[13 April 2009]
Recently I finished reading the young reader’s edition of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea (2009). The original, ‘adult’ version of the book still tops the NYT bestseller list. Since the book is ultimately about the education of children in poor villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s wonderful that this text has been adapted (by Sarah Thomson) for younger readers.
Greg Mortenson set out to climb K2 in Pakistan, the world’s second-highest mountain, but never made it to the summit. On his way back down the mountain Mortenson got separated from his climbing party and stumbled, hungry and dehydrated, into the village of Korphe where he was treated as an honoured guest. Mortenson found out that the children in the village had no school, and shared a teacher with another mountain village, so that each group of children had an instructor only three days per week. On days when they had no teacher they would gather anyway and scratch out their math problems with sticks on the hard ground. Mortenson was amazed that the children had no facility or supplies to learn with, yet tried to learn whatever they could anyway. Mortenson promised to build Korphe a school, and returned to America to raise the money.
This new version of the story has a number of color photos inserted in the book for visual learners to get a better sense of what the landscape, people, and projects Mortenson has worked on are like. The title refers to the regional proverb that when you first share a cup of tea, you are strangers. The next time you share tea you are friends; the third time, you are family. Much of the bargaining and discussions Mortenson participates in take place over cups of tea, and Mortenson learns the value of taking the time to get to know a community rather than simply swooping in and trying to do what an outside perceives as best for the local people. For younger readers, this book is a good introduction to the life of children in other cultures, as well as a call to action (or at least introspection) about the power of education to let people assert some control over their own futures.