Three Cups of Tea (Mortenson)

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 2006
Penguin Group USA
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780143038252

The astonishing, uplifting story of a real-life Indiana Jones and his humanitarian campaign to use education to combat terrorism in the Taliban's backyard.

Anyone who despairs of the individual's power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan's treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools-especially for girls-that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson's quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Tea combines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit. (From the publisher.)

Three Cups of Tea is the true story of one of the most extraordinary humanitarian missions of our time. In 1993, a young American mountain climber named Greg Mortenson stumbles into a tiny village high in Pakistan’s beautiful and desperately poor Karakoram Himalaya region. Sick, exhausted, and depressed after a failing to scale the summit of K2, Mortenson regains his strength and his will to live thanks to the generosity of the people of the village of Korphe. Before he leaves, Mortenson makes a vow that will profoundly change both the villagers’ lives and his own—he will return and build them a school.

The book traces how Mortenson kept this promise (and many more) in the high country of Pakistan and Afghanistan, despite considerable odds. The region is remote and dangerous, a notorious breeding ground for Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists. In the course of his work, Mortenson was kidnapped and threatened with death. He endured local rivalries, deep misunderstandings, jealousy, and corruption, not to mention treacherous roads and epic weather. But he believed passionately that balanced, non-extremist education, for boys and girls alike, is the most effective way to combat the violent intolerance that breeds terrorism. To date, Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has constructed fifty-five schools, and his work continues.

Mortenson initially approached Karakoram as a climber and he never lost the mountaineer’s appreciation for the region’s austere beauty and incredible physical challenges. His coauthor David Oliver Relin deftly evokes high-altitude landscapes haunted by glaciers, snow leopards, and the deaths of scores of climbers. As Mortenson transformed himself from down-and-out climbing bum to the director of a humanitarian enterprise, he came to appreciate more and more deeply the struggles that people of the region endure every day—struggles that have intensified with the recent explosion of war and sectarian violence.

In the course of this narrative, readers come to know Mortenson as a friend, a husband and father, a traveling companion, a son and brother, and also as a flawed human being. Mortenson made enemies along the way and frustrated his friends and family. Relin does not shy away from depicting the man’s exasperating qualities—his restlessness, disorganization, sleeplessness, and utter disregard for punctuality. But Mortenson never asks others to make sacrifices that he has not already made himself time and time again.

The war-torn mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan appear in the news as the breeding grounds of terrorist training camps, Al Qaeda hide-outs, and fierce religious extremism. In Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson and Relin take readers behind the headlines to reveal the true heart and soul of this explosive region and to show how one man’s promise might be enough to change the world. (Also from the publisher.)

In 2009, Mortenson published Stones into Schools, a sequel to Three Cups.

Author Bio 
Birth—December 27, 1957
Reared—in Tanzania, Africa
Education—A.A., B.A., University of South Dakota (USA)
Awards—numerous humanitarian awards (see below)
Currently—lives in Bozeman, Montana, USA

Greg Mortenson is an American humanitarian, writer, and former mountaineer. Mortenson is the co-founder (with Dr. Jean Hoerni) and director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, and founder of the educational charity Pennies For Peace. He is the protagonist and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace... One School At A Time (2007). He published a a sequel, Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009.

From 1958-1973, Mortenson grew up in Africa near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania. His father, Irvin "Dempsey" Mortenson, was the founder/development director of the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, Tanzania's first teaching hospital. His mother, Dr. Jerene Mortenson, founded the International School Moshi.

Mortenson served in the U.S. Army in Germany from 1975 to 1977 as a medic, and received the Commendation Medal. He attended Concordia College, Moorhead, from 1977 to 1979, and later graduated from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, in 1983 with an Associate Degree in Nursing and a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry.

In July 1992, Mortenson's young sister, Christa Mortenson, died from a life-long struggle with severe epilepsy on the morning she had planned to visit the cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, where the iconic baseball movie Field of Dreams was filmed.

In 1993, to honor his deceased sister's memory, Mortenson went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. The time and energy devoted to this rescue prevented him from attempting to reach the summit. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Mortenson set out with one local Balti porter by the name of Mouzafer Ali to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where Mortenson was cared for by the villagers while he recovered.

To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to fund the Central Asia Institute. The mission of CAI—a non-profit organization—is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director.

In the process of building schools, Mortenson has survived an eight-day armed 1996 kidnapping in the tribal areas of Waziristan, in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province; escaped a 2003 firefight between Afghan opium warlords; endured two fatwās by angry Islamic clerics for educating girls; and received hate mail and threats from fellow Americans for helping educate Muslim children.

Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality, decrease the population explosion, and improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally. Mortenson believes that "fighting terrorism" only perpetuates a cycle of violence and that there should be a global priority to "promote peace" through education and literacy, with an emphasis on girls' education. "You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won't change," is an often-quoted statement made by Mortenson. Because of community "buy-in," which involves getting villages to donate land, subsidized or free labor ("sweat equity"), wood and resources, the schools have local support and have been able to avoid retribution by the Taliban or other groups opposed to girls' education.

• Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are co-authors of the New York Times bestselling book Three Cups of Tea.

• The Government of Pakistan announced on its Independence Day of August 14, 2008, that Mortenson will receive Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Sitara-e-Pakistan (The Star of Pakistan), in a Islamabad civil ceremony during Pakistan Day on March 23, 2009.

• In August 2008, Mortenson met with then-President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf over tea, and in March 2009, Mortenson met with new President Asif Zardari for a cup of tea, upon receiving the Sitara-e-Pakistan award.

• On July 15, 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff paid a visit to Pushgur school, in a remote valley of Afghanistan, to inaugurate one of Mortenson’s new schools, to highlight the military’s new strategy to advocate empowering local communities, build relationships and the significance of education to promote peace. Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, wrote about the visit in his column.

• Mortenson was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and in 2010, by several bi-partisan members of U.S. Congress. According to Norwegian odd-makers, he was believed to have been in a handful of finalists of the Peace Prize that was eventually awarded to Barack Obama on October 10, 2009.

• In November 2009, U.S. News & World Report magazine featured Greg Mortenson as one of America's Top Twenty Leaders in 2009.

• Mortenson was featured on a Bill Moyers PBS TV Journal 30-minute interview on Sunday, January 15, 2010, discussing the role of the U.S. military and Obama troop surge in Afghanistan, and significant role of girls' education as a determinant of peace. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
Greg Mortenson’s dangerous and difficult not only a thrilling read, it’s proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.
Tom Brokaw

Mortenson is surely right that education is key to the battle with jihadists for Muslim minds. But ... [his] book is full of self-indulgent digressions, clunky prose and odd, hagiographic references to himself.... The problem stems in part from the awkward construction of the book, which is written as an admiring, extended third-person interview by its co-author, journalist [David Oliver Relin]. He acknowledges being in awe of Mortenson, [who is not] nearly as interesting as the characters and situations Mortenson encounters in the remote tribal regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. Here, Relin's prose gains both altitude and insight.... Mortenson's mission is admirable, his conviction unassailable, his territory exotic and his timing excellent. His story would have been better served, though, by a tougher editor and a book that was shorter, leaner and freer of fawning.
Pamela Constable - Washington Post

Laced with drama, danger, romance, and good deeds, Mortenson's story serves as a reminder of the power of a good idea and the strength inherent in one person's passionate determination to persevere against enormous obstacles.
Christian Science Monitor

Some failures lead to phenomenal successes, and this American nurse's unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world's second tallest mountain, is one of them. Dangerously ill when he finished his climb in 1993, Mortenson was sheltered for seven weeks by the small Pakistani village of Korphe; in return, he promised to build the impoverished town's first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Coauthor Relin recounts Mortenson's efforts in fascinating detail, presenting compelling portraits of the village elders, con artists, philanthropists, mujahideen, Taliban officials, ambitious school girls and upright Muslims Mortenson met along the way. As the book moves into the post-9/11 world, Mortenson and Relin argue that the United States must fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls. Captivating and suspenseful, with engrossing accounts of both hostilities and unlikely friendships, this book will win many readers' hearts.
Publisher's Weekly

