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Three Cups of Tea: The Story of One Manís Promise

abstract:Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time, By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin is the prize-winning bestseller you have by now certainly heard of if not read. It has been the book of the month for many book clubs including both of mine, and before reading it I must say I was surprised at its popularity. A book about building schools in the Middle East is hardly the sort of terrorist expose weíve seen hogging airport bookshelves since 9/11. It is a much simpler, yet far less reductionist story of a mountain climber cum philanthropist who made a sustainable impact in a part of the world known for its remote inaccessibility, both geographically and some would say ideologically. "Tea" succeeds in providing access to what is, of course, a universally human desire to improve the lives of our children.


September 29, 2008
Greg Mortenson stumbles upon the tiny Baltoro village of Korph in a failed attempt to summit K2. He is awed by the warm hospitality he encounters and bewildered by the sight of small children studying on frozen earth, tracing math problems into the icy dirt. He makes a promise to build a them school, and the resulting book is the tale of his friendships with the people of Pakistan, the success of his building projects, the hardships of fundraising and regional politics, and the passionate generosity of a few which make the projects possible. The education of girls and empowerment of women is a predominant theme, and the ways in which this impacts an entire family and community are truly inspirational.

Kofi Annan, 7th Secretary-General of the UN, once said when you educate a girl, you educate a family. Men are more likely to take their diplomas and pursue jobs outside home towns, whereas women typically share their knowledge with their children, who in turn attend school. Educated and empowered, the women of Korph request a womenís center to convene and sew together, and Mortenson begins building them in all the cities in which he constructs schools.

What this reader found surprising given Mortensonís care for women, children and the family was his scarcity when it came to his own. The author tactfully explains that Greg was so singular in his pursuit of his goals that he could attend to little else including his paunchy appearance, but the fact that he was in Pakistan for the majority of his wifeís first pregnancy, and in the basement for the majority of his time home between trips did seem inconsistent with his values. It is perhaps the case that he felt more at ease with his mentor Haji Ali in Pakistan than in Montana with his family, or maybe preferred rural mountain living to the modern western way of life, as much attention is given to seductive simplicity and joyful camaraderie of the village. His family relationship , the authors at times overbearing praise of Mortenson and the lengthy coverage of the Taliban invasion in final chapters were distracting given the storyís great merit being a first-hand account of one manís impact on global education. Image of the Boltoro Glacier

Nevertheless, what Greg Mortenson accomplishes is inspirational, and his perseverance throughout all kinds of impediments; from impassable blizzards effacing roads, a kidnapping by a Wahhabi tribe, a direct Fatwa issued by an Shia leader, huge financial obstacles, and simply winning the trust and esteem of wary investors and villagers, is no less than herculean. In that sense Mortenson seems a true embodiment of what it is to be a humanitarian, and by all accounts a man of his word.

Emaleah Shackleton is a graduate of Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern Studies programs with degrees from UC Berkeley California. Recently relocated from New York City, she lives and works in Vancouver, BC.



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