformed time and time again from skeletal, ill, floppy little creatures that no one thinks will survive the week to chubby, bouncy, smiling babies who look like they’re happy to be alive at last. I have seen the staff at Forever Angels create this magic myself; sit up all night holding a tiny, scrawny thing and keeping it warm and giving it affection, feeding it every hour, for days on end, until the baby resembles more and more the human being it has always had the right to be.

Volunteers meaning to spend a few weeks or months there often end up staying on, sometimes for years, dedicating a large part of their lives to the little community and on occasion even residing permanently in Tanzania and helping to ensure the long term sustainability of the project. Even visiting Forever Angels once for whatever reason shows a person the new lease of life given to the children there.

The outreach families that FA work with slowly but surely become less reliant on the project, as they start to provide for their families themselves through the finance schemes and care for their children through the childcare education programs.

The staff of Forever Angels have bought land, built houses, been highly trained in their jobs, sent their kids to good schools… and they all lived happily ever after? Well… not everyone, which is why we need to help. FA work within a perpetual cycle of children being abandoned or orphaned. Their milk formula bill alone is £1000 a month. The founder once told me that her aim was that one day FA wouldn’t need to exist anymore – a wonderful day that will be, but it’s a very long way off yet.

Their end-of-year fundraiser this December “celebrates the profound impact that the Forever Angels Baby Home has had on the lives of those it has touched. It is a charity whose life-changing reach goes beyond the children whose mission it is to nurture.” In the nine years since its inception the Baby Home has cared for around 250 vulnerable children, some for years at a time; but this month they are focusing on the countless other individuals and families who have either contributed to the life-saving work or have been on the receiving end of that effort. Throughout December, you can read on their sites stories of success and compassion, a different one every couple of days. My favourite is that of Lilian, who came to FA as a teenager looking for work – and now runs the place.

This time of year is a time for giving, for thinking of others. Read the stories and have your heart warmed, but please do not rest there. If you are unable to donate any money, then for the love of humanity please share this post or the fundraising pages of Forever Angels Baby Home in the hope that others will donate something to this, one of the worthiest causes I have ever witnessed.

Santa told me he’ll bring you a present if you donate AND share the pages.

http://www.foreverangelsusa.org/thestories

http://www.foreverangels.org

 

End of part 153

Having returned to Mwanza (around April 2015), we played the visa waiting game whilst trying to pack up eight years’ worth of a life and shrink the physical elements of that into a few suitcases. By the time June came and only a month remained until our intended departure, I was beyond anxious at the lack of any visa or word from the issuing department. The contact at the Home Office in London was unwilling to intervene further in order to check on our progress; no one at the visa office would discuss it; the embassies in Dar, Nairobi and Pretoria insisted they were absolutely too busy (at parties) to chase it… cue thumb-twiddling and continuing sleepless nights. Come July my contract would end and we would have to move out of our house, which was part of my remuneration and would be needed by the incoming teacher replacing me. Should Monster’s visa not have been issued by that point however, we would not be able to leave Tanzania. Contingency plans were as follows: 1) Move in with my good friend Adam in Arusha whilst awaiting visa; 2) See plan 1. (I’m not sure now that I ever actually consulted Adam about the moving in. But I’m sure he definitely wanted jobless me and a manic seven year old living with him.)

When two weeks remained until we were supposed to leave, and Farv had already arrived to pack us up and ship us out, an email appeared stating that Monster’s passport had been returned from South Africa to the visa department in Dar. It also stated that under no circumstances should I try to find out whether or not the visa had been granted before I arrived to collect the passport. Either the passport would have the visa in it, or the application had been rejected and tough shit matey, you’re flying to Dar to collect your pristine, blank-paged passport. I called the office to request them sending on the passport with DHL, as specified on their web site for applicants unable to collect in person.
‘No no no,’ they laughed, ‘you had to have that booked in advance!’
‘And how, pray tell, are people supposed to know that, when it doesn’t say so anywhere?’
‘Ah. People sometimes just know.’

Days off work to fly around the country are not looked upon very keenly when one is a teacher and it’s the last fortnight of the school year. Farv bore the brunt of the bureaucratic bullshit and spent a day travelling to Dar and back armed with eighteen different documents proving his identity, his familial link to me and the applicant, the purpose of his original visit to Tanzania, the exact length of his beard when the curls are stretched out, and the colour of the shirt he’d had on that time he crashed his motorbike when he was 21.

