Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

More Three Cups of Tea

The timing couldn’t be better. Thank you, Phantom Man, for sending a link to this New York Times article on Three Cups of Tea, from the July 13th New York Times.

Published: July 13, 2008

Since 9/11, Westerners have tried two approaches to fight terrorism in Pakistan, President Bush’s and Greg Mortenson’s.

Greg Mortenson with Sitara “Star” schoolchildren. Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

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.

Mr. Mortenson has become a legend in the region, his picture sometimes dangling like a talisman from rearview mirrors, and his work has struck a chord in America as well. His superb book about his schools, “Three Cups of Tea,” came out in 2006 and initially wasn’t reviewed by most major newspapers. Yet propelled by word of mouth, the book became a publishing sensation: it has spent the last 74 weeks on the paperback best-seller list, regularly in the No. 1 spot.

Now Mr. Mortenson is fending off several dozen film offers. “My concern is that a movie might endanger the well-being of our students,” he explains.

Mr. Mortenson found his calling in 1993 after he failed in an attempt to climb K2, a Himalayan peak, and stumbled weakly into a poor Muslim village. The peasants nursed him back to health, and he promised to repay them by building the village a school.

Scrounging the money was a nightmare — his 580 fund-raising letters to prominent people generated one check, from Tom Brokaw — and Mr. Mortenson ended up selling his beloved climbing equipment and car. But when the school was built, he kept going. Now his aid group, the Central Asia Institute, has 74 schools in operation. His focus is educating girls.

To get a school, villagers must provide the land and the labor to assure a local “buy-in,” and so far the Taliban have not bothered his schools. One anti-American mob rampaged through Baharak, Afghanistan, attacking aid groups — but stopped at the school that local people had just built with Mr. Mortenson. “This is our school,” the mob leaders decided, and they left it intact.

You can read the entire article in the New York Times by clicking on the blue type.

July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Building, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Health Issues, Living Conditions, NonFiction, Pakistan, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues


  1. We know that President Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote peace through building schools, water projects, and other peaceful endeavors. Greg Mortenson is taking that same concept to a greater, and personal, level. It would, of course, be helpful if all governments promoted such activities — not just our government — and it would be helpful if we all promoted such activities by our contributions. May God bless Greg Mortenson, and may we all contribute to this peaceful effort and similar ones.

    Comment by Phantom Man | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. I know this is too random but I love the colors in the picture, beautiful!

    Comment by Ansam | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. I loved it, in the book, that Greg Mortenson turned down a pentagon offer of funding, feeling that it would be counter to all he was trying to do. His efforts succeed because his genuine concern drives them, and the people know it. Thanks again, Phantom Man.

    Ansam – It’s a great photo, isn’t it, all those cold mountains and the red red dresses! I love the kids faces, myself.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 17, 2008 | Reply

  4. God bless Greg Mortenson and his genes!
    And may the good Lord bless you and yours for spreading awareness about “Three More Cups of Tea” in your blog.
    I could, actually, use more three cups right now after what was for me, a crappy nappy fortnight.

    Comment by A Fish called Sultan Ebrahim | July 27, 2008 | Reply

  5. Good morning, BL! I am delighted to see you. Have you read “Three Cups of Tea?” I hope your life improves radically.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 27, 2008 | Reply

  6. Nope – I haven’t read ” Three cups of Tea ” but I will do once I finish with ” From Boys to Men “. Btw, do you like reading Oliver James ? I thought his guide on how to survive Famiy Life ” They F*** You Up” was wicked while Fares, my haris tells me his latest ” Affluenza ” is a bit sad.

    Comment by Blogorrhoea | July 28, 2008 | Reply

  7. I had never even heard of Oliver James until your mention of him here. I looked him up – looks like he does social issue commentary and analysis. Pretty interesting stuff. I’ll have to take a look, thanks for the recommendation.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 29, 2008 | Reply

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