History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

04 October 2007

A Man for All Nations

Next to Sir Thomas More (Man for All Seasons), the man I admire most has to be mountain-climber-turned school construction planner Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea (Penguin, 2007). This book moved me more than any nonfiction I’ve read in the last quarter century; every congressman, CIA operative, presidential candidate and just plain American should read it!

Mortenson’s book presents a simple answer to this question: How can we fight terrorism and live to tell about it? His method is to go into small poverty-stricken villages in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikstan, etc. and educate the children--especially young girls, who are excluded from most government-run schools.

Three Cups of Tea is the story of how this philosophy/philanthropy was born, and it is not only riveting but, for me at least, attitude-changing. There IS something an individual can do about the state of the world!
Mortenson was a mountain climber. During an attempt on K2 in northern Pakistan, he got separated from his climbing partner and Pakistani bearer and wandered, fuzzy-headed at 19,000 feet until he finally collapsed.

When he didn’t show up at the base camp, the bearer searched and finally found him on the mountain, half-frozen and comatose. The man dragged and pushed Mortenson down the mountain to his small village, settled him in his mud-hut, wrapped him in a blanket, and offered a mug of yak-butter tea. Mortenson remembers the brew as the most vile and the most blessed concoction his tongue had ever encountered, but he credits the three mugs the Pakistani villager made him drink with saving his life.

Grateful for the care he received for the next few weeks from the poor but generous-hearted villagers, Mortenson wanted to return their kindness but wondered what he could do? One morning he found some children drawing letters in the dirt because they had no school.

Mortenson flew back to the U.S., saved up $12,000 working as an ER nurse, then returned to “his” Pakistani village high in the mountains with lumber and building supplies for a school. The photo at the left (shot by Mortenson) shows village men laying the foundation.

When it was completed, he hired a teacher from Islamabad to teach not Islamic or Christian precepts but “the basics” of reading, writing, and math. The teacher is paid $1 per day. Most important, the school is nonsectarian and coed: it does not exclude girls, as do most government-run schools in the larger cities.

Word of this first school spread, and shortly another village high up in the remote mountains of northern Pakistan wanted to build a school. And another... and then another. Greg Mortenson, the mountain climber from Bozeman, Montana, had found his calling in life.

Mortenson himself is tall (6'5"), well-built, athletic, and shy. His sincerity and honesty wins the regard of the Pakistanis, and he is still scraping up money and building schools in remote regions. Now he heads the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit organization, which he founded to fund these ventures: P.O. Box 7209, Bozeman, MT 59771. cai@ikat.org; www.ikat.org.


Blogger rugosa said...

Mortenson does indeed show us that one person can do something to help others and the world. It makes me proud that this is a man from my home state. Montanans are indeed wonderful people and the motto here is pitch in to help your neighbor. Mortenson just found his neighbors a bit farther away.

11:52 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

Wow, Lynna. What a great story. I have to get this book. As a former teacher I have ALWAYS said that the animosity between Arabs and Jews and Arabs and Christians will only be eliminated by education. With the right education efforts in a few generations terrorism could be a thing of the past. Or at least that is my prayer. Thank you for bringing this great book and this great guy to our attention. I love the way rugosa put it - He just found his neighbors a bit farther away. Never met a Montanan who wasn't a genuine, down to earth person.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

What a true hero. I now he gets to spend his life doing what he loves to do...few are so fortunate to find their passion, like he did, and help so many at the same time. I'm in awe.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I agre with doglady. It reminds me of one of the wonderful Charles Dickens lines from "A Christmas Carol" where one of the ghosts shows Scrooge a miserable looking little boy and girl. (I'm paraphrasing here, but the ghost says "The boy is Ignorance; the Girl is Want. Beware them both -- but most of all -- beware the boy."

Ignorance is to blame for so much prejudice and violence ... you stuff an ignorant and unlearned person's head with lies and they'll believe it (the blather coming out of Ahmadinejad's mouth is a case in point. The president of Columbia Univ. told him last week that his propaganda, shoved into the heads of the ignorant and illiterate, is a very dangerous thing).

Mortenson's courage and his gift to this village are remarkable. Most people would read his story (or anything in the day's newspapers about terrorism and its sources) and shake their heads and agree that "Something must be done about this." Mortenson is actually DOING it.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Keira Soleore said...

Lynna, thank you for this fabulous introduction. I've added his charity to our annual donations list and his book is on order from Amazon. What an amazing fellow! The Himalayan villages abound in such tales of dedicated mountaineers.

11:04 AM  

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