Deciding to go: It's Christmas 2001 at the Radke house. Dad's upcoming trip to Haiti comes up in conversation. He's already excited and mentions there's still room on the tour. Going with my dad crosses my mind. It is more than a passing thought. This one doesn't go away.
I have only travelled in Canada and the USA. I've never been to an island or anywhere overseas, but I have dreams of going. Travelling in a third world country would be a totally different experience, especially with my dad. This would be really special, I think. A once in a lifetime opportunity. I mention the idea to my mom. What does she think?
My Dad was ecstatic when he returned from his first trip. I recall this easily; reviewing his pictures and listening to him describe his adventures. I was to learn that I had not totally understood the magnitude of his trip. Pictures don't tell the whole story. My decision was made.
As the time for leaving draws close, I begin to wonder what I've gotten myself into. I think I can handle this but can I really? The orientation session gives us very real and pertinent information to consider. Some express concern with the travel advisory issued by the Canadian government. But I feel assured. I know my dad. If safety was a question, there's no way my father would allow his daughter to come along!
Wherever we travel in Haiti, the importance of family becomes more and more apparent. As introductions are made, eyes light up when they are told that a relation has come with a family member who has been to Haiti. It is an affirmation of the power and respect of relationships. This goes a long way in Haiti and becomes increasingly apparent during the tour. The relationships present on this trip are under development too. A new understanding begins; children with parents and parents with children.
My dad likes to teach people how to do things. I see this first hand when he talks about composting, planting tomato seeds or looking at crops. Even with a language barrier, there is still communication.
The enthusiasm in these moments is contagious and being able to witness it is exciting. These are memories and moments that are shaping our days in Haiti.
I am struck by the number of parent-child relations on this Adventure Tour. There are three father-daughter combinations as well as a mother-daughter relationship. I think of the father on this trip whose daughter is much too young to travel with him. However, we know she too will be infuenced as she hears the adventures of her father and learns from him. Family ties are strong on this particular tour and common themes become apparent. For example, each daughter on the tour is the eldest in her family and similar behaviour patterns are very much in evidence.
The experience of family and relationship went well beyond the group. They were present around every bend of the road, in vehicles we passed, in homes we were welcomed into, in every marketplace we toured and in every community and cooperative we visited. It is a father-daughter experience that will nourish me for years to come.
It was not long after I announced to my family that I would be taking a second trip to Haiti that my eldest daughter, Teresa, announced that she would like to join me! She decided this without any arm-twisting from me. This gave me a great deal of satisfaction that she truely wanted to accompany her father on such a trip. The trip was to affirm many things about her. Teresa is very organized. She was packed and ready to go long before her dad. I tend to be a bit of a last-minute type. I was to learn a few lessons from her! My daughter is also very attentive to her surroundings. She interacts well. Her youthful look, pale skin and blonde hair made her a natural attraction for Haitian children. She also emerged as a remindful daughter, reminding me that she is not a teenager anymore, that I don't need to be so protective. She reminded me to wear sunblock and to remember my passport. The parenting roles often seemed to get reversed!
All the daughters on the trip took great pleasure in oohing and aahing in response to their father's puns or dull jokes. We dads enjoyed the attention and knew how to 'pour it on.'
Of special pleasure to me as the father of my daughter was her interest in Haiti in light of her career in research and development at Parmalat Products. She was ever so eager to visit a Haitian grocery store. Armed with a camera, she headed straight for the dairy section, snapping pictures of her company's products that had made onto a shelf in Haiti. I was as proud of her as she was of her work.
I know she wants to visit Haiti again, but without her dad! I wonder what she means by that?
I am blessed. When I think of my family, I can only think I am blesed. This was not only a father-daughter Haiti trip, this was a mother-daughter trip as well. It was taking a step in the evolution of our relationship, in the journey that is the parent-child relationship.
What has been the impact of seeing, witnessing Haiti as a family? I see in my father the desire to take what he has seen and change this world. He spends more time simply being, thinking, contemplating. He takes an active interest in developing countries, speaking about his experiences to all who will listen. My mother sees the connections between her experience in Haiti and her work, her interactions with the people around her. They have become more aware of the way they walk in this world. Through this, we have grown closer; it has become a journey as a family. Even my little sister has been swept into the fray!
When I close my eyes, I remember the moments with my parents in Haiti. I can only think of the joy I took in their presence, and watching them react. They were reading my thoughts, joy and compassion in a place that has become such a significant place in my life. They afforded me the opportunity to see with fresh eyes. More than anything, they reinforced my absolute belief that they are two of the strongest, most precious people in my life.
For me, this was really a parent-daughter experience since Sarah's mother, Gloria, also came.
With that proviso, we experienced the week as confirming our impressions of our daughter as a very capable young lady. Once again, we were impressed with her integrity and her commitment to developing country issues. It was gratifying to see her in an environment in which she feels so much at home.
When we were Sarah's age, we certainly would not have been able to handle the many demands of this trip, acting as a translator and skillfully handling a group of adults, including our parents! Because of her presence, we experienced Haiti and the work of FIDA in a more immediate way. The Haitians and FIDA workers we met were not just wonderful people, they were also Sarah's colleagues and friends, about whom she had already shared stories with us.
We felt privileged to be able to see Haiti through her eyes and to understand her in this way.
This was not my first father-daughter trip to Haiti. The first was some 30 or so years ago, a graduation present to visit 'the pearl of the Antilles,' as my father exulted with a spirit that has certainly not diminished in time. It has taken me 30 years to appreciate Haiti and its people and to choose to work side-by-side with the mission envisioned by my father. I have become a better person in doing so. He has given me a great gift and I thank him for his inspiration. I feel truely blessed to have such an inheritance.
Taking one's daughter to Haiti is in itself an opportunity. In my case, it is not only one that revisits a relationship, but also a country that has been a part of my life for many years. Haiti has become a life-altering experience for me and I believe it has become so for my eldest daughter. Witnessing great need and the tremendous imbalances in our world can do that to you. It can also bring people together, to respond with a common energy for a common cause. When this happens, one feels a sense of satisfaction and true joy. It is a wonderful affirmation of a vision born of faith; it will carry on.