Two Men – Adventures in Africa

I am reading the book, Exterminate All The Brutes by Sven Lindqvist, which is not at all what I expected. In yesterday’s reading I found linked two men with books set in the Congo. Henry Morton Stanley, who wrote In Darkest Africa, published in 1890 and Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness, published in 1899. I read that both grew up motherless, both had been adopted by benevolent father figures and that both ran away to sea, changed their name, home country and identity. This I thought this a worth topic for my Missing Mom blog. So some historical stuff today.

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Stanley was born in 1841 as John Rowlands in Denbigh, Denbighshire, Wales. His mother Elizabeth Parry was 18 years old at the time of his birth. She abandoned him as a very young baby and cut off all communication. Stanley never knew his father, who died within a few weeks of his birth. There is some doubt as to his true parentage. As his parents were unmarried, his birth certificate describes him as a bastard. His baptism registry indicated that he was the bastard son of John Rowland of Llys Llanrhaidr and Elizabeth Parry of Castle. The stigma of illegitimacy weighed heavily upon him all his life.

The boy John was given his father’s surname of Rowlands and brought up by his grandfather Moses Parry, a once-prosperous butcher who was living in reduced circumstances. He cared for the boy until he died, when John was five. Rowlands stayed with families of cousins and nieces for a short time, but he was eventually sent to the St Asaph Union Workhouse for the Poor. The overcrowding and lack of supervision resulted in his being frequently abused by older boys. Historian Robert Aldrich has alleged that the headmaster of the workhouse raped or sexually assaulted Rowlands, and that the older Rowlands was “incontrovertibly bisexual”. When Rowlands was ten, his mother and two half-siblings stayed for a short while in this workhouse, but he did not recognize them until the headmaster told him who they were.

Rowlands emigrated to the United States in 1859 at age 18. He disembarked at New Orleans and by his own account became friends by accident with Henry Hope Stanley, a wealthy trader. He saw Stanley sitting on a chair outside his store and asked him if he had any job openings. He did so in the British style: “Do you need a boy, sir?” The childless man had indeed been wishing he had a son, and the inquiry led to a job and a close relationship between them. Out of admiration, John took Stanley’s name. Later, he wrote that his adoptive parent died two years after their meeting, but in fact the elder Stanley did not die until 1878. This and other discrepancies in Stanley’s own autobiography lead some to argue that no adoption took place.

Stanley reluctantly joined the American Civil War, first enrolling in the Confederate States Army’s 6th Arkansas Infantry Regiment and fighting in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. After being taken prisoner at Shiloh, he was recruited at Camp Douglas Illinois by its commander Colonel James A Mulligan as a “Galvanized Yankee.” He joined the Union Army on June 4 1862 but was discharged 18 days later because of severe illness.  After recovering, he served on several merchant ships before joining the US Navy in July 1864. He became a record keeper on board the USS Minnesota, and participated in the First Battle of Fort Fisher and the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, which led him into freelance journalism. Stanley and a junior colleague jumped ship on 10 February 1865 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in search of greater adventures.  Stanley may have been the only man to serve in all three of the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy. He is remembered for the line – “Dr Livingstone, I Presume ?” Henry Morton Stanley wrote In Darkest Africa published in 1890. This is how his story intersects with the next one.

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857 in Berdychiv Ukraine. His family called him “Konrad”, rather than “Józef”. His father was arrested and imprisoned in Pavilion X of the Warsaw Citadel. Conrad would write: “[I]n the courtyard of this Citadel—characteristically for our nation—my childhood memories begin.”

His father’s sentence was commuted, and the family was sent to Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine, where conditions were much better. However in 1865 his mother died of tuberculosis. His father also died of tuberculosis in 1869 leaving Conrad orphaned at the age of 11. The young Conrad was placed in the care of his mother’s brother.

Since he showed little inclination to study, it was essential that he learn a trade; his uncle thought he could work as a sailor-cum-businessman, who would combine maritime skills with commercial activities. In the autumn of 1871, thirteen-year-old Conrad announced his intention to become a sailor. At the age of 15, he was sent to a boarding house for orphan boys. The owner’s daughter recalled: “He stayed with us ten months… Intellectually he was extremely advanced but [he] disliked school routine, which he found tiring and dull; he used to say… he… planned to become a great writer…. He disliked all restrictions. At home, at school, or in the living room he would sprawl unceremoniously.”

“Living away from one’s natural environment—family, friends, social group, language—even if it results from a conscious decision, usually gives rise to… internal tensions, because it tends to make people less sure of themselves, more vulnerable, less certain of their… position and… value… ” ~ Zdzisław Najder

After nearly four years in France and on French ships, Conrad joined the British merchant marine, enlisting in April 1878. His book Heart of Darkness was published in 1899 and like Stanley’s account is set in the Congo. To Conrad’s credit, his contains bitter reflections on colonialism. Conrad regarded the formation of a representative government in Russia as unfeasible and foresaw a transition from autocracy to dictatorship. Conrad’s distrust of democracy sprang from his doubts whether the propagation of democracy as an aim in itself could solve any problems. He thought that, in view of the weakness of human nature and of the “criminal” character of society, democracy offered boundless opportunities for demagogues and charlatans.

Concerns About Illegal Adoptions

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has appealed to the United Nations to facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who have been “illegally deported” to Russia.

