The transit lounge is the archetypal transit space, the point where the hyper-global + hyper-local coincide; a location which blurs traditional conceptions of geo-political boundaries, creating pockets of international space within the borders of individual nation-states. An in-between space, it exists relative to a fixed departure and arrival point, not to the area that surrounds it.

The Transit Lounge is a series of overlapping residencies for Australian and German artists and architects in Berlin. It is also a blog where themes relating to the project will develop, collaborations will be initiated and sustained, and observations on the city collected. The Transit Lounge invites you to participate in these transnational conversations by commenting on the blog.

For more information email us: transit [AT] transitlounge [DOT] org

The transit lounge is supported by Culturia and the DAZ

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tibebu

By Jane Haugh

Last Monday I drove 100 miles to a diner in Latham, New York, U.S.A. and sat down to eat with a bunch of people I didn’t know. Luckily, this is not a restaurant review because in the U.S., Diners are places full of deep fried foods and bad coffee. I went to meet these strangers not for the cuisine but because they have all adopted children from Ethiopia, a possibility my family is considering -- but this is not, strictly, an adoption story either.
A year ago, I would not have been able to identify a child as Ethiopian as apposed to African American or Caribe. Most of the darker skinned children at the diner last Monday had come from Addis Ababa by way of an agency called Adoption Advocates International. AAI runs an orphanage in Addis called Layla House, which I visited in December. I spent a week with the waiting children there and I now find it startlingly clear when I see an Ethiopian face – in Latham at the diner I was clearly watching Ethiopia eating, laughing, talking in American voices while looking at me with Ethiopian eyes. I had expected to find out more about adoption but instead, I sat with a silly grin on my face, happy to be back in Addis, glad to hold a baby for his mother, or pretend to steal greasy French fries from a toddler – ignoring the adults completely.
My new ability to identify ethnic origins aside, time in Africa taught me something subtle about our proximity to each other. When human beings travel, we don’t just move through space -- our bodies transiting through the airport to the taxi to the guest house and back again. Each hand shaken and smile exchanged make the world less strange for all of us. In Addis, at Layla House, I often felt at a loss for what to do. I don’t speak Amharic and these children are from a culture alien to me. In Europe, at least, there are people like me, middle class people with similar hopes for their children, attached to similar comforts (like safe drinking water!), and at least the same alphabet if not a common language. Africa is another matter. Africa is an idea, a cradle, a horn, a great and terrible river, an inexhaustible desert. Before I went and saw it for myself, Africa was mostly a place of bugs and disease and famine and war. And orphans.
There are 1.3 million orphans. Today. In Ethiopia. It sounds and feels impossible to comprehend. It is. But having landed in that place with those particular people around me, I watched the workers at Layla House and began to learn from them a new language, one child at a time.
Mentasinot, Leuld, Honi, Tibebu.
On my first day at Layla, I met and fell in love with a five year old with impossibly long eyelashes named Mentasinot. He’s the youngest of four siblings and waiting for someone in the US to give him (together with his siblings) a hug and a bed and some food. He was an excellent flirt, looking at me from under his eyelashes with a shy smile that broke into a huge grin at my slightest encouragement. In despair, that first day, I wondered who could take four children? When I went to say good-bye on my last day, as I stood knee deep in toddlers I had come to know, I wondered who could not. The day after we left, a couple came to pick up a sibling group of five.
Now, even though I live half way around the world, I can still feel Mentasinot waiting. I smile whenever I look at photos of my trip and one of him comes up.
Another little smile I met is called Leuld, a three year old whose mother died just before we arrived. Each time I walked into Layla, he would find me and hold his arms up. I carried him for hours as he cried and cried some more. When he was up for it, I bounced him on my knee and sang silly songs, then he’d dissolve again, his face hot and damp and tucked beneath my chin off and on for days. The only thing that could distract him was laundry. He loved to help the laundresses and, despite an enormous workload, they patiently let him. When I got home it was a shock to hear people debate the downside of interracial adoption. What were they talking about? Sure, I felt inadequate to the task of comforting Leuld. But not to pick him up because our skins are different colors? He has gone home to a family in Seattle, Washington since then and I hope his new room is full of sunshine and... well, laundry.
