I must admit that I started Mountains Beyond Mountains 6 months ago on a flight from San Diego to Phoenix to Salt Lake City when I was suffering from a horrible case of food poisoning. The book became a respite between heaves in a puke ridden tour of multiple airport restrooms. It was not my finest hour and certainly not the best beginning for this book! As a consequence I could not pick up the book for months without reliving to some degree the utter disgust of that evening. Finally last month in desperation to find something to read I picked up the book and began reading in earnest.
Mountains Beyond Mountains is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his rise to prominence in the world of Tuberculosis treatment in the country of Haiti. The story details his early childhood and family life, his educational experience, his embracing of the Haitian people and their assimilation of Dr. Paul as one of their own people. It is not, as the title suggests, a hero story in the traditional sense. At no time during the story did I get the sense that Dr. Farmers goal was to save the world. Instead the entire story was a revelation in building meaningful caring relationships with individuals and providing those individuals with the things they truly needed. Tracey Kidder does an incredible job in helping you to feel the depth of the challenges faced by the Haitian people and then illuminates some of the ways that an unassuming American Dr. decides to forgo the fortune and fame generally associated with his profession and instead of treating disease he treats patients.
In the process of building a health care system in a poor part of Haiti, a non-profit foundation to support his efforts, and a support system of friends and benefactors to enable his healthcare systems, Dr. Farmers values are put to the hardest tests. I found in his words and actions real meaning. He put his personal belief into action.
I came to understand that Paul Farmer did not simply want to help the poor and the sick. He felt a sense of responsibility that would not allow him to ignore the problems before him. This story is told in such a way that is does not simply glorify Paul Farmer but instead it glorifies the ideas that Paul Farmer has embraced and the actions he has taken. As the story transcends decades I was able to see the incredible strides Dr. Farmer was able to make in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. The book has really caused me to reflect on my own behavior. What do I believe? How do I care for the people around me? How much am I willing to give to further the cause of someone else? Do I really want a great adventure in life, or am I content, like the billions of others on our planet to simply be a spectator?