Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Those Cute, Cute Foreign Orphans

I’ve been riveted by the whole sad debacle of the imprisoned missionaries, jailed in Haiti for taking children across the border without permission. The conversation seems to have changed, ever so slightly, in the past few years, towards a better understanding of how best to help and away from the kind of imperious behavior that these Americans seem to have displayed. (Though, I hear that Angelina may be on the ground in Port-Au-Prince…) From the first, CNN interrupted its “disaster porn” coverage of the earthquake to remind people that the best course of action was not to swoop in and adopt a little Haitian baby, even as endless heart-wrenching stories of accelerated adoptions already underway fueled our hunger to reach out and help.

I was reminded of this wonderfully biting satire by Binyavanga Wainaina (who wrote that great Granta piece, “How to Write about Africa”): 
Hello kitty kitty kitty¦ Are you an orphan? Are you Sudanese? Chadian? Are you a sub-Saharan African suffering from mild mental retardation? Are you an African woman suffering from the African male? Would you like an Oxfam biscuit? Organic antiretrovirals? Have you been raped? You might not know it, but you are an orphan, a refugee. Can we fly 103 of you to France to be loved? We can breastfeed you. We can make you a Darfur orphan. Even if you are not. If you are black and under 10 years old, please come talk to us.
Come kitty kitty.

Isn’t that fantastic? Especially in light of this Haitian story, in which some of the children reportedly still have parents(!). I love “You might not know it, but you are an orphan.” As with the longer piece on Africa, he cuts right to the core of blind sentimentality, the 21st-century Mrs. Jellybys, so sure that they are offering the best help for those whom they are so sure are desperately in need of it. You can read the whole piece here.
Or, as
a commenter in the Times writes: 
Don't play poker with a guy named Doc. Don't eat in a restaurant named Mom's. Don't go hiking without a compass near the North Korean Border. Don't travel to Iran to participate in anti-government demonstrations. Don't take a busload of kids across the border without their parents' permission. That's what my Daddy taught me.

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