Who Am I? – From Judie Oron

small b-w, simonJudie Oron is a Canadian/Israeli journalist and the author of Cry of the Giraffe (Annick Press), a novel based on the true story of her daughter Wuditu’s experience as a child slave in Ethiopia. Her articles have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Lifestyles Magazine, Canadian Jewish News, Christian Woman [Australia], Weekly Press Pakistan and The Jerusalem Report.

Judie studied anthropology at McGill University and African studies at the Hebrew University. She wrote for The Jerusalem Post, including a four-year stint as a weekly columnist.  Later, as Director of the Jerusalem Post Funds, she opened a separate fund for destitute Ethiopian Jewish refugees arriving in Israel via a clandestine airlift from Sudan (Operation Moses). She then left the newspaper to direct an organization that assisted Ethiopian refugees to find their way to Israel.

Judie took into her family two sisters, one of whom she encountered in Ethiopia in 1989. Upon learning that another sister was missing, she returned to Ethiopia in 1992 to find and release the child from slavery.  Since the publication of Cry of the Giraffe, she lectures on Wuditu’s story and on child slavery in the Horn of Africa.

Who am I?

Judie Oron

My name is Judie and I am a citizen of two countries, Canada and Israel. I’ve passed the age of retirement but, although I didn’t plan for this to happen, I’m finding myself moving from a career as a writer to that of an activist.  An event that happened long ago has returned to take over my life, and I find myself researching obsessively, speaking out compulsively – and I don’t seem to be able to stop! Fair warning – if you approach me, I’ll probably harangue you, too!

Twenty-two years ago, I bought and paid for a human being – an Ethiopian Jewish girl named Wuditu, who subsequently became my daughter. Two decades later, I’m still obsessing about so many ‘what ifs’ and  ‘would haves’ that led to Wuditu being where she was and my being where I was at just that right moment. What if I hadn’t woken up to hear her sister crying on that particular night? What if I hadn’t had the patience at 3 a.m. to listen as Lewteh explained that she didn’t believe her sister was really dead?  What if she hadn’t insisted, ‘I can still feel my sister breathing!’

Before all of that happened, I was born and grew up in Montreal, moved to Israel, married and gave birth to two sons. My pride in those two boys, my joy in watching them evolve, was enormous.  But I also wanted to be the mother of girls. I dreamed of adopting but financial constraints made pursuing that dream highly unrealistic. And then, a wave of destitute refugees from war-torn Ethiopia came to Israel and my work brought me into contact with those refugees and later on, with Lewteh and Wuditu.

I should explain that after the fall of Jerusalem’s First Temple in 586 BCE, dark-skinned Jews fled the Holy Land for Egypt and, years later, to Ethiopia. They longed to come to Israel, but the then-Marxist Ethiopian government refused to allow them to leave. So thousands of Jews fled to Sudan and waited in refugee camps until the Israelis could secretly land planes in the desert and airlift them to Israel.

In 1989, Lewteh and Wuditu, then aged 10 and 13, were torn from their family in a violent incident in a refugee camp and forced to walk back to Ethiopia. Ironically, that same night, their family members were rescued and airlifted to Israel.  In the context of my work, I encountered Lewteh in Ethiopia and came back with her to Israel.  Her father was desperately ill and asked me to take the child into my family.  He had paid a man to go to Ethiopia to look for Wuditu but the man returned, reporting that Wuditu was dead. The family mourned and, for two long years, I never asked Lewteh about her deceased sister.

When I learned that Lewteh believed her sister was still alive, I had no choice but to go back to Ethiopia to look for Wuditu. I found her in a small market town in the north of Ethiopia. She was emaciated, ill, terrified and trapped in domestic slavery. I paid for her and took her back with me to Israel. She quickly became a much-loved member of our family and, for nearly two decades, we kept the story of her enslavement a secret.  Every year, on the 21st of February, we celebrated what Wuditu calls her ‘second birthday,’ that is, the day that she was set free. Every year, she began the day by asking, ‘Why are we still alive,’ because that day we were very nearly killed as we tried to escape the town where she was being held against her will.

Four years ago, Wuditu decided that her story must be told and she asked me to write it. I was appalled. Why would she want people to know such an ugly story? But Wuditu was adamant – nothing had changed, she said, children were still being trafficked and enslaved, yet the story was still not ‘out there.’

