Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

A friend has been hounding me for months to read Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. It is the only book she’s read in a year, and she insisted I would love it—particularly considering my volunteer work in Afghanistan.

I humored her, and put the book in my library queue. About a hundred people were lined up before me, and although the book has been a persistent bestseller, I had no desire to rush out and read it.

My turn at Three Cups finally arrived, and I struggled with it. I spent two weeks just getting to page 75. The writing felt sluggish, and the story about a mountain climber turned do-gooder seemed to drag. I thought about quitting, but I knew I had to persist for my friend’s sake.

By the end of the book, I felt like cheering and telling everyone to read this book about Greg Mortenson. He has spent years developing the Central Asia Institute (CAI), a nonprofit organization that builds schools (and bridges and women’s centers and water pumps) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He braves the dangers of tribal leadership, embraces the good people he meets, and sees clearly how the U.S. government has failed this region.

Greg Mortenson is downright inspiring. My secret dream is to work with human trafficking in Eastern Europe, and he makes me feel like I can (and should) be doing it.

Yet, Mortenson’s accomplishments also make me feel a bit guilty. He has devoted his life to the region, and I only spend one night a week, from the comfort of my own home, doing volunteer work. At times, Mortenson comes across as too perfect—which can be irritating for us imperfect people.

The inspiration, though, outweighs the guilt, and the book invites introspection. What am I doing to help the world? What should I be doing? What more can I do? And how can I get the government to step up and do the right thing?

Of course, not everyone can be a Greg Mortenson—and I’m not sure they should try. He clearly neglects his wife and children in favor of CAI, and I wonder how long his marriage will last. Yet, if we all did just a little, imagine what a difference we could make in this world.


notaconnoisseur said...

I just checked the UCSD library and the book is still in transit and already has one hold. Your comments have caused me to think about myself. Some times when I am away from home, I have moments of boredom, but I think more than that I have times when I feel as if I am not doing anything to contribute to the world around me. I know that the time with my husband to build our relationship is valuable but I am left wondering what good I am doing in the world.

The Aspirant said...

Thanks for the review. It reminds me of why I love Washington so much. It's thrilling to be around passionate people actually trying to make a difference. I'm sure finding that political cartoon and having a copy sent to my boss definitely counts...right? Ok, I never said I was one of those passionate people.....