Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Three Cups of Tea; One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Not having scads of moulah, I come upon the good books at least two years after they are released. I know my "reviews" aren't timely, but I know I'm always looking for a good book to increase my overall education.

I didn't feel right when the former President GW Bush sent our troops into Iraq. Somehow, it felt wrong. I could see going into Afghanistan to get Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but I knew that we weren't great at "nation-building". There isn't any such thing, but I digress before I've begun.

Greg Mortenson started out as a nurse and a climber. He got lost trying to descend a halted attempt on K2 in Pakistan, and the villagers who rescued him made quite an impact. As a trained nurse, he attempted to help the villagers with minor wounds and illnesses with the paltry supplies he had in his pack. They were grateful for any help he could give. He saw firsthand how rural Pakistani children had no or little chance for an education. He promised the village's local leader that somehow he would come back and build a school for the children.

After many fits and starts with trying to raise funds in the states, he found one rich man who thought $12,000 was a bargain for building a school. It ended up taking a little more than that, thanks to a shyster of a merchant/guide and other unforseen obstacles, but Mortenson fulfilled his promise. And found himself doing it all over again and again.

He describes how the madrassas, Muslim religious schools, could easily turn into jihad factories, exploiting the impoverished young men who had little hope of a future for their own ends. Financed by Saudi millionaires, they could set up a school practically overnight, while Mortenson struggled to build one, two, maybe three a year in tucked away villages far away from cell phone towers, internet cafes or even towns with electricity. He had fatwas issued against him, edicts by fanatic mullahs, banning him from building his schools. Both fatwas were overruled by other Muslim authorities who knew the importance of his work to the poor and isolated peoples of the Karakoram and elsewhere in Northern Pakistan. Schools for girls were forbidden by such sects as the Taliban, but Mortenson patiently sat through countless tribal council gatherings, drinking gallons of local tea, to establish friendly ties that would open doors for local girls, and sometimes their mothers.

Mortenson encountered dangerous conditions that ranged from narrow, unpaved roads on sheer cliffs, to getting caught in a minefield, to being kidnapped by a tribal militia and held prisoner for over a week. Through it all, he tried to be as non-threatening as possible, adapting to local dress and customs to put people at ease. He even refused to tell the U.S. military where certain madrassas could be found, or accept military funding, so as to not endanger his contacts or the goodwill he built up among the Pakistanis for years.

He seems to have spent more time in Pakistan than he has at home with his wife and children. His wife is some kind of lady to support her husband in such a mission. She puts her worry on a back burner whenever he is away. I wish we could have seen more of her side to the story, but from what is written of her, she would want the focus to be on those children overseas.

He was in Pakistan when 9/11 happened. He could only hear bits and pieces of what was going on thanks to shortwave radios picking up Chinese radio stations. Days after, some Afghan men came over the mountain passes to the little town that is Mortenson's home away from home. They begged him to come and build their children a school. He told them he would try if he were allowed into Afghanistan. It took a few years to even get in.

The children who need his help the most are the ones who are victimized/orphaned by not only Taliban fighters, but opium smugglers, stray U.S. military armaments and Al-Qaeda terrorists. Mortenson tries to help as many as he can, but his reach only goes so far. But at least the aid he offers actually reaches the people who need it, unlike the promises of the U.S. government, which never seem to come to fruition when it comes to the poor Afghans Mortenson met when it was "safe" to travel in Afghanistan. The book ends when Mortenson meets a formidable local commandhan. The man knows the people Mortenson talked to that day in the pass, and he has heard of "Dr. Greg" and his work and he immediately briefs Mortenson on how many children in so many communitites need schools. Mortenson's reputation as a generous infidel precedes him again.

Greg Mortenson and a group of like minded people are part of the Central Asian Institute. Check out Greg's blog here.

There is so much the U.S. government ignores when it butts into other countries' politics. Political parties aside, there are basic needs that every human needs, and when those needs are impossible to meet, anger and violence follow. People need opportunities for work, for education, for freedom. Bush's administration seemed to think that guns alone would do this. However, it may be that we should focus on work and education first. Then maybe guns would be unnecessary.

Read this book, and if you can, buy it. It's not just a book for you, it's a book for a little girl who desperately wants to read.

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