Shortly after a major earthquake decimated Haiti in 2010, Mitch Albom and his wife, Janine Albom, decided to take over operations at a struggling orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The children there became like family to the Alboms, especially one little girl named Chika. But at the age of five, Chika became ill. Her diagnosis: a rare brain tumor that no doctor in Haiti could treat. Though the Alboms never formally adopted Chika, they brought her home with them to Detroit to make sure she got the best medical care—just as any parent would.
Chika’s father is alive.
We were always told he was dead. Now we are told differently. This is not uncommon in the Haitian orphan world. Adults who bring us children will sometimes say the parents are deceased to increase the kids’ odds of acceptance.
Driving to the father’s house, we meander through traffic out to a rural agricultural landscape. We park on a dirt road. There’s a small square of land with a large breadfruit tree.
This is where Chika was born. And stepping out in front of me is her father.
He is small and compact, maybe five foot six, with a wide mustache, a full head of hair, and deep bags under his eyes, which are bloodshot red. They rarely meet mine. I ask about his upbringing. I ask about Chika’s infancy. He answers every inquiry with very few words.
He says he was there when Chika was born but was not at home when the earthquake happened. He confirms that after Chika’s mother died, all four of his kids went to live with other people. He doesn’t say why.
I ask whether he knew Chika was brought to our orphanage when she was three.
“Yes, I knew.”
And it was all right with you?
“It was all right with me.”
I don’t ask why he didn’t want Chika back, even though part of me screams for an answer. I remind myself I can never know the circumstances of his life or its hardships. I remind myself he lost his partner, the mother of his children.
I explain the reason I have come. Chika’s medical condition. The brain tumor. He nods now and then, although I’m not sure he understands.
“Whatever you think is best,” he says, “you do.”
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