Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea *Greg Mortenson *
Sometimes when you are on one path, you lose your way. Then you learn that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Such was the case of Greg Mortenson in 1993. Mortenson set out to climb K2 in the Himalayas. He was, at that point in his life, a mountain climber. Mortenson set out to climb K2, the highest most difficult mountain he could find in order to summit and plant his sister Christa's amber necklace in her memory. Falling short of summiting by just 600 meters, Mortenson was filled with feelings of what was a tremendous failure in his mind. On his way down the mountain, he lost his way and stumbled upon the village of Korphe. While in Korphe, one scene that Mortenson witnessed was several children gathered together, using sticks to scratch in the dirt, in order to study. The children were approximately fourth grade age. Mortenson couldn't believe that the children were so starved for education that they would gather together to study of their own volition. The village of Korphe shared a teacher with another village, so each village only had a teacher for half of the time. There wasn't a physical school building. They would just gather together in an attempt to attain an education. Mortenson vowed to return to Korphe to build a school.


Mortenson grew up at the base of Mount Kilamonjaro in Tanzania. His parents were Midwesterners, Minnesota Lutherans who went to Tanzania to teach. His father started a hospital there and his mother started a school. In Greg's mind, returning to Korphe to build a school wasn't something he thought about doing. When he said that he would return to build a school, he meant it. Mortenson immediately returned to the U.S. and started selling his belongings and attempting to raise the $12,000 it would take to build the school in Korphe.
Mortenson raised the money and returned to Korphe. But first, they had to build a bridge. Normally, before the bridge, it was standard to cross the water via a rope contraption that wasn't very reliable. Without a bridge, it was impossible to get the materials needed to build the school to Korphe. So they built a bridge.

Mortenson has, since 1993 dedicated his life to promoting community-based education of literacy programs, especially for girls in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortenson faces each obstacle with a calm assuredness that he will get through each situation. He sits down to tea with the Taliban.

The reason that the book is entitled Three Cups of Tea, is because to conduct any sort of business in Pakistan and Aftghanistan, you must first have tea. With the first cup, you are a stranger, the second a friend. Upon sharing a third cup of tea, you become family, for which they will do anything, even die. (Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan.) One of my favorite chapters is "Rumsfeld's Shoes." Mortenson goes to Washington to meet with Rumsfeld and is amazed that upon entering his office, he isn't even offered a seat. There is no tea. Mortenson notices Rumsfeld's shoes - which appear to be expensive and are polished to a high sheen. Rumsfeld smells of cologne and is freshly shaven and impeccably clean. Mortenson notes that in Washington, no one meets an other's eyes. Everyone walks forward, quickly, in a rush to get to where ever it is that they are going. (I have experienced this in D.C., myself. My daughter likes to explain my behavior to east coast folks when I get chatty, by saying 'she is from Indiana.") Mortenson notes how very far away he is from Pakistan while in Washington,DC.

Greg's wife and children - Khyber, Tara, and Amira

One of the huge heros, in Greg's life is his wife Tara. She so believes in Greg's mission in life, that she very often must be single parent. She has to trust and believe that Greg is fine, despite the dangers of the areas he travels. When in danger, Greg's first thoughts are of getting back to Tara and the children. Chunda School, 2006 *
Khandays female students clutch new school uniforms. * Central Asia Institute logo *

Greg's efforts are founded in the Central Asia Institute. Mortenson is director. Pennies for Peace logo *


One program, which helps children help other children is Pennies for Peace. Pennies for Peace came about with Greg's initial fund drive for the children of Korphe.

Mortenson writes Three Cups of Tea with author David Oliver Relin. Reading Three Cups of Tea was, for me, a life-changing experience. It causes me to think about how many Americans recklessly squander money. This book was passed on to me by a colleague and upon finishing the book, I bought a copy to pass on to others. You don't have to take my word for what a fine, life-changing story this is. The book was #1 on The New York Times best seller list, TIME magazine's Asia book of the year, Kiriyama Prize for non-fiction award, PNBA non-fiction award, Borders Books Original Voices Selection and Montana Honor Book Award. Many speculate that Mortenson will receive the Pulitzer Prize. With a calendar booked through 2011, I don't know that he will be on hand to accept it. Most likely, he will be far away, building another school.

* Images Courtesy of Central Asia Institute.

4 comments:

Nicole said...

What an excellent review. I had planned already on reading this book, but I may have to move it up on my list and read it sooner.

Miss Janice said...

This was an excellent review Cheryl. This book has been on my list of "to buy" for a long time!

Mrs. Staggs said...

I haven't read this book, though I intend to, but I am familiar with Greg Mortenson's inspiring story, and these organizations. We can all learn so much from people like the Mortenson's and from other cultures. I'm not really sure when our American culture became so disrespectful of so much in the world, including each other, but I hope that we will come around again, to being better. I was raised to believe that manners and caring are so important, that it is sometimes physically painful for me to see the way that people think about and treat one another these days.

Life Is Wilson said...

I am currently reading this book with my 10 year old son as a homeschool reading book. It has captured his heart so much he reads beyond the chapters I have assigned him! It is an excellent book and reminds us how giving is always better than receiving.

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