Reluctantly, I agreed to do as she asked. I wept as I listened to the tapes I’d made of our interviews and I wept as I wrote her story. But when I began researching child slavery in Ethiopia, I came to see that Wuditu was right. This was a story that was written about in the reports of international organizations, but it rarely appeared in newspapers or in the media. People had to be made aware. And the first step to affecting change was to inform them.

Wuditu took a risk in exposing her terrible experience and I would like to make that sacrifice count. I have a wish list of things I hope will result from the publication of her story in Cry of the Giraffe. When people ask me what they can do, I tell them – learn! Read about child slavery and forced labour in Ethiopia. Read the reports and read about a government that tries to assist these poor children but, at the same time, enacts laws that prevent foreign NGOs from working on issues such as those that affect child labourers.

Also on my wish list is the hope that one day Wuditu’s story can be made into a film, for that is the quickest way to expose the plight of all those children still working for no wages and under inhuman conditions, until they either escape or succumb to their desperate circumstances.

I’m so proud of Wuditu. Her courage, strength and wisdom, her sudden brilliant bursts of humour, her unending desire to help people, despite having been treated so cruelly during her formative years – all these have uplifted and enlightened our family. Please, help us to carry her story forward. Let’s make it count!

For more information, please refer to the author’s website: www.judieoron.com.

Who Am I? – From Lucy Sheen

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Lucy, a Chinese adoptee in the UK, has worked extensively on stage, big and small screens, radio, multi-media, corporate training, presentation, commercials and as a drama support tutor.  Recently qualified as a web-designer and now transferring those skills into3D film production.

Theatre credits include Riddley Walker-Exchange; Julius Caesar-Bristol Old Vic; Drink the Mercury-nominated for a TMA award; Hungry Ghosts by Tim Luscombe- nominated for an OFFIE.  Plenty directed by Thea Sharrock;TV credits include: Prime Suspect 2; Eastenders; Lovejoy; Nighty Night Series 2.;Radio credits include: Words On A Night Breeze; Bound Feet and Western Dress.

Lucy is currently developing several writing projects for stage, screen and radio.

 

 

Who Am I?

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. “

E.E. Cummings

“How we remember, what we remember and why we remember form the most personal map of our individuality.”

Christina Baldwin

I think these two quotes sum up for me the journey that I have undergone in order to answer the question “Who Am I”  Over four decades ago as a toddler I was stood on a school desk by my Adoptive mother, the object for a bring and tell*. I’d been dressed in the clothes that I’d worn when I’d first flown over to the UK. Blue trousers and red silk happy coat. I was poked, prodded, pinched and laughed at. As young as I was, I realised that I was not like everyone else. I was different from everyone else. That experience and being slapped across the face at the age of about six, when I asked the direct question, had I been adopted, are the two early defining points for me and who I am. I was not able to define myself physically as I shared no physical or facial similarities to those who lived about me. My likeness was not to be found in any of the black and white TV programs that I was allowed to watch. For the first sixteen years of my life I was defined by other people, my adoptive family, relatives, neighbours, teachers and what those people projected onto me. I was the outsider. The other, a child of difference. In spite of the so called swinging sixties, living as I did in suburban conservative England different was not good. Differences were frowned upon, shunned even feared. My adoptive mother warned me when I was about seven, maybe eight. That if I ever attempted to find out where I had come from, I would be kidnapped by the Chinese embassy and taken back to China. There I would be miserable and have to grow up on a commune. That was the “cold war” working and the West’s fear and misunderstanding of China in the late 50s early 60s. My adoptive mother also warned me that if I did start being nosey, it would prove how ungrateful and wicked I was. The idea of being kidnapped and sent back to China petrified me. At that age I had a vague idea of where China was, but beyond that I new nothing of my culture or racial heritage. China was alien to me. After my adoptive mother had given me this warning I had a recurring nightmare about being kidnapped this lasted well into my late teens. However what that did do is make me want to learn more about China and where I had come from. I used to go to the local library on a weekend and read book after book about China and the Chinese. Most of which I didn’t really understand, but I read them nevertheless. The first three books I read were

  • The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck
  • Journey To The West by Wu Cheng’en
  • Records Of The Grand Historian by Sima Qian

The offering in the local library was not extensive and new books were few and seldom. But as I grew I self taught myself on the culture of China some of its long and complex history. The language I never was able to master. But then in the early sixties without friends of acquaintances that were Chinese how would a person like me learn Chinese?  My cultural discomfort, displacement and disenfranchisement has made me the actor, writer and filmmaker that I am today. I think that it is no co-incidence that I chose a profession where I spend all of my time pretending to be someone else. Speak someone else’s thoughts and express someone else’s emotions. It’s what I call “hiding in plane sight”.  I think over the past couple of years since 2010 I have finally realized who I am. I am Lucy Lai-Tuen Chau Sheen. Actor, writer, filmmaker and transracial adoptee.  Knowing where you have come from and how you got to where you are is very important. You cannot truly move forward, progress or develop if you do not know where you have come from.  If you have no cultural or linguistic foundations identity will always elude you. Now that I understand this, I can stand up and be counted for what I truly believe in as  British East Asian transracially adopted person.

