Tuesday, October 31, 2006

African Baby Bandwagon

Recently, Madonna adopted a baby boy from Malawi with the popular name of Daniel Banda. (Read more about it here). During my trip home this past weekend, several people asked me what I thought about this. I hadn't thought to make a blog post about it, but after expounding ad nauseum at the church bazaar, to my family and during the wedding on the topic, I thought it would just be easier to write a blog.

First, let it be said that Madonna is doing this boy a great service. Somewhere in the ballpark of 44% of Malawian children are chronically malnourished and 22% are considered "stunted' for their age (meaning their height-to-weight ratio is all out of whack). Although I can't say for sure, my guess is that this is due basically to the lack of pre/post-natal care, nutrition, sanitation and regular doctor visits. With Madonna, he is going to get enough to eat, clothes on his back, vaccinations and excellent schooling - something that we all take for granted but are severely lacking in developing countries like Malawi.

Secondly, let it be said that Madonna is also doing this boy a great dis-service. Although it's not unusual for children to be placed into orphanages even if their parents are still alive (as Daniel's father is), it IS unusual to be removing this child from its cultural context. I think I read some where that the father will be allowed to visit in England once a year, but surely there are also brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles who - unlike in America - are much much closer to the child and would also like to visit. Will this child grow up rooted in an extended African family, or will it become part of the globo-baby jet-set who are 'citizens of the world'? Granted, Malawi is not the place people dream of building a summer home in, but shouldn't the child go to Malawi instead of the family heading to England? At least Maddox got a hut in Cambodia.

I'm no child psychologist, but what will the cultural/emotional ramifications of this adoption do to this poor baby? Is it even worth debating if he gets the chance at a hot meal and a life out of poverty?

That being said, this child is also like the golden ticket for the Banda family. From what I understand about Malawian culture, this child will be sought after, harangued, chased down, called up and pretty much pestered into helping his extended family members - if they ever find out how to get in contact with him. And you know what? I kind of think it's Madonna's duty. She took their child, after all. In fact, I think she shouldn't have stopped at adopting just the kid - given that his family is still alive, she should've also set aside a trust for them, or adopted their village or something. After all, it takes a whole village to raise a kid, not just one white lady from Detroit.

Part of the problem in Malawi is the fact that individualism as we see it here in the West doesn't exist. It's called the 'poppy syndrome'; all the tall poppies in a field are cut down (but if you don't stick out, you'll stay standing). The same reasoning exists in Japan, exemplified by the saying "The nail that sticks up will be hammered down." Removing one child doesn't solve the problem that the ENTIRE boat is sinking. Something needs to be done about everyone, at once, instead of person by person (who is then pulled down by the needy extended family). Whoever advised Madonna about this adoption either a) failed to grasp this concept or b) forgot to mention it.

Madonna has gotten a little less press for another initiative she's putting together - her organization Raising Malawi. It's gotten alot of press due to the supposed Kabbalah underpinnings. While I don't condone prosteletyzing - well, I can't say she isn't the first one in Malawi - I also can't definitively say that Kabbalah shouldn't be taught. I really know nothing about it. I get the feeling that from this angle anyway, the press has blown things out of proportion. It's not like she's opening a Kabbalah madrasa (Watch out! It's a jewish jihad!). Perhaps it will only manifest itself in a morning hug. And who wouldn't like a hug in the morning?

Perhaps the only thing we can really blast Madonna for is lack of originality. I mean, adopting kids in the 00's is like adopting a rainforest in the 90's (or adopting a solar system in the 80's). Why don't we see any stars funding pit latrines? or a well trained police force? or mental health clinics? (talk about an underbelly of the underserved!) Is it that the poor don't need to use the toilet, or have laws enforced, or a safe place to recover from trauma?

It seems to me that stars take the best and the worst of their celebrity "for a good cause". Some child gets a red-ribbon on their wrist (if I'm not mistaken, a symbol of Kabbalah beliefs) and she gets some good press and a sexy cause.

But on the other hand, people now know where Malawi is.

What do YOU think?

M is for Madonna;


emira said...

M is for Material girl. I agree with everything you said, but then again I rarely don't agree with you. I think that once I make my first milion I will go ahead and adopt myself a baby from each continent, just to make myself feel a bit more global. Whatever Ms. Madonna's motivations we can all agree that she's giving an orphaned child a home, and that is always a good thing. Miss ya much.

Sinister Minister said...

Hey, M,
This is Megan's bro-in-law Will again. Remember?
Anyway, thanks for blogging on this. I've been curious to hear your take since this story broke.
I say if this keeps Madonna from making any more movies, then I'm all for it. We're all better off.