On my way home, I had the amazing privilege of escorting a seven-month-old named Honi to her new mother in New York City. I scooped her up off a blanket on the floor of the nursery in Addis Ababa late on a Friday night. The woman who had spent the most time feeding and changing and tickling and rocking and feeding her again, was overwhelmed with sudden tears and had to step out of the room while they changed Honi into a “Let’s Go Mets” outfit they had been saving (the Mets baseball team also has its home in New York). I followed the young caregiver out to where she stood breathing hard, just outside the door and gave her my hand. For one still moment, she looked into my eyes and pressed my palm to her heart. Then she ducked her head and tore herself away.
In my house right now, we are waiting for a referral of a single male child, aged 2 to 6 years old. We say we are waiting for “A Tibebu” after another boy I would have put in my suitcase if I could have. That tibebu has since found a home but another tibebu will, I hope, find his way here to mine. He will be my child then, surely, as much as the 6 and 8 year old girls who crawl into bed with me when they have a bad dream and write me gloriously misspelled mothers’ day cards, and happen to have come from my body.
So you see, the world is moving in next door. Not down the street or into the next arrondissement or county or stadt teil. Right next door or even into your very own house. And it’s not just through adoption. Commerce and friendship, and simply travel itself are changing the neighborhood. And the neighborhood is stretching, getting larger and larger -- mine, certainly, encompasses Addis Ababa. I now know a whole bunch of people who aren’t “like” my anglo-european self. And my hope is that each child I held or tickled or fed will be less afraid of their new world, my world, of (mostly white) America. I went to Africa expecting to be overwhelmed, I came home feeling privileged and full of wonder. I didn’t save a single child but I sure hugged a whole bunch of them.
And somewhere on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, there’s a little girl growing up as a New Yorker. I handed little Honi over at Kennedy Airport to a single mom who had brought her own mother for support. I asked some questions about her new life and, having grown up myself in New York, I could suddenly see her future spread before me. From a floor in Addis Ababa where women die by the thousands giving birth on street corners and there are no street lights, from the hands of a woman with beautiful black eyes and a huge heart who speaks an ancient language – to New York City and a nutritious diet and good healthcare and a closet full of beautiful clothes, to another woman with a huge heart and a manicure and great hopes and plans – to the possibility of a future.
Because I traveled and met Honi and Leuld and Mentasinot and Tibebu, Africa has moved closer than it was before, certainly as close as the Diner in Latham, New York. I am five months back from Ethiopia and, this past Monday as I drove to eat bad food I didn’t think much about the children that would be there. I wanted mostly to connect with the adults for the advice I’ll need from them in the days after my tibebu comes home. But although I share formative experiences with all the white American adults around that table, I was more pleased, gratified, in fact relaxed by the un-foreignness of the children from Ethiopia. What was exotic, has become domestic. What was so alien, is now conceivable as my own family. I am more deeply at home in the world than I was before my trip and for that, I am indebted to the times we live in with the easy possibility of travel in a shrinking world, and to the children of Addis Ababa.

12 comments:

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

I would like to introduce to all of you Jane Haugh !!!!!!

Approximately one month ago I read a text of Jane´s, and I thought immediately: that is a very alive description of a transit atmosphere.
Our first correspondence started with my question, would it be possible to publish her text in our Blog.
The answer was: No. No, because this story is making its way towards its publication in a conventional American magazine
Because I did not know anything about her, with the exception that she has something to do with art and literature, and she is the partner of a friend of my friend ... ., I continued to ask, who she is actually.

