Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Three Cups of Tea

My best-friend-from-college and I were chatting the other day and I asked her “what are you reading?” because we have always exchanged book recommendations back and forth.

“I’m reading a biography of Teddy Roosevelt,” she started, and I groaned, because most of the time biographies don’t interest me that much. “And I am reading Three Cups of Tea . . . “ and I interrupted her (rudely) to exclaim “so am I!”

Three Cups of Tea is a must-read in the US. It was actually published in 2006, and has sold more and more books every month, and has been on the New York Times best seller list almost since it was published.

The book begins with a failure. A mountaineer, attempting a climb on K2 runs into problems, including evacuating two severely injured fellow climbers from the mountain. Exhausted, and devastated by his failure to capture the summit, he gets lost on his way back to the base camp, and ends up in a village where the people are very kind to him. He is treated as an honored guest, he regains his strength, and on his last day in the village, learns the children have no school. He rashly promises to come back and build a school for them.

One of the great redeeming features in this book is Greg Mortenson’s endless humility. He has a co-author, to whom he gave a long list of people he could talk with, including all his enemies and people who thought he was crazy. He’s that kind of guy. He talks about his life’s personal failures and his toughest moments, and he moves on.

He doesn’t take credit for the dogged persistence with which he keeps his promise, in spite of daunting obstacles. He doesn’t take any credit for the good will he builds.

Several years ago, I read another book which has changed my life, The Purpose Driven Life (which, by the way, the hardcover is $9.99 and the paperback is $10.19, go figure) in which the basic premise of the book is that we are each created uniquely, individually, by a loving creator, for a purpose. As I read Three Cups of Tea, I thought this man is greatly blessed; he discovered his purpose and nothing kept him from fulfilling it!

The book deserves every single one of it’s Amazon Five Star ratings.

I had a hard time putting the book down. Even though my life is full of other demands, once I had the chance, I spent an entire afternoon finishing this great book.

Greg Mortenson isn’t discouraged that his first school takes three years, and first he has to build a bridge. His second, third and fourth schools take just . . . three months! He has a gift for inspiring others, and people give what they can. The villagers give their time and their efforts, and western supporters donate funds.

By the end of the book, 24 school have been built, in the very poorest mountain villages in Pakistan, where money from the government for education doesn’t trickle at all, until near the end of the book. He doesn’t build the schools himself – he meets with the villagers, they donate a plot. He buys the materials, and together, they all build a school. These villagers are hungry for their children to become educated, to have a chance for a better life. Mortenson learns to focus on the girls.

He learns that as the boys become educated, they leave the villages for the city, but as the girls become educated, they come back, and like yeast, they raise the standard of living for the entire village, providing health care services and information, providing education for the newest crop of children, learning new skills, bringing them back and sharing them.

One of Mortenson’s gifts is that he isn’t interested in changing these mountain people into westerners. He likes them, and he learns from them, just the way they are. He dresses like them, he prays with them, he learns their language, and he has no western agenda for the curriculum in these schools. He also helps the government schools – building an additional room here for an overflowing school, paying a teacher’s salary there – his goal is to educate children. That’s it. No political agenda. The people of the villages love him for it, and give him their full support.

You cannot undertake a project like this without a lot of help. Mortenson had some extraordinary experiences, experiences that to me look like the grace of God, that drew together teams of people to help build and supply his schools.

“I looked at a sign in front of the school and saw that it had been donated by Jean Hoerni, my cousin Jennifer’s husband,” Bergman says. “Jennifer told me Jean had been trying to build a school somewhere in the Himalaya, but to land in that exact spot in a range that stretches thousands of miles felt like more than coincidence. I’m not a religious person,” Bergman says, “but I felt I’d been brought there for a reason and I couldn’t stop crying.”

A few months later, at Hoerni’s memorial service, Bergman introduced herself to Mortenson. “I was there!” she said, wrapping the startled man she’d just met in a bruising hug. “I saw the school!”

“You’re the blonde in the helicopter,” Mortenson said, shaking his head in amazement. “I heard a foreign woman had been in the village, but I didn’t believe it.”

“There’s a message here. This is meant to be,” Julia Bergman said. “I want to help. Is there anything I can do?”

“Well, I want to collect books and create a library for the Korphe School,” Mortenson said.

Bergman felt the same sense of predestination she’d encountered that day at the school. “I’m a librarian,” she said.

After struggling for many years, seeking donors who would help to build a school, Mortenson now has a foundation eagerly supported by many Americans, and especially the mountaineers, who continue to build schools. At the end of the book, the foundation is moving into the poorest sectors in Afghanistan, and building schools there. They have children’s programs in many of the schools in the United States, where children donate pennies to help pay for books for the schools, and for the teacher’s monthly salaries, where salaries are not reaching the teachers. You can donate to the school building fund, teacher’s salaries and books using your credit card, online, at the website Three Cups of Tea. You can order this book there, too, as well as music CD/s and learn more about the work being done.

