SayWhatClub Online Voices January 2011

Book Review

Dorothy Black
Copyright 2011

Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

This book with an inviting title was a New York Times bestseller and I kept seeing it referred to here and there. Then a friend gave it to me to read just when I needed another book to review.

This is indeed an intriguing tale. At first I found it slow but eventually it became much more interesting, current and important. I came to feel that this Montana climber, Greg Mortenson, had been grasped firmly by the scruff of his neck, lifted and forced forward by some unseen, purposeful great hand. That he had failed to reach K2, his mountain peak goal, became of no significance when compared to the new challenges he fell into.

The mountain wildernesses of Afghanistan and Pakistan, nurseries of the Taliban, are the sites of this man’s attempt to make a difference. The nature, customs and isolation of the people slow up and impede his goal of building schools. But eventually, through the help of significant members of the these societies, his determination and increasing knowledge of how to progress despite great obstacles, and the developing trust by the natives of this strange American, progress is made. These CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) schools were to teach the same curriculum as a good Pakistani government school until the fifth grade, focussing mainly on girls. But in Pakistan and elsewhere, thousands of madrassas were now being built with Saudi Arabian money, schools teaching religious extremism -- jihad, military training and hatred of the West -- to impoverished students that the public systems failed to support. And Greg learns that much of the aid money promised by the American government did not reach the intended beneficiaries (such as the teachers in the schools) but was being used to prepare, for example, for invasion of Iraq.

Greg Mortenson made many difficult and very dangerous trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan to start and keep in operation the schools that are so badly needed. Like others who feel compelled to "do good", he disregarded the impacts on his health, his family and his life in general, placing his schools above all.

What, you ask is the meaning of the title of this book? Haji Ali, a chief in Baltistan explained: “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time -- you are an honoured guest. The third time -- you become family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything, even die.” And so it was, for Greg’s life was repeatedly saved by the people he had learned to trust.

Three Cups of Tea is required reading in many American universities and schools and “for senior U.S. military commanders, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training and Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan.” Pakistan gave Greg Mortenson its highest civilian award: “Star of Pakistan.” The book’s co-author, David Oliver Relin, has ably brought this unique and important story to us.

Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Penguin Books
Copyright 2006
ISBN 978-0-14-303825-2 (pbk.)

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