Greg Mortenson grew up the child of missionaries in Africa, has trouble adjusting to American life, and only finds his true goal and purpose upon getting lost after an abandoned attempt to climb one of the deadliest mountains in the world. A year later, determined to keep his promise to those who nursed him back to health, he returns to begin a years-long mission to create moderate secular schools for some of the poorest and most likely to be neglected communities on the planet.
Reading Three Cups of Tea was an interesting experience for me. It wasn’t as gripping as Kabul Beauty School in that I was able to put it down from time to time, but I still finished it in 2-3 days. Unlike Kabul Beauty School, it was told far less from the point of view of the person that the story is about, being occasionally from Greg’s point of view, but including opinions, positive and critical, held by those that work with him closely. The parts that are told from Greg’s point of view can get a sensitive reader quite emotional because everything is told with sincerity and depth. You can picture the scenes that he vividly describes, almost feel the emotions of the people around him.
One of the things that impresses me most about Greg Mortenson, even more than his persistence, determination, and noble spirit that drives him in his work is his ethics. Given other training, Mr. Mortenson might make a fine anthropologist. Whether consciously or unconsciously, he picks up a lot of the traits and mannerisms of the people that he works with. He has a keen sensitivity to taboos and traditions and follows them, not to be a mimic, but to show people that he sincerely understands and honors their culture, regardless of their religious or political differences. He does not pass judgment on everything around him, but observes with an open mind. I also admire his courage and truthfulness to stand up for a group of people that America was trying to go on a witch hunt for. You cannot blame the actions of a few brainwashed individuals on an entire religion that spans large portions of the world, and runs the entire political spectrum. Greg gets to the source of the problem: a lack of education and resulting lack of economic opportunities. When people have the ability to travel, have clean drinking water, and access to education, there are more economic chances for success and survival.
One of the things that interested me most about the book while I was reading it, is the political story of the late 90’s through mid 2000’s that is woven in the background. I do not think that this book set out to be a political history, but you can see the transition in the US from Clinton to Bush, the effects of the wars at home and overseas, and even have some political cameos throughout the book.
The only reason this has 4.5 rather than 5 stars from me is that at some points when David Oliver Relin is relating the stories of various encounters and episodes in this decades long effort to educate those most in need, where the narrative becomes a bit garbled, and you aren’t sure what is happening to whom, or even if the people that they are discussing have been talked about before. However by rereading a passage or two I can usually figure it out. I can say one thing, I am curious about doing a penny drive at my school.