Monster was indeed, as you may have noticed by now, granted Indefinite Leave To (Enter &) Remain in the UK. It’s hard to describe, even if you are a bit of a gobshite like me, the level of palpable relief produced by one little sticky, perforated, shiny, pretty piece of paper stuck into the passport of your son. I’ll leave it at this: after seven years of fighting, I was coming home.

Passports

Being born and raised as I was in England by English people, I have always experienced ‘passport privilege’: the ability to travel internationally wherever and whenever I please to a large extent, almost always unencumbered by visa problems or passport issues. My nationality has generally allowed me to be free in the world – except that time I was deported and barred from re-entry for ten years. But to be serious: I used to skip around the world carefree, until I started paying attention to things other than my own adventures and noticed that not everyone enjoyed the same freedoms. My first taste of this was as a teenager crossing the border at Taba, from Israel to Egypt, with three South Africans in tow. They were not allowed to enter Egypt – it was 1995 and unbelievably apartheid had only just ended. Egypt was having none of it, and although at the time I thought it unfair to punish my young travelling companions for the evil work of a government they didn’t vote for, I also noticed on that trip that all the South Africans I met around the Middle East bar one were white.

More recently in life I have watched helplessly from afar as a friend was deported from Britain after contributing to its economy for more than a decade, because of an administrative error made when he was still a minor fleeing war; he was then refused citizenship of his home country, ergo becoming stateless and remaining that way for a frightening length of time. A British colleague here has flown to the UK alone over Easter, having left her Tanzanian husband behind because his holiday visa request was refused. She has gone to give birth to their first child, whom he now will not see until it is eight weeks old. We Brits should not take our citizenship for granted; it is, after all, only luck that saw most of us born there.

Monster and I visited Kenya last week only by the grace (or perhaps stress) of a flustered immigration official. Arriving in Nairobi, Monster and I felt awful after spending the flight throwing up, so I dragged him hurriedly to immigration and requested a visa for myself. At the desk the official asked for proof that this boy was my son (he has a Tanzanian passport) and stared at me in disbelief when I told him I had brought no other documents with me. He actually laughed at me, and the second he did I knew I had been ridiculously short-sighted by bringing only our differing passports. He sent me off to the immigration supervisor and my heart sank, sure that either I was about to be asked to hand over my entire holiday spending money on a bribe just to enter the country, or that we would be escorted back onto the aeroplane that had brought us here and returned to Tz.

The supervisor was attempting to deal with a large group of newly-arrived Somali women with whom he could not communicate. He spoke only Swahili and English, they only Somali. He wanted them each to fill in the correct form, but could not be bothered to take them to where the forms were or even get someone else to do so, which made me think that I had no chance of getting into his country when the lack of papers was actually my own fault. The grandmother Somali sat down in a brief surrender and indicated that I should try my luck. I told Mr Supervisor that we were here on holiday, that we had different passports, and that other than our surnames in those passports I could not prove that we were family. He also stared in disbelief at my stupidity. Then without me even trying to convince him of anything he, tired from his Somali mission, took me back to the desk and told the official to let me through. Almost crying with relief, I held both his hands in mine and thanked him. He told me never to travel anywhere again without my adoption papers. We entered Kenya, but why? Because I’m British? Because I’m white? Either way he had no real proof that I was not trafficking a child, and Nairobi is supposed to be among the capital cities taking new measures to prevent this particular crime because of its notoriety as an East African trafficking hub (http://www.unodc.org/easternafrica/en/human-trafficking/index.html).

As we walked in relief through the airport on Monster’s first trip outside Tz, I looked back to see that the Somalis, with their piles of stamped and authenticated papers, had got nowhere.

On our return to Tz we flew again to Dar es Salaam to complete the final task towards Monster gaining entry to the UK. Although The Farce is over, there remains a comprehensive list of things still to do: get his entry visa; declare his presence to UK social services within two weeks of entry or face the consequences; adopt him again in a UK court; get him British citizenship (but most of these things will not need to be even attempted until after our move to the UK). After agonising over the online application to the Home Office and having an extremely good immigration lawyer check everything in it four times, I submitted it, paid almost £1000 for the privilege, and made an appointment to see the UK visa centre in Dar. The pile of papers I collected to submit there was two inches thick, totalled more than forty documents, and included the deeds to my parents’ house.

