Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mountains Beyond Mountains

In a recent letter to a friend, I told them that I'd been having trouble "settling down" since getting married. I understand that some people have always dreamed of having a husband to properly "care [for] and feed", but to be honest I hadn't seen this in the arrangement of my tea leaves. Not that I'm against being married or having a family, just that it had come rather unexpectedly. I followed my statement to that friend by saying that I supposed I'm not the sort of person who ever really settles down - more of one that gears up.

In light of my recent embrace of this part of my existence, I have been gearing up (told you) to start volunteering again with WomanStats and help out with PR stuff for an up-and-coming new philanthropic website for social entrepreneurship ventures abroad called the Tipping Bucket.

Part of my re-entry into my old crazy life is due to my recent completion of Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, a spirited landmark biography of Paul Farmer, a favorite icon for IntDels (as I call them) and WLs (as Paul calls them). As most of the people who read this blog have most likely already read the book, I'll let those of you who haven't look it up and leave you with a few quotes I particularly liked.

The first, on menial tasks that people, especially people of my age and position, end up doing in the fight for good:

"Long ago in North Carolina, Farmer watched the nuns doing menial chores on behalf of migrant laborers, and in the years since he's come to think that a willingness to do what he calls "unglamorous scut work" is the secret to successful projects in places like Cange & Carabayllo. 'And,' he says, 'another secret: a reluctance to do scut work is why a lot of my peers don't stick with this kind of work.' In public health projects in difficult locales, theory often outruns practice. Individual patients get forgotten, and what seems like a small problem gets ignored, until it grows large, like MDR. 'If you focus of individual patients,' Jim Kim says, 'you can't get sloppy.'"
Here's to unglamorous scut work... to a worthwhile end. I still hold that it's possible to get lost in doing unglamorous scut work to a useless end.

And the second, I thought was beautiful. Especially since there are people, close to me and not, who think that what I'm trying to do with my life - what I think is most valuable, urgent, and important - is useless or just plain crazy.

"I think, sometimes, that I'm going nuts, and that perhaps there is something good about blocking clean water for those who have none, making sure that illiterate children remain so, and preventing the resuscitation of the public health sector in the country most in need of it... Lunacy is what it is." - Paul Farmer, on the Bush Administration's effort to block multiple sources of aid to Haiti (speaking of which - sort of an odd choice to lead the current disaster relief efforts? Just saying).

Thanks, Paul Farmer, for being a lunatic, and inspiring similar lunacy in others. And thank you, Tracy Kidder, for helping us get to know the man behind my current "light" reading - Pathologies of Power.


ashmae said...

i like this post, i'm glad you're writing.

Suzie said...

I think settling down means different things to different people. Just because you "settle down" with one person, doesn't mean that the other aspects of your life have to settle down as well. I'm getting married soon, but also starting school for my future career right afterwards.

Marriage is just a label, after all, it's what you make of it. Traditional, egalitarian, even open marriage... the couples are all still called married at the end of the day.

Also, I'm guessing this post means you're leaning more toward the MPH?