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Study Guide Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

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MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS SYNOPSIS

 

CHAPTER 9

 

Summary

The combination of Harvard and Haiti brought Farmer back to his religious belief. He had come to accept the peasant view that there was Someone keeping score. He said that in such a godless world that worshiped money and power, the only place to find God was in the suffering of the poor. When Ophelia returned to Haiti, Paul had taken to wearing a large crucifix outside his shirt which enhanced his “priestliness,” a characteristic she had sensed in him before. He proclaimed that he had faith in God, but also in science, and he would have to choose science if it were the only service to the poor. He was just glad he didn’t have to choose.

He and Ophelia became lovers, and she spent the whole summer with him. She helped him with his formal education by quizzing him with his self-designed flashcards, which she found as amazing as he was. They also walked through the villages where they would continue to take down information at every hut, and where she tried very hard to do something better than he did. She was frustrated by it, but far from angry, that she just couldn’t outdo him! During her wanderings with him, she suffered greatly from the heat, but her Creole began to improve immensely. She was also amazed at the strange smell in every hut - not a smelly socks stinky - a smell of people living too closely in poverty.

One of the greatest problems in Cange was the drinking water the people gathered in calabash gourds or recycled plastic jugs. It was retrieved from the stagnant reservoir, and people often left it uncovered for days as well. So a team of Haitian and American engineers from a South Carolina church group devised a plan to use the force of an underground river to carry its own water in a pipe up to communal spigots. After it was built, infant deaths began dropping. Father Lafontant had also constructed thirty fine, clean latrines as well as supervising the building of a clinic. Farmer stole a microscope from Harvard for this clinic. He said, “Redistributive justice - we were just helping them not to go to hell.”


Paul himself began to plan for what he called “first line defenses” out in the community. What the first line didn’t prevent the Clinique Bon Sauveur would. He was impatient for it to happen, but understood that all of his plans would require money far beyond the means of the South Carolinians. In 1983, he had gone to Boston for his pre-admission testing at Harvard and had asked an organization called Project Bread for money to build a bread oven in Cange. They had willingly given him the money, explaining that an anonymous donor had earmarked some of their money for Haiti. The following year his article “The Anthropologist Within” was published at Harvard and Paul learned that the anonymous donor had read it and wanted to meet him. Paul said to tell the man to come to Haiti.

Paul found out the donor was the owner of a heavy-construction company and that made Farmer war that he was an anti-union Republican working out unfair deals in back alleys. To his delight, however, the man, named Tom White, came to Haiti and Farmer soon discovered that he was far from the typical construction businessman. He had been giving away money for years and had always had a deep feeling about the needs of the poor. He also had a great deal of influence politically in Boston and knew and associated with famous people. He didn’t like the attitudes of the rich, however, and was more than upset by what he saw in Haiti. That’s when he began giving money to help with Paul’s plans.

When Farmer came home to Boston, White would bring sandwiches to him at lunch and they’d eat in his car. One day, White became perturbed at how pale Farmer looked and asked him if he was eating properly. He pulled out a wad of hundred dollar bills and began pulling one after another out and throwing them at Paul. Paul finally admitted that he had given his entire check to an AIDS patient who was being evicted. When White asked him if he didn’t think it was kind of impractical, Paul said, “Well, God sent you today.” White also told Paul that sometimes he’d like to chuck it all and work as a missionary in Haiti. To that, Paul replied, “In your particular case that would be a sin.”

 

Notes

This chapter especially exemplifies that there are no coincidences. Just when Paul seems to need help or money to further his plan, something or someone comes along to make sure they are fulfilled. Father Lafontant, Tom White, the Bread project, and the engineers from South Carolina are part of the motif which reflects the peasants’ idea that there really is Someone keeping score.

 

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