Greg Mortenson, co-author of Three Cups of Tea and director of the Central Asia Institute, is far from a stranger to the Middle East and the people who call it home. Mortenson’s 1993 failed attempt to summit K2, the world’s second largest peak, marked the beginning of a different challenge: to bring peace to the people of the Middle east by turning stones into schools. Three Cups of Tea recounts his journey, and expands reader’s minds with the turn of every page.
Mortenson and co-author David Oliver Relin bring light to the cultural divide between Pakistan and the United States. Readers gain a broader scope of awareness of this divide, which is the first step to solving an ideological battle. The book focuses not only on Greg building schools, but also the people for which they are being built. Whether Greg is receiving relationship advice from a village elder, learning how to worship, or going on a village hunt, the “American lost in Pakistan” (18) concludes that “despite all that they lacked, the Balti still held the key to a kind of uncomplicated happiness that was disappearing in the developing world as fast as old-growth forests” (120).
The writing style outstandingly reflects the difference between the two cultures, and reads quite differently when Mortenson is in the United States and then in Pakistan. While Mortenson is stateside, the writing moves at a fast pace, most likely reflecting the impatient
Mortenson waiting to head back to Middle East where his life’s work awaited him. When Mortenson is back in Pakistan, the prose can be confusing and at times seems to move nowhere; the book is so absorbing that readers are put on a leash, but often times are vaguely walked in circles. Readers are overloaded with details, and at times it can be too much. However, this effectively reflects the daze Mortenson must have felt as a foreigner placed in a land with an altogether contrasting sense of time and space, a land where tea is taken before any business is discussed, where there are no power naps, no two-minute football drills, where cultural and personal priorities could not be any more
Three Cups of Tea presents the culture in such a way that fosters recognition and understanding, as well as reminding readers of the difference one person can make in the world. Greg, who chanced into the village of Korphe after his failed summit where he was nursed back to health, promised the villagers a school. He saw the children’s passion for learning, but saw no structure for a well-rounded education that included all children. Instead of being ignorant and jumping to disapproval, Greg jumped to action. Moreover, Greg jumped to action as an individual, not as an army. His actions nursed a sick village back towards health, just as they guided him back to health. Instead of Korphe receiving a Madrassa school where the children would be taught anti-West propaganda, the children will be receiving an actual education at one of the CAI schools. unfamiliar, and a place where the efficiency-neurosis is nowhere near the epidemic it has become in the United States. The confusing prose draws readers into Greg’s struggle as an outsider and allows them to join Greg for the journey.
Mortenson’s work is uplifting, inspirational and a much-needed reminder of the great need for humanitarian efforts in our troubled world. If we all learned just one lesson from Greg Mortenson, the world would spin with greater ease.