*Bring and tell/Show and tell a popular exercise for school children you would be asked to bring in a object and then stand up in front of your class and talk about the object.

Who Am I? – From Chiew-Siah Tei

ChiewSiahTei2-1Malaysian-born Chiew-Siah Tei is the author of Little Hut of Leaping Fishes (Picador, 2008), winner of Malaysia’s Audience’ Choice Award and listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize and Best Scottish Fiction Prize. A writer who is keen on experimenting with form and medium, Tei produces works that range across literature, film and theatre, in both Chinese and English.

Tei went to Scotland in 1994 to read for an M.Phil. in Media Culture, majoring in film studies, at Glasgow University. A chance participation in BBC’s Migration Screenwriting programme led to the writing of her screenplay, Night Swimmer. The completed film later won Best Short Film at France’s Vendome International Film Festival 2000.

Returning to Malaysia in 1998, Tei worked as a freelance translator and lecturer of media studies at a local college. In 2002, she left for Scotland again to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing and Film Studies at Glasgow University. In between studies and writing, she penned Three Thousand Troubled Threads for the Edinburgh International Festival in 2005.

Tei’s second book, The Mouse Deer Kingdom, will be published in October 2013.  She now lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

www.chiewsiahtei.com

 

Who Am I?

– by Chiew-Siah Tei

 

Who am I?  As a fourth-generation Chinese born and bred in Malaysia, I always know that I am Malaysian by nationality and Chinese by ethnicity, and that I am part of the multi-cultural society and Malaysia is my home.  In Malaysia we have a unique Malaysian Chinese culture, which I embrace.  Some might say the language, the cultural practices, the food, to name a few, are no longer authentic; but then, that is the authentic Chinese Malaysian culture!

I had never, during my adolescent years, doubted my identity as a Malaysian and a Chinese.  My confusion, however, came later during my university years and after entering society, when I became aware of the racial inequalities, and even became a victim of the unjust policies.  It’s the politics and the politicians with their unjust treatments towards us that have confused us – the so-called ‘others’: the Chinese, the Indians and other ethnic minorities who, for generations, have been living in the land– not the country or the culture.

Today, living in Scotland, I can loudly declare that I am Malaysian; there is no doubt about it.  I follow news from home and am closely in touch with friends in Malaysia who are fighting against political and social injustice, giving them support as much as I can, as well as trying to do my part through my writing.  This way, I don’t feel detached from the country – I would if I were to moan and completely alienate myself from it.  Scotland to me, is the place I work in, where I can acquire certain degree of freedom, which I will never be able to enjoy in my own country.

I could understand perfectly if you, a child who was born in China and later adopted by British parents to live with them in the United Kingdom, were confused about your identity.  This is a common issue among persons who live outside their cultural roots, be they Chinese, South Asians, Africans and the like.  History has determined our fates.  It is impossible to go back in time and amend, but there’s time to understand, and with that to accept the unchangeable facts. By acceptance, I don’t mean we should deny our cultural roots, but recognise and inherit the culture, while at the same time, acknowledge the place we feel belonged, regardless where it is, to be our homes.

It is natural that you would want to rediscover your cultural roots, to understand and be proud of them.  I remember how I had tears in my eyes when I watched the splendour displays that accounted the cultural history of China at the opening of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  I was proud of and moved by the richness of the culture from which my ancestors were originated.

We find ways to help us understand or reconnect with the part of history and culture that are absent from us.  Writing my first book, Little Hut of Leaping Fishes – set during the late 19th century in China, where my great grandparents had lived and eventually left for Malaya at the turn of the 20th century – has helped me to understand the history and learned to accept it.

As for you, the Mothers’ Bridge of Love provides a platform to connect with your cultural roots, and to find a balance between the culture you now live in and that of your birth place’s.  With that, I hope that you will be more confident, and always be happy and proud of who you are.

