Farmer and Kidder arrive in Paris to see his wife and daughter on their way to Russia. Farmer once had asked Didi if Paris wasn't the loveliest city in the world. She had been moved by it differently: Knowing that this splendor came from the suffering of my ancestors. That also became the subject she is studying now - the archives of French slave masters and the detailed records they had kept of their commerce in West Africans. Didi and Catherine live in the Marais district, and Farmer and Kidder are staying long enough to celebrate Catherine's second birthday. The lack of time Farmer is devoting to his family becomes a bone of contention between him and Didi. For those who have always seen him as a monument to perfection, it is relief to see that he has this chink in his armor. He has a hard time himself justifying the idea that he loves his own daughter more than Haitian children. He came to realize this when he tried to save a baby whose mother had developed eclampsia. He hurried to save the child, but it was still-born. He began to cry and realized that it wasn't for the dead child, but because he imagined Catherine lying there dead at birth. He knows that this is the way he's supposed to feel, but it still induces guilt in him. He says if people ask him where he gets off thinking he can love all children as much as his own, he will answer, I can't, but I'm going to keep on trying. Comma.

It occurs to Kidder that many people would love to be like Farmer, waking up knowing what they ought to do and feeling that they are doing it. But there wouldn't be many who would willingly take on the difficulties, giving up their comforts and time with their families. Farmer spends the summers with his family, but in the meantime, there are the hard and lonely days and nights. He carries two pictures of children with him: one is of Catherine and the other is of a Haitian child with kwashiorkor. The second picture is a symbol of all the people suffering from TB and perhaps his willingness to try to love them all equally.

At Catherine's party, there a number of people with whom Farmer has made PIH connections. They are people who are more than mere acquaintances, because he doesn't allow many of them to slip away. They become a part of his PIH family.

At the airport, early the next morning, Farmer sits at a café working on his bwats (French boîtes or boxes). He says it's shameful that only 2/3 of the list has been checked off. They were all supposed to be finished by the time they left Cuba. Among them is a dual bwat which consists of two chores: he can buy new underwear or finish a letter. Since he hasn't bought the underwear, he sits down to finish the letter he had begun in the Haitian countryside. When Kidder asks if he's cheating on his bwat, Farmer answers that it depend on if it's a H of G or hermeneutic of generosity, which means whether he looks upon it in a generous light, just the way he feels about Kidder. This is just one of the many terms he has in his strange lexicon, a language that the PIHers have picked and follow perfectly. For example, when his brother Jeff misspelled Haitians as Hatians, Farmer began to shorten it Hateans or Hats and their country became Hatland. The French were Fran-chayze and their tongue Franch-chayze language. The Russians were Rooskies. Farmer calls himself white trash and even though he has the utmost respect for women, he still calls them chicks. People of the same race and gender who suffer because of it have different degrees of shaftedness or hose-edness. To commit a seven-three was to use seven words when three would do, and ninety-nine one hundred was quitting on a nearly complete job, something he hated more than anything else. He admitted anyone and everyone to his club of PIHers who was willing to learn their language and do their work and at times, he had a way of creating a club that consisted of just him and you.

Once Farmer had given a speech at the Harvard School of Public Health and used the Haitian phrase looking for life, destroying life. He explained it as an expression they used if a poor woman selling mangoes falls off a truck and dies. In other words, trying to keep her family alive, she sells mangoes, only to die when she falls off the mango truck. At that moment, Kidder feels as if he can see a little into Farmer's mind. What Paul wants is to erase time and geography connecting all parts of his life and tying them instrumentally to a world in which he sees inescapable connections, for example, between the gleaming, corporate offices of Paris and New York and a legless man lying in a mud hut in the remotest part of Haiti. He sees the greatest error of the world as the erasing of people, the hiding away of suffering. Kidder wonders if there is any room in Farmer's world for anyone but the poor. His question is answered one day on a plane when Paul says that he thinks of every passenger as a patient, and in fact, is called away by the pilot to help a man who thinks he is having a heart attack. This happens to him about once in every eighteen flights, but Kidder thinks that Farmer wouldn't mind if it happened every flight. Embracing a continuity and interconnectedness that excluded no one seemed like another of Farmer's peculiar liberties. It came with a lot of burdens, of course, but it also freed him from the efforts that many people make to find refuge and distinction from their pasts, and from the mass of their fellow human beings.



This chapter is particularly important in understanding Paul Farmer's character. He has peculiarities in his language and feels guilt at loving his daughter more than Haitian children. He tries hard to change that nonetheless. He works hard also at embracing a world where he excludes no one which frees him from other kinds of guilt that make people ignore others and try to find refuge from their pasts.


Cite this page:

Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Long Way Gone". TheBestNotes.com.