Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time by David Oliver Relin

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Penguin, 2007
Price: $15.00
ISBN-10: 0143038257
ISBN-13: 978-0143038252

Sometimes the only way to find what you are looking for is by getting lost. Often, the only way to achieve victory is first to fail. If Greg Mortenson had not yet learned these two lessons when attempting to reach the summit of K2 in 1993—the second highest mountain in the world but, it is said, the toughest to climb—then he learned these lessons on the way down. He would never forget.

Greg Mortenson is a three-cup tea drinker. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the tradition is that with the first cup, one is a stranger; with the second cup, one is a friend; but with the third cup, one has become family. For family, one is prepared to do anything, even to sacrifice one's life.

As a young man, Mortenson was a mountain climber and a military man, so he understood hard work and discipline. He had learned how to set a goal, keep his eyes on the summit, and go for it--with everything in him. Climbing K2 was a special challenge he had set for himself, a kind of tribute to his sister who had died young. He failed the climb, however, and when he turned around, short of the summit, and headed back down, Mortenson realized that he had gotten lost. He had intended to meet his guide in a town in the foothills, but instead had kept going down the road and ended up in a village in the Karakoram mountains. Exhausted, hungry, filthy, he was greeted with three cups of wretched tasting tea and the warm embrace of family.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson's decade of building 55 schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan in gratitude for that moment of welcome for a lost man. Many of them are schools for girls, the often forgotten ones who find a new chance at life through education. While for much of his first years in this role, Mortenson himself toes the edge of poverty, working on a bare bone salary, funding much of the school building through the kindness of a rich mentor and various other donations, he is finally recognized for the work that he does after the events of 9/11. No, not right away. Initially, he receives bags of hate mail for "helping the enemy." But there comes a fascinating turning point in the story when wiser minds begin to realize that the answer to terrorism, perpetrated, after all, by a few, is not the violence of war against many, but through the expression of human kindness—and education.

This is truly a remarkable story. If anyone deserves the Nobel Peace Prize (and there is such talk), then it is Greg Mortenson. This story is about the world-altering change one man can create. Let no one ever again say that one person cannot make a difference.

Written by David Oliver Relin, who travels all of Mortenson's paths to record this story, it is far more fascinating than any novel. Mortenson climbed his mountain. Not K2, but a mountain that no one believed he could climb, and he took 55 schools full of eager children, and the villages that surrounded them, to the highest summit.

Not only highly recommended. This book is a must, must, must read, and no less so with the elections of leaders now looming.

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