On the first day, she said hello with a shy smile, and that was it. On the second, she told me her name when I asked, but didn't ask me mine. Our third day conversation was longer—she explained how she travelled by bus for over an hour to get to and from her cleaning job so that she could support her three children as a single mother. I guess her disclosure the day prior made her feel more intimate with me on the fourth day, when she asked:
"How much did you pay for her?"
"Her" was my daughter. We were staying in South Africa for four weeks after adopting her, waiting for my daughter's temporary passport to travel back to Canada. We had wanted somewhere to stay that had a kitchen, so that we didn't have to eat all of our meals in restaurants, and the cleaning service was included in the rental fee to the long-term hotel we chose.
I had known that many people misunderstood international adoption, and was prepared for this question.
She looked perplexed when I explained to her that buying a child was against the law and that the only money we paid were fees to the adoption agency for facilitating our adoption process, paperwork, and court proceedings, and travel expenses like our flights and accommodations.
"So why do you want a black baby?" she asked, with the heartbreaking earnestness that only a black woman in post-apartheid South Africa could pull off.
I told her that my husband and I wanted a child together, I wanted to be a mother, and that having a child who looked like us was not a part of why we had wanted a child. I wanted to be a mom—not have a look-a-like.
She wasn't buying it.
Her eyes narrowed and she looked at me for a long moment, as I stood waiting for her next unfathomable question.
But she surprised me. She began to ask about our life in Canada—did I have a job? Yes, but I was giving it up to stay home with my new daughter until she went to school. Who did my cooking? My husband and I shared the cooking. Who did my cleaning? I explained that this was also shared by both of us.
"You have no maid or cook or gardener?" she asked again, incredulous, because many middle-class white couples in South Africa have at least one domestic employee who cleans and does some cooking for them. I probably don't need to point out that the majority of these domestic employees are black.
I confirmed that we did not have any assistance with household chores.
A huge grin spread across her face, and her eyes widened with a sudden understanding.
"Ahhhh. That's why you want a black baby!" she stated, her voice triumphant.
It actually took a moment or two to register what she meant.
She believed we had adopted our daughter as a maid. Our daughter was eighteen months old at the time.
Nothing I said to the contrary would convince her how wrong she was, and the multiple facets of tragedy in her misunderstanding still haunt me almost five years after the conversation took place.
Hi! Thanks for reading my post. If you'd like to read more of my posts about adoption, you can try this post about what a black angel taught me, or this post, my tribute to the most profound of all South Africans outside of my daughter.