The Traveling Dad

In Career Development, Home Life, International Development, Kids, Tchad on January 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm

I’m off to Chad for about 3 weeks tomorrow.  I’ll cover my thoughts and reactions to my work in Chad in future posts.  But, what I’m in the middle of right now is what a lot of us working parents would call the hardest part – leaving my family for a long business trip.  It sucks, for sure.  The kids start hugging me longer, I have to watch my wife make her logistical arrangements for the evening fitness and yoga classes that I’m usually there to pick up the childcare slack for, and my extended family treats it like a big deal.

When I was a kid, my dad went on trips all the time, at least 3-5 times per year, all over the world.  I missed him, but generally, the time went quickly, we got along well enough and I was interested in hearing about his trips and seeing the pictures of him all over the place.  When I was young, and my dad was about the age I am now, his trips were all to new places he hadn’t been to, so there was this sense of sharing in his adventures.  He would bring me back little tchotchkes and show me some pictures.  I went through a rough time around age eleven, where I was very much afraid of my dad dying on one of his trips.  So the half-dozen trips he went on while I was going through that were especially stressful.  But logic and pragmatism eventually won out.

The thing is, my dad is a scientist and was visiting conferences in Europe, Australia, and Japan.  I’m an international development professional and the places where I have to go are much more dicey, at least to people who may not be as thoroughly informed.  I went to Iraq in late 2009.  I was in Niger last September.   Now I’m going to Chad.  My dad didn’t exactly collect danger pay when he travelled.  This is why I learned to not really worry about him.  He was safer in the air than I was being driven to school.

This leads me to the second hard part about leaving this time  – I’m not only leaving home for a long trip away from my family who are making a show of missing me – but I’m going to a place where I’m really going to have to take care of myself.  In Iraq, I had a personal security detail (PSD) worrying about my security and I was in a secure compound in a walled neighborhood.  In Niger, I had the advantage of my Peace Corps experience, language ability, local knowledge, and friends to not feel stressed about it.

Chad is different – this is all business for me this time.  I’ve got my work cut out for me.  It’s a very challenging environment, even for experienced development professionals.  A former colleague of mine who used to work in Chad was unequivocal – don’t go out alone, in fact don’t go out, unless you’ve got professionally armed accompaniment.  They say by all measures, Chad looks, smells, and feels like any other Sahelian country, of which I’ve now visited seven of them (Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, in case you were wondering) – but Chad is different.

So, as I write this, I’m feeling the gut feelings of a father of two (with another on the way in the Spring) who lost his right to die a long time ago.  I need to make this trip for my NGO, I have no real emotional attachment to Chad (yet) and I’m going there to do a lot of work that I want to prove to my NGO that I can do.  So logically, I know I need to go.  The gut has the excitement of going somewhere new doing battle with the sickening parts thinking about worst case scenarios.  The logic is winning over my gut for sure – Chad is a poor but quiet country – corrupt and hard to govern or manage, but not insanely dangerous or boiling over; I’ll be with my colleagues all the time in controlled situations which I’ll have a hand in planning.

But it still doesn’t make leaving any easier, especially as my younger daughter, having trouble sleeping, feels the urgency of my suitcase at the foot of the bed and hops up to spend the rest of the last night she’s going to spend with me for 18 days.


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