Here her self description, which she gave to me:

„As for where I've been ... I was a neo-classical dancer in my first life (that means sur le pointe but not a lot of Swan Lake stuff). I retired and was a Creative Writing Fellow at Columbia University in New York City when I met my partner. Since then, I have been at home doing the job of raising our two children. In my spare time, I've written and published articles in a magazine called "Adirondack Life" which has won some U.S. awards. I am trying to get back to writing fiction.“


It speaks for the Blog and for the whole idea of Transit Lounge and perhaps also a little for the exchange of ideas, which I have with her, that Jane decided to write a new story. Superfluously to say I am very glad she did.


Thinking about her story, the word longing and it´s possible associations manifested in my head.

Longing as a constant companion on the transit by the life.

What is the driving force behind our individual and cultural development? What lets us go on. What drives us?

Longing seems to be a central phenomen in human lifespan.

In this piece, longing has to do something with hope. With the hope to make the world a little better, to grow closer. The hope to work on an exchange between the cultures, between humans. The hope not to close the eyes, but to intervene actively.
Life can always be described as an uncomplete enterprise – of course we construct from an individual and general perspective an ideal. But, finally, this utopia cannot be reached because life is an ongoing process. These constructed ideals are unattainably in principle.
In this piece, the need and the desire for interfering and participating in, and also to rearrange the world, is manifest as a possibilitiy to develop a reciprocal relationship to another culture through adoption.
A step with substantial consequences and it is final, but not in its whole arrangement finally.
Longing as a constant in the life does not remain the same. It changes the accents during the lifespan. The things which just still appeared important receive another direction. But in principle we do not become it loosely as a constructional element of our life. It is at least always latently present.

Reflecting the german word for longing: Sehnsucht, it has more from what I would like to express.

It consists of two components: Desiring (Sehn -) and insatiable craving (Sucht). Particularly the insatiable craving makes clear that one does not get rid of it.
And I think it is also very good to have such a reliable partner in the life. It gives us a chance to the hand to do something, to aim at a goal, to change something.

Kathrin Zöller

Tanja Kimme said...

hi
this is quite a touching account, but i am not sure why it is posted here.
i frankly don't see the connection with the transitlounge.
it sounds to me more like an appeal to charity.
it's kind of confusing!
why don't you post a link instead of posting such a long essay please?
or post a short synopsis, and the whole article in your comment?!
cheers

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

Perhaps you have not simply understood a little bit. Also literature is an art form. The Blog seems to me more than visual based. I found it in the time to place some words on the contrary.
How you interpret the text is your free subjective decision and/or left to your personal feelings.
A Blog is put on exchange. This has also something to do with tolerance and to be openminded. Up to now I did not have the impression that transit lounge goes only around own navel gazing.

The Blog contributions " You tube " have to do for me actually nothing with art. Here somebody looks out of the car. Art detached from every contents. Without any sense and in banality not to excel. Perhaps it stands for the post-capitalist society that even art can meet no more statement.
In the contrast to it Jane's text has a content, and we can exchange ourselves about that point controversially, however, please, content-related and not only organizationally.

Kathrin Zöller

ben said...

Katherin, you last post seems quite strange to me. I do not think that Tanja was disputing the artist merit of the article that you posted.
From my reading of her comment, she raised two points: the relevance of the post to the transitlounge project and the length of the post.
While I also find the connection between transit lounge and jane’s article somewhat limited, I think that it is great that there are a variety of voices on the blog and do not have a problem with the content.
But, I do agree with Tanja regarding the form of the post – posting a 1500 word essay (especially when it is not your own work) dominates the blog and overwhelms other people’s posts/idea/work. In my opinion it would have been better to introduce the article and provide a link to the article for those interested to read it. Thereby providing the content, without dominating the blog’s screen real-estate.

Your attack on other members of transit lounge’s work is insulting and misguided. I find your assertion to know what is art and what not, arrogant at best. You have not simply understood a little bit… that ‘art’ can address issues beyond your seemingly narrow definition. While social analysis in a post-capitalist context may provide interesting ground for artist expression, it is certainly not the only topic or field worth exploring.

