Sunday, November 16, 2008


I recently finished reading an excellent book, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. It's a non-fiction account of a dedicated (and generous and brilliant and eccentric) physician, Paul Farmer, and his work among the poorest of the poor, first in Haiti and then beyond. His work in Haiti eventually blossomed into public-policy impact for how tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS are treated among the poor worldwide.

Kidder is a masterful storyteller, expert at bringing up details that reappear later in the book as he weaves his themes together. One such detail had to do with a Haitian woman whom Farmer treated for TB.

In the case of TB, a major challenge is that the treatment regimen must be followed faithfully for a long time, or the disease simply becomes resistant to that particular drug. Conventional wisdom for Haiti is that it's hard to get patients to buy into this necessity because they want to attribute disease to Voodoo curses instead of micro-organisms, but Farmer found that when enough of their basic poverty-related needs were being met, his patients did a fine job of keeping up with the medications. Kidder related an encounter with this woman who had accepted the idea of the TB germs and did well at sticking with her meds, but then surprised Farmer by telling him later that someone in the community had cursed her with the TB and she was going to take revenge. When Farmer called her on it, she responded (in Creole), "What, are you incapable of complexity?"

This is a helpful thought for someone like me, putting together a worldview that has room for both allopathic & non-traditional medicine, plus mystery and miracle and faith, that maybe needn't feel bad for a touch of superstition as well.

But no Voodoo for me, thanks anyway!

Accepting the complexity of the seemingly-contradictory may also be a helpful concept in threading the ongoing controversy regarding the nature of autism...

Been thinking about that, will post more another day.

Meanwhile, I do recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains. Much food for thought about the roots of poverty, and the interconnectedness of the world, and what one dedicated person can do. (I also recommend Three Cups of Tea, by Mortenson & Oliver, which I read a year ago -- another account of one dedicated person making a big difference on the other side of the world, in which mountains also figure both literally and metaphorically! Connections, connections!)

1 comment:

AuntieS said...

And thanks to you, JoyMama, I also read Three Cups of Tea. It was very interesting, and tied in to things and people and places that are in the news even now. It was definitely a book that provided food for thought.