July 14, 2008 - Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Fund Raising, Health Issues, Living Conditions, NonFiction, Pakistan, Relationships, Social Issues | , ,


  1. thanks for the review, i need to be reading some do good ofr the world books, might change my mood πŸ™‚

    Comment by jadedq8 | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. I had that book sitting on my shelf for over 6 months now, and I didn’t feel eager to read it. Ma shaddatni il bedaya killish, but now I might give it another chance.

    As to Γ€fghanistan-related, or pakistan, stories, I loved the Kite Runner, Thousand Splendid Suns, and yesterday I finished Kabul Beauty School.

    Other than that, I started reading something totally different from what I usually read; it’s called The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant. Hope this one turns out nice as well πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the extensive book review !

    Comment by The.Toothfairy | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  3. Oooh I didn’t read ur whole post but I got soo excited when i saw this book! I was looking for it last summer, I told my mom to get it for me when she was on vacation and they didn’t have it. Kinda forgot about it but i’ll get it when I travel!!

    Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?

    Comment by Chirp | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  4. I was looking for that book when I was in London last summer but they said it was not going to be released till 2008..and after that I completely forgot about it or that I could order it from Amazon.

    Thank you for reminding us about it.

    It should be an inspirational read

    Comment by jewaira | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  5. that does sound truly inspiring. even reading your blog was sort of moving, the book will definitely touch our spirits in more ways than one i guess. great review!

    Comment by onlooker | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  6. Jadedq8 – I have SO many books like that! Hope you are able to get into it. Honestly, it kind of makes me feel bad that I don’t have a useful passion driving my life. 😦

    ToothFairy – For some reason, I also have several Afghanistan-related books on the shelf, waiting to be read. I don’t know why, but I really like books about Afghanistan, starting way back with a book by James Michener called Caravans. I like Sarah Dunant’s books; they make art pieces come to life, don’t they?

    Chirp! I am SO glad to see you. Have not read Eat, Pray, Love, but I am hearing people saying they are reading it. What do you think about it? Worth a read?

    Jewaira, you recommended one of the best books I read last summer, a book about Turkey, maybe called the Sultan’s Seat. . . so, hmmmmm. . . what are YOU reading this summer? πŸ˜‰

    Hope you like it, Onlooker. And what are YOU reading these days?

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  7. You know, I’ve been seeing this book in the best-seller shelf at Borders for quite some time now (well not now since I’m in Kuwait currently), and unfortunately, I always find myself not buying after a thorough browsing at the store. Now that I read your review, I actually got encouraged and I shall add it to my shopping list ASAP. Thank you so much, I’ll definitely share my review after I read it πŸ™‚

    Comment by Angelo | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  8. I need to get recommendations from you too! I am really looking forward to check this book out πŸ™‚ I may need to read it on the plane if I travel this summer *crossing fingers*

    Comment by Ansam | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  9. I love your reviews, Angelo. You do some challenging reading.

    Ansam, you know me, here there and everywhere – I don’t know what kinds of books you like. I read a little of everything, even food packages and all kinds of odd things (you’d be amazed what I learn that way) If you click on BOOKS over under catagories, it should cover most of the books I have reviewed here. Tell me some of the books you have read and liked, and maybe I can think of some others you might like. (Exchanging book recommendations is one of my favorite things.) πŸ™‚

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 14, 2008 | Reply

  10. If you haven’t seen it, here is an op-ed piece from the New York Times on Sunday regarding “Three Cups of Tea”, one of my favorite books.

    And here is an interesting/amusing book review of “Eat, Pray, Love”.

    Comment by Phantom Man | July 15, 2008 | Reply

  11. Wooo Hoooo Phantom Man! And it was just written 13 July! What a great write-up, thank you for posting that.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 15, 2008 | Reply

  12. […] 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 […]

    Pingback by More Three Cups of Tea « Here There and Everywhere | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  13. I’m half way through and I really really LOVE IT! πŸ™‚

    Comment by Chirp | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  14. Wooo Hooooo Chirp! Half way through! How did you find it so quickly? Did you find it here in Kuwait?

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 16, 2008 | Reply

  15. […] administration of tribal “justice.” The old ways have endured – but as we learned in Three Cups of Tea, there are villages where villagers are eager to have modern schools, eager to educate their […]

    Pingback by William Dalrymple: The Age of Kali « Here There and Everywhere | April 8, 2009 | Reply

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