14 Dec 2010

Three cups of tea

When Greg Mortenson, a young climber, became lost upon his descent from climbing K2, one of the Himalaya's toughest mountains, he never realised the changes that he would experience, nor the impact of being lost and then turning up at a remote mountain village in the Hindu Kush. Three Cups of Tea is an amazing story of how one man almost single-handedly tried to help the children of remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan by building schools for them.
In 1992, Mortenson's youngest sister, Christa, who suffered from severe epilepsy, died suddenly at 23. Heartbroken, Mortenson decided to honor her memory by leaving her favorite amber necklace at the top of K2, the world's second-highest peak. But less than half a mile from the summit, after more than 10 punishing weeks of climbing, he turned back to help rescue a fellow mountaineer in trouble. On a five-day hike back to the main road, Mortenson was separated from his team and took a wrong turn off the trail. Lost, sick, and deeply disappointed, he stumbled into a tiny Pakistani village ringed by jagged peaks, so isolated that no foreigner had ever visited it before. The people of Korphe, farmers and herders, welcomed him and nursed him back to health. He made friends with the elder or village chief, Haji Ali and found that there were so many things the old man could teach him. The village had no school; the children met outdoors on a patch of bare ground, even in the frosts of autumn. A part-time teacher shared with a distant village came only three days a week, but the kids — 78 boys and four girls — still gathered every day to study. A few had slates they wrote on with mud-tipped twigs, but most scratched their lessons in the dirt with sticks. No books, no pencils, no paper, no roof — just a burning desire to learn. 

"I promised I'd build them a school," Mortenson says, "and fulfilling that promise led me to my life's work." This book, co-authored with Relin, describes Mortenson's struggle to get a grant or sponsor to help buy the materials for the school in Korphe. He sent 580 letters in all, and received only one in reply. Then he got a break in the form of inventor/climber Jean Hoerni who gave him his start - 20 thousand dollars to buy the required materials. It took two years to get the money and another two years to build that first school. But once started many other villages asked him to build a school for them too and looking at the  children really tore at his heart, so slowly and with Jean Hoernie's help again he started the CAI - Central Asia Institute to help build schools in desolate villages.

Greg Mortenson with some of his students in Pakistan

Gripping, because it deals in facts and reality, this book is in turns funny, sad and fascinating. There were many parts in the book that made me laugh but there were also some parts that were incredibly touching. Suspense too, especially when he was captured by a group of tribal people and kept in captivity for 8 days. I really admire Mr Mortenson for the work he is doing in a country where Americans are hardly welcomed, let alone liked. I think this is one book that should be required reading, not just for the story of how one man (an American at that) could help build schools for the thousands of impoverished and destitute children of  Pakistan and Afghanistan but also of overcoming the odds. I think if anyone deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, it is Greg Mortenson. Anyone who has not read this book should read it!


naida said...

This sounds really good. Great review! Its amazing what he accomplished.


Kat said...

Yes Naida. Its a really great story of the human spirit and what we can do if we really want to. I enjoyed it.