A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead
In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan’s Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time — Greg Mortenson’s one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.
Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin has collaborated on this spellbinding account of Mortenson’s incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are often feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself. At last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world — one school at a time.
(From the publisher, cribbed from the Powell’s Books page)
I received this book twice for Christmas in 2007, once from my friend Neva, who had Greg Mortenson as a keynote speaker at a conference on Epilepsy (she is the Executive Director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California. His sister had Epilepsy.), and once from my step-mother. I don’t remember her connection to the story…if it was just that she read it and loved it, or if there was more. That was sickmas, and memories are dim. Anyway, receiving it twice, I figured I should read it, though non-fiction normally isn’t my bag, baby.
I’m not sure how much of the writing is Relin’s, and how much is Mortenson’s, but I found it clunky and sometimes difficult to get through. But the story is such a hopeful one of doggedness and faith in humanity, that you forgive the writing and want to find out what is coming next. I mean, you know to an extent, but as the story goes from the mid-90s, with Mortenson alone and living in his car, selling his possessions to save money for that first school, to September 11th and beyond, I found I wanted to know how he got from point A to point Z, and the steps in between. While I don’t recommend this book for the writing necessarily, I highly recommend it for the story, and for the hope it puts in your heart about what is possible, and what a difference one person can make in the lives of others.
It’s also really interesting to read about Mortenson’s understanding of the sometimes extreme Muslim culture of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, how he understands these people far more than most westerners. He sees the mistakes we are making in our handling of the wars in the region, and has some interesting ideas on solutions. This is the part of the book that most gripped me, so I’m interested to read the follow-up book, Stones Into Schools.
Greg Mortenson is the founder of the nonprofit organization, Central Asia Institute, which funds the building of the schools. He also founded Pennies for Peace, which is a charity allowing children to donate their pennies to help build schools for schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Here’s a very interesting interview he did for Bill Moyers Journal. It’s not short, but it’s worth viewing. Especially his views on why it is especially important toward bringing peace to the world, that girls receive an education. Rather than fighting terrorism, his view is to promote peace.