Before flying to Russia, Farmer and Kidder visit Didi, who’s studying the history of colonialism. As they’re taking a taxi from the airport, Farmer tells Kidder that he could easily wipe out poverty in Haiti if he “could get his hands on the money that the first world spent on pet grooming.”
Farmer is making a joke, but as usual, his joke has a serious undercurrent: the Western world lavishes money on the most frivolous things, while the Third World starves.
In Paris, Farmer joyfully reunites with Didi and his daughter, Catherine. Didi asks Farmer when he’s flying to Russia, and he answers that the flight is tomorrow morning. Didi seems upset, and Farmer looks shocked and speechless. Kidder notes that he’ll always remember the look on Farmer’s face: it’s the only time he’s ever seen Farmer at a loss for words or action. Farmer has faced some criticism lately for not spending more time with his wife and child.
When Didi married Farmer, we assumed she understood that she wouldn’t see much of him. But here it seems that she’s still grappling with the difficulties of being married to a “saint.” Kidder seems strangely satisfied in this scene—in much the same way that Ophelia was satisfied when she saw Farmer display signs of anger. Kidder has just witnessed evidence that Farmer is “only human.”
Kidder has asked Farmer about Catherine before. Shortly after Catherine’s birth, a woman gave birth to a stillborn baby in Zanmi Lasante. Farmer found himself weeping at the sight of the dead baby, and he realized that he was imagining Catherine in its place. Farmer interprets this episode to mean that he’s failed to practice true empathy: previously, he’d always failed to love his patients as much as he loved his own family and friends. Farmer reminds Kidder of Jesus’s invocation to love one’s neighbors “as thyself,” and claims that he’s spent his life trying to live up to this standard.
It’s fascinating to see Farmer express so much emotion, and then explain the source of his emotion in the most counterintuitive terms. Most fathers wouldn’t be the least bit ashamed of their reactions to the sight of a dead baby, and they would willingly admit that the grisly sight reminded them of their own children. Farmer, however, seems somehow ashamed of his reaction: he thinks he’s been too selfish and territorial in privileging his own child above others, and thus has been neglecting his loyalties to his patients. Although this reaction would be bizarre to the vast majority of human beings, it fits with everything we know about Farmer. He’s always striving to be as selfless and universally compassionate as possible, even if doing so alienates him from his own family.
Farmer had come to Paris to celebrate Catherine’s second birthday. Guests at the birthday party include many of Farmer’s colleagues and PIH donors. The day after the birthday party, Farmer and Kidder move on to the airport and wait for a plane to Russia. On the plane, Kidder notes that Farmer speaks to fellow PIH members in a strange lingo, full of invented slang. “Lugar” is luggage, “DQ” means drama queen—usually in reference to hysterical arguments ungrounded in fact—and “scholbutt” means scholarly buttressing—citing sources in an academic article.
Kidder delights in explaining the ins and outs of Farmer’s life—all the things that make him seem more flawed, human, and relatable. Here, for example, he enjoys learning Farmer’s slang:, a mark of his humor and creativity, but also the urgency and fast-paced nature of his work.
At Charles de Gaulle Airport, Kidder points out that the city seems like another world from Haiti. Farmer points out that this is wrong: Paris’s prosperity is intimately tied to Haiti’s poverty, and has been for many hundreds of years. Kidder finds himself frustrated with Farmer, and he wants to call Farmer sanctimonious and preachy. He wonders if Farmer can think of any kind of person worth knowing, other than a poor person or a campaigner on behalf of the poor.
As Kidder gets to know Farmer better and better, he finds himself more in Ophelia Dahl’s boat—increasingly upset with his own immorality and pettiness. It’s hard to disagree with Farmer’s logic, and this is precisely the point: Farmer is so unwaveringly right in everything he does that it can be frustrating to spend any extended amount of time with him. The world is an unjust place full of suffering, and for most people, it’s impossible to face this reality for long without seeking some kind of escape or distraction. Farmer, on the other hand, seems to keep this injustice and suffering in mind at all times, and thus feels an urgent need to fix it.