Thursday, September 11, 2008

Three Cups of Tea- Book Review

While I'm not generally a huge fan of jet lag, I cherish the first few days in India when I wake up early enough to hear the morning call to prayer. As the loudspeakers summon the faithful out of their bed and towards Mecca, I stare out the window and watch the sun rise over Bombay.

Hearing the ritualistic prayer is a comfort, a reminder of the things that have stayed the same for centuries. For hundreds of years, Bombay Muslims have climbed out of bed in this pre-dawn hour to say their morning prayers. The prayer is also a reminder of the cosmopolitan city Bombay was and is. A city where a multitude of