Monday, May 21, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

“I’m no military expert. And these figures might not be exactly right. But as best as I can tell, we’ve launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far. Now take the cost of one of those missiles tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000. For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that would provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced non-extremist education over the course of a generation. Which do you think will make us more secure?” Greg Mortenson

Try as I might, in my fifty-five years of living, I’ve never been much good at breaking the rules. I always studied for spelling tests, wait to be seated by a hostess even if there is an available table right in front of me and no other people in line, and bypass parking spaces that are reserved for the “Handicapped,” “an employee of the month,” or “expectant mothers.” Admittedly, my law abidingness is not always about having a super active conscience. Ever since being exposed to the idea that there might be candid cameras lurking about, I just can't take the risk that I might throw caution to the wind only to have my moment's wild and crazy decision caught on video. (Okay, sometimes I taste a grape before buying a whole bunch, but that’s just good shopping!)

I do, however, often break one of the cardinal rules of book buying. Even though it’s common knowledge that you can’t judge a book by its cover, I do so on a regular basis. I’m a sucker for a pretty picture, a romantic drawing or a customer review on Amazon. Sometimes, this particular way of choosing reading material doesn’t work very well, but just as often it does.

Take for example, the cover photo of Three Cups of Tea. The three, head-covered, young girls are so busy reading that they seem not to even be aware of the camera taking their picture. You can’t see their undoubtedly big, brown eyes, but you get the sense that they are Middle Eastern beauties about to embark on a journey that will change not only their lives, but those of their community and nation, and perhaps even the world.

Well, maybe you have to read the title of the book to get that much out of the picture, but still it's captivating. Three Cups of Tea – One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time, is, hands-down, the best book I’ve read in awhile. In a world where Republicans are sending American men and women into harm’s way, and Democrats are threatening to cut off funding for their mission and safety; where suicide bombers don’t seem to care who they take with them to meet Allah; and where mothers and fathers of several nations cry as they bury their children, Greg Mortenson has not only conceived of a possible way towards peace, he has put his ideas to the test – and begun to make a difference in small Middle Eastern villages.

Mortenson was raised in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro by Lutheran missionaries. He climbed his first “serious” mountain at the age of eleven and was “hooked forever on climbing.” Fast forward several years to the point in Mortenson’s life where a failed attempt to summit Pakistan’s 28,267 foot K2, a chance encounter with the inhabitants of the mountain village of Korphe, and, let’s face it, the almighty hand of God merged together to re-direct one climber’s and several children's future.

Three Cups of Tea is a fascinating read. Co-author and journalist David Oliver Relin, combines several literary elements - adventure, biography, history, geography, romance, and hair-raising suspense - to tell Mortenson’s story of keeping a promise to the village elder to return to Korphe one day to build a school. It tells of Mortenson's capture by people so fierce that even Alexander the Great decided to leave them alone, as well as his ability to eat, drink and sleep in some pretty raunchy (by my standards) places. It tells of Mortenson's respect for and delight in people who have a different religion and way of life, but who believe in the power of a text book to change lives.

It’s impossible to succinctly re-tell even a part of the story, but I can tell you that Mortenson miraculously returns to Pakistan time and time again, to construct bridges, schools and friendships. When he is not traveling half way around the world, Mortenson manages to forge a relationship with a new bride (who never whines, as I am sure I would have, “what about ME???”), raise a family, and stay in constant motion while trying to raise funds for his school building crusade. Suffice it to say, the man rarely sleeps.

In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson and Relin offer a very real possibility of peace, even in a world where children are as familiar with IED’s as they are pencils. Education, especially for the young girls, is the means they’ve found to combat the Taliban’s influence in some of the world’s remotest areas. “It only costs $1.00 per month for one child’s education in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”

I encourage you to set aside some time to read and enjoy the book. If you don't trust the cover, or my recommendation check out some of the reviews on Amazon. After reading the book, process its message of hope, then follow your heart and one of Mortenson’s suggestions at the end of the book. Visit the website for more information; suggest Three Cups of Tea to others; donate a copy to your local library; encourage local bookstores to carry the book; write your own review; contribute to Pennies for Peace of the Central Asia Institute.

Happy Reading,

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