Monday, November 1, 2010

Three Cups of Tea - an inspiring true story of Greg Mortenson and his selfless efforts

I have to admit that I bought Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert more than a month ago but have never read beyond page 14 as I find that Gilbert sounds too much like a whiney brat and seriously, I personally felt like smacking her hard on the head when she kept saying she wanted a divorce because she doesn’t like being married anymore and doesn’t want to have kids. I hate judging people but I can’t be proud of a woman who isn’t in an abusive relationship but doesn’t want to stay married after such a successful life together. Ok, I shouldn't make any conclusions as I only reached page 14 but I am sorry that I couldn't help feeling uninterested to read further.

Ok, ok… enough of that. I’m not here to write about Gilbert at all… in fact, I would like to share with you on this beautiful book my best friend, Nicole, lent me, and I must say that this must be the most amazing thing any best friends could have presented for their treasured friend :)

Three Cups of Tea is a true story of Greg Mortensen on his mission to promote peace by building one school at a time. But, the book doesn't gloat anything extraordinary about his efforts. It was written so humbly and unlike the overly dramatic whiney ways of EPL, this noble effort was written in a way for us to understand how remote and desolately poor of some of the regions in Pakistan and how difficult it was for those in Afghanistan.

I find that Greg, or fondly known as 'Dr Greg' among the locals, is such a true inspiration. He started his work back in 1994-95 way before the issue on terrorism was constantly highlighted and to think that it all started with his failure to reach the peak of K2, the second highest climb in the world.

Greg is not one who is privileged. As a climber, his passion has always been climbing and he worked as a nurse to finance his pastime. So, when he got lost while climbing K2 in 1993 and was ‘rescued’ to health by a very poor village in Korphe, he realised how little these people had yet made the most of what they have for him to get better. And with the knowledge of no opportunities for education among the children of Korphe, he made a promise to the village head, Haji Ali, that he will return to build a school for the village, especially for the benefit of young girls who are known to may never get any education prospect due to their ‘cultural’ imposition. And that promise, was something that he wasn't even sure he'd be able to fulfil.

He went back home to California and got started with his mission.

As I’ve said, Greg Mortenson is not one who is financially privileged. He didn't own a house and slept in his beat up Buick. He was fired from the hospital he worked as he was deemed ‘unreliable’ due to his delay in returning home but managed to secure a job elsewhere. He got started almost immediately by typing letters to wealthy people of the US like Oprah and Susan Sarandon to present his cause and share with them his story. He didn’t even ask for a big amount… he told them that after discussing with the locals, he figured that he could build a school with only US$12,000. Only. And he didn’t even ask for the full figure but any figure that would contribute to him fulfilling that figure. And that was only the amount for the school, nothing else for him. And I cried when I reached that part… around page 46-50.

I mean, here we are always complaining about what we do not have when we already have so much, yet this man, who practically had nothing much, but all he saw was the opportunity he could provide for the girls of Korphe for them to improve their lives.

I got mighty emotional with the way the story was written. You would be so immersed with the situation in Pakistan and how he was warmly welcomed because of the sincerity he exude. Most of all, the ‘American’ stigma in the Muslim communities was totally eroded because he was deemed their angel, a savior who provided them a priceless gift that even their countrymen and government didn’t provide at that time. I know their situation may be something hard for us to relate to, but you wouldn't help yourself from feeling something for them when you read this book.

This was an extraordinary man. From the 580 letters that he’d written to wealthy Americans and organisation, he received no support. But what I love (and have always believed in) is the fact that with every noble intention one have in helping others, He will show you the path… he got the US$12,000 from one donour, received a few hundred from a school programme called, ‘Pennies for Peace’ (where school kids donate their pennies) and sold his Buick for another few hundred bucks to help him with his personal expenditure flying from the US to Islamabad and that long journey to Korphe.

From then on, you will read about his adventures but especially his challenges, of being tricked/cheated by people who would want to take advantage of an American. I can so relate to this as it happened to a team I was working with when the company I worked with sponsored a school for Tsunami victims in Aceh… I mean, to think that a foreigner would want to help their children yet their own people would take advantage to make the most cash for their own pockets instead of thinking about the huge advantage 'their' children were getting, may sound pretty atrocious, but these things do happen. It is important to speak to the right people and be wary of one's surroundings at all times.

So, his journey, was something no less challenging. Of course, there were a few people he met along the way who could be trusted and it helped a lot that he could speak their language. And after all that, he finally reached Korphe, about a year after he last saw them. It was a beautiful surprise to the people and they kind of sensed that he would return to fulfil his promise.

