Meant to be – a story of international adoption

We adopted our now 21-year old son (and father to be) from western Russia in 2004 when he was seven years old. He had lived since the age of three in a desolate orphanage not far from the border with BelarusDSCN0750. His teenage sisters lived in a different orphanage not too far away. I had met Viktor through a fresh air program that brought him to northern Pennsylvania to meet American families to become part of a forever family. We hit it off, and after six months back in Russia while paperwork was being processed, I went to Russia with my Mom to pick him up. It was meant to be. As destiny would have it, I had started taking Russian language classes on June 19, 1996, the day he was born, and eight years before he became our son.

I read about reactive attachment disorder, and how it presents in children who’ve been neglected. I studied the facial features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, trying to see if Viktor evidenced any on his face and head. I called him a few times, reaching him over a crackly phone, with Viktor asking “shto” (“what” in Russian) when I would speak using my feeble Russian skills. I wanted him to remember me, and to grasp that he would be coming back to the U.S. to be my son. I’m not sure I was successful, given how frightened he was when he realized that he would be leaving his sisters and Russia for a new life in America when my Mom and I went to bring him home.

Now, 13 years later, as I look forward to becoming a grandpa, I reflect back on those very early days with a smile. I did not know then how much our son would struggle to learnDSCN0759 and to come to terms with his past. Through wilderness therapy in Utah, canine therapy in Missouri, a school for dyslexia and word processing issues in New York, high school, and then drug rehabilitation, he/we made it through together, in tact, and able to move forward as a family. Two fathers and a healthy, drug-free son who’s about to become a father to a little girl, our granddaughter.


Remembering Srebrenica through Marš Mira

University of Denver in Bosnia

Day 1: We left our guest house early in the morning to catch the bus from Srebrenica to Nezuk. As we waited to depart more and more people joined us on the bus, everyone from small 6-8-year-old boys and girls to elderly men and women. We set off around 5 am, with a light fog in the air and a mostly full bus. As we drove the driver picked up more and more people along the way, most of them middle-aged or older men with some teenagers, I couldn’t help to think, “Are these men survivors?” It was a very solemn drive with little conversation, just the exchange of pleasantries when people joined the bus.

Once we arrived in Nezuk, the bus driver had to drop us in the middle of the hill, because there was no place for him to turn around at the top. We started uphill with…

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From one dad to another: the Srebrenica genocide 22 years later

Today is the day we remember the #SrebrenicaGenocide. 22 years later, and the pain still endures.


During the early to mid-nineties, when Bosnian Serbs committed genocide against their Muslim friends and neighbors, and as the world stood by doing nothing to stop it, I felt helpless to do something, anything, to try to ease the pain of what was occurring in contemporary Europe, a Europe I had visited and lived in. Oh yes, I remember one time at an art installation sending a letter to a child in Sarajevo, but that was the extent of my activism.  I was disgusted to learn about the massacres in Zecovi, Prijedor, Brcko, and countless other communities throughout Bosnia. I learned about the brutality of the Omarska, Trnopolje, and Keraterm concentration camps, and read in disbelief about the nightmare that was the 1,425-day siege of cosmopolitan Sarajevo where the 1984 Olympics had taken place not even a decade earlier. I watched and waited as world powers did nothing to stop…

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Brussels Places Research On Female Genital Mutilation Centre-Stage

Hilary Burrage

The 2nd International Academic Seminar on FGM was an excellent opportunity to exchange information, meet new colleagues and consolidate old friendships.  For these reasons alone attendance was well worthwhile, but for me this two day meeting on 8 and 9 June 2017 also prompted afreshsome considerations around the fundamentals of the challenge to #EndFGM.   And so I share below some notes on the FGM knowledge gaps and praxis issues with which I think we are all confronted.  Your thoughts on my provisional analysis will be warmly welcomed.

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Bosnia – a reflection

As the world looks to the 22nd commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre on July 11th, I went through some of my reflections, and found one that I wrote back in 1995:

I’ve spent another night in Bosnia
Blood splattered on my face
On a bed of glass, under a weighted beam
I wait for help, but none arrives.

I spent the night in Bosnia
And burned with resentment
Of the loss of my sister by the hands of a Bosnian Serb
Who wore a Rolling Stones t-shirt.

The night falls dark in Bosnia shrouded in its own dirge.
Family dogs are starving.
The wood’s long gone.
We had to burn our couch for heat.

Two years ago (how long ago it seems)
I played soccer and watched MTV.
I went out with my friends, and was pissed
That I wasn’t as popular as I thought I should be.

But then is no more in this hellish now.
There are no remnants of former times,
No sign that I’m in Europe.
The crises I always read about seemed so distant before.
But not now. Oh no, not now.

I lie here and long for the scent of freshly laundered button-down shirts. The smell of Anais Anais on my girlfriend’s clean neck. The casual lounging around the TV. The pain of longing for the past suffocates me. It wears me down more than this damned beam.

The rot of the flesh.
The dampness around my groin from the muck I’m laying in.
The unreachable itch on my left leg.
Is gangrene setting in?

