Jul. 20th, 2009

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I just read an amazing book, and I want to talk about it. It isn't a science fiction book this time; it's not even fiction at all. It's called Three Cups of Tea, and it's about a guy who builds schools, mostly for girls, in the mountains of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Greg Mortenson is a mountaineer who made a failed attempt at K2. He was rescued and ended up a village called Korphe in northern Pakistan. This area is inhabited by a tribe called the Baltis. They are similar to the Sherpas in that they are acclimated to the high altitude and serve as porters for mere mortals trying to climb 28,000-foot peaks. Greg is impressed in the extreme by the Baltis of Korphe, positively by their generosity and care for him, and negatively by the conditions of their "school." The school had only a part-time teacher, and no building. In snowy mountains! Greg promises his hosts that he would come back and build them a school.

The book is an tale of incredible adventure in territory that is extremely inhospitable, both in terms of weather and in terms of politics. Greg first must raise money, and does this by living in a car in Berkeley. Then he must overcome brutal weather, missing bridges, roads strewn with rock falls, graft, a kidnapping and fatwas to complete his mission. But Greg manages to build the friendship and command the respect of the Balti people, and builds many schools in northern Pakistan. After the fall of the Taliban, he moves into Afghanistan as well.

The book is full of one adventure after another. After struggling to get up the roads to the mountains, Greg hires a driver. The driver immediately buys a case of dynamite, to blow up places where the rock has fallen and blocked the road, and puts it under the driver's seat. The driver protects Greg through many dangerous areas, including mine fields and gunfights between drug traffickers. Greg endures incredible ordeals in order to fulfill his mission; I could not count the number of times he nearly dies.

But more than that, the book is full of heartwarming tales. It's wonderful to hear about the responsiveness of the people, especially the girls, to Greg's work. The children are enthusiastic and eager to be educated, and their parents are eager for them to be educated as well. At one point, Greg has to remove a septic placenta from sick new mother. Obviously this is a very sensitive thing in that sort of culture. But the husband has come to trust Greg, and Greg is able to save the woman's life. He also builds vocational centers where women can gather. For someone who has always pitied the women of these regions, it is very moving to read about their empowerment.

The book is also a tale of romance, but I'm not going to spoil you for that.

Anyway, go out and buy this book! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I haven't been so moved by a book in a while. A portion of the proceeds go to help Greg's Central Asia Institute, so you can feel good about spending the money. Enjoy!


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