opportunity and paul farmer

I find it ironic (perhaps in the Alanis Morissette way?) that the rest of the world comes to the US for opportunity, and I came to Mongolia.  But, in the two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve been given opportunities that would have taken a lot more experience or effort in the US.  For example, working with Open Society Forum has given me the opportunity to work on HIV/AIDS, education, governance, and even economic development issues. Normally, we’d agree that I’m not really trained to do this.  In Mongolia, though, the one-eyed man is king.  And so, with my limited experience with these issues, I’m the perfect “outside” expert.  Or take for instance, my new role as a yoga teacher.  Never taught before, and not really trained.  But, I guess we make do, and it’ll be a learning experience for both myself and the students.

Yesterday, a friend and I were discussing Paul Farmer, who used to be something of a hero of mine.  Now I’m disillusioned and jaded, and I see the man now has feet of clay.  One of the things I mentioned is his ranting about how we in the public health community “wait for the evidence” before we act, and in doing so, lose countless lives.  That might be true, but if waiting means ensuring that the right actions are taken, then waiting could also save lives.

But being in Mongolia has given me a fresh look on Farmer’s POV.  Is there such as a thing as a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, when the alternative is no knowledge?  Or perhaps, action is taken when pieces of the whole are cobbled together, creating, if not a full picture, at least a semblence of one?  Paul Farmer did what no one else was doing in Haiti.  And I am teaching yoga in a country where, as far as I can tell, there is only one yoga teacher.

I think Farmer’s mistake was in thinking that the work in Haiti would translate to the whole world.  So I suppose my mistake could be in thinking that teaching yoga here means I can teach it anywhere (without training).  I guess I will learn something from Paul Farmer after all.


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