Beyond the Next Village is Mary Anne Mercer‘s memoir of discovery, growth, and awakening in 1978 Nepal, which was then a mysterious country to most of the world. After arriving in Nepal, Mercer, an American nurse, spent a year traveling on foot–often in flip-flops–with a Nepali health team, providing immunizations and clinical care in each village they visited.
Communicating in a newly acquired language, she was often called upon to provide the only modern medicine available to the people she and her team were serving. Over time, she learned to recognize and respect the prominence of their cultural beliefs about health and illness. Encounters with life-threatening conditions such as severe malnutrition and ectopic pregnancy gave her an enlightening view of both the limitations and power of modern health care; immersed in villagers’ lives and those of her own team, she realized she was living in not just another country, but another time.
This unique story of the joys and perils of one woman’s journey in the shadow of the Himalayas, Beyond the Next Village opens a window into a world where the spirits were as real as the trees, the birds, or the rain–and healing could be as much magic as medicine.
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Mary Anne Mercer’s memoir of her months as a volunteer nurse in Nepal is moving, uplifting, and timely. Written with insight and humility, it illustrates the dilemmas of being a stranger in a strange land—even if you’re a stranger with the best intentions and the tools to truly be of service. Mercer’s eye for detail, humor, and frank self-reflections make Beyond the Next Village enjoyable as both memoir and travelogue. It’s also a sobering reminder, during these pandemic years, of how wealth determines the standard of medical care—not just across international borders, but within developing countries.
—Jeff Greenwald, author of Shopping for Buddhas and Snake Lake
“‘Was I ready to change my life?’ a young American nurse asks as she ventures into Nepalese villages at a time when the Himalayas were mostly unknown. Mary Anne Mercer treks between worlds in this mesmerizing memoir of adventure and initiation into another culture, another way of healing, of understanding home.”
—Brenda Peterson, author of Wolf Nation and I Want to Be Left Behind
With deep compassion and sharp critical insight, Mercer chronicles the challenges of delivering healthcare in rural Nepal while also recounting a more personal story of a woman working through her own uncertainties and vulnerabilities to embrace her calling. This is a must-read for any traveler who hopes to “help” in Nepal.
— Elizabeth Enslin, author of While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey through Love and Rebellion in Nepal
You can only go to Nepal for the first time in your life once. The author came to do meaningful work and has never really left Nepal. This candid, compelling memoir gives a glimpse why.
— Stephen Bezruchka, author of Trekking in Nepal
This is a vivid and compelling story of a young nurse’s challenging trek through rural Nepal to deliver health care to families in remote villages. With compassion and honesty, Mercer grapples with uncertainty and frustration as she adapts to local cultural beliefs and scant resources. In the process, she comes to better understand herself as a health-giver and to embrace the deeper mysteries of healing.
— Margaret Combs, author of Hazard: A Sister’s Flight from Family and a Broken Boy
Mary Anne Mercer’s account of her year in Nepal takes us back to a formative time in the country, when modern medical care was making an inroads into rural communities in the 1970s. She examines local life with honesty, as an informed and engaged outsider, questioning local customs while also accepting her own limitations to change them. Beyond the Next Village will interest everyone who loves Nepal, with a portrait of times past that is vivid, tender, and deeply moving.
— Manjushree Thapa, author of Forget Kathmandu
Mercer has written a vivid account of a volunteer American nurse in Nepal – honest, open, and thoughtful about health care and the bigger picture of international aid and volunteerism.
— Naomi Bishop, author of Himalayan Herders
This is a personal story that takes the Western-world reader into the lives of Nepali women. Though the years described are four decades ago, the beliefs still hold today. Welcome to a glimpse of another culture among splendid mountains and people.
— Daniel C. Taylor, President, Future Generations University and author of Cairns: A Novel of Tibet
Mary Anne Mercer’s Beyond the Next Village is a breathtaking, beautifully written account of an idealistic young nurse practitioner supporting a health program in the foothills of Nepal. With the Himalayas in the distance, her journey becomes as up and down as the winding, exhausting trails she embarks on with a medical team, providing vaccinations for Nepali children. She discovers all too soon the poverty and cruel fate for the Nepali people who are without access to proper health care, especially women who endure unexpected medical emergencies during their pregnancies, sometimes leading to a tragic end. Beyond the Next Village is Mercer’s testament to the complexity of understanding cultural differences and her desire, within the “halo” of Western privilege, to help make good health care a basic right for everyone in the world.
— Kip Robinson Greenthal, author of “Shoal Water”
MaryAnne Mercer gives life and reality to Nepal’s public health statistics that continue to haunt people living in its remote districts. Her vivid descriptions of living and working in rural Nepal in the 1970s continue to be relevant today, except for the advent of mobile phones. The pandemic has reversed some of the advances made in past decades with women afraid to enter district hospitals to give birth. Chaupadi (seclusion in a hut for menstrual period) continues as a practice and form of discrimination for women and girls in many parts of Far West Nepal. Mercer moves us beyond the data to illustrate the lived reality of so many in these under-served regions.
— Frances Klatzel, author of Gaiety of Spirit: The Sherpas of Everest
As a writer, Mary Anne Mercer is no stumbling visitor. She is an experienced, sure-footed porter of language, carrying us powerfully on her back in a basket of steady, deeply felt, dryly humorous and lovely prose. Her words unfold the most intimate details to the grandeur of the open vista, from the ethnographic to the philosophical, from a hand-turned gold earring to a first full view of the towering Himals. You will cover thousands of miles by plane, taxi, car, truck and bike, from Montana to San Francisco to Kathmandu. From there you will climb fourteen hours in tennis shoes to Gorkha, and from there, in flip flops, bare foot, stretcher, suspended over a river in a hand-pulled wooden box and even by plaster cast, you will trek hundreds of miles of specific, lushly illustrated topography, with precisely observed companions. Through the “middle hills” of the Himalayas, you will tread rises and falls along a spiderweb of footpaths leading outwards from and around Gorkha, higher and higher, both drawn by and pursued by an elusive tiger spirit that is hungry for what is always just beyond the next village.
Yet the true map of this soul-baring memoir is of the shadow terrain of personhood, of travelling across divorce, dissolution and soul loss, a human expedition inward to be lost and found in the home one never actually leaves – oneself. There is a real pattern to culture-shock, its uncanny process of surfacing our greatest fears and limitations, pulling up every anchor we thought we had dropped, and, if we survive it, returning us to our own shores exhausted but renewed in our return to what always was, but with new appreciation. Mercer does not turn away from any season of this cycle of transformation. That her self-exploration unfolds in this important, extended meditation on international travel, where Western visions of losing ourselves in the magic of paradise lost meet Western rituals of medical interventionism is crucial, because her loss of innocence and awakening to a spirit world as ancient and present as the birds, trees and rocks, are necessarily intertwined. Nepal is not the backdrop to this gritty dream sequence, it is the main character, the ever-present healer whose teachings are natural consequences and whose medicine is homeopathic – your cure is in and all around you and relies on triggering internal capacities for self-healing and connection.
In the end, Mercer knows that it is she who has received the most treatment over her year of bringing vaccines and basic medicines to rural Nepali villagers. She comes to question the wisdom, ethics, and effectiveness of heroically “helicoptering in” healthcare without health systems, without attending to the immediate and felt needs of these communities, and without being part of the effort to extend a sustainable public health care system out beyond the cities into the poorest and most isolated parts of the world, like rural Nepal. This tale of humility found should be shared with all global health practitioners and scholars, with whom Mercer will leave many lasting lessons that can be considered before attempting to help others anywhere around the globe. The most important three lessons for me are the following: 1) The places we think we are going to change, if we are wise and honest, will change us more; 2) the highest mountains we will ever climb will be our own inner landscapes; and 3) “there is such a thing as sacred,” and if we are lucky enough, and humble enough, it may choose to reveal itself to us in this lifetime.
— Rachel Chapman, author of Family Secrets: Risking Reproduction in Central Mozambique
About Mary Anne
Mary Anne writes from her home in Seattle overlooking the Salish Sea. She has published on a wide range of topics related to social justice, global health, and globalization, as well as academic topics. She spent over 35 years working as university faculty, focusing on strategies to improve the health and survival of pregnant women and their children in resource-poor areas of the world. Learn more about Mary Anne.