More than two decades ago, I had the great good fortune to spend parts of several years traveling with Dr. Paul Farmer, to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, Russia and Mexico for my book about his life. He was a good companion, funny and talkative and when I got sick from a night of too much rum in Cuba, he took care of me.
In airports, he would buy presents for people he was visiting at his next stop. He’d buy present after present until he could barely manage to carry them all. His itineraries weren’t on any of the usual sightseeing lists. In Russia, for instance, he didn’t see the Bolshoi Ballet but rather went to advise beleaguered doctors at a prison where inmates were dying of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.
Paul’s basic belief was that all human beings deserve equal respect and care, especially when they are sick. His dream, he once told me, was to start a movement that would refuse to accept, and would strive to repair, the grotesque health inequities among and within the countries of the world. When I first met him — in Haiti, in 1994 — he had already created a growing health care system in a desperately impoverished area. I thought he’d done a lot already. Now, looking back, I realize that he was just getting started.