Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three Cups of Tea...

Three Cups of Tea is the story of Greg Mortenson's journey to become a humanitarian. Raised in Africa by missionary parents, Greg is already the kind of guy who can get a long with people from many different cultures and a guy who from the beginning has a gift for languages. He becomes an adult and an ER Nurse in the States and takes up climbing as hobby. When his sister dies, he takes up some friends on an offer to accompany them the Pakistan to climb K2. The climb goes terribly wrong and Greg is lucky to get off the mountain alive and into the village of Korphe where he is taken in and cared for until his strength returns.
Because of the generosity and kindness of the people, he becomes well again and when he finds that the children are very anxious to be learning, but that they have no school, he promises to come back and build them a school. This book is about a man who determines to keep his promise to this village and then goes on to fulfill many other promises.
There are several premises in the book that bother me. I don't agree with the critisism of the U.S. Military who I believe with few exceptions to be making every effort, even at the expense of their own lives many times, to preserve the lives of the innocents both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Also, as I read this book, I came to admire these people and to see the hardships and tragedys they contend with. However, I could also see many things about their culture that bothered me. I felt like when they had no school for their children, no hospital, when the infant mortality rate was so high, and sanitary conditions so low; I felt that they had a lot better things to be doing than drinking so much tea. I guess by they, I really mean the men of the village because the women are working hard keeping house, farming, tending animals, cooking and cleaning. It sounds so nice to talk about the slower, easier pace of life, but slower for who and at what cost for everyone? Actually there is enough that needs to be done that all of us should be "anxiously engaged in a good cause."
However, aside of those two things, there are a lot of us who sit on the couch of an evening watching the news and as we see the parade of poverty and misery marching past wonder how in the world we could do something to change the course of life for so many who need so much. Greg Mortenson is a person who determined to do that and I believe that his efforts in Pakistan have saved the lives of many and will better the lives of untold generations of people.
His school building project, much like Habitat for Humanity, empowers people. Rather than just having a group of volunteers come and raise up a school for a community, the people are required to donate some prime real estate and all the labor for the project. Hopefully this ownership will give the people the will to defend these schools as they may have to do and to defend the rights of their children, boys and girls to attend them.
After 9/11, Greg Mortenson's mission in Pakistan became more difficult. He received hate mail for a time and had difficulty raising funds to build the schools that are desperately needed. At a school dedication in Kuardu, a man named Syed Abbas spoke and he said this, "I request America to look into our hearts and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we are without education. But today, another candle of knowledge has been lit. In the name of Allah the Almighty, may it light our way out of the darkness we find ourselves in." After the speech many of the women came up and gave Mr. Mortenson eggs, really the only thing they had, to comfort "the faraway sisters they longed to comfort themselves, the widows of New York village."
Greg Mortenson was an admirer of Mother Teresa, a small woman who changed the world. In this book he uses this quote, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." But I think that both Greg Mortenson and Mother Teresa have done more than they can know and hopefully what they have done will inspire each of us to make the ocean of want just a few drops less as well.