/ Published June 01, 2011
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Ravid Oliver Relin. Penguin Books, 2006, 349 pp.
Many of us have drunk the tea. Many have personal experiences and stories set in the rugged mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan during the war on terror. Greg Mortenson went there as a scraggly mountain climber and emerged as a humanitarian leader. The story of his failed attempt to climb a mountain called K2 and the people who came to his aid forms the setting for a lifetime of work. Despite his noble intentions and the bestseller status of his book, Mortenson today finds himself in the midst of controversy. The veracity of some events he related in Three Cups has been challenged by American journalists, and mismanagement of the humanitarian foundation he founded is alleged.
Controversy notwithstanding, Three Cups is a great read if you want to attach a "face" to the human consequence of conflict, poverty, education, religion, and relief. Mortenson has qualities you will identify with as warriors, such as his sense of mission and absolute dedication. He is also very different from most of us in the military: disorganized, disheveled, and late for most appointments. He struggles with balance in his life between his work, his beliefs, and time for his family—who doesn't? A ribbon of truth runs through this book about people, reality, tea, relationships, culture, and human understanding.
We have all studied language and history. Mortenson reminds us that culture must be lived, not just studied. We must be immersed in other people's lives if we are to truly understand their culture. When we become involved in the culture, it becomes a part of our life, too. Greg Mortenson chose a tough, unforgiving environment to spend his efforts improving the education of Pakistani children. It was a worthwhile humanitarian mission, fraught with great difficulty and occasional success. We have Airmen who, just like Mortenson, have made promises to themselves after experiencing the suffering of complete strangers in strange lands. The first cup of tea is the beginning of a relationship. In the end, we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Maj Gen Mark O. Schissler, USAF
Director A5/8/9, USAFE HQ
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."