Ben milbourne

Katie Hepworth said...

I think that the question of organisation is relevant to this discussion because there was obviously a conscious decision to seperate the text and your reasons for posting it. And I can't help thinking that I wished that you'd reversed the way you'd posted the two parts. Your questions and interpretations and deviations in your comment contextualise the story within the framework of the blog.

In many ways its the gaps in the text rather than the text itself that address some of themes of transit. Home, culture, identity and displacement. The image of the boy being changed into the Mets outfit says so much about the way in which we construct identity and belonging - and home. There is something I find troubling in it too, in this replacement of cultures.

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

Hi Katie,

thank you for your moderating words.
I placed the texts for the following reason into this order. How has gotten around certainly, I am the single non artist and non-architect, although I have together an architect's office with Detlef.
I stress once more that I am very happily to be able to participate in transit lounge. Not to be an artist and non-architect, also implies that I bring myself in with other means.
From the discussion with artists and architects and their reaction to my contributions it is clear to me that I am perceived mostly as too politically.

My medium are the words, the quotations and the interpretation of these - and finally Jane's text is a long quotation for me. From my view the procedure of interpreting and subjective evaluating is a creative process.
Because transit lounge addresses, first of all, artists and architects, it is natural for me to to give them a priority before my own person.
Logically the authoress must go to the first place - she is the artist.
Who remembers my lecture in the DAZ, knows that I only has quoted sociologists and philosophers, who are dead for many years, to underpin my more or less scientific speech.
I felt it as a happy circumstance to have by chance a contact with an American authoress who enables me to present to you a very alive, current and not scientific piece in the Blog.

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

Hi Ben,

I wanted to offend or degrade neither you nor other artists or architects. Please understand my comment as a very clear note or criticism. Political scientists tend to make a problem out and to provoke. We believe in being able to get going in this way a constructive discussion process.
Finally this has to do something with lived democracy.
The fact that the videos do not release anything with me is nevertheless insignificant.
It is only an opinion of many which is to be registered, however, in no comment in the Blog.
I would gladly open the discussion about what you would like to express with your videos and how the other participants interpret your contributions.
Let me briefly deal with the counted words. Germans do not count words in daily life, only in the school in the English lesson. I believe it´s an anglo-saxon habit. So I find it a little bit strange to think about such items. I myself have done no thoughts about the length The text needs so much place, as it just needs. Who would not like to read it, leaves it. It can be no speech by dominance, at any time you can bring back your videos in the foreground. That is a very simple technical thing.

Kathrin Zöller

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

Jane has sent me the following comment:

I am new to Transitlounge and am interested in your comments about this piece. The length of the piece is not something I can judge (having written it and having never read a piece of writing on this blog). But the content is another matter.

I think it is interesting to ask how we engage people emotionally when describing an experience we have. For me, the piece is about how we are able, in this time and this place and through travel, to be touched by people on the other side of the world. Maybe I am older than some -- when I was a child, Americans stayed in America and Europeans stayed in Europe. Unless you emigrated, you didn't see people who lived very very differently than you and your family did

Now we can have these amazing connections with people. We can be touched by their plight. We can ask the questions of culture, not as a theoretical psychological exercise, but because we live in a world where cultures are bumping up against eachother right in our own homes.

amazing!

I am sad if this didn't come through as the main thrust of the piece. cartainly, we could have edited
it, but then I have to ask again how do we, as writers, open strangers to our emotional experiences if not through personal anecdote?

again... i am too long I fear!

