The Sunday Salon: Three Cups of Tea

The Sunday

When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali spoke. 'If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways,' Haji Ali said, blowing on his bowl. 'The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,' he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortenson's own. 'Doctor Greg, you must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.'

'That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I've ever learned in my life,' Mortenson says. 'We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their "shock and awe" campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.' -From Three Cups of Tea, page 150.
This is a remarkable book about a remarkable man, Greg Mortenson, who has devoted his life to creating peace in the Middle East by building schools in impoverished areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This was no small feat. Not only is it physically demanding to even reach some of these areas, the political and religious negotiations are delicate and risky. At one point, Mortenson is kidnapped and held for eight days while the group decides if they will trust him enough to let him continue his work.

I appreciate this column by Nicholas Kristof, pointing out the differences in approaches in the Middle East between Mortenson and the Bush administration:

It Takes a School, Not Missiles
Mr. Bush has focused on military force and provided more than $10 billion — an extraordinary sum in the foreign-aid world — to the highly unpopular government of President Pervez Musharraf. This approach has failed: the backlash has radicalized Pakistan’s tribal areas so that they now nurture terrorists in ways that they never did before 9/11.

Mr. Mortenson, a frumpy, genial man from Montana, takes a diametrically opposite approach, and he has spent less than one-ten-thousandth as much as the Bush administration. He builds schools in isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.

The only thing that Mr. Mortenson blows up are boulders that fall onto remote roads and block access to his schools. ~Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, 07-13-08 (Read entire column)
If you haven't read this book yet, I encourage you to do so. The writing is not stellar, but the story is so encouraging and hopeful - something we can use more of these days.


beastmomma said...

I have heard several good things about this book.

Anonymous said...

This has been popping up all over the place and with its concentration on tea is bound to attract readers in this house. I hadn't realised, however, that there was also a focus on the need to slow down. That' also something that appeals to me very much. I shall have to see if the library has a copy.

Jill said...

I've heard so many wonderful things about this book and the work of this man. Thanks for the excellent review!

Marie said...

There's been so much great buzz about this book- I keep seeing it at the bookstores and haven't picked it up yet, but that may change soon! :-)

gautami tripathy said...

I love the title. Adding this to my already long TBR pile!

Here is my SS post!

Kill word Verification

S. Krishna said...

I've heard great things about this book and really want to read it - great review!

Wendy said...

Fabulous review, Terri! I've only heard good things about this book - I should read it!

SmallWorld at Home said...

I do have this on my TBR list; it is ALWAYS checked out from the library!
Happy Sunday Salon,
SmallWorld Reads

janet said...

I keep reading rave reviews of this book! I weary quickly of books that make a political argument, but this sounds like a very inspiring story on its own, apart from the politics.

Anonymous said...

Aside to Janet: Politics, though, isn't the point of the book. Mortenson does touch on it a little, but it's not the focus of what he's doing. He's not there to raise money for one candidate or another. It's all for the students.

Terri: One, I've been meaning to tell you how much I've been enjoying your countdown to retirement. It's been fascinating to see what you come up with. Two, on topic, here: I will be adding a link to your review to my own review which can be found here. Three, back to the politics, though the focus of the book isn't about politics, I thought that it was interesting to say the least that Biden in the debate the other night mentioned about building schools on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan briefly in his comments.