Friday, April 28, 2006

Three Cups of Tea

Get ready to break out your cheque book.

I read about this title in Outside magazine, and was instantly intrigued. In 1993 Greg Mortenson was part of a climbing group scaling K2 when circumstances led to the abandonment of the expedition. Between the altitude and the disappointment he felt, Mortenson was not on point when he was descending, and wound up lost and alone in the cold without his gear. After a freezing night Mortenson reunited with his Balti porter Mouzafer Ali. Mortenson lost his way again, took the "wrong" fork in the road, and ended up exhausted not in Askole where he needed to be, but in the small mountain village of Korphe. This is where Mortenson met Haji Ali - and event that would be life altering in every way.

While Mortenson was recuperating, he explored the area with Haji Ali. One day he asked where the Korphe school was. Haji Ali took him up the hill where they found 78 boys and 4 girls sitting outside on the frozen ground, trying to learn their lessons without a teacher. Mortenson was shocked and made a promise. He promised to bring a school to Korphe.

The reader needs to realize that Mortenson was in no way equipped to make such a promise. In the States he had a climber's lifestyle. Working just enough shifts as an emergency room nurse to fund his climbing habit.

When he got home he started renting time on a type-writer to send pleas for donations to the likely suspects...Oprah, Bernard Shaw, Susan Sarandon. He had found out while he was in Pakistan that he needed $12000 US dollars to fund a school. Nobody responded. After some time Mortenson was told to contact Jean Hoerni the famous physicist who was also a climber. He alone funded Mortenson's first school.

What follows is a sometimes heartbreaking journey into Pakistani and Afghan culture, politics and war. In the end Mortenson has built (with help) the CAI or Central Asia Institute. This agency built many schools and vocational centers, and has provided all types of aid to those in need. Mortenson is still getting his hands dirty with the work. His belief is that terrorism will never be defeated simply by killing Osama or Sadam. Education is the key. The millions of dollars coming into these countries from Saudi Arabia to fund extremist schools (madrassas), needs to be combated with a non-extreme educational choice. It's an idea that makes sense.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up this book. I didn't know if I was going to learn more about climbing, or humanitarianism. I am happy to have learned quite a bit about Pakistan and its history and culture. About the Glacier wars. About the Taliban. About American's unfulfilled promises to rebuild after war. And about places that I had never heard of before like Waziristan. It is humbling to read about people like Mortenson.

One person really can make a difference.

No comments: