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Monday, February 18, 2008

Three Cups of Tea


photo by Trudy Rubin

Just finished the book, "Three Cups of Tea," the story of former mountain climber, Greg Mortenson whose life took a radical turn when tribal villagers in Pakistan nursed him back to health in 1993 following a harrowing attempt to scale K2, a Himalayan peak. He told them he wanted to build a school for their children and that he'd return to do so. First he went back to Berkeley, California where he lived a hand-to-mouth lifestyle picking up night shifts as a nurse-paramedic, living in shared apartments and sometimes out of his car & storage locker. He made a list of rich and famous people and wrote fundraising letters, amassing about $20 for his efforts.

Eventually he succeeds and the school is built, but there are all kinds of riveting and entertaining stories along the way - as Mortenson wends his way through inter-cultural and actual minefields. His integrity and purpose draw people to him on both sides of the world and though he continues to live on next to nothing, he finds ways to build school after school in villages throughout Muslim Pakistan and Afghanistan where none existed before, and where girls and education were never imagined in the same sentence. The story takes on another dimension as he sees the beginnings of what became the Taliban and Al Queda as well as the aftermath of the US war in Afghanistan.
Read new articles on Greg's blog.

For me it was more than an inspiring, well-told story. I loved that he started out typing letters that got him nowhere. And that he was doing it from the Berkeley haunts I know so well. It made it all so real and accessible. Sure, there are many ways to view "Dr. Greg" in a transcendent "hero" category. His skill set alone - mountain climber, nurse, language-learner - put him in a unique niche. But instead, he could have been a Greyhound bus rider, a writer, and a great cook and somehow engaged with people from another walk of life and decided to make a dream come true for them (and him). As the book goes on, Dr. Greg becomes larger than life in terms of his dedication, asceticism, and bravery, but at the outset he's someone we've all known or almost been. Perhaps the momentum of his work carried him into a more mythical level of "hero-person," but the ingredients that generated his life path are not secret ones. They just usually get moved further back on the shelf.

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