J.L.Haugh

Katie Hepworth said...

jane-
In response to your comments
I grew up in a home with people that came from somewhere else. Family that came over in the times when you say that europeans staying in europe and americans in america. I grew up here amongst memories, sotries and languages from over there. Old black and white photos and small artefacts lovingly shown. Long distant phonecalls and connections to people that I´d never met, have only now met once, twice, briefly.
and now I move, back and forth. and like many of the people that have shared time and space in the transit lounge find the question where do you come from, where do you live, or what´s your background slightly complicated to answer. So from that I wonder what your response is to the people that criticise intercultural asoption, and the reasons they give. and I more personally i think of the chilren that you played with and how they will construct their identity between a place vaguely remembered and the place in which they grow - and how you will mediate that

jodi said...

I found the original post a heartfelt and ultimately positive expression of how a new sense of community can be developed through an individual's actions. The question of relevance, either in regard to the text or the video mentioned, seems to me neither here nor there. Something about transit spaces is that they open us to a series of impressions, experiences and connections that may seem fleeting or random at the time, but later take on layers of significance or meaning, depending on our interpretation and the value we give them.

As someone who grew up in a 'multi-cultural' society (as the official term was back then in australia) from a bohemian anarchist hippy background with constant movement between houses, suburbs and cities depending on the circumstances of my single mother, I am very familiar with the urge to create communities and find a sense of belonging, wherever one is.

This is the central idea that comes across for me, both from Jane's story; the text Kathrin wrote to contextualise it; along with the creation of Hugo's mini utopia and the call to question kapitalist spaces. Something about 'longing' also touches me deeply. It is the desire to create our own utopia, that can be shared and adapted between the people we find ourselves in community with, both local and international, virtual and physical. The longing for the possible, not the unattainable is what drives me now, to recognise and nurture the connections that help us belong to each other, rather than focus on the points of difference.

Longing is always in transit, from one state to another, never fixed to one object or desire.

Transit Lounge said...

I think this discussion has separate layers: the formal one and the content one. In terms of content I believe everyone should have the freedom to post whatever inspires them and is relevant to their thoughts and work. To maintain a relevance though it is necessary to comment, to open up a dialog why a text/image etc. appears to be a piece of information to be shared, otherwise you might as well write it in your diary. Janes text is of course a part and aspect of transit that is especially interesting to think about in the transit lounge content: I became interested in transit precisely because of those international interactions, infinite possibilities and the situation of constantly "leaving" as well as leaving someone or something behind. It also raises the question how those "global" kids will deal with themselves and others in the future- just recently I read this article about Tongans born in the States who became criminal in gangs and got send back to Tonga in order to free some prison cells in the U.S. and are not allowed to enter the US again. They return to their "home island" which they have never seen before, feel no connection with and only continue what they did before: becoming criminals in gangs, waiting for the moment or chance(some marry a Tongan who is free to leave Tonga so they can go back to the States with them)to not be a prisoner of and in their own homeland any longer.

On the formal level it is the first time we talk about arranging and posting, which is important so the blog can also achieve its own individual "face". And given that most of us have different cultural backgrounds and as Australians, Germans, Europeans and Americans have also different experiences, history and prejudices this face is starting to become a real character with lines, wrinkles and various coloured eyes.....

Miriam

Tanja Kimme said...

hi,

i have to admit that i posted a rushed comment, and maybe i should have chosen my words more carefully.

but i did spark a proper discussion, which has not happened on the transitlounge blog before...

so i'm not sorry.
:)

basically i mainly thought it was too long a post, as a physical space taker on the face of the blog. and i did not mean it should be edited, but to be a couple of paragraphs long and then the option to click on a link to keep reading.

i would like to mention, that i grew up in the time jane mentioned, and that americans did not all stay in america (europeans in europe, etc).
i am one of those kids they call third culture kids today, though i prefer the term global nomad. whose parents work in embassies, are teachers, doctors, aid workers or missionaries.
i grew up in africa, indonesia, peru and germany, and i have lived in singapore, germany and australia since i finished school....

so, to me the text probably sounds different than to others, who have stayed 'home' growing up.

but that does not really matter.

long live democracy and freedom of speech!