The Nivea cream I parceled out these past two years in on my skin under the layer of dirt, blood, and sweat. I can even detect a bit of the cherished Joop I sprayed on this morning.

At 19, I’m faced with my own death.
I had/have so many dreams,
But my former friends haved turned on we Muslims, so my dreams have turned to mud just like the mud I’m laying in.
I even dated a Bosnian Serbian girl, and hung out with her brothers.
But Milosevic, Karadzic, and Mladic have made them hate me.
It’s not fair. The sons of bitches.

I spent the night in Sarajevo. My city.
A third cold night under this beam.
I’m tired, hungry, and worn out.
I’m not sure I’ll make it.
Does anyone hear me yelling?
Those UN fakes sure won’t. Protection force? Bah!

I’ll probably spend another night here in the wreckage of Sarajevo.
And another.
And another.
Until I’m dead.
No one will know how lucid I still am right now.
Teenagers of the world (just a few hundred kilometers away)
Won’t know of the connections we share.
That I know U2, Bjork, and love Motley Crue.
They won’t know of these things.
As if they don’t matter.
As if I never mattered.












Dad dancing isn’t always so bad!

So I like to fight chronic sitting by getting up from my office chair and moving. I might do some stretches, deep knee bends, jumping jacks, or push-ups. Loosening up my muscles makes me feel better, and provides me with mini moments of procrastination that somehow energize me and bring renewed focus. Some years ago, I learned of a “Dad Dancing” competition in the UK that showcased videos of dads dancing in their unmistakably dad-like way, meaning that viewers are supposed to laugh at their moves. Just google “Dad Dancing,” and you’ll see many versions of dads whose moves elicit belly chuckles, sort of the dad version of “Mom jeans;” they look like jeans, but have their own unique look.

Then, I learned of Jimmy Fallon’s dad dancing segments. This one shows his take on the evolution of dad dancing featuring himself and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie It’s funny to watch, but I realized immediately that dads’ dancing skills are being misrepresented. Not all of us are completely devoid of rhythm, and not all of us require a few drinks before we will consider getting out on the dance floor. I’ve always liked to dance, and have been known to bust a move of my own at parties and weddings, generally the only times I have the chance to dance these days.

That’s when I decided to dance in my office. I find a current highly danceable tune on YouTube, then get up and dance to it to shake off the mid-day blues. My son thought it would be funny to upload one of my workday dances to YouTube, so we did. Here is one from a number of years ago: We both chuckled that it’s to Rihanna’s “S&M” tune, but that was the big hit of the day, so we went with it. Then, he helped me with another one, featuring a Jason Derulo song:

I continue to get up and dance every day, and even sometimes #tweetercise to tunes I find on Twitter. It’s a way for me to break of up the monotony of the work day, while also letting it be known that we dads aren’t just fuddy duddies on the dance floor, and that we can shake it with the best of them!


A Trip to Little Caesar’s

Who knew that a recent quick pizza takeout at a suburban Buffalo, New York Little Caesar’s pizza shop would take me right back to 1980’s London? Kings Road in the eighties was the heart of the London punk scene. As a foreign exchange student to The Netherlands, we took a high school trip to London to take in the sights. I’ll never forget how much of an impression those multi-colored mohawks made on me, the piercings, the torn clothing, and the sense of rebellion that was not in my DNA. I returned to my bucolic Dutch village near the German border with eyes wide open.

As I entered college, The Clash, Madness, Joy Division, and The Cure were the soundtrack to my Kansas college life. I had incorporated a bit of the punk that I had seen in London and in The Netherlands into my Midwest dorm and fraternity lifestyle. I knew then that I was holding on to the western European world and lifestyle that I had absorbed and loved, so much so that I returned to Europe during my junior year to study abroad in France.

But back to the here and now. I placed my veggie pizza order over the phone, then went to pick it up, along with the latest Hailee Steinfeld movie, at our nearby Little Caesar’s. I was immediately transported back to London when the very pierced and darkened eye-browed cashier turned to help me out. During the less than a minute it took to transact our business, King’s Road flashed in my head, as did my seedy Elephant and Castle hotel, and my very frizzy hair that was cut only one time during my whole year abroad. Now 53, with flat-ironed and highlighted hair, and father to an almost 21-year old adopted son from Russia, I saw this young cashier through a father’s eyes, wondering what his interests were outside of work. As an occasional college lecturer, I wondered if Art History was his major, and if he had both struggled and enjoyed some successes during college. Had he even attended college? All of these thoughts came to me as he handed me my pizza and I paid him.

As I left the store, I quietly prayed that the cashier was not mistreated based on his cool look. I prayed that his genuine warmth would continue in the face of so much viciousness in our world. I wondered too where the rebel in me had gone. Had it ever been there?  I got back into my bourgeois Volkswagen Golf, red Golden Retriever in the back seat, and headed for home. I searched for Adam and the Ants on Sirius, but came up short, so I settled for The Smiths, not quite punk, but it did the trick. Many years have passed since those days on King’s Road. It took a creative and friendly pizza counter cashier to take me right back there.