Monday, March 31, 2014

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (12 of 159)

One Sentence Summary: The story of Greg Mortenson and his life's work of building schools in the war-torn Middle East as vehicles for peace.

'Osama, bahh!' Bashir roared. 'Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy's strength. In America's case, that's not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.'

This time last year I was looking toward wrapping up my time volunteering for an organization in Pune, India that was striving to create a safe environment for the nursery-aged children of one of the city's poorest neighborhoods to learn and grow. I will not expound on why, but I came away feeling as if I had failed in many directions. A year out, I am beginning to view my failures and shortcomings as unique opportunities to push myself to excel in the future, but my awareness surrounding all that I could and should have done better still rubs raw. For all of that, I learned an enormous amount, much of which I have only come to realize in the many months since my return, and I continue to process and understand more about my experience as time goes by. Three Cups of Tea spoke to that fire in me, acquired in India and Nepal, where I came to view education as empowerment and as freedom.

While I didn't love the book so much, it wore on me for so many reasons, I would still recommend it. Some non-fiction is simply worth reading, even if the writing isn't so hot. Mortenson's book is important because it reminds the reader to reset a little bit and shake up the propaganda ridden way that we have come to think of the Middle East. I think it could have done a little more in this respect, had it stepped away from the hardcore hero-worship, but ah well. My heart ached reading this as I thought of the carelessness with which promises have been made to that region of the world, on individual, community, and national levels, and how those breaches of contract have compromised everyone involved. The highest compliment that I have for Mortenson, if the facts are as the book puts them forward, is that he kept his word and created bonds of trust on the individual level that he refused to break.  Also, his adaptation to the culture is to be praised. Cultural imperialism is a major danger when attempting to bring aid to any disenfranchised area and he appeared to avoid that most admirably.

This book is a wonderful conversation starter- I would imagine it to be perfect for high school classrooms or community book clubs. That being said, I also tend to think Three Cups of Tea oversimplifies some issues facing the Middle East, particularly those surrounding American involvement. BOOM. Discuss. Either way, I came away reminded of how much can be done with the most basic of human entitlements, education, and also affirmed in the fact that I have a whole lifetime in which to help plant stronger seeds.

Shelf Status: Donating
I Recommend For: Social justice folks, people interested with current events, teachers, students
I Do Not Recommend This For: Glenn Beck

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