Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time chronicles Greg Mortenson's journey from mountain climber to one man NGO powerhouse, as he takes on the challenge of building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and eventually Afghanistan. Mortenson is a nurse by profession and lived a rather hand to mouth peripatetic existence centered around saving money for the next climb. An unplanned stop in Pakistan where he's nursed back to health in Korphe, a remote Pakistani village. He promises to build a school for this forgotten town.

In the beginning he does bumble along. He has no clue how to raise funds. He's got no savings so even the needed $20K is well beyond his reach. Lucky breaks interspersed with cultural misunderstanding characterize his early experiences. It takes longer than he figured but in the end he does build a school for Korphe. From that school, others follow and in time Mortenson gains wisdom and builds trust in the region as he builds school after school. Along the way he faces conflicts with extreme Muslims, kidnappings and money problems. Yet he perseveres and his mission flourishes.

The book is part hagiography, though we do see some of Mortenson's short comings, e.g. his lack of organization skills and his early refusal to hire staff. Yet there's no arguing that he's doing good work. More power to him.

In the early chapters I wished that the book were written in the first person, but then it's clear that Mortenson's not going to take time off from his NGO to write about himself. His story is compelling, but sometimes the prose was overblown, and sometimes it was just mundane. A better co-author, like Tracy Kidder, who did a great job chronicling Paul Farmer's work in Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the Worldwould be even better. Kidder was more objective and his subject was just as admirable.

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