This week’s book is Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It’s the story of how Mortenson’s failed attempt to climb K2 led to his receiving hospitality from the residents of a small village in Pakistan and to a promise to build them a school. This promise eventually led him into founding the Central Asia Institute (CAI) and building dozens of schools in the hardest to reach corners of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It’s a pretty amazing story, as Mortenson started out as a climber and a night nurse, without any particular expertise about that part of the world, building schools, or raising money. But he plunged ahead anyway, and learned what he needed to do along the way. And he did it more or less in obscurity, until 9/11 suddenly made a lot of people start to pay attention to that particular corner of the world. Mortenson and Relin argue persuasively that the CAI’s work does a great deal to create peace, in part by showing people that the US can do things other than drop bombs, but more significantly by providing an alternative to the radical madrassas that have filled the gaps left by the lack of government schools in much of Pakistan.
While it’s an amazing story, I can’t say it’s an amazing book. It focuses directly on Mortenson, without ever pulling back to provide a greater context about the culture and history of the area. And while his successes in building the schools are improbable unto the point of miraculous, if you pick up the book, you probably know already that he’s going to build the school, he won’t get killed driving off a road, neither the Taliban nor the CIA will leave him in a jail cell to rot, etc. So, while it was clearly very suspenseful to live through all of this, it’s not that suspenseful to read. My sister in law gave it to me last spring, and I read about half of it right away, and then got bogged down in the middle.
But read it anyway. Because you’ll learn a little about that part of the world, and because you’ll regain some hope about one person’s ability to make a difference. And you’ll be inspired to give what you can to CAI. And to tell our elected officials to live up to their promises to help rebuild Afghanistan.