Monday, October 4, 2010

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

In 1993, climber and slacker Greg Mortenson attempted and failed to climb K2, the world's deadliest peak. He found himself lost and weak in the Himalayas of Pakistan, where he was cared for and befriended in the impoverished remote village of Korphe. In Korphe, far from the government center of Pakistan, 84 children took their lessons outdoors on a frosty ledge. They shared a teacher with a neighboring village and scratched their lessons into the dirt with sticks. Mortenson made a promise to build the people of Korphe a proper school and he's been building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan ever since. That first school cost $12,000 and a teacher cost a dollar a day.

Mortenson's story is amazing. He lived out of a storage unit and his car in Berkley working odd shifts as an ER nurse when he was saving money for the Korphe school. All he really had was a little luck and an indefatigable will to help the children of Pakistan. He fell ass-backwards into some money, getting a wealthy benefactor and later some much deserved press. He shook a lot of hands and drank a lot of tea in Pakistan and figured out how to get things done in some of the most inaccessible parts of the world (hint: let the locals tell you how it's done). Basically, Mortenson is my new personal hero.

The writing in the book leans towards the overly sentimental, towards hero-worship, and does that thing where the writer tries to tie two things together unnecessarily. I barely noticed any of that because I was really busy crying and worshiping. The plight of children and especially girls in these remote, poor, and often violent areas is deplorable. And as Americans, we basically just make it worse all the time. "Dr. Greg" might be the only purely positive force coming from the U.S. so we all owe him one.

So, the book was really educational for me since I have really no knowledge of the area outside of what I see The Daily Beast headlines and the personal stories of the people of Pakistan are heart-breaking. The best bits of the book break down the way that the Taliban uses education and the shortfalls of Middle Eastern governments to recruit entire generations of extremists. Secular education really looks like the only way to win the war on terror. Books not bombs people.

I really recommend the book and beg the critics and naysayers to judge the content, not the style. And then go give Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute all of your moneys.