Things didn’t go naturally well from there as they met with even more obstacles. And the next over 300 pages will let you in on all their obstacles, which include kidnapping, fatwa against him, heartaches yet love he found, the more calls for more schools in the nearby areas and the successes he achieved, all but very humbly, taking only a US$23,000 a year salary as Director of Cental Asia Institute (CAI) which was established after receiving a US$1 million investment by a wealthy supporter.

Greg went through rough times especially after September 11 from his fellow countrymen due to his work helping the Muslims and even received death threats. The only way for someone to be totally mesmerised by his cause was when they hear him talk and when he presents the pictures on slides for them to really know why he’s doing what he’s doing. This, I also could relate to when I was questioning why the company I was working with preferred to help the Tsunami victims when our own kids need help too. But when you see the devastation there, and their way of life – how much they don’t have and how much more privileged we are here, you can’t help but want to support this cause – a cause towards education.

I am filled with so much admiration for this man but admiration may be such a small word to describe the feeling. We are scarce of people we can look up to because most of the time, people preach their messages across but they don’t really walk their talk. I have worked with several so-called ‘philanthropist’ who are wealthy and give their money away easily but yet they expect so much in return and when they visit the critical areas, they expect to be treated like kings.

Greg Mortensen is nothing like that. In fact, when he hears the azan (the call for prayers), he would take the wudu’ like everyone else, cleans himself and pray along with the rest of the people. He respects their culture and never asked for anything more for himself. He’s so warm and soft hearted yet very firm in knowing what needs to be done, when to tolerate nonsense and when he should accept advise from these people who are considered ‘backwards’ in the eyes of modern society. He acknowledged that you would learn many valuable lessons from them even if they are illiterate with no modern resources. He’s just wonderful and I find my tears well up whenever I tell his stories to my husband. He makes me cry!

Okay. Let’s not get overly dramatic like Elizabeth Gilbert, ya. But I am telling you, I am filled with intense emotions when I read the book. I didn’t even want to put it down because I wanted to know what would happen next.

You won’t just find out about his challenges and successes but you will also learn about some history, political milestones and a lot of truth in what was happening during America’s fight on terrorism, especially during the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and the search for Osama. You would be surprised on many of the facts presented upon you and it would take a lot for one Muslim-hater to actually pick up the book with an open mind and read what this so called ‘infidel’, a non-Muslim’s recollection and view of things.

But this is not the sole reason why I would highly recommend this book for ALL to pick up… in fact, I find many lessons one can learn from it...
  1. I learnt that in order to make changes, you would need to start somewhere. Start small, even. A lot of people would just talk about wanting to do things and worry about everything else, while Greg Mortenson, one who has practically nothing just got up and go do what he set out to do. I agree that not all of us are built that way but it would be inspirational to read about someone who actually does and how he did it.
  2. The book reinforced my belief that when you want something done, especially when you want a change to happen, you need to start small, and start on your own. Be an example before others can follow-suit or support you. Yes, we would worry about the future but with good intentions, things will start to happen in your favour. Even if one step doesn’t work out the way you had hoped, it is crucial to get up again, learn where you went wrong, make it right and start taking small steps again without taking things for granted.
  3. I learnt that it is so easy to be misunderstood when you have the best intentions in mind. I experienced that myself earlier this year when I was made to believe I was ‘asked’ to adopt another person’s child. Yes, you have the best interest to help but in the end, what you do might go against you. Of course, I shouldn’t compare my minute effort compared to Greg's… But besides all that feeling of giving up on humankind, Greg taught me that when you have the best intentions, you shouldn’t feel bad or regret that decision you made because one day, people will realise what a difference you set out to make and as long as you’ve walked the talk rather than just talk crap, at least you know you have taken that step to improve yourself, no matter what people may think of you.
  4. I learnt that a lot of us (including moi) would [sometimes] complain and be unhappy about things around us when we already have a lot more that would already have made us happy. We fail to realise that there are other more important issues out there and people who are worst off than us. We forget to be grateful of what we already have and we take things for granted, especially on material stuff. We keep acquiring stuff to make us feel satisfied (or happy-ier) when in reality, we don’t quite need them. Here comes Greg who has very little, asks for nothing much yet give away so much to other parts of the world who are more needy. And he, himself, cuts his personal budget and be as prudent as possible so that those parts of the world are able to benefit from what he could give. That is food for the soul.
  5. This was something that ticked my brain… the part where the poorest most difficult people in Afghanistan, on their journey to perform the Haj, one of the religious requirement of every Muslim. I mean, I am made to understand that for many of us, it is not a must to perform the Haj if we are not financially sound. But this part made me question, how financially sound is financially sound… I mean, here they were, in a war, with lack of many resources, food, shelter and security, yet they were able to perform this duty as a Muslim. How much more privileged most of us are yet a lot of us are lost in our quest to keep acquiring wealth and materials. It left me with some relevant questions and how much this book has opened my eyes on this particular issue, even if that part is only a minute part in the book, where Greg was only including it for us to understand the situation he was in at that time, at that particular area.
  6. As I mentioned earlier, I love this book because Greg showed me that he does all this without asking for anything in return from those people he helped. In fact, he highly believed that terrorism can be nipped in the bud through non-extremist education and proper guidance. After all, those people he helped totally doesn’t believe in the hate-American propaganda by the Talibans and those uneducated few because the fact of the matter was, that Greg was the only person who helped them achieve a better life with the opportunity of education rather than how they were left without any guidance from their own government. Greg is truly loved by the small villagers who’ve heard so much about him and approached him, and I myself felt so proud of his cause… something, I have never heard about til I read this book.

