Skip to content

Three Cups of Tea

August 7, 2010

This here post is about the greatest book in all of the world! I think while I am writing this post I may just have to read this book again (something I have never done). Luckily I took some notes and highlighted while I was reading, so that is a good place to start out at first. To really have any great input I will have to read it again though! Once again, took me forever to blog this and thus I have not only read the book a second time, but also read the sequel Stones Into Schools and went and saw Greg Mortenson talk at Keene State college in NH. I found out he was speaking there and got some friends to go and see him with me. We went to the kids lecture and then hung around for the adult lecture afterward.

Anyways, spoiler alert.


K2 South Face from Concordia

Three Cups of Tea is a book with an absolutely wonderful message that is desperately needed at this time in the world. Being someone who both loves the outdoors and helping others, I can relate so well with Greg Mortenson and his quest, I only hope I can be as successful as him at it. The story goes like this: Greg Mortenson begins his real purpose in life when he starts his climb attempt at K2. K2 is the second highest mountain on the planet, at an amazing 28,251 feet. K2 is one of many mountains in the Himalayan Mountain Range and is located on the border of Pakistan and China. Like any mountain of this magnitude, it is obviously a very dangerous hike. The statistics show numbers around 1 person dying for every 4 people who do in fact summit. While these numbers may not seem too astonishing to some, you must remember that the only people that will even dream of attempting K2 are the very best of the best. Even with these people being the best of the best, most of them do it with a whole heck of a lot of support. Sherpas, or pack carriers, carry the brunt of the work for a lot of these hikers and without the gear being carried by these hired hands, most wouldn’t even make it past the first base camp. These sherpas will come into the story later, but now you must understand the environment we are facing here. So as Greg Mortenson makes the trek up K2 in memory of his sister everything is looking good, until it all goes wrong which is so typical of hiking. The mountain gets the best of him and the crew he is with, having to turn around and save his friends life Greg is unable to reach the summit. His troubles do not end here though, as he stumbles down the mountain, exhuasted and cold he gets separated and lost. He manages to stumble into a Pakistani village off of the mountain. To weak to continue from there the people of the village offer their usual hospitality to nurse Greg back to health. Once Greg has enough strength to get out of bed he wishes to explore the village some. This is where Greg discovers his purpose and everything changes for him. During his exploration of the village he asks to go and see the school, upon arriving at the school he is appalled. The “school” is no more than kids drawing in dirt, with little organization or education to it. This just does not sit well with Greg Mortenson and he vows to return to build a school. While he makes this promise, Greg has literally nothing left of his bank account, enough to get him back to the U.S. and that’s about it. After all of the hospitality that these people gave him, he can’t turn his back on them though and sticks to his promise and gets to planning how this will happen and how in the hell he is going to raise the money necessary. This is no easy task though and Greg spends a good amount of time trying to raise money through donations, hard work, and not spending money on anything. He eventually scrounges up enough money to build the school and returns to the village only to be faced with another dilemma. To build the school they need to get the supplies there first, which requires a bridge. So Greg is faced with more money raising in the necessity to build a bridge to build the school. Greg does finally get this school built but his mission is far from over. From his journey in building this school and all of the people he has met Greg decides to set up the Central Asia Institute, an organization dedicated to aiding these areas in the building of schools, education, and especially education for young girls. There is a lot I have left out of this synopsis, and this is two fold. Me telling you the whole story would be wrong and I would not tell it nearly as well and the parts that I have left out really make the story interesting and show the courage and amazing work that Greg has done!

Greg Mortenson has recently written another book titled Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan and I will certainly have a post on this later.

Why is Three Cups of Tea so good?

There are a lot of reasons why I absolutely loved this book and could not cover every piece of it ever. Unless you live under a rock you know of the constant fighting that has been going on in the Middle East forever. More recently you know how we as a country have invaded two countries in order to promote and stabilize democracy as well as provide national security for us and the world. While we may have done some great things by going into these countries we are just setting ourselves up for failure and participating in an endless war. The history and memory of people in those countries are too strong and this makes the U.S. efforts a losing one. Whenever civilians are killed by a bomb they will remember this and hold this against us forever. For all of the good we can accomplish we are just building more enemies on a daily basis. The only true way to solve the problem is to eliminate it. This can not be done by any amounts of weapons in the world. Taking from V for Vendetta ideas are bulletproof. The ideas held in this country, as right or wrong as they may be, still exist and won’t go away. The ideas have been around forever and will continue to be for a long time unless a change in policy is made. Greg Mortenson’s tactic has real changing ability. If he goes in and builds a school he builds opportunity. Even if one child at that school takes to education, enjoys reading and education this could be a huge change. That kid is now educated and instead of turning to the Taliban or drug cartels may opt instead to try and get educated, to better his community, or get out of this situation and try his luck elsewhere. If those schools weren’t there then what do the kids do? They do nothing and get recruited by the Taliban, or the Taliban offers to educate them at their “schools” which are basically brain washing and zombifying centers to get more warriors.

