Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

New York: Penguin Books

Why read it? Do you think every Muslim is a potential terrorist? You need to read this book. You need to become familiar with the moderate Muslims, the Muslims who live in the mountains of Pakistan, impoverished, illiterate people who don't have any chance for an education, except an education that teaches terrorism.

Greg Mortenson learned the following about Muslims: The faith of the Muslims is devout. Their greatest virtue is patience in fulfilling the will of Allah. They respect the land. They believe that humans and nature are one. They oppose Western lasciviousness. They desperately want a "balanced" education for their children.

In return for their kindness to him after he arrived in Korphe, exhausted from a failed mountain climb, Greg Mortenson promised to build them a school--a school especially for girls. Schools--that's how Greg Mortenson thinks the U.S. should be responding to 9/11. Let the Muslims learn what Americans are really like as Mortenson learned about the Muslims. A military solution will not reduce or eliminate terrorism. Schools will. That is Greg's credo. He has built 53 of them in Pakistan.

The greatest lesson Mortenson learned was to understand the differences in culture between Muslim patience and American impatience. Greg wanted the school built yesterday. The mountain people had the immense patience to know that they needed a bridge first in order to transport the supplies to build the school over the river instead of one piece of material at a time, in turn, carried in a jerrybuilt box swaying over the river, which could result in the loss, not only of the materials, but also of human life.

What exactly is a "balanced" education? What is the curriculum? I guess that question comes because I am an educator who wonders how I would provide a balanced education--with my American ideals--in a radically different culture. I think the answer is crucial to mutual understanding of two different cultures. And maybe I suspect that the two cultures can never really mix. They must learn, instead, to respect each other, though their attitudes toward life are in some ways significantly different.

The book reads fast. Many incidents are fascinating--stories within stories. The time-tested formula of overcoming adversity repeats itself. One crisis finished, another begins. Enjoyed the epigraphs before each chapter, echoing ancient philosophy, usually expressing patience, the will of Allah and a oneness between humanity and nature.

For Greg Mortenson schools and universal literacy are the cure for terrorism. Mortenson believes that education will give children reasons to live rather than only to die committing terroristic attacks.

Ideas and Quotes to Discuss:

"With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don't envy you your restless spirits. Perhaps we are happier than you. But we would like our children to go to school. Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children." --Conversation between Sir Edmund Hillary and Urkien Sherpa, from Schoolhouse in the Clouds.

"He [Haji Ali] picked up his dog-eared, grease-spotted Koran and held it before the flames. Do you see how beautiful this Koran is? ...I can't read it.... I can't read anything. This is the greatest sadness in my life. I'll do anything so the children of my village never have to know this feeling. I'll pay any price so they have the education they deserve."

Haji Ali: "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 anything, even die."

Americans must read this book.

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