Yes, I am a sucker for stories with moral values. I don’t take a tale as is… I would like to know that I could learn from it and what I read will help me further improve myself. Some would blindly criticise that I think a lot but if thinking shapes me into a better person, so be it. After all, we have brains to think... what's the use of it if we don't use it effectively.

Of course, I never said I could be like Greg Mortenson. I am, embarrassed to admit that my length of admiration could go as far as just that… admiration. And with this admiration, I could see myself advocating this cause as much as telling the general public of his unselfish efforts that doesn’t include any personal agenda… that it is such a noble cause and I would like to share with you this depth of information just like I did many many years ago when I had the chance to work with MERCY Malaysia and was truly inspired by its then-President, Dr Jemilah Mahmood on her untiring efforts to help those unfortunate (which was posted in my old blog that got hijacked). I became sentimental to her work and was happy that I was able to contribute what little I could help then. Hence, now, I am doing the same thing and what I can do best now – to write about Greg Mortenson and his work, though I can’t possibly tell you everything or you wouldn’t pick up his book.

After I finished reading this book, I learnt that the proceeds from his books would contribute to his cause and I felt embarrassed that I didn’t even buy this book to begin with. Hence, I pledge to let people know of his work so that more and more people would get it from their nearest bookstores… it will not only help this cause but will probably also change your perspective on life, somewhat. I have even made Mr Husband promise to me that he would read this book on his way to work on the LRT instead of his usual habit of playing games on his phone/iPad/whatever gadgets. I hope to also get this book as gifts for my good friends, if they have not read it yet and for myself, I had just gotten his other book, Stones Into Schools, which is a continuation to Three Cups of Tea. Aside from that, I do not want to make any empty promises but I shall be following his stories through whatever means I can get.

i was again filled with intense emotions the moment i saw this book on the shelves at MPH...

Through its website, it says of the books that changed the way people think about changing the world: Peace Through Education. But I think his books don’t just change you on your perspective on peace around the world… it would first make you look at yourself and question what have you done to things you are unhappy about.

For your information, as quoted from the Afterword page of Three Cups of Tea:
Three Cups of Tea has been a freshman, honours or campus-wide required reading selection in over eighty universities and hundreds of schools. It is also a required reading for senior US military commanders, Pentagon officers in counter-insurgency training, and Special Forces deploying to Afghanistan. More than 200 communities have used Three Cups of Tea as a “One Book” common read, and it is being published in over 31 countries.

Seriously, pick up his book without any expectations and promise to read it word for word.


Omecool20 said...

A nice post Juan. I liked the movie as I saw it earlier a few weeks ago. I do think that film adaptations of books tend to be better than the book themselves at times. Great review of the book and the lessons from it. It reminded me what my dad once said, if people make their choices based on humanity, the world would be a more peaceful place to live in. Too bad, that for most people, in the end, they realize this lesson.

Sarclover said...

I picked up EPL maybe three weeks ago. Still have yet to get past page... 20.

Have to admit, I think it was too much of a hoo-haa, but friends said I HAVE to pick it up as I am right now in a cross road (Or so they think).

Friends tried to suck me into the fad that was Sex and the City and FAILED miserably. Don't see myself being in this EPL - fest anytime soon too. ;)

I picked up Infidel last year and read it without any expectations. And true enough, it was the one book I finished in 2 days because I can't put it down. ;) maybe I will pick this one up. Gone through the intro a couple of times before this. until I finished reading the rest of my unread stash... highly unlikely that I am going to buy this one anytime soon.

Love ya babe.