An unlikely diplomat scores points for America in a corner of the world hostile to all things American-and not without reason. Mortenson first came to Pakistan to climb K2, the world's second-tallest peak, seeking to honor his deceased sister by leaving a necklace of hers atop the summit. The attempt failed, and Mortenson, emaciated and exhausted, was taken in by villagers below and nursed back to health. He vowed to build a school in exchange for their kindness, a goal that would come to seem as insurmountable as the mountain, thanks to corrupt officials and hostility on the part of some locals. Yet, writes Parade magazine contributor Relin, Mortenson had reserves of stubbornness, patience and charm, and, nearly penniless himself, was able to piece together dollars enough to do the job; remarks one donor after writing a hefty check, "You know, some of my ex-wives could spend more than that in a weekend," adding the proviso that Mortenson build the school as quickly as possible, since said donor wasn't getting any younger. Just as he had caught the mountaineering bug, Mortenson discovered that he had a knack for building schools and making friends in the glacial heights of Karakoram and the remote deserts of Waziristan; under the auspices of the Central Asia Institute, he has built some 55 schools in places whose leaders had long memories of unfulfilled American promises of such help in exchange for their services during the war against Russia in Afghanistan. Comments Mortenson to Relin, who is a clear and enthusiastic champion of his subject, "We had no problem flying in bags of cash to pay the warlords to fight against the Taliban. I wondered why we couldn't do the same thing to build roads, and sewers, and schools." Answering by delivering what his country will not, Mortenson is "fighting the war on terror the way I think it should be conducted," Relin writes. This inspiring, adventure-filled book makes that case admirably.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. There is a telling passage about Mortenson’s change of direction at the start of the book: “One evening, he went to bed by a yak dung fire a mountaineer who’d lost his way, and one morning, by the time he’d shared a pot of butter tea with his hosts and laced up his boots, he’d become a humanitarian who’d found a meaningful path to follow for the rest of his life.” What made Mortenson particularly ripe for such a transformation? Has anything similar happened in your own life?

2. Relin gives a “warts and all” portrait of Mortenson, showing him as a hero but also as a flawed human being with some exasperating traits. Talk about how Relin chose to write about Mortenson’s character—his choice of details, his perspective, the way he constructs scenes. Is Mortenson someone you’d like to get to know, work with, or have as a neighbor or friend?

3. At the heart of the book is a powerful but simple political message: we each as individuals have the power to change the world, one cup of tea at a time. Yet the book powerfully dramatizes the obstacles in the way of this philosophy: bloody wars waged by huge armies, prejudice, religious extremism, cultural barriers. What do you think of the “one cup of tea at a time” philosophy? Do you think Mortenson’s vision can work for lasting and meaningful change?

4. Have you ever known anyone like Mortenson? Have you ever had the experience of making a difference yourself through acts of generosity, aid, or leadership?

5. The Balti people are fierce yet extremely hospitable, kind yet rigid, determined to better themselves yet stuck in the past. Discuss your reactions to them and the other groups that Mortenson tries to help.

6. After Haji Ali’s family saves Greg’s life, he reflects that he could never “imagine discharging the debt he felt to his hosts in Korphe.” Discuss this sense of indebtedness as key to Mortenson’s character. Why was Mortenson compelled to return to the region again and again? In your opinion, does he repay his debt by the end of the book?

7. References to paradise run throughout the book—Mortenson’s childhood home in Tanzania, the mountain scenery, even Berkeley, California, are all referred to as “paradise.” Discuss the concept of paradise, lost and regained, and how it influences Mortenson’s mission.

8. Mortenson’s transition from climbing bum to humanitarian hero seems very abrupt. However, looking back, it’s clear that his sense of mission is rooted in his childhood, the values of his parents, and his relationship with his sister Christa. Discuss the various facets of Mortenson’s character—the freewheeling mountain climber, the ER nurse, the devoted son and brother, and the leader of a humanitarian cause. Do you view him as continuing the work his father began?

9. “I expected something like this from an ignorant village mullah, but to get those kinds of letters from my fellow Americans made me wonder whether I should just give up,” Mortenson remarked after he started getting hate mail in the wake of September 11. What was your reaction to the letters Mortenson received?

10. Mortenson hits many bumps in the road—he’s broke, his girlfriend dumps him, he is forced to build a bridge before he can build the school, his health suffers, and he drives his family crazy. Discuss his repeated brushes with failure and how they influenced your opinion of Mortenson and his efforts.

11. The authors write that “the Balti held the key to a kind of uncomplicated happiness that was disappearing in the developing world.” This peaceful simplicity of life seems to be part of what attracts Mortenson to the villagers. Discuss the pros and cons of bringing “civilization” to the mountain community.

12. Much of the book is a meditation on what it means to be a foreigner assimilating with another culture. Discuss your own experiences with foreign cultures—things that you have learned, mistakes you have made, misunderstandings you have endured.

13. Did the book change your views toward Islam or Muslims? Consider the cleric Syed Abbas, and also the cleric who called a fatwa on Mortenson. Syed Abbas implores Americans to “look into our hearts and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people.” Discuss this statement. Has the book inspired you to learn more about the region?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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