“Mister Mitch?,” Chika asks. ”Why didn’t you have babies?”
I pause. “What do you mean?”
“You said people brought you their babies, but you and Miss Janine didn’t have babies.”
I’m writing your story, Chika. What does that have to do with your story?”
Her eyelids lift like a clamshell open. She knows it had everything to do with her story.
So begins Mitch Albom’s true tale celebrating Chika, a young Haitian orphan who survived the 2010 Haitian earthquake, “whose short life would forever change his heart and teach him the true meaning of family,” as the book’s blurb suggests.
In Finding Chika, best-selling author of Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom cycles through short vignettes titled Me, You, and Us as the chapters progress. In them, he weaves the story of an engaging and curious 5-year-old child who develops a brain tumor while in Morrie and Janine’s care. Through the intense search for treatment and hoping for a cure, Morrie marvels at Chika’s sense of wonder. Just like in this choice excerpt:
I followed your lead. I ran after you sledding. I rode behind your carousel horse. I splashed after you in the swimming pool, remember” You invented a game where one pool edge was America and one was Haiti and you padded between them, bringing rice and beans back and forth saying, “Here you go” Eat them! Eat them! Yum! I don’t know where you came up with that, Chika, or why it made you cackle with laughter. But I swam beside you from country to country, and your imagination was a thing to behold.
All of which leads Albom to this conclusion: “Children wonder at the world. Parents wonder at their children’s wonder. In so doing, we are all together young.”
It’s true, Chika has survived an earthquake but, in the end, succumbs to a rare brain disease. Albom’s depicting the departed Chika blessing him with visitations from a world beyond seems to me heart-warming yet haunting. The author’s sense of loss is palpable, but not rooted in despair. In fact, Albom suggests metaphorically that a child can be both an anchor and a set of wings, ones that connects us to the here and now but can transcend reality, in an imaginative future world together, father and daughter. This story, illustrated with photos, kept me turning pages, and I believe is compelling enough to merit a 5* Amazon rating.
Mitch Albom and his wife Janine have founded nine charities in their hometown of Detroit, and since 2010 operated the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage in Port-au-Prince.
Chika Jeune was born three days before the devastating earthquake that decimated Haiti in 2010. She spent her infancy in a landscape of extreme poverty, and when her mother died giving birth to a baby brother, Chika was brought to The Have Faith Haiti Orphanage that Albom operates in Port Au Prince.
With no children of their own, the forty-plus children who live, play, and go to school at the orphanage have become family to Mitch and his wife, Janine. Chika’s arrival makes a quick impression. Brave and self-assured, even as a three-year-old, she delights the other kids and teachers. But at age five, Chika is suddenly diagnosed with something a doctor there says, “No one in Haiti can help you with.”
Mitch and Janine bring Chika to Detroit, hopeful that American medical care can soon return her to her homeland. Instead, Chika becomes a permanent part of their household, and their lives, as they embark on a two-year, around-the-world journey to find a cure. As Chika’s boundless optimism and humor teach Mitch the joys of caring for a child, he learns that a relationship built on love, no matter what blows it takes, can never be lost.
Told in hindsight, and through illuminating conversations with Chika herself, this is Albom at his most poignant and vulnerable. Finding Chika is a celebration of a girl, her adoptive guardians, and the incredible bond they formed—a devastatingly beautiful portrait of what it means to be a family, regardless of how it is made.
Do you have experience with a foster child or children?
Are you acquainted with a special needs child?