Curmudgeonalia
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June 16, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

One Man’s Mission to promote Peace, One School at a Time
Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin – ISBN – 9780143038252

This is a wonderfully uplifting book chronicles the life of a young man—a mountain-climbing “beach bum” equivalent--who stumbled into a remote village in Pakistan when injured attempting to climb K-2, was nursed back to health, and promised in return to build them a school. The tale is rendered seamlessly, at a leisure pace without losing momentum, and demonstrates the commitment required and the difficulties he encountered, not least the fact that in order to get the materials into the village he discovered—after the fact—that he’d first have to build a bridge!

His endeavor was so gratifying that he promised another, then another school. Struggling to finance these projects was a superhuman task, and this now sainted gentleman has built (at the time of the writing of the book) 55 such schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is convinced that education is the only way in which to defeat Islamic fundamentalism, and makes a good case for his assessment.

Reported are numerous heartwarming, trusting relationships he has experienced in this decade long adventure, along with some of the frightening experiences and encounters related to his activities.

The descriptions of this remote, mountainous area are vivid:
Splendor or grandeur is useless to give a feeling of this tremendous ravine that twists narrow and dark and bleak and deep for mile after mile, with never a single blade of grass, or weed, or tiny bush to remind one that the vegetable kingdom exists. Only the jade-green Indus [River]—sometimes tumbling into a dazzle of white foam—relieves the gray-brown of crags and sheer precipices and steep slopes.”

Inasmuch as all of the decisions are made by various councils, on one occasion he reports sitting amongst the natives, “laughing and sipping tea peacefully:” an infidel and representatives of three warring sects of Islam. He has befriended these folks. They, in turn, worship and honor him. Indeed, on many occasions he lived only because they defended him.

“In one of the most remote villages of northern Pakistan, he built a school in twelve weeks that was vastly superior to anything the Pakistani government could have built, and at half the cost of a project that would have taken the government years to finish.”

On other occasions he has provided materials and engineering for village wells, making it possible for the village women to avoid long distances to find clean (and even then sometimes polluted) water. As a result the infant mortality rate of one community was cut in half overnight. He moves mountains, nearly alone, with the help of the natives and a handful of American donors.

He assesses Islam, explains how the Wahhabis and the Taliban operate, and emphasizes that for the most part the mullahs misinterpret the Koran because they, themselves, are barely literate and teach only what they have been taught. Saudi and Pakistani sponsored madrassas offer no grounding in math, science, history or geography. They offer only the memorization of the Koran, in Arabic, which the natives can neither speak nor understand.

One of his acolytes and principal donors comments “I come from a world where corporations throw millions of dollars at problems and often nothing happens. For the price of a cheap car, [Mortenson] was able to turn all these people’s lives around.”

It is understandable why Greg continues—is indeed driven—by the satisfaction he achieves for his heroic efforts. Speaking to an assemblage of townsfolk a village chief on one occasion noted “All of you, my brethren: Protect and embrace these American brothers in our midst. Let no harm come to them. Share all you have to make their mission successful. These Christian men have come halfway around the world to show our Muslim children the light of education. Why have we not been able to bring education to our children on our own? Fathers and parents, I implore you to dedicate your full effort and commitment to see that all your children are educated. Otherwise they will merely graze like sheep in the field, at the mercy of nature and the world changing so terrifyingly around us.”

He ends the narrative with a plea for donors. I gladly repeat that information here: www.ikat.org along with a special site for kids: www.penniesforpeace.org (The latter site has raised 8,000,000 pennies—from children--in the last decade!) Note also that you’ll have to copy and paste these into your search engine. Sorry!

As a foil I recommend Because They Hate, to be reviewed next. In that digest one is exposed to the “flip side of the coin.” It demonstrates to my satisfaction that we must first defeat, or at least severely compromise them before we can prevail.

In defense of this conclusion I’ll emphasize the fact that Mortenson insists that “we” (meaning the government) must understand the educational necessity. Concurrently he discloses that he always makes it clear that he isn’t collaborating with the government. Seems to me you can’t have it both ways. Since the private sector can’t hope to undertake in several lifetimes the need of the Muslim world to update itself, it is first necessary to get their attention; make it clear that we will not return to the 9th century. Their only option is to join the 21st, under compulsion if need be. We will help, and if necessary compel, but they will not be allowed to prevail!

Posted by respeto at June 16, 2007 3:38 PM