Information from the Three Cups of Tea website:

  • Three Cups of Tea is required reading for U.S. senior military commanders, for officers in the Norwegian War College, Forsvarsnett, for U.S. Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training, and Canadian Defense Ministry members.
  • The book has been read by General David Petraeus – CENTCOM Commander, Admiral Mike Mullen – Chairman Joint Chief of Staff, and Admiral Eric Olson – SOCOM Special Forces commander, and several other U.S. military commanders who advocate for building relationships as a part of an overall strategic plan for peace. Mortenson has addressed the National Defense Senior Leadership Conference at the Pentagon, visited over two dozen military bases, NORAD, and been to the Air Force, Naval and West Point Academies.
  • As of 2009, Mortenson has established or significantly supports 131 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 58,000 children, including 44,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before.
  • His work has not been without difficulty. In 1996, he survived an eight day armed kidnapping by the Taliban in Pakistan’ Northwest Frontier Province tribal areas, escaped a 2003 firefight with feuding Afghan warlords by hiding for eight hours under putrid animal hides in a truck going to a leather-tanning factory. He has overcome fatwehs from enraged Islamic mullahs, endured CIA investigations, and also received threats from fellow Americans after 9/11, for helping Muslim children with education.

If only we were listening to Mortenson’s plan of dropping books instead of bombs. I am certain this would be a more effective technique than we are using now, bombing people only creates more enemies.


A picture is worth a thousand words. I feel like a good quote is worth even more, so here are my favorites from the book:

  • Isn’t it better to live in ignorance of everything-asphalt and macadam, vehicles, telephones, television-to live in bliss without knowing it? Pg 30
  • Slowly and painfully, we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technologically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the undeveloped ones. Not only through a sense of charity, but also because only in this way can we ever hope to see any permanent peace and security for ourselves. Pg 53 from Schoolhouse in the Clouds by Sir Edmund Hillary
  • Bhutan, who says the true measure of a nation’s success is not gross national product, but “gross national happiness”…. Despite all that they lacked, the Balti still held the key to a kind of uncomplicated happiness that was disappearing in the developing world as fast as old-growth forests.  Pg 120
  • Barry Bishop about hiking, was a photographer for first American expedition of Everest with Edmund Hillary:  In the quiet of the hospital, I [pondered] the lessons we have learned. Everest is a harsh and hostile immensity. Whoever challenges it declares war. He must mount his assault with the skill and ruthlessness of a military operation. And when the battle ends, the mountain remains unvanquished. There are no true victors, only survivors. Pg 130
  • It may seem absurd to believe that a “primitive” culture in the Himalaya has anything to teach our industrialized society. But our search for a future that works keeps spiraling back to an ancient connection between ourselves and the Earth, an interconnectedness that ancient cultures have never abandoned. –Helena Norberg-Hodge Pg 136
  • 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 do anything, even die…. You must make time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time. –Haji Ali, Korphe village nurmadhar Pg 150
  • We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their “shock and awe” campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them. Pg 150
  • “I request America to look into our hearts”, Abbas continued, his voice straining with emotion “and see that the great majority of us are not terrorists, but good and simple people. Our land is stricken with poverty because we are without education” Pg 257 Syed Abbas speaking at school opening shortly after 9/11
  • This guy Greg quietly, doggedly heading back into a war zone to do battle with the real causes of terror is every bit as heroic as those firemen running up the stairs of the burning towers while everyone else was frantically trying to get out.-Charlie Shimanski about Greg deserving a Nobel Peace Prize, Pg 273
  • I’ve learned that terror doesn’t happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren’t being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death.-Greg Mortenson addressing congress members in DC about his work on the terror threat in the Middle East. His answer was fueled by a question from a Republican Congressman who asked why building schools mattered when only national security mattered. Pg 292
  • Bashir was struck silent by the images of wailing Iraqi women carrying children’s bodies out of the rubble of a bombed building. As he studied the screen, Bashir’s bullish shoulders slumped. “People like me are America’s best friends in the region. I’m a moderate Muslim, an educated man. But watching this, even I could become a Jihadi. How can Americans say they are making themselves safer?” Bashir asked, struggling not to direct his anger towards the large American target on the other side of his desk. “Your President Bush has done a wonderful job of uniting one billion Muslims against America for the next two hundred years.”

“Osama had something to do with it, too,” Mortenson said.

“Osama, baah!” 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 to 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.”-Mortenson’s helicopter pilot Bashir in Pakistan. A former military man and personal pilot for a previous Pakistan president, Bashir gave Mortenson the true reason for the terror threat. Pg 310

  • What motivates me to do this? The answer is simple: when I look into the eyes of the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I see the eyes of my own children full of wonder- and hope that we each do our part to leave them a legacy of peace instead of the perpetual cycle of violence, war, terrorism, racism, exploitation, and bigotry that we have yet to conquer. –Greg Mortenson Pg 335

To listen to Greg Mortenson discuss the book on NPR, like I heard at Keene:

For the Three Cups of Tea website and information:


From → Books

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: