A Universal Message in Mountains Beyond Mountains The suffering and misery of the poor and destitute has long been reported on and documented by writers all over the world. The circumstances and stories of the less fortunate are accounted by authors who sometimes distance themselves from the people they write about. However, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder focuses on the work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who works tirelessly to comfort the sick and dying in the poorest countries in the world. Instead of being a simple biography about a wonderful man, Kidder weaves his own message of human rights into the book.
Kidder successfully conveys his message that universal healthcare is a right a not a privilege through the words and deeds of Dr. Paul Farmer. In the book, Kidder follows Farmer to many countries. Peru, Russia, and Haiti are where most of the story takes place. In each country, Farmer and his Partner in Health Team eventually make great progress in the communities they work in. The percentage of prisoners dying from Tuberculosis in Russian penitentiaries goes down for example when Farmer and his team raise money with the United Nations. Kidder reports Farmers work with a convincing matter.
He sees firsthand what legitimate healthcare can do in the poorest areas in the world. “Clean water, healthcare, school, food, tin roofs, and cement floors, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights” (91). The idea that all people need is basic living conditions to strive and live a healthy life is depicted by Farmer specifically in Haiti. Kidder uses Farmers work to prove the sometimes neglectful western world that living a healthy life should not be something only richer nations get to enjoy.
Kidder argues that the universality principle of suffering is wrong because as Farmer puts it “all suffering isn’t equal” (216). Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam all say that suffering on earth leads to reward in heaven. Kidder sees this as an excuse for not doing more about the injustice and tragedy of the people in Haiti, who live so close to America, one of the richest countries in the world. The suffering of a poor man in America is not the same as a poor man in Haiti. A man in America has more access to hospitals, shelters, and basic needs than a man in Haiti.
Kidder’s main message lies in this principle. While progress has been made in medical technology in powerful countries, moral progress has not developed at the same rate. A man who would agree with Kidder’s message of the universal right of health care is Mahatmas Gandhi. In his speech Economic and Moral Progress Gandhi says that many people mistake economic progress for moral progress. He points out those countries have become more industrial as well as technologically advanced but this upgrade has been at the expense of their obligations to their morality.
He cites an example he is very familiar with- the cruel oppression of the British Empire over India. The people were rationed to one meal a day, “No one has ever suggested that grinding pauperism can lead to anything else than moral degradation. Every human being has a right to live and therefore to find the wherewithal to feed himself and where necessary to clothe himself” (334). Gandhi asserts his belief that there are a basic set of human rights that all people are born with no matter what country they live in, what their status, or how much money they earn.
In part II of the book Farmer explains some of the circumstances that have been laid upon the Haitian people in the past century. While he and Kidder look out over the countryside, Farmer tells how Haitians were given the wrong kind of animals to harvest and how the dam built by the American government cut off the irrigation to the crops in the Cange Valley. Kidder writes about how the unrelenting poverty in Haiti has directly led to the terrible health crisis that exists. Farmer even says that “meager incomes don’t guarantee abysmal health statistics but the two usually go together” (125).
Infectious diseases spread rapidly in places where people are forced to live on top of each other like sardines. Sexually transmitted diseases are often a result of a lack of education about contraceptive methods. Farmer and his team don’t think the health crisis in any poor area is insurmountable. In fact they believe if sustainable living and basic health care are provided for people than many infectious diseases will cease to spread. One cannot read Mountains Beyond Mountains without feeling sense of guilt after reading of how Farmer devotes his life to helping the sick and destitute.
Kidder expresses his amazement at Farmer’s results and methods but not at his calling. Kidder believes that all people are called upon to serve the poor in some capacity. Excuses are too often conjured up in America for not helping a country so close yet so far Kidder lays out a clear list of reasons why Haiti has suffered so much in a recent opinion editorial in the New York Times: “Haiti is a country created by former slaves, kidnapped West Africans, who, in 1804, when slavery still flourished in the United States and the Caribbean, threw off their cruel French masters and created their own republic.
Haitians have been punished ever since for claiming their freedom: by the French who, in the 1820s, demanded and received payment from the Haitians for the slave colony, impoverishing the country for years to come; by an often brutal American occupation from 1915 to 1934; by indigenous misrule that the American government aided and abetted, and in more recent years American administrations fell into a pattern of promoting and then undermining Haitian constitutional democracy. He believes that the loving, prideful Haitian people and all poor people across the globe are victims of the society they live in and deserve help and treatment. Ignoring the plea of fellow man is not an option any longer with all the medical technology available. A wealthy man can undergo an eight hour brain surgery but a prisoner in a Russian prison has to die of Tuberculosis which is completely preventable and curable because of neglect for the poor and the absence of healthcare for all. Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer share a similar world view when it comes to healthcare.
Whether Kidder discovered his message after meeting Farmer is a good question but none the less, they both believe that if sustainable living and healthcare are provided for everyone then death and disease will occur far less often in poverty stricken areas. They both as Gandhi did wonder how some countries have the technology to send people to space ; while other citizens live in crowded huts, amongst their own feces. Kidder’s message of universal healthcare for all is successfully relayed throughout the book because he shows concrete examples of how it can make a difference and a small and large scale. Kidder, though his writing is on-confrontational and enjoyable, appeals to the audience by depicting scenes of babies starving, men coughing blood, and children with no legs. He appeals to the heart and mind of the reader beautifully, calling for a clear path to moral progress-healthcare for all people regardless of social class.
Works Cited Austin, Michael. Reading the World: Ideas That Matter. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2010. Print. Gandhi, Mahatmas. “Economic and Moral Progress. ” Speech. Kidder, Tracy. “Country Without A Net. ” Editorial. 13 Jan. 2010. Print. Kidder, Tracy. Mountains beyond Mountains. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.