Three Cups of Tea, One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time,

..excerpt from the April newsletter article:

"In 1993 mountaineer Mortenson made an unsuccessful attempt to climb K2. On the descent, he was exhausted and disoriented, and drifted away from his group in a desolate region of northern Pakistan. He wandered into an impoverished village, alone and without food or water. As the villagers were nursing him back to health, he noticed the children sitting on the ground, scratching their lessons into the dirt with sticks. When he left the village, he promised to return and build a school. Three Cups of Tea is the story of that promise, and some of the resulting 78 schools (at last count) that Mortenson has helped to build, especially for girls, in the land that gave birth to the Taliban."

Since I was presenting the book, I chose not to devote much time to biographical information about the author(s) since I felt that what Greg Mortenson has done and continues to do is more important than who he is. Suffice it to say that Mortenson divides his time between Bozeman, Montana, and Pakistan and Afghanistan. David Oliver Relin is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon. Mortenson has been awarded the Star of Pakistan, which is their highest civilian award. Only 3 foreigners have ever received it. He has also received the US National Award for Citizen Diplomacy. I shared some of the thoughts and information I got from one of his websites:
- Afghanistan has the lowest literacy rates in Asia, but is the world's biggest producer of heroin and opium, and the volume has increased every year since 2004.
- Educate girls, and you change the world. A girl is more likely to have a healthier life and raise healthier children if she goes to school. (Nobel prize winning Harvard economist Amartya Sen said that just educating a girl to fifth-grade level reduces infant mortality and reduces the population explosion.)
- There is evidence that rural communities in Pakistan are beginning to place a greater value on educated girls when it comes to marriage, and young women who leave their home villages when they marry can maintain contact through letters.
-The 6 key ingredients of building successful schools for girls are:
- build close to girls' homes
- insist on community involvement
- build "girl-friendly" schools (with private latrines) or separate schools
- provide female teachers and recruit locally
- focus on quality education- invest in school health programs (healthy kids have better attendance records)
Outside Magazine's December 2008 issue had a feature story about Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute.
We took advantage of Jan's laptop computer to look at the photos on one of Mortenson's Central Asia Institute websites (https://www.ikat.org/publications/2008JOH.pdf). The JOH stands for Journey of Hope, a book by journalist Karin Ronnow and photographer Deirdre Eitel. Eitel, who died in October 2008, made three trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last year of her life and "saw how CAI's schools changed lives and inspired hope." The texts on the website are fascinating, and the photos are beautiful. Jan noted that we can see from Mortenson's agenda on his website how full his calendar is. Mortenson says he's amazed at how quickly the villagers can now build a school. The first school "took forever," and the villagers' attitude seemed to be "we've waited centuries, so we can wait one more winter." (We felt that perhaps his increased delegation of responsibility has helped the situation.)

When Mortenson spoke at West Point, saying that education can do more to combat the Taliban than weapons, one of the cadets in the audience countered with the remark that it was educated Saudis who hit the twin towers in New York. Katharine C remarked that it wasn't educated women! She had brought along a copy of a NYTimes op-ed column which mentioned that some of the teachers in the schools built by Mortenson's Central Asia Institute are former Taliban who were convinced by their mothers to quit. The article also noted the vast difference between the extraordinary amount of foreign aid money and military aid provided by the US government (under GW Bush) to the unpopular government in Pakistan, and the diametrically opposite approach of the "frumpy, genial man from Montana" who has spent less than one-ten-thousandth of that amount building schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan (ed.: Remember. This is quoted from another source, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of AWG or its members. We are officially apolitical.) We noted that one tomahawk missile costs more than the construction of 20 schools in Pakistan, and that the madrassas built by the Taliban do not provide your "typical liberal arts education." Jan showed us a map of the area, taken from the December 2001 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. She mentioned that the most populous area of Pakistan, the Punjab, is now being infiltrated by the Taliban, and it's Punjabi who were responsible for the explosions in Mumbai, but since the Central Asia Institute schools are so far north, they're not likely to be targets of the Taliban. Another problem in the area is that, following the period of colonialism, random borders were set up, and the Pashtuns, for example, were separated.
As to the literary aspects of Three Cups of Tea, we were not impressed. Jan felt the writer was "just not up to par" for the material and for his subject matter. Denise compared the book (unfavorably) with Into Thin Air, also written by a journalist, saying that it's not "compelling." Katharine J agreed that it's very factual, but has no "spark." She liked the philosophical captions at the beginning of each chapter, particularly chapter 16, "The Red Velvet Box." ("No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. ... All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering.") But, captions aside, she didn't like the rest of the writing. We wonder who chose the quotes for the captions, Greg Mortenson or David Oliver Relin. Katharine C said the writing was highly descriptive, and remarked on the chronology, but felt Mortenson to be highly disorganized. True, he has a vision, but what a shame that the book is not well written at all. She wondered if Mortenson is on a "colossal ego trip," and questioned why it seems acceptable for men to drop everything to save the world. Katharine J asked if the tendency to "have a dream" is a male thing. Denise said that "multi-tasking" is female; men are more "focused." Jan then reminded us of Beryl Markham (West With the Night), the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from London to North America, and Alexandra David-Néel, writer and explorer of Tibet and the Himalayas. Our focus then blurred a bit as we digressed, talking about youth, culture, "good looks," and the adage that women become invisible at 50, to which Katharine C added that in California, women become invisible at 27! (We even talked about Mortenson supporter, Congresswoman Mary Bono, widow of Sonny.)

Returning to the book, we discussed the motivation for Mortenson's crusade. His younger sister had contracted meningitis at the age of three, when the family was living in Tanzania, where their parents were Lutheran missionaries. She died when she was 23, and Mortenson, a mountain climber, decided to pay her a tribute by scaling K2 and leaving her necklace on the summit. He never made it to the top, but his desire to pay her a tribute was transformed into his obsession with the idea of building a school in Pakistan's Karakoram mountain range. The success of that first school led to a snowball effect, and the building of more and more schools. Katharine C wondered about Mortenson's religious leanings. Prayer, learning how Muslims pray, and respect for his surroundings seem very important to him. We wonder about his fund-raising activities, and whether he has contacts within the Muslim groups in the U.S., or whether that might be detrimental to his activities, and might cause him to lose other supporters. We cited the "hate letters" he received before the article in Parade magazine garnered him so much support. We thought it might be interesting to hear Greg Mortenson speak. Maybe someone can find him somewhere on YouTube? At any rate, we all felt that it was wonderful and inspiring to read about a successful project.

9. Please direct media or Three Cups of Tea inquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 406-585-7841.


April 2009