“John William Carey,” a voice boomed through the penthouse apartment. “You had better get out here and face the consequences.”
I hid in our Port-au-Prince apartment after stabbing my twin brother, Matthew Michael Carey in the forehead. A permanent four-pronged scar remains visible to this day. Anthony Patrick Carey, or “Pat” to nearly everyone, searched the apartment for me. Matthew and I had fought over a lunchbox, but those details did not matter and Papa was mad. That was 1980, the world was a different place and this was one of my first memories as a child. We only stayed a few months in Haiti, but I remember asking Papa if “Baby Doc” was a doctor for babies and when we were worried that Santa Claus might not find us in Haiti, Papa assured us he would, and years later, he confessed to jingling bells as if Santa’s sleigh was outside of our bedroom on Christmas Eve.
Pat was born in Maine, studied in Washington, D.C. and Brattleboro, Vermont, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Karnataka, India. He adopted my brother and I in 1975 and CARE played an enormous role in our lives. Haiti was our first overseas posting as a family. The next 30 years took us all over the world including Brooklyn, New York; New Delhi, India; Manila, Philippines; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Atlanta, GA. He passed away on May 28, 2004.
“Papa, where’s Stanley?” I asked, as we walked to my new public school in Brooklyn. Stanley was our driver and friend in New Delhi, India when we lived in Hauz Kaus.
“John, this is Brooklyn, New York. Stanley is in India,” he said coolly. This was one Papa’s favorite stories. The privileged life was over.
For the next five years, Papa juggled a daily commute to CARE headquarters in Manhattan, traveling overseas, and raising us as a single parent. Dinners were enormously important to Papa. He insisted on us eating together every night and talking about the day — this pattern would continue for the rest of his life – dinners had required attendance. The vivid memories of Brooklyn and the United States are a big part of my identity. I love New York sports teams and people claim my Brooklyn accent is still present.
My strong family ties and passion for politics solidified during “the New York years.” After all, picking up the Sunday New York Times was one of my chores and I always scanned the front page and then listened to Papa curse or applaud “The Grey Lady,” while we watched cartoons and WPIX.
Visiting CARE headquarters was always a special treat. Papa introduced us to EVERYBODY and we met many wonderful friends. We exchanged details about overseas trips, pending travel plans and current events from all over the world. The passion to make a difference in the world seemed like pixie dust in the air. There are too many people to name and I would hate to leave anyone off, but you know who you are.
“Remember, take the garlands off quickly,” Papa said.
We were landing in New Delhi, India and this was a homecoming. Papa knew Indian customs better than many and he was always teaching us about them.
“Remember, you boys are Indians,” he would say.
Years later, people would say he was Indian too.
For the next seven years, we lived in New Delhi, India in West End Colony and it was an idyllic childhood. Papa was in his element with CARE, and we learned about our country of birth. We entertained people at our house and I learned about storytelling. The American Embassy School offered sports, academic, social life, and lifelong friends. Papa was absorbed in his work. He loved every minute and even in the challenging times, he would remain true to his values and principles.
Living in India allowed us to visit Agra and Jaipur so often it became “boring.” We visited so many times with friends and family that we walked around with an aura of authority probably reserved for the Mughals. Papa was the tour guide and he secretly enjoying showing off his knowledge of history.
Visiting CARE India in Greater Kailash was always fun, not because the kitchen refrigerator bulged with Limca and Thumbs-up, but watching people work with a sense of purpose demonstrated what happens when you combine passion and labor. CARE India picnics were always a highlight of the year – the contests, games and the families made them feel like reunions.
“Boys, they have McDonald’s and Pizza Hut,” Papa said.
The trouble with a nomadic CARE lifestyle is that there is always more to do somewhere else, and we had to learn to leave friends and familiar places. We moved to Manila for our sophomore year of high school and attended the International School Manila. In many ways, New Delhi and Manila are similar, as they are both deeply spiritual countries teeming with people, terrible traffic and extreme poverty. However, India is the Commonwealth of Nations and the Philippines is deeply influenced by the United States.
Manila was big city life and the amount of fun, or parental stress, that we caused was hard to top. The thing about growing up overseas is that you make friends quick and friendships last forever. Manila grew on us. Hospitality is a key trait of Filipinos and their joy for life is contagious.
Visiting CARE Philippines was always a lesson in camaraderie and teamwork dominated with laughter. Like India, CARE picnics were special occasions filled with games and food, where we were among friends and for a few hours, we forgot about the serious work at hand.
After graduating high school, Matthew and I attended American universities and CARE was a more distant figure in our lives, while CARE took on a more central figure in Papa’s life. He moved to Dhaka, Bangladesh and then Atlanta, GA. Visiting both CARE offices reminded me of my childhood, each making a small difference in lives of others, through meaningful work for a greater purpose.
The last time that I saw Papa and heard his legendary laugh was at a South Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C., when my wife and I were still dating. We had a great dinner. The restaurant was located a few blocks away from Georgetown University. The added bonus of our last dinner together was having Papa order his meal in Kannada and blowing the waiter’s mind. Papa passed away two days later in his sleep. I had the honor of taking his ashes from Washington, D.C., where he started his journey in 1966, back home to Maine, where he is buried.
For me, CARE was never a physical place; CARE is a value system that my children will learn.