Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin (2006)
A good friend of mine lent this book to me some time ago and for some reason it took me a long time to get started reading it. I recently had lunch with her in Brussels at an Ayurvedic vegetarian restaurant called Slurps and on the menu they had a version of the “butter tea” served in Pakistan that Greg Mortenson talks about in his book. It reminded me that I really needed to read the book so I could give it back to her. So the next day I started it and I was quickly hooked.
I learned a lot from this book. I knew very little about Pakistan and Afghanistan and I had never heard of Greg Mortenson. Greg, an American who had spent a good deal of his childhood in Africa, came to Pakistan originally to climb K2, one of the highest and most difficult climbs in the world. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he failed in his attempt and nearly died getting off the mountain but by accident ended up recuperating in a small isolated mountain village which was completely cut off from the rest of the world. While there, he saw a need for a school for the children of that village and before he left he promised the people there he would come back and build one for them.
Back in the US he struggled to find funding for his project, but eventually managed to scrape the money together and return. As it turns out, that first school was just the beginning. The book details the growth of his project from building just one school and all the mistakes and dangers of the early days, to the growth of his charity, Central Asia Institute, into a fully fledged NGO that not only builds many schools in Pakistan but also moves into war torn Afghanistan to try to help children there as well.
At times Greg takes great risks trying to get schools built in the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, getting himself into precarious situations with local tribes. But he seems to have an angel watching over him as his friendly demeanor and carefully diplomatic respect for local customs allows him to earn the trust of the locals, in spite of the way that Americans are seen by many people in that part of the world.
It is a fascinating story and certainly Greg Mortenson is someone to be admired for his selflessness and dedication to helping children in what is a very difficult place to grow up. Hopefully his mission to create peace by giving those children a good education will be a force for good in the world in the coming years. More info at www.threecupsoftea.com or www.ikat.org.