During the lonely months of COVID lockdown, Garon Wade decided to utilize the time to write a memoir detailing his unique experiences as an orphaned baby adopted three years in to Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war by a white American couple living in a Colombo home that doubled as a CIA safe house. The adventurous couple raised their small international family all over the world – South Africa, Hawaii, The Gambia, Louisiana, and Jordan – and Garon shares a unique story growing up in a world of ambassadors, UN workers, and international schools.
However, along with many beautiful cultural experiences and friendships, Garon was also exposed to incredible trauma. In his memoir, he also shares how his family was living in the Gambia when Yahya Jammeh organized a coup. Later, as a teen, he lived in the wake of terror caused by Al-Qaeda, and even suffered the loss of a friend murdered by the extremist group.
While Garon’s full story is much too long to share here, he provides further insight into the unbelievable experiences shared in his memoir in this interview with LWM staff.
Do you know anything about your biological parents or the circumstances under which they dropped you off?
“I was left on the steps of a hospital in Sri Lanka when I was a baby. For years, I imagined my biological mother had carried me in the early morning hours, before the town of Kegalle was awake, and left me on the steps of the local hospital. Did she look back at me as she walked away? Did she cry? Did I? I have spent most of my life thinking she gave me up because of the civil war that engulfed Sri Lanka. Too little money and no opportunity for a baby boy. But as time has passed, it has occurred to me that perhaps she wasn’t the one who left me on those steps in 1985. Could I have been taken from her? Could she still be looking for me?”
How did you come to be adopted by your American parents?
“In February 1986, a white American couple walked into the Jayamani Center with their three-year-old daughter, Ebony, who they had recently adopted while living in the Philippines. New to Colombo, and still high from the addition of Ebony to the family, they decided they wanted to adopt a boy too. As luck would have it, I was the only boy in Jayamani.
Her name was Niki Wade: a short, slight blonde with a radiant smile and an eagerness to learn as much as she could about the world. His name was Steve Wade: tall, brown hair, strong, and extremely affable. They had grown up as a darling on the homecoming court and a football player at two rival schools in Louisiana, but their lives took a sharp turn in the 1970s when they traveled across the Atlantic to become Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana. Changed forever by this experience, they vowed to continue traveling the world.
Niki had just finished a month living with a remote tribe in the Philippines as she studied to become an anthropologist. Steve had just completed five years as a consultant for Mellon Bank in Manila before accepting a transfer to Sri Lanka. And so here they were, staring at me. It took months of visits and paperwork and heartache, but in October 1986, I came to know them as Mom and Dad. I was carried out of the Jayamani center in my new parents’ arms at ten months old and into a world I could never have dreamed of.”
What was your childhood like? Was the cultural adjustment difficult for you?
“The beauty of being immersed in vastly different cultures for years at a time, and the struggle of leaving friends, are the two things that come to mind when I look back on my childhood. It was impossible to have one without the other. It was a package deal I never really got used to, and yet I understood that it was our way of life. The cultural adjustment of landing in Africa or the Middle East, or the Pacific islands, never felt difficult. In fact, I fell in love with people and their way of life so easily. It was enlivening and illuminating. It was just very difficult to leave them when the time came. As I sat on yet another aircraft at the end of each chapter, ready to fly away to another continent, my silver lining was the promise of a new adventure.”
As a child, you were held at gunpoint by a military officer. How have the unique traumas you’ve experienced impacted your life?
“It is one of my most vivid memories and I will never forget how powerless I felt. Gun violence continues to remain a current in our lives here in the United States, and it makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear of another incident. Having that experience as a child, then as a teenager, having a friend killed by Al-Qaeda, and as an adult, having passengers murdered at my place of work, all with guns, it continues to sadden me to depths of which I can’t fully articulate. And each time it happens, I am right back there standing in the sandy road in west Africa, staring at the barrel of his gun and reliving that fear.”
What was it like having a mother as a sex education teacher?
“In a word: liberating. I loved growing up with the openness around sexuality, and as a result, in my adult life I’m incredibly sex positive. I have continued that openness in my own home as my husband and I talk to our sons about sex and relationships. I explain to them that there are many different ways to have relationships once they are older. While they have married parents, marriage isn’t a must, and plenty of people are happy by themselves or cohabiting without getting married. I talk to them, even at their young ages, about the great importance of consent. We talk about bisexuality. We talk about polyamory. For example, they have met a throuple, and we made sure they understood— everyone just loves each other, it’s as simple as that. I want them to go into the world with their eyes open and with the confidence to engage in what feels right to them without any shame whatsoever around sex or expectation of tradition.”
What is your life like today?
“I am immensely grateful and there is as much sadness as happiness. Someone once told me, ‘Garon, everything always seems to work out for you.’ While I appreciate the sentiment, it doesn’t reflect the path I’ve taken to get here. It perhaps reflects a positivity I have for life’s many possibilities, in spite of the losses that have become a part of me forever. I do think that when you feel sadness deeply, it frees you to revel in the happy moments, of which I have plenty: my sons, my husband, my life as an air traffic controller, and my friends around the world all contribute greatly to this continued belief that anything is possible. In ‘You’ll Always Be White To Me,’ I wrote, ‘This is both the delightful and devastating fact of life: we never truly know what’s next.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Garon Wade. You can follow his journey on Instagram, Facebook, and his website. You can purchase his memoir here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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