Thursday, January 17, 2008

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson - Book Review

Three Cups of Tea
One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time
By Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Penguin 2006
Book Website
Foundation website
Greg Mortenson Website
Northern Area of Pakistan
Parade Magazine Article 2003

Here (in Pakistan & Afghanistan) we drink three cups of tea to do business. The first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend and the third, you join our family. And for our family, we are prepared to do anything - even die.
Haji Ali, Korphe Village Chief, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan.

This is a really good book. It tells the story of how ONE American climber in the Karakoram Mountains, has made a difference in a remote and very poor area. You learn the REAL details of how the poor Muslims live - especially those in the mountains. How they are usually neglected by their governments. And you also learn that they are simple people, with families, children, and desires, just like you and me. They are not terrorists. The biggest thing they want (for the most part) is an education.

In 1993, Greg Mortenson and his team had attempted to climb K2. Due to circumstances beyond their control (one of the team members becoming ill) it was imperative that the team return to a lower altitude ASAP if the ill member was to survive.

As the team descended down a glacier, Mortenson somehow made a wrong turn, found himself separated from his party, and in unfamiliar territory. After 24 hours of wandering, and avoiding the glacier crevasses, Mortenson was found by a Balti porter and taken to a nearby village (Korphe), where the village chief's family nursed him back to health.

While he was recovering, the chief showed him around the village. Mortenson saw the area of grass where the village children (mostly boys) sat on the dirt and tried to do their lessons, with no teacher. The village could not even afford $1 per day for a teacher. When he left the village, he promised that he would return to build them a school.

Mortenson spent several years trying to raise money in America, and eventually after selling his own belongings, and having an article written in a mountaineering newsletter, he received a large check from an elderly and wealthy industralist who wanted to leave a lasting legacy before he died. The industrialist willed one million dollars to a new foundation (Central Asia Institute) and named Mortenson as the Executive Director. The centre of operations for the CAI in the Baltistan area is the town of Skardu. The American headquarters is in Bozeman, Montana.

In the last 12 years (from 1994 to 2006) the Central Asia Institute have built 58 schools and 14 Women's Vocational Centres. The schools are currently educating a total of 24,000 children, of which 14,000 are girls. The area is constantly in a state of war - with the Taliban, with China, and most especially with India.

This success has not been without danger. Mortenson was kidnapped for 8 days, by the Waziri (an Eastern Pakistan tribal group associated with the Taliban). He has had several fatwas issued against him by enraged mullahs (who did not agree with girls being educated) and must endure constant separations from his wife and children who live in Montana.

The enemy is ignorance

As the US confronts Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Greg Mortenson is quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists, who often recruit members through religious schools called madrassas. Mortenson's approach hinges on a simple idea: that by building secular schools and helping to promote education - particularly for girls - in the world's most volatile war zone, support for the Taliban and other extremist sects will eventually dry up.
Kevin Ferko, Parade Cover Story, April 6, 2003

Mortenson was in Pakistan in 2001, when he was told "...the village of New York was bombed." He has since had to endure several interrogations by the American authorities for entering Pakistan and Afghanistan. All he wants to do is build schools for the children. The US Military requested that he write down locations of Wahabi madrassas. Madrassas are the Muslim schools that educate the boys and train them to be fanatic anti-western muslims. Most of the Madrassas are being built with Saudi money.

CAI schools are built entirely with donated funds, and teach only the basic education - the three Rs, science, history, geography and languages - with NO religion of any kind at all. The US Military also tried bribe him to build schools next to the madrassas, offering $2 million to do so. Mortenson refused on the grounds that he would either be killed or worse if the locals ever found out that the money came from the military. They may even destroy the CAI schools, and send their boys back to the madrassas. The only reason Mortenson is trusted, and can continue his work, is because he is NOT affiliated with any government, nor any religion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. And I read it for the Memoirs (In their Shoes) Challenge.

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