Three Cups of Tea By MORTENSON GREG
Tea... schools... peace? It all adds up! An inspiring biographical account of Greg Mortensen's chance wandering into the village of Khorpe in Pakistan, his empathy for Khorpe's children who lacked a school and how the promise of building one school catapulted into something extraordinary Greg Mortenson's passion was climbing and to scale Mount K2 in memory of his sister Christa. In 1992, after a failed attempt to reach K2's summit, Mortenson got separated from his team of climbers and ended up in the village of Khorpe in Pakistan. Touched by their affection for a total stranger like himself, and moved by their plight he promised to do something to make a difference - build a proper school to replace the barely functioning open air one. Greg Mortenson, was born in Minnesota, USA and raised in Tanzania, Africa, where his missionary parents taught and established Tanzania's first teaching hospital, the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center and the Moshi International School. When Mortenson turned fifteen, his parents decided to move back to the US. After highschool, he joined the army and was posted in Germany for a couple of years. Back in the US, he joined college on a GI scholarship and worked his way up doing odd jobs like washing dishes in the cafeteria, and as a hospital orderly. Armed with an honors degree in Nursing and Chemistry, he sustained himself with part-time nurse jobs. After his stay at Khorpe, Mortenson's immediate plan was to raise $12,000 to build a school at Khorpe. Returning to the US, he lived in his car to save rent, and cut down on food expenses to save more from his nurse's salary. He sent 580 letters to Oprah Winfrey, Susan Sarandon and various U.S. Senators requesting their support for his endeavour, without any luck. Children at the school where Mortenson's mother Jerene was a principal attended his presentation and spontaneously started a "Pennies for Pakistan" drive that collected 62,345 pennies (US $ 623.45), an amount bigger than what he had collected so far! A small article written about his efforts by a fellow climber in the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF) was read by Dr. Jean Hoerni, who besides being a climber and scientist, had also founded a number of companies. Dr. Hoerni, aware of the ground realities at Khorpe, donated $12,000 to Mortenson. But as Mortenson discovered, raising money was the easiest part of the plan. Mortenson would have to survive other villages' attempts to hijack the coveted school, the harsh winter that would halt any construction work and the Khorpe
villagers' request for a bridge instead of a school, before he could build the promised school at Khorpe 3 years later. And all along the way, he also discovered that being part of the community and understanding its needs was the only way to succeed. Dr. Hoerni passed away soon after the Khorpe school construction, but not before he established the CAI (Central Asia Institute) with Mortenson as a paid Director. The title of the book is inspired by what Haji Ali, the Khorpe village chief said "Here 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." Mortenson not only lived frugally unlike the usual American visitors to the area, but also dressed like the locals, learned the local dialect, learned to pray with them and learned their needs from them instead of imposing his viewpoint. He realized that sustainable development is possible only when the local community initiates the dialogue and owns and manages the projects. Mortenson had to encounter fatwas from some of the clerics in Pakistan who viewed him as the infidel attempting to lure the young into Christianity, or even worse, to educate girls! He was held prisoner for over a week by the Taliban, while they checked his credentials and motive. Mortenson's first encounter with the aftereffects of war was during the Kargil conflict over Kashmir in 1999. He witnessed the deplorable state of the refugee camps in this dry parched land, with no water or facilities for people. But once again with the community's involvement he helped lay water lines before building a school. While the rehabilitation work was going on, 9/11 happened, that added to the confusion already existing in the region. Mortenson initially supported the U.S retaliation, but was later perturbed by Americaâ€™s apathy in helping rebuild Afghanistan; all he saw was an increase in what America termed as expenses on 'security'. Mortenson was convinced that this was the wrong way to fight terror. In his address to Congress members and senior staff, he said "I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." Mortenson believed that the only solution was to provide regular schools as alternatives to the extremist madrassas that were sprouting with money from Saudi and which ignited the jihad in the region.
The book was written almost 12 years after the first school was built. The narrative by David Relin is complete with background information about the people and region, interviews and eloquent description of the harsh yet beautiful landscape. The typical South Asian mannerisms and speech do bring an occasional smile. Relin doesn't make Mortenson to be this extraordinary person; on the contrary, Mortenson appears to be the average Joe who just took it upon himself to fulfill a promise. Don't look any further for inspiration to do something that seems impossible.
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