Monday, June 1, 2009

Three Cups of Tea by Mortenson and Relin

Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher, Year: Penguin, 2007
Other Works: Listen to the Wind (picture book)
Rating: A+, or Must Read Now!
Premise: Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber. After failing to summit K2, he finds himself in the hospitality of a remote village. He notices one thing that he must change: there is no school for the children.

Three Cups of Tea chronicles an amazing journey, requiring equal parts bravery and determination. I can't even imagine doing something like this with my life, but what a difference one life can make. Wow.

Mortenson, a seasoned mountain climber, fails to summit K2, one of the world's tallest peaks. He gets lost on his delirious trek down and finds his way to a small Pakistani village called Korphe. There, as the villagers kindly nurse him back to health, he learns that the children do not have a school. He promises these people who have been so kind to him that he will return and build a school for them. As Mortenson becomes more and more involved with Pakistan, this one school turns into many as he boldly takes on the challenge to educate Pakinstan's youth. Mortenson takes us on his journey of triumphs and setbacks in his quest. +/-

At the end, it made me wonder how this little seed of an idea (the school in Korphe) grew into this life-long passion. Honestly, I can't imagine being this passionate about something; it's really remarkable. I enjoyed the voice and language of the author, and how he kind of turned it into a story with interjected quotations. The descriptions, I felt, were very rich. It made the book read more like a novel, which was fun.

I never realized how difficult it is to start a non-profit and keep it going. Juggling the work to be done, trying to recruit donors, managing what is effectively a business, all while trying to improve conditions in what can be a hostile environment--a tall order by any standards. That's what so great about this story though. I feel like the author didn't try to hide what was hard or what Mortenson's weaknesses were, while at the same time praising his strengths and incredible sacrifices.

The story wasn't told looking through rose-colored glasses, so to speak. It also revealed Mortenson's neglect of his own family, his inability to manage a business, and the people who created seemingly insurmountable problems for him. But then, told how these obstacles were overcome. At almost every point in the story I thought, "Ok, that's it--this is where it's all going to fall apart." But it didn't, because of one man's commitment and because of the people who allowed themselves to be led by his vision.

I can't say enough about how impressed I was with Mortenson's courage. He put himself into impossible and dangerous circumstances time and time again. It was amazing to see him push forward, no matter what happened. He was undaunted. I'm sure there were difficult days for him when he felt like giving up, but he always bounced back with amazing optomisim and love for the people he worked so hard for. It was really incredible to see how that determination can bring about success. He never accepted failure, no matter how bleak things looked.

Most of all, I enjoyed the stories of actual people and their families in Pakistan. The personal touch of getting to know about someone and their struggles and triumphs. I feel like I know the people of Korphe personally, and all the other Pakistanis Mortenson worked with so closely. When I read about Parvi or Baig or Haji Ali, I get a warm feeling in my heart for them. =) It just teaches me that no matter where you go in the world there are good people to be found, who have as much integrity and courage to fight for what's right and good as could ever be found in mankind.

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