Book Review: Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson's adventures as he has made a life of building secular primary schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past 20 years with private donations and the help of his beneficiaries and without government money.
Mortensen's humanitarian odyssey began, it would seem, by chance. He fell in love with Pakistan while mountain climbing K2, the world's second higheset mountain, as a young man after his sister died. Cared for by villagers after sustaining an injury and getting lost, his time of recuperation became a time of discovery as he fell in love with the people and the place. He promised the villagers he would return and build them a school.
Though he lacked the means--or even the slightest idea of how to acquire the means--to fulfill this promise, he eventually did, and one project led to another. As he became more well-known among the people of that region and gained their respect as a man of his word, the number of school projects grew.
His work has been grounded in two principles: that progress of every kind begins by building relationships with people and that progress is the direct result of education. Mortesen learned from his friend and mentor, Haji Ali the lesson of the three cups of tea, "to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects." By respecting people for who they are and listenting to them, he could most effectively help them meet their own needs--whether he was building schools or women's centers or installing water systems or helping his schools' graduates go on to higher eduation.
Education frees young people to make choices that benefit their communities. Educating girls, Mortensen says, is the best way to change a culture: "If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls" because girls stay home, become leaders in their communities, and pass on what they have learned.
Mortensen was able to continue his work even after 9/11--though not without challenges from the Taliban and the suspicion of the US government--and he continues today.
The book illustrates that dreams come true with the right amount of drive; we can make things happen.
(Note: While I enjoyed Mortensen's story, I did not enjoy the book. Writer David Oliver Relin remarks on Mortenson's humility so much that it seems he is on an ego trip on his subject's behalf. This subjectivity damages the prose. Also, Relin makes the unfortunate choice of naming the men and women who had let Mortensen down romantically or financially, and it feels like the humanitarian and his writer use the text to settle scores. It seems to me a magnanimous person does not need to do this.