In a statement, the ministry said Russia had engaged in the “illegal and forced displacement” of Ukrainian children, “among them orphans, children deprived of parental care, as well as children whose parents died as a result of Russia’s military aggression” across Ukraine’s borders to Russia.

The statement reads:

In violation of international humanitarian law and basic standards of humanness, Russia is engaged in state-organized kidnapping of children and destruction of the future of the Ukrainian nation.

Such actions of the Russian occupiers can be qualified as kidnapping and require a decisive reaction from the international community, primarily from the relevant international organizations.

Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russian forces of forcibly deporting thousands of children from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine since the war began.

Earlier this month, two individuals said they and other women and children were forcibly transported to Russian territory from the besieged city of Mariupol in March. The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has denied these accusations, claiming “such reports are lies”.

~ source The Guardian reporting

Because I am generally against adoption in most cases, and even though I know that the US has no high moral ground, as I am aware that children arriving unaccompanied at the US border were taken in and most likely, too many adopted by families that were total strangers to them, I am still concerned that this same unfortunate situation is also happening to Ukrainian children. I know the circumstances are not equal but the outcomes are equally concerning.

Forcibly Removed

It’s hard to know what to say about the most recent news coming out of Ukraine. The Russian occupiers in the eastern part of the country appear to be moving people from there into Russia. The latest was that 2,389 children have been illegally removed from Donetsk and Luhanks oblasts to Russia. This follows news from yesterday of several thousand Mariupol residents having been deported to Russia.

It has been reported that after processing at “filtration camps”, some had been transported to the Russian city of Taganrog, about 60 miles (100km) from Mariupol, and from there sent by rail “to various economically depressed cities in Russia.” Ukraine’s human rights spokesperson, Lyudmyla Denisova, said Ukrainian citizens had been “issued papers that require them to be in a certain city. They have no right to leave it for at least two years with the obligation to work at the specified place of work. The fate of others remains unknown.”

Russian news agencies have reported that hundreds of people, that Moscow calls refugees, have been taken by bus from Mariupol to Russia. Denisova said the “abductions and forced displacements” violated the Geneva and European human rights conventions and called on the international community to “respond … and increase sanctions against the terrorist state of the Russian Federation”.

In a time of war, it is difficult to know what is true or not. I am reminded of how German Nazi’s removed Jews to concentration camps during WWII. Whether fate will be kinder to these people remains to be seen. I can only imagine what a difficult trade-off it is between constant bombardments, hiding in shelters without food, water and heat, and the relative “safety” of being removed as the onslaught continues.

Regardless, the developments cause a deep concern in my own heart.

The Strange Case of the Ukrainian Adoptee

Not the child in this story.

She had traveled from Ukraine to the rolling hills and cornfields of Indiana, only to wind up on her own in a strange city. When police checked in with the girl in September 2014, it had been more than a year since she had seen or heard from her adoptive parents, who had changed her age from 11 to 22 on official documents and rented her an apartment before moving to Canada and leaving her behind.

This is strange enough but the story gets stranger from there.

The couple who abandoned the girl disagree about whether she actually was a child — or an adult pretending to be one.  The mother, now divorced from her husband, claims that the adoption was a “scam” and that the girl was a diagnosed psychopath and sociopath, who had been an adult the entire time they knew her.

Her ex-husband tells a different story.  As far as he was concerned, police said, the girl was a minor when they switched her age and left her behind in Lafayette Indiana. He also told detectives that his wife had counseled the girl to tell people that she was 22 if questioned, and to explain that she just looked young.

The family had adopted the disabled girl from Ukraine in 2010 and she came to live with them and their three sons in their cozy suburban home north of Indianapolis. The girl would later tell detectives that a different adoptive family had initially brought her to the United States in 2008. Though no details are provided in the police affidavit, there were apparently complications, because the couple in this story adopted her two years later.

The girl’s actual age was difficult to establish from the beginning.  In an Indiana probate court, they adoptive parents legally changed their daughter’s age from 11 to 22 and provided a letter that purportedly came from a doctor who said that the date on the girl’s birth certificate was “clearly inaccurate,” since she had both the teeth and the secondary sex characteristics of a grown adult.

The girl had been committed to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with sociopathic personality disorder in 2012, and, around that time, started to admit that she was over 18. Determining her true age was difficult, the letter states, because records provided by Ukrainian officials were “grossly incomplete” and her condition, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (dwarfism), meant that the typical assessments weren’t helpful.

When her adoptive parents rented her an apartment in downtown Lafayette Indiana, she knew no one else there. What happened next is unclear.  It is said that the girl’s neighbors “took her under their wing.”  In May 2014, less than a year after her adoptive parents left her alone in the apartment, she was evicted for not paying her rent.

In September 2014, the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office tracked down the adoptive daughter, who would have been 12 or 13 at the time. Legally, she was considered to be well into her mid-twenties.  Another five years passed before her adoptive parents  were finally charged with neglect.

When another couple petitioned to become her guardians in 2016, the adoptive parents filed an objection.  Two years later, the new couple changed their mind about the adoption, for reasons that weren’t specified. The adoptive parent’s petition was subsequently dismissed.

Stay tuned.  Authorities have hinted that there could be even more strange details to come. “This is going to end up on a TV show,” an anonymous law enforcement official remarked.