The night before we went to Dar I just happened to check the online visa application once more, because I worry about things going wrong, and sure enough there was a shiny new notice on the front page which had not been there previously: ‘Customers applying to settle in the UK may need a Health Immigration Surcharge reference number and may need to make an additional payment as part of your [sic] application. Please note that failure to make the required payment will result in your application being delayed and could lead to it being refused.’ A new charge, introduced that very day, to be paid by all immigrants entering the country in advance of any medical treatment they may access during the following two years. It has been set at £150 for international students and £200 for everyone else, and was not due from minors, but Monster’s application page was demanding $1026, for some reason in USD. The origin of this figure is unclear. After panicking all night long and seeking advice from the immigration lawyer we set off for Dar rather anxiously, hoping that the fact that we had applied before the new law came into effect (does this sound familiar?!) would mean we would be exempt.

Arriving early at the visa centre we sat serenely, with me considering pleasantly how all I had left to do in Tz was hand in this file of papers and then my work here was done. So obviously, as a direct result of me having that thought, it all went Pete Tong. Visitors are allowed entry to the visa centre fifteen minutes before their appointment time, and no sooner nor later. At exactly 10.45am I approached the askaris who made me turn off my phone (why?), buzzed us over with a metal detector, and let us in. The first thing the receptionist said was ‘Welcome.’ The second thing she said was ‘You don’t have the right documents.’

The passport photos must have a white background, she uttered robotically five times, ignoring my Whats and Buts. I protested that at no point in the eighteen-page application form, nor anywhere on the Home Office web site, nor on any of the electronic correspondence or the signs on the wall, did it say anything about a friggin’ white background. All passport photos in Tz are taken with a blue background, which is what I had. Never fear though, because she told me to go to the photo shop next door and get some new ones. I trotted off down the stairs and went next door – which was a petrol station. After walking around the immediate area for fifteen minutes I ran up the polished stairs again and said I couldn’t see a photo shop anywhere. She shrugged. ‘Perhaps you could tell me where it is,’ I suggested through gritted teeth. ‘It’s your problem,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you twenty minutes.’

Faster than Cinderella at midnight I dragged the boy down the stairs again and out onto the street. A taxi pulled up and I ordered a double-quick trip to a photography place. He took me to one about five minutes’ drive away, and they took Monster’s photograph, and I started to stop sweating, and halfway through printing the new pictures the power went off and the whole street of shops went with it. For a further ten minutes the shop assistant insisted that she was loading emergency electricity credit using her mobile phone (is this even possible?) but then she admitted they could not print my pictures. She reluctantly returned my money, and boy in hand I stepped back onto the dusty street. It was now 11.30am and 30 degrees out. Back into taxi with instructions to find another photo place at all costs as long as he was fast. Boy by now had given up talking or asking anything, as every time he did he received crocodile snapping instead of an answer. He followed me dutifully (I had a good grip on his arm, so it’s not like he had a choice) and allowed himself to be dragged through the streets with me continuously freaking out because on every single piece of correspondence with the Home Office and the visa centre I had been advised that if I turned up too early or too late for my appointment I would not be seen. I would have to make a new appointment, which means taking myself and boy to Dar again, buying more flight tickets, spending another small fortune on taxis, and generally being almightily pissed off.

The taxi driver’s second photo place had power. It had a photographer, a printing machine, and two women who spent the five minutes discussing me in Swahili and debating the merits of what I’ve done by “taking one of their children.” Every little thing helps in these situations, and what would have been helpful is if I didn’t punch them in the face, so I didn’t do that.

Photos with white backgrounds now in hand along with boy, Taxi Driver attempted to return us to the visa centre, and promptly entered a traffic jam where we sat for fifteen minutes. ‘Has something crashed up there?’ I asked, exasperated, and when he said it was traffic police directing the cars I gave up all hope of anything and got out and walked. By the time we got up the polished stairs for the third time, we were an hour and ten minutes late for our appointment and I was utterly convinced that the receptionist (who already hated me because the Home Office forgot to include the white backgrounds on their web site) would refuse us entry and make us create a new appointment, which at this point seemed pretty much on a par with the end of the world. We had come so far, both literally and figuratively, and I was already crying at the thought of her casually flicking us away.

She chose to process us though. She did her thing with our papers, then the man with the shiny tie pin did his thing, then Monster was fingerprinted and photographed (with a fucking blue wall behind him), then we left and Monster took advantage of my enormous relief by managing to extract from me a pot of frozen yoghurt covered in hundreds and thousands, marshmallows and some other load of sugar-filled crap, for which I paid a sum equal to the amount I paid for my car.

The System, 0 – Roses Made Of Iron, 1.

Monster forgot the whole ordeal the second the tiny plastic spoon went into his bright pink sugar. I did not pay the new health surcharge. And submitting those documents was the last thing I had to do in Tz towards getting boy into the UK. Reasons to be cheerful; 1, 2, 3.