Who Am I? – From Julia Lovell

About the author

Names in file NameJulia Lovell teaches modern Chinese history and literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. She has written three books about China, most recently The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, which won the 2012 Jan Michalski Prize. Her several translations of modern Chinese fiction include Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao (winner of the 2011 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature), Zhu Wen’s I Love Dollars, and Lu Xun’s The Real Story of Ah-Q, and Other Tales of China.

 

Who Am I?

I grew up surrounded by books and music – before they retired, my parents were both teachers (of music, and Latin and Greek). I’m the middle child of three, so we always had plenty of fun outside our reading and music lessons. The only slightly unconventional aspect of my childhood was that my parents moved around a lot: they were very curious to see different parts of the country. So as a child I lived in a succession of houses, and went to a number of schools. Organising the moves must have been very tiring for my parents, but for me exploring new places was great fun. We were lucky to live in some of the most beautiful parts of the country: in the Yorkshire Dales, in north Cornwall and in Norfolk. My parents chose houses with big gardens, so I had a sense of space and adventure as I grew up.

I always loved reading and languages; I think that I probably always wanted to be a translator. But while I was growing up in rural England in the 1980s, there was never any opportunity to learn Chinese. I learnt French, Spanish and German, but China still seemed very remote. I think that I probably hadn’t even met someone from China until I suddenly decided to study the language at Cambridge, where my excellent language teachers were all Chinese. I am very happy that China and Chinese culture seem so much more familiar now; both my daughter and son study Chinese, and they have very good Chinese friends at school. They wish they could eat Chinese dumplings every day, but whenever I try to make them they always fall apart in the water! Luckily, my Chinese friends sometimes take pity on me and make me some.

In comparison with my childhood, I’ve led a very settled adult life. I met my husband while at university in Cambridge, and we have since settled here with our three children. It is a wonderfully lively, cosmopolitan city. But if ever I feel tired of being in the same place, I am refreshed by my frequent trips to China. I first visited the country in 1997 and I still remember how surprised I was by my sense of culture shock and my frustration at not being able to express myself properly. But on that first trip, as on every trip that I have subsequently made, I met many kind people and new friends; I am still in touch with them today, which is a source of great happiness. I always feel sad if a year passes without my going back to China.

MBL at CACH Reunion 2013 (22nd – 24th March)

j1LVQRrcyrql3U1EKc0h3XfgHE-8FaGLOUrmqtBk-yw,67cLcu4fuzAEJIIO4pHwLwhdB5V6eo4gd8YZgk3hxxgDuring the 3-day CACH annual reunion starting from March 22nd 2013, seven volunteers from The Mothers’ Bridge of Love have participated in organizing workshops for more than 165 families and about 200 Chinese children at Dovery Hotel in Daventry. Ms. Xinran Xue, the founder of the Mothers’ Bridge of Love, gave a speech on the current state of the Chinese One Child Policy and delivered a talk titled “Messages from an unknown Chinese mother” to the parents.

Most of the volunteers arrived at the Dovery Hotel during the morning of March 23rd.. They had prepared a day of workshops for the children from all age groups. Bingqian He and Fan Wu were responsible for Chinese Calligraphy, Paper Cutting and Chinese Painting workshops. They taught the children to write “Father and Mother I love you” with the brush and how to cut “double happinesses” and “Four Springs.” Yixuan Wang is a college student who has a deep understanding of Chinese dance and costumes ran two workshops throughout the day to teach the children traditional Chinese dance, which as one parent said, “was an extremely enjoyable experience.” Jiang Li and Yunbian Zhu were Tai Chi and Er Hu masters respectively, and their workshops were all popular among the children and the parents.

At the MBL stall, XIAO Li and LI Xu were busy chatting with the parents regarding their experiences with the children. It was a touching moment when parents shared how they met and grew with their babies from China. Later that day, MBL arranged a Chinese Minority Costume Try-on Session where the children had the opportunity to dress like Chinese minorities and learn about their different cultures. The purpose of this session was to encourage the children to explore a different phase of the Chinese culture.

On the morning of 24th, the three-day event closed with the Reunion Grand Finale. MBL volunteer Li Jiang performed Tai Chi with Yixuan Wang playing Chinese flute in accompany. It was an unforgettable experience for all MBL volunteers to see the love between the parents and their adopted children. It really proves how love can go beyond ethnic, nationality and religion and to reach the very essence of human nature.

 

Report by MBL volunteer WU Fan