Friday, March 6, 2009

Greg Mortenson REALLY travels like a local

OK, I realize I'm very late to this party--the book came out three years ago. But I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea, the story of mountain climber-turned-philanthropist Greg Mortenson, and I was captivated.

For those of you who, like me, somehow missed this book when it first came out, here's the scoop. After a failed attempt to climb K2, Mortenson descends from the mountain ill and disoriented. He washes up in the village of Korphe in northern Pakistan, where villagers help him get better. He is grateful but isn't sure how to properly thank them--until he sees village children doing their lessons outdoors because they have no school. He promises to come back and build one.

What follows is the story of Mortenson's charming, naive, insane, determined quest to raise money for the Korphe school, co-written by journalist David Oliver Relin. This one project soon turns into Mortenson's life's work; he has since built dozens of schools throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan. Along the way, he has also forged enduring relationships with people from a host of different ethnic groups. Very few of us have the courage and dedication to "travel like a local" to this extent, but it makes for a fascinating and inspiring story.

Relin did phenomenal amounts of research and it shows in the evocative details, which sometimes become a bit overwhelming. The book could have done with some trimming by a ruthless editor, but stick with it--the story is worth it.

Mortenson has just released a new version of the book aimed at children--not surprisingly, since children are the focus of his work in Central Asia and since children back home in North America have been some of his most ardent supporters (through the Pennies for Peace fundraising campaign).

All in all, Mortenson's story is a wonderful antidote to the tide of doom and gloom in the news at the minute.


Steve said...

I've yet to read this but heard great things about it last year when I was in California. Looking forward to picking up a copy. Thanks for reminding me!

Laura Byrne Paquet said...

The writing is a bit uneven but the story is amazing!

Daniela Papi said...

The book has sat on my shelf for a few years and, even though I had heard good things about it, I thought perhaps it was just another book someone wrote about schools they had built. But the schools are only the end result of Mortenson's amazing story. What he has to do to get them built, the fact that he KEEPS on going when so many things stack against him, and the WAY that he goes about doing it blew me away. AMAZING AMAZING man. Pakistan, anyone? I want to join his team!

Laura Byrne Paquet said...

I know--can you believe how he keeps going, in the face of so many crazy obstacles? Made me realize my job isn't as stressful as I sometimes think it is. :-)