Looking out from my balcony; Ras En-Nebaa. (Photo by Mayda Freije Makdessi)
Seest thou one who denies the Reckoning? Then such is he who harshly repulses the orphan…. —The Small Kindnesses, 107:1–3
We remain the repulsed, splinters, expelled from the body; the corpus surrounds us, englobes us, drives us out; it then returns to a state of “as if” we had never existed. Should we attempt return, we do not notice that the immune response starts yet again, only at this point we are incapable of understanding its reasonings and explanations. Ô Lebanon! Shall I be sorry that I wished not to return as an “American”? Had I done so, I know I would have been embraced with open arms, as the colonized greet their oppressors. There is no comfort here. No, I sought something more from you: an origin, a sense of source, an acknowledgement of belonging, a claim to place—a wish shared by many also discounted as not being “of” this place, none of which you deemed worthy of offering. In this regard, I was naive to an extreme, no doubt. Things have changed as they are wont, though it took much of a lifetime: After a decade of search, a DNA test, and reunion with extended family, a great unblocking took place as word got round, as the who and the what and the why made the rounds; and an elderly man plagued by his memories of a child absconded with half a century ago came forward, and revealed a secret to the only man he trusts with such information, my cousin Jamal’s father. And with that the Sisyphean task, twelve long years later, is accomplished.
Leveling a building in my old neighborhood of Ras En-Nabaa.
The current pain of Beirut is found in the suddenness of the catastrophe; in that furtive moment, in the split second it took to eviscerate a city. It is not found in the destruction per se, for that has been a decades-long process, a slow-motion leveling, an endless unraveling, bullet by bullet, bulldozer by bulldozer, bomb by bomb: And so the phoenix fouls its own nest. I can still hear the dull sledgehammer delivered thud that announced another building slated for demolition; the handcraft of undoing that pounded the concrete out of the roof, and then the tiles out of the floors, and then the support out of the walls. I can still see the teams of scavengers come to reclaim the pipes, and the iron rods, and the wiring. I still recall the backhoes brought in to clear out the rubble, leaving naught but phantoms and ghosts. I remember the statistic that Solidère’s “reconstructing” bulldozers willfully damaged more buildings than the entirety of the Civil War. Meanwhile, these mechanical weapons of mass destruction heaved up uncaringly the unwanted past remembrances found in shards of pottery that perplexed passersby would rescue from a city endlessly committing a slow and silent suicide.
This will be short as I won’t pretend that I knew Von Coates other than through years of reading her blog as well as some email correspondence. Nonetheless, I was very saddened to hear of her passing recently. Quoting her family:
As a social worker and online advocate of hundreds of adopted persons, Liz was a huge-hearted woman, passionate about the rights of others. Her death on 17/05/2020 has been devastating to family, friends and the online community.
When I first started this blog, Von was one of the few who would repost my missives on her blog [link: The Life of Von], opening up connections between domestic and transnational adoption, but also connecting threads of dispossession, displacement, and disinheritance that are not limited to continents or nation-states.
Bilal is the name of a song just released by the Lebanese rap artist El Rass [Twitter: @El_Rass]. I know of El Rass’s music through my cousin Jamal [Imdb: Jamal Awar]. More often than not during drives up to Qurnayel from Beirut, El Rass would be playing on the car stereo system. Some of the things I appreciate most about him as a musician (though my Arabic is barely up to the challenge) is first his inquisitive and critical spirituality, and then also his mixing of Arabic idioms, from classical to street dialect. This gives an oratory nuance and resonance to his words and music that is quite compelling.
This statement was written on behalf of The Adoption Initiative [Twitter: @AdoptionConf], the conferences of which I have had the pleasure of working on and presenting at for eight years now. The Initiative’s 20th anniversary conference was planned for this year; it has been postponed for obvious reasons. So many of the issues tied to the conference overlap with current attacks on Othered communities which often source children for adoption or find their children removed into foster care. This response on behalf of the conference addresses that, in light of current #BlackLivesMatter protests.
[Update: Some fellow adoptees and myself are working on a statement concerning this book and its promotion; stay tuned!]
Are you tired of adopters telling our stories? So am I. I received word of a Zoom event taking place via email due to a conference mailing list I still belong to. It is sponsored by @lsupress (Louisiana State University Press) and the Pittsburgh Consortium for Adoption Studies, and will be moderated by Prof. Ruth Milkman of CUNY Graduate Center. It is a discussion among
adoptive parents an adoptive parent and a parent via surrogacy examining the book Creole Son, written by E Kay Trimberger. Here is my response:
I’ve gotten used to the negative aspects of living as an adoptee in our current pro-adoption world, but I feel compelled to inform you that this email hits like a ton of bricks.
The web site ekaytrimberger.com is hugely problematic on about 100 levels. I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps with the title of her book? The use of the term “creole”—with obvious missionary, colonial, and imperial connotations—is misguided at best, distressingly offensive at worst.
Where’s your negative space? [Fouad Mezher, AUB]
I returned from Lebanon in 2016, after finishing up a fellowship at the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut [link]. Twelve years after having arrived in the country as an adoptee returned, I was coming full circle, completing a research project concerning adoption and trafficking of children from the region. Going back to AUB three years after working there as a professor of graphic design was a strange homecoming. My worries about entering the main gate after so much time away were unfounded; the guards and custodial staff all remembered me, asked after me and wondered where I had been. The greater dread was to be found walking around campus: To former colleagues I would pass as I traversed the bucolic university grounds, I was still a ghost; my failed application for promotion years earlier proved to be my effective death sentence. In hindsight, to describe that place on this level as toxic, and my experience concerning promotion there as traumatic, would be grave understatements.
I was honored to have participated in this much-needed rebuttal to the ever-repugnant New York Times’ article, “What I Spent to Adopt my Child”. Quoting from the piece:
The New York Times (NYT) recently published a piece, “What I Spent to Adopt My Child,” which was part of the larger series, “The Price of Modern Parenting.” In this story, three sets of adoptive parents were featured, highlighting the varying costs of adoption. While the practical aims were arguably simple—to inform potential adoptive parents about the monetary costs they can expect to incur should they choose to adopt—the story sparked considerable outrage among adoptees and birth parents. How, one might wonder, could such a seemingly innocuous article on parenting stir such controversy? The answer lies with a systematic problem inherent in nearly all mainstream media accounts of adoption, namely, the glaring omission of the adoptee perspective. Ironically, the very children adoption purportedly ‘saves’ are rarely offered a seat at the table when it comes to discussing adoption. The reason for this, I argue, is that adoptee narratives overwhelmingly undermine the dominant worldview of adoption as a ‘win-win’ or an unqualified good. Instead, adoptees often provide much darker, more painful, and traumatic stories. They are difficult truths that adoptive parents do not want to hear. They are stories that the adoption industry outright refuses to acknowledge.
You can read the full article here: https://visiblemagazine.com/what-it-cost-to-be-adopted/
Please repost and boost!
This statement is in response to the Vancouver City Council’s recent resolution targeting BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). It has been updated to reflect growing local efforts in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and protests concerning the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Indigenous territory. It serves as the framework
for a project produced by Jamaa Al-Yad Artists’ Collective: Land Back 2020.
In November, 2013, over the course of the month, I collected various responses I had given on Yahoo! Answers and the like concerning the topic of adoption. It was a response to National Adoption Awareness Month, a thirty-day celebration of the industry of trafficking and extirpation that is adoption in the Global North. Each year since then I refloat these answers on social media, and each year I think to myself how desperately sad it is that adoption activists are still at it after so many decades, and also how this seemingly innocuous hashtag of #NAAM causes so much harm to adoptees around the world in terms of reliving the painful reality of what adoption represents.
“The Orphanage”, woodcut, 2015.
I’ve made a PDF document out of all the responses and have uploaded it to my page at academia.edu. The PDF document can be found at the following link:
You can use a Facebook or Google ID to download it.
The original link starts at: https://danielibnzayd.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/anti-adoption-month-30-answers-to-30-questions/.
Maymanah Farhat contacted me to write a two-paragraph art review for Jadaliyya’s 2018 end-of-year art review. I wrote the following instead. With special thanks to Maymanah for follow-up reference to the El-Khiam prison art collection, and to Lara Atallah for her helpful review, input, and suggestions.