Who would have thought, having read Tracy Kidder‘s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, that Paul Farmer was a dry sarcastic wit? To read the book, which tells the rough childhood of Farmer — living with a large family in a school bus then in a leaky boat and his unpredictably going to Duke (now that is the sad part) then to Harvard to medical school then becoming a dedicated doctor in Haiti and founding Partners in Health–, you would have realized that Farmer is charismatic, but funny? Really funny? And a quick wit too.
Not that Kidder isn’t a wonderful writer. Not that he didn’t fall under Farmer’s spell — perhaps too much for some readers. But that Farmer is, when standing beside Kidder, funnier livelier quicker and even more articulate and complex than the character in Kidder’s book and not incidentally than Kidder himself.
Thanks to Susan Gladden who brought both Farmer and Kidder to Chapel Hill (along with a stop at Duke) and along the way managed to raise well over $20K for Partners in Health.
There was a full house at the Binkley Baptist Church and quite a line at the booksigning after. Both Kidder and Farmer were gracious and charming throughout. Interestingly enough we did not get graphic tear jerking stories (not that having read Mountians Beyond Mountains we would have expected that), but we did have the disconnects between the situations in Haiti and our place in the world brought to us strongly in Farmer’s talk. One quick example: During the last hurricane to pass through Florida 6 people died, but in Haiti over 2400 people died. The difference is that Haiti has no infrastructure and no wealth and not much government. Since the US, according to Farmer, has spent almost as much time ruling Haiti (directly or indirectly) in the past century, we own a lot of the problems there.
Farmer wasn’t shy about telling us about his book, Pathologies of Power. He made the joke that people had come up to him and said “I read your book. It was so uplifting.” He knew they meant they had read Kidder’s book, because no one would find Pathologies of Power uplifting.

Update: Sally Greene also blogged this experience on her Greenespace.blogspot.com site.

Update: Anton Zuiker also blogged his experience at the talk and in Haiti at his Zuiker.com site.