Three Cups of Tea
By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Greg Mortenson, a 36 year-old American from Montana, attempted to climb K2 in 1993. After spending more than two months on the second highest mountain in the world, Mortenson realized that he lacked the energy to complete his journey to the summit and began his descent. Lost in the mountains of Pakistan, Mortenson survived only because of the generosity and hospitality of the inhabitants of a village called Korphe. The villagers nursed him back to health, and Mortenson promised to return the favor. Three Cups of Tea follows Mortenson’s struggles in Korphe and other villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan to bridge a wide cultural gap and return the kindness he received with the gift of education. During his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mortenson was kidnapped, sent death threats, and terrorized by groups such as the Taliban. He survived all of these troubles, and succeeded in founding 55 schools under the Central Asian Institute in some of the most hostile territory of these two countries.
In a post 9-11 world, Three Cups of Tea provides a refreshing view of life in Middle Eastern countries. The media tends to present a negative two-dimensional view of all Middle Eastern cultures and those who belong to them. Mortenson reveals the unique personalities of Korphe’s inhabitants as well as their strong familial and hospitable customs. The “three cups of tea” are part of a custom the people of Korphe have for all their guests. The first cup of tea is offered to all strangers and guests who enter the village. Once offered the third cup by a village elder, one is considered an ally of Korphe and part of the family.
Mortenson uses his story to counter the effects of cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism, which is the idea that the best way to help an impoverished society is to impose on them the culture of a wealthy society, characterizes the attitude of most Western people. Mortenson’s message is one of the possibility and hope of world peace achieved through his brand of outreach. He succeeds in helping the people of Korphe and other villages to advance in the world by means of education, while retaining all aspects of their culture. Mortenson hopes that through education, extremist views can be eliminated.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
Though Three Cups of Tea has not been banned in schools on a large scale, Greg Mortenson has had two fatwas (any order by an extremist Muslim official, usually for anyone who is able to kill the person against whom the fatwa is declared) issued against him. Sher Chaco, a mullah in the Baldur valley, issued a fatwa to have Mortenson banished from Pakistan forever. After seeking advice from a senior Islamic Shi-ite cleric, he wrote to and was summoned by the Shi-ite Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran. The council agreed with Mortenson’s intensions to educate Pakistani children, especially girls.
The second fatwa was issued against Mortenson by a conservative mullah in northern Pakistan. As an “infidel,” Mortenson was to be prohibited from building schools, especially if girls were to be educated in them. The community, which disagreed with their mullah, brought the issue to high Islamic court, which ruled in Mortenson’s favor.
There are schools for girls and boys throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan built by Mortenson, including the areas which attempted to exclude him with fatwas.