Saturday, August 28, 2010

Three Cups Of Tea

Three Cups Of Tea
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

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I am about to say something that I'll (most likely) never say again:  This Three Cups of Tea is a book that everyone should read.  Everyone.  I don't ever say that.  I have never said that.  There isn't another book out there that I feel all kinds of humans should read.  Mostly, I believe that there just isn't a book for everyone.  I don't expect people to like all the books I like, and vice versa.  Heck, I don't even think that my religion's Good Book should be read by everyone (because, well, people are either ready to read it or not, no matter how much you try to force it on them, with whatever wieldy method you profess to procure.  I'm a terrible missionary, but that's something we can discuss on another day.)

Anyway, aside from this Three Cups of Tea book, there isn't another book out there that I believe all kinds of humans should read.  You should really read this book.

How am I doing?  Have I convinced you to read it yet?  No?  Okay, I'll keep trying.

Greg Mortenson (maybe you've heard of him,) is a selfless humanitarian who has spent the last 15ish years raising money and building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  His passionate altruism was delivered by a failed attempt at climbing K2 in Pakistan.  Mr. Mortenson set out to find himself by conquering a mountain, only to discover, that, perhaps finding oneself is more about exchanging your own dreams for the dreams of those less fortunate.

After wandering off and becoming lost, Mortenson found himself in a rural village called Korphe.  Mortenson was in bad shape.  He was skinny, cold, and hungry.  The people of Korphe took him in, fed him, kept him warm, and arranged for transportation into town.  While staying in the village, Mortenson noticed that the children had no school and no real teacher.  The children met outside with the high-altitude elements, and used sticks to write in the dirt.  On his way out of Korphe, Mortensen promised the villagers that he would return and build a school for them.  And build a school he did -- a couple of years, and $12,000 later.

Can you believe that?  Twelve grand for a school.  How much are our schools?  Millions, I'll bet.  Those fancy football and baseball fields are pricey and so is air conditioning and heating.  We are so very spoiled.

There's no question that Mortenson's planetary contributions are heroic, but let me tell you what makes the book so great.  First, it's not political, mostly.  It's about education. Specifically it's about getting education to those in remote areas with poor literacy, and it's about providing education for girls.  I didn't feel that this book had an agenda or was trying to radiate political views or motives in between the lines.  It's a book about one man doing his best to provide an opportunity for education.

Second, it's written well.  Really well.  I guess this David Oliver Relin guy is a freelance kind of writer who contributes articles here and there to various magazines.  To my knowledge he hasn't written another book, but if he decides to write another book, I'll be among the first to read his thoughtful presentation of events.  One chapter stands out -- it's the chapter where Relin tells the story of Mortenson meeting his wife and marrying her.  It's a terrific love story.  Terrific.

Third, it was interesting to see Mortenson's view of world events while he was sauntering about in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Mortenson was scouting for new villages in need of schools when Ahmad Shah Massoud (defense minister of Afghanistan) was assassinated.  The authors explain the panic and doom felt by the people.  The villagers could sense a tragedy ahead.  We clueless Americans had barely heard of this news and had no reason to be suspicious.  Which is unfortunate, because September 11,  2001 was two days later.  A coincidence?  Nope.  And yes, Mortenson was in Pakistan on that dreadful day -- not a good time to be "over there."

Another chapter worth mentioning is one titled "Rumsfeld's Shoes."  I don't have an opinion of Donald Rumsfeld.  Mostly its because I'm too lazy to actually research the varying facts and whatnot of his tenure as the Secretary of Defense.  Lots of people like him.  Lots of people hate him.  I suspect, however, that the United States' Secretary of Defense is prolly among the most difficult of jobs in the entire world.  Wouldn't you agree?  I mean, the poor fool is responsible for keeping 300 million safe yet is required to be both political and practical.  Is that possible?  Prolly not!

Anyway, Mortenson met Rumsfeld because Rummy was impressed with Mortenson's peace making practices.  During the meeting, Mortsenson couldn't quit looking at his shoes.  Mortenson's own shoes were dusty and beat-up from the travels of a war-torn Afghanistan.  Rumsfeld's were not.  Rumsfeld's fancy shoes seemed a perfect metaphor for politicians and their perpetual state of being out-of-touch.  How often do politicians and decision makers actually get their shoes dirty?
"'I wish I could tell you I said something amazing to Donald Rumsfeld,' [Mortensen said,] 'the kind of thing that made him question the whole conduct of the war on terror, but mostly what I did was stare at his shoes.
"'I don't know much about that kind of thing, but even I could tell they were really nice shoes.  They looked expensive and they were perfectly shined.  I remember also that Rumsfeld had on a fancy-looking gray suit, and he smelled like cologne.  And I remember thinking, even though I knew that the Pentagon had been hit by a hijacked plane, that we were very far away from the fighting, from the heat and dust I'd come from in Kabul.' 
"Back in the inhospitable hallway again, walking toward a room where Mortenson was scheduled to brief top military planners, he wondered how the distance that he felt in the Pentagon affected the decisions made in the building.  How would his feelings about the conduct of the war change if everything he'd just seen, the boys who had lost their potato salesman father, the girls with the blowing-over blackboard, and all the wounded attempting to walk the streets of Kabul with the pieces of limbs the land mines and cluster-bombs had left them, were just numbers on a laptop screen?"
This War on Terror is a hot topic.  One that might receive criticism and praise to match through the end of time.  I do know of some good that has come about it, however.  One of my running buddies returned from Afghanistan in April.  He says Mortenson dedicated two schools while he was there.  This running buddy, a member of the U.S. Military, spent most of his time overseeing the building of schools and medical clinics.

The carnage of this war is horrendous, no doubt, but there's some good coming too.


Next up: The Haj by Leon Uris.  I'm almost finished and it's a dandy!  After that I think I'll read Eat, Pray, Love so as I can make fun of it in a somewhat educated fashion instead of making fun of it uninformed -- which is what I'm doing right now.

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6 comments:

Lars said...

I absolutely loved Three Cups of Tea. One of my favorites. You should read Long Way Gone: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier.

rookie cookie said...

Superb timing.

About 15 minutes ago, I was driving on the 15 headed north and I saw the Greg Mortensen billboard and I thought of our conversation about him and that book. And I made a mental note to e-mail you and ask you what the book was called. And here is it.

Superb timing.

Jessica said...

I need to read that book. You wanna send it to me so I can read it? Kidding, I need to just buy it.

Also, I need to do a book/movie report on Eat, Pray, Love. I need to see the movie first so I can have a fun comparison. (just remember this when you read the book: it is merely rich, white-lady angst. That knowledge alone will help you get through it.)

Makell said...

It is an incredible book - good review, by the way!
We'll have to talk - we were given Three Cups of Tea by a good friend and boss of my husbands who started a group we work with in Honduras that builds schools. It is shocking how little they really need to get a school built and running - it is not as complicated as most people think.
So this Eat, Pray, Love book is on my list - my friend said that the author was too liberal for her taste, so I'm assuming I'll probably have the same idea as we tend to think alike. Can't wait to hear some informed mockery! And the Haj....good?

Makell said...

It is an incredible book - good review, by the way!
We'll have to talk - we were given Three Cups of Tea by a good friend and boss of my husbands who started a group we work with in Honduras that builds schools. It is shocking how little they really need to get a school built and running - it is not as complicated as most people think.
So this Eat, Pray, Love book is on my list - my friend said that the author was too liberal for her taste, so I'm assuming I'll probably have the same idea as we tend to think alike. Can't wait to hear some informed mockery! And the Haj....good?

Makell said...

Sick of me yet? Hhaha - don't hit submit twice :)