Friday, 5 March 2010

Three Cups of Tea

I don't often use the word 'inspiring' for a book but I've just finished a pretty inspiring one. It's called 'Three Cups of Tea' by a chap called Greg Mortenson (and David Relin - a co-writer). Apparently it, and he, are quite well known in the USA, but I had never heard of him before my wife bought me the book for Christmas as it was about climbing and Pakistan, and she knows I have an interest in both.

Greg Mortenson was a child of missionary parents, and a climber who made an unsuccessful attempt on K2 in the Karakoram in 1993 After a fairly harrowing time, he survived and stumbled into a small Balti village where he experienced real kindness and grace. In response he offered to help, and it turned out they were most in need of a school - so he promised to help them build one. To cut a long story short, starting with no resources or contacts, he gradually finds the funds and the network to build this school, however this turns out to be the start of something big. The Central Asia Institute he founded (it sounds more grand than it is) has built 55 schools in villages across Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past 15 years or so. The book gets really interesting however in 2001 after 9/11. Suddenly the eyes of the world and America are focussed on exactly this region of the world as the source of the sudden homeland security crisis and the focus of the 'war on terror' The book gets fascinating at this point because it offers an alternative strategy to undermining violent Islamic militancy than trying to bomb it out of existence - Education. The source of much of the extreme Islamic tendency was the madrassas of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. If the people of these regions could be given a basic non-extremist education that steered them away from such centres and towards a more socially constructive way of looking at the world, that might do a lot more to build these societies, and promote a sense that the west is on their side than raining heat-seeking missiles on them, or failing to keep promises of aid and post-war re-building. He has a particular focus on training girls as they are so often the key to how childen are brought up and therefore often shape the future more than men.

Education as the alternative to war is a fascinating idea. So is the power of kindness and mercy to generate more acts of kindness and mercy. It is a parable of how both evil (9/11) and goodness (this story) are self-replicating and multiply. They tend to give birth to more of their own. The small choices we make each day for one or the other might have big consequences longer term.


  1. Oooh, sounds fascinating - I may have to take a look (having an interest myself in Pakistan if not in climbing!)

  2. One of my all time fave books, found it very inspiring too, a captivating read similar to an absorbing novel and profoundly challenging to the West.


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