Book Review – Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

November 19, 2007 No Comments »

Photo: Indian girl practicing English

After a failed climb of K2 in Pakistan Greg Mortenson set out on a mission of another kind – one that required an immense amount of perseverance and passion beyond K2. This is the true story of Greg Mortenson’s journey to “promote peace one school at a time” I thought that I would like this story – it has all of my favorite elements – non-fiction, global travel, athleticism/drive, and giving back; yet I not only liked it, I loved it. I can say that it is my favorite book I’ve ever read. Finally – I have an answer for stupid online dating questionnaires…”What’s your favorite book?”

Photo: Kids at a village school in Vietnam
School kidsAfter his failed attempt on K2, Greg wandered into an impoverished Pakistan village, Korphe. He was lost and disoriented but was moved by the kindness of the people who took care of him. Korphe was a hearty village – it had to be to survive in the barren mountains, high altitude, and harsh winters. After seeing the village kids had no school, but as an alternative sometimes gathered to draw lessons with a stick in the dirt – he vowed that if the Pakistan government couldn’t provide a school – he would.

One of the things that I loved about Greg was that he was a man of his word – something that I try to live my life by and have the utmost respect for. Greg had no idea how to make school commitment happen, but he was scrappy and determined. His journey was full of learnings and strife as he came to really understand the Pakistani people in this region, their Muslim religion, their language, their customs, how they did business, and their pace. All countries have a pace – I believe America to be the fastest pace country I’ve ever been in. Pakistan’s pace was SSSLLOOWWW.

Photo: The world is a mixture of religions
Muslim and Christian His journey turned from one school to many schools, to water supply solutions, to women’s vocational centers, to Afghanistan, and eventually a NGO called Central Asia Institute. His initial contributor to the school was a rich old man that felt America was always pulling for the Buddhists (think Richard Gere) – but no one was trying to help the Muslims. Greg’s journey started years before 9/11 – however the books spans that timeframe and it was fascinating how it evolved from simply a book about an NGO building schools, to a testament on how to fight terrorism through education of kids. Education of kids in impoverished areas is the key to many issues the world faces today and something I believe strongly in.

This book made the reader really think about religion, morals, empowering women, politics, global travel, and culture. I read the book with a highlighter in hand – marking my favorite passages that moved me. This should give you a bit of flavor of the book:

“I used to assume that the direction of ‘progress’ was somehow inevitable, not to be questioned. I passively accepted a new road through the middle of the park, a steel and glass bank where a 200 year old church had stood…and the fact that life seemed to get harder and faster with each day. I do not anymore. In Ladakh I have learned that there is more than one path into the future and I have had the privilege to witness another , saner, way of life – a pattern of existence based on the co-evolution between human beings and the earth.” From Halena Norberg Hodge author of Ancient Futures

“The bridge strengthened the village’s maternal ties, and made the women feel a whole lot happier and less isolated. Who knew that something as simple as a bridge could empower women?”

“When I lost him and thought he might die out on the ice, I was awake all night, praying to Allah that I might be allowed to save him.”

“That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life,” Mortenson says. “we Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two minute football drills. Our leaders thought their ‘shock and awe’ campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

“Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities, “ Mortenson explains. “But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

“I wish Westerners who misunderstand Muslims could have seen Syed Abbas in action that day,” Mortenson says. “They would see that most people who practice the true teachings of Islam, even conservative mullahs like Syed Abbas, believe in peace and justice, not in terror. Just as the Torah and Bible teach concern for those in distress, the Koran instructs all Muslims to make caring for widows, orphans, and refugees a priority.”

“A village called New York has been bombed.”

“We share in the sorrow as people weep and suffer in America today,” he said, pushing his thick glasses firmly into place, “as we inaugurate this school. Those who have committed this evil act against the innocent, the women and children, to create thousands of widows and orphans do not do so in the name of Islam. By the grace of Allah the Almighty, may justice be served upon them.”—Syed Abbas

“These two Christian men have come halfway around the world to show our Muslim children the light of education,” Abbas said. “Why have we not been able to bring education to our children on our own? Fathers and parents, I implore you to dedicate your full effort and commitment to see that all your children are educated. Otherwise, they will merely graze like sheep in the field, at the mercy of nature and the world changing so terrifyingly around us.”

“I request America to look into our hearts,” Abbas continued, his voice straining with emotion,”and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we are without education. But today, another candle of knowledge has been lit. In the name of Allah the Almighty, may it light our way out of the darkness we find ourselves in.”

Photo: African school kids
Africa kidsAll I can say is – read the book. I’m not sure that it will be your favorite all-time book, but I think you will enjoy it. The reason why it’s my favorite book is very personal to me. As I read through the pages those old, familiar feelings came back to me, the ones that make me want to drop everything and go back and do volunteer work. As I was reading it, I kept thinking about how purely happy I was when I was teaching the kids in India…I had passion (See Spice Diaries posts). A passion that made me smile so hard it hurt, and cry so hard that you forget how to breathe. This book reminded me of what I need to do, of what makes me happy – and that is making a difference in the world. This book came at a pivotal time for me in my travels, one where I’m confused about going home, looking into a directionless future…it grounded me again. It provided me a glimpse of what my future could be if I have the perseverance and drive to make it happen.

If you do decide to buy the book please purchase it through the Three Cups of Tea website . Then click on the Amazon link . By clicking through their website before going to Amazon via their link – they get some proceeds that goes to the NGO.

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