Tuesday, February 03, 2009
"Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin - a Different Way to Fight Terrorism
It is the rare book that moves me first to grab a handkerchief, and then to grab my checkbook; “Three Cups of Tea” is such a book.
Jointly written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, “Three Cups of Tea” tells the implausible tale of Mortenson’s pilgrimage from barely surviving a failed attempt at scaling the summit of K2 to helping children in Asia to surmount the centuries of indifference to the need for education for the mountain people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This book, subtitled “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time,” is a New York Times Bestseller for a myriad of reasons:
• The story itself is compelling and rare;
• The saga is inspirational and moving;
• The cast of characters are as colorful and memorable as the sun-splashed mountain peaks of the Karakoram or the Hindu Kush;
• Greg Mortenson’s personal story serves as a warm antidote to the sobering and numbing news of terrorist activity that hits us daily through the news media from the four corners of the globe;
• David Oliver Relin’s literary voice adds a layer of elegance to the telling of this story that raises it to an art from.
In many ways, as I read of Mortenson’s courage and maverick approach to living out his passion for educating the children of the “Upside,” I was remind of Charlie Wilson’s War – both wars waged in the same part of the world - near its roof. Wilson sought to arm the mujahadeen with missiles. Years later, Mortenson seeks to arm the offspring of these same mujahadeen with the weapons of literacy and education.
I am pleased to share a few brief excerpts from Mortenson’s pilgrimage and Relin’s prose. This first sample paints the picture of the topsy-turvy world that Mortenson found himself in as he prepared to travel from Rawalpindi, Pakistan to the village of Korphe to begin to build the first of what would become dozens of schools:
“Abdul’s knock came well before dawn. Mortenson had been lying awake, on his string bed, for hours. Sleep had been no match for the fear of all that, this day, could go wrong. He rose and opened the door, trying to make sense of the sight of a one-eyed man holding out a pair of highly polished shoes for his inspection.
They were his tennis shoes. Abdul had clearly spent hours while Mortenson slept mending, scrubbing, and buffing his torn and faded Nikes, trying to transform them into something more respectable. Something a man setting out on a long and difficult journey might lace up with pride. Abdul had transformed himself for the occasion, too. His usually silvery beard was dyed deep orange from a fresh application of henna.
Mortenson took his tea, then washed with a bucket of cold water and the last bit of Tibet Snow brand soap he’s been rationing all week. His handful of belongings only half-filled his old duffel bag. He let Abdul sling it over his shoulder, knowing the firestorm of offense he’s encounter if he tried to carry it himself, and bid his rooftop sweatbox a fond good-bye.
Conscious of his gleaming shoes, and seeing how much keeping up appearances pleased Abdul, Mortenson consented to hire a taxi for the trip to Rajah Bazaar. The black colonial-era Morris, flotsam abandoned in ‘Pindi by the ebbing tide of British empire, purled quietly along still-sleeping streets.” (Pages 70-71)
Greg Mortenson, facing long odds of fund-raising and staggering logistical and political roadblocks, succeeded in beginning to fulfill his promise to provide schools for the boys and girls of many of the remote village at the feet of the world tallest collection of mountain peaks. Not surprisingly, an American seeking to educate Muslim girls raised more than a few hackles, and a fatwah was issued against Mortenson by a local village cleric. Mortenson’s Pakistani allies suggested that they ask for the matter to be adjudicated by the Supreme Council in Qom, Iran. This excerpt reveals the outcome long-awaited verdict:
“With due ceremony, Syed Abbas tilted back the lid of the box, withdrew a scroll of parchment wrapped in red ribbon, unfurled it, and revealed Mortenson’s future. ‘Dear Compassionate of the Poor,’ he translated from the elegant Farsi calligraphy, ‘our Holy Koran tells us all children should receive education, including our daughters and sisters. Your noble work follows the highest principles of Islam, to tend to the poor and sick. In the Holy Koran there is no law to prohibit an infidel from providing assistance to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Therefore,’ the decree concluded, ‘we direct all clerics in Pakistan to not interfere with your noble intentions. You have our permission, blessings, and prayers.’” (Page 199)
In one of the books most moving chapters, the reader is able to grasp the fruits of Mortenson’s labor and vision. The granddaughter of Haji Ali, the Baltistan village chieftain of Korphe, who had saved the American’s life as he descended from K2, confronts Mortenson with her dream of what she would like to become, now that she has been offered an education and a window onto the wider world:
“Jahan took a breath and composed herself, ‘When I was a little sort of girl and I would see a gentleman or a lady with good, clean clothes I would run away and hide my face. But after I graduated from the Korphe School, I felt a big change in my life. I felt I was clear and clean and could go before anybody and discuss anything.’
‘And now that I am already in Skardu, I feel that anything is possible. I don’t want to be just a health worker. I want to be such a woman that I can start a hospital and be an executive, and look over all the health problems of all the women in the Braldu. I want to become a very famous woman in this area,’ Jahan said, twirling the hem of her maroon silk headscarf around her finger as she peered out the window past a soccer player sprinting through the drizzle toward a makeshift goal built of stacked stones, searching for the exact word with which to envision her future. ‘I want to be a . . . “Superlady,”’ she said, grinning defiantly, daring anyone, any man, to tell her she couldn’t.” (Page 313)
Mortenson’s work continues through the Central Asia Institute, with U.S. headquarters in Bozeman, Montana.
I encourage you to read this book. If you plan to purchase the book, buying it on-line through the following link will guarantee that 7% of the purchase price will be channeled to support the work of the Central Asia Institute.
Three Cups of Tea Website
P.S. FYI - Greg Mortensen will be speaking this coming Saturday morning, 10:30 AM, February 7 in Framingham, MA at an event sponsored by the Framingham Public Library: