Farmer flashed a smile. "Youll spend less time in Purgatory." Then he asked, "Who cut off the head of the assistant mayor?"
"I dont know for sure," said the captain.
"Its very hard to live in Haiti and not know who cut off someones head," said Farmer.
A circuitous argument followed. Farmer made it plain he didnt like the American governments plan for fixing Haitis economy, a plan that would aid business interests but do nothing, in his view, to relieve the suffering of the average Haitian. He clearly believed that the United States had helped to foster the coupfor one thing, by having trained a high official of the junta at the U.S. Armys School of the Americas. Two clear sides existed in Haiti, Farmer saidthe forces of repression and the Haitian poor, the vast majority. Farmer was on the side of the poor. But, he told the captain, "it still seems fuzzy which side the American soldiers are on." Locally, part of the fuzziness came from the fact that the captain had released the hated Nerva Juste.
I sensed that Farmer knew Haiti far better than the captain, and that he was trying to impart some important information. The people in this region were losing confidence in the captain, Farmer seemed to be saying, and this was a serious matter, obviously, for a team of nine soldiers trying to govern 150,000 people.
But the warning wasnt entirely plain, and the captain got a little riled up at Farmers denunciation of the School of the Americas. As for Nerva Juste, he said, "Look, that guy is a bad guy. When I do have him and the evidence, Ill slam him." He slapped a fist into his hand. "But Im not gonna stoop to the level of these guys and make summary arrests."
Farmer replied, in effect, that it made no sense for the captain to apply principles of constitutional law in a country that at the moment had no functioning legal system. Juste was a menace and should be locked up.
So they reached a strange impasse. The captain, who described himself as "a redneck," arguing for due process, and Farmer, who clearly considered himself a champion of human rights, arguing for preventive detention. Eventually, the captain said, "Youd be surprised how many decisions about what I can do here get made in Washington."
And Farmer said, "I understand youre constrained. Sorry if Ive been haranguing."
It had grown dark. The two men stood in a square of light from the open barracks door. They shook hands. As the young doctor disappeared into the shadows, I heard him speaking Creole to his Haitian friends.
I stayed with the soldiers for several weeks. I didnt think much about Farmer. In spite of his closing words, I didnt think he understood or cared to sympathize with the captains problems.
Then by chance I ran into him again, on my way home, on the plane to Miami. He was sitting in first-class. He explained that the flight attendants put him there because he often flew this route and on occasion dealt with medical emergencies on board. The attendants let me sit with him for a while. I had dozens of questions about Haiti, including one about the assistant mayors murder. The soldiers thought that Voodoo beliefs conferred a special, weird terror on decapitation. "Does cutting off the victims head have some basis in the history of Voodoo?" I asked.
"It has some basis in the history of brutality," Farmer answered. He frowned, and then he touched my arm, as if to say that we all ask stupid questions sometimes.
I found out more about him. For one thing, he didnt dislike soldiers. "I grew up in a trailer park, and I know which economic class joins the American military." He told me, speaking of Captain Carroll, "You meet these twenty-nine-year-old soldiers, and you realize, Come on, theyre not the ones making the bad policies." He confirmed my impression, that hed visited the captain to warn him. Many of Farmers patients and Haitian friends had complained about the release of Nerva Juste, saying it proved the Americans hadnt really come to help them. Farmer told me he was driving through Mirebalais and his Haitian friends were teasing him, saying he didnt dare stop and talk to the American soldiers about the murder case, and then the truck got a flat tire right outside the army compound, and he said to his friends, "Aha, you have to listen to messages from angels."
Excerpted from Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder Copyright© 2003 by Tracy Kidder. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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