When I tell people, “I’m half Zambian,” I’m often met with looks of confusion, as if I said I was from a ninth unknown planet in our solar system (or tenth, if you’re still counting Pluto). To those people, I’ve explained, “it’s a country in Africa.” That description, however, doesn’t do the country much justice, so I’d like to revise my response a little bit.
Nestled in the middle of Southern Africa, Zambia is bordered by 8 countries, including Zimbabwe, with which it shares the world famous Victoria Falls. In addition to its diverse terrain of hills, plateaus, lakes, waterfalls, and rapids, its 15 million people belong to over 70 ethnically diverse groups. It may appear small on a map (you know, because the U.S. must catch your eye first), but Zambia is geographically larger than Texas and Maryland combined, and in my opinion, it is shaped like a telephone (the kind before they were flipped and flattened). No, I haven’t been there (yet), but I can Google!
In 1985, Zambia “called” a young, blue-eyed woman to volunteer for a year-long mission trip (by the way, if you got that pun at all, you’re my kind of people!). The woman had never flown before, but she had recently graduated from college with a minor in education and was encouraged by her advisor to explore a teaching opportunity. The teaching opportunity was at a Zambian high school. Her mother was nervous but excited for her; her dad and stepmother were not so thrilled. Despite all of the opinions, nerves, and apprehension, she packed her bags.
After she settled in at the Zambia boarding school, she “quickly fell in love with the Zambian culture and the Zambian people,” she once told me. She also really “enjoyed teaching and enjoyed [her] students” (which I just cannot understand, as I’d quickly ruled out teaching on my list of “what I want to be when I grow up” at a very young age). While teaching, she developed friendships with some of the other teachers, and one Zambian teacher, in particular, caught her eye (and she his). He was a God-fearing, handsome young man with a warm smile and chocolate brown skin. Before long, they developed a relationship. As she once told me, their “relationship quickly became intimate,” and “after only a few intimate moments,” the woman became pregnant (as a product of these “moments,” I feel I must insert an “ew!” here, if for no other reason but to add dramatic effect. This isn’t about me (yet) though, so this concludes my digression).
Due to this turn of events, the woman knew she had very serious decisions to make. She knew she didn’t want to marry him and move to Zambia permanently, and having a child would have significant ramifications on both of their teaching positions. No. She could not stay. So in December 1986, she said goodbye to her Zambian home and moved back to the states.
Back in her small town in Pennsylvania (where few African Americans lived, and everyone pretty much knew everyone’s business), she was met with even more challenges. She thought she would come home, confess to the church how she’d strayed, and eventually, “once the shock wore off,” her family and community would be supportive. That was not the case. At the time, there had already been town gossip about two white women impregnated by black men. That news “was looked down upon” (it was a faux “pa”/“PA,” if you will). The young woman’s stepmother too was concerned about what people would think. When the woman suggested that she may want to keep the baby, her stepmother became consumed with worry.
Wanting to make the best choice for her and her unborn child, the woman followed her pastor’s advice and reached out to an adoption agency. The adoption agency offered her much-needed counsel and support as she worked through the emotional decision. Eventually, she decided to move in with a friend in Indiana, where the agency had an office. There, she had access to prenatal care, opportunities for a little income, and regular meetings with the social worker from the agency. Her new community also provided her with enough clarity to decline her stepmother’s request to return to Pennsylvania and help her. She knew that wouldn’t be the best environment for her child, especially a biracial child.
She continued to explore all of her options, as few as they were. She finally decided that, through “all the fears and uncertainties,” adoption was the best option. She also made up her mind that if she was not comfortable with a couple or a couple could not adopt the child immediately, she would not go through with the adoption. Foster care was not an option. She was certain of that.
In the final months of her pregnancy, her prayers were answered. A couple called the agency, looking to adopt a biracial child. The Caucasian couple had already been told “no” by several agencies. After all, how would it look for a white family to be raising a black child? How would they even know how to raise a child so different from them? And what would people think of their transracial family? Regardless, the couple called anyway; this time, it wasn’t a “no.” The agency told them it might just be possible! The couple immediately began working with the agency, hoping they could add a biracial baby to their mix.
And what would people think of their transracial family?
Without disclosing the couple’s names or personal information (closed adoptions were very common back then), the agency provided information about the couple to the expecting mother. She was so surprised and pleased to receive it. As she learned more and more about the couple (and their seven-year-old, biological daughter), the more she knew she “was making the best decision and that God was blessing and providing for both of [them].”
That summer of 1987, the woman delivered a healthy, brown baby girl. She named her Winter Rae (a name that would not be disclosed to the couple by the hospital or the adoption agency, per closed adoption protocols). A few days later, the couple were overjoyed to pick up their newborn bundle of joy, a “bundle” who screamed her head off all the way home.
The couple quickly learned that this newborn would cry whenever anyone put her in a car seat. Even the social worker had to make several stops on her way to meet them. She checked to make sure the car seat wasn’t pinching her. It wasn’t. She checked to make sure her clothes weren’t pinching her. They weren’t. Finally, after enduring miles of screaming, she made it to the couple (grateful for the handoff, I’m sure).
The infant continued to express the same dramatic and deafening discontent on the ride home. Like the social worker had done, they made several stops to make sure nothing was hurting the infant. Nothing was. Perhaps, it was the little, light pink piece of yarn tied in her hair, the piece of string that refused to unwind from her curly ponytail. No one may ever know.
Decades later, the grown girl (you know, me) would have a blossoming career at an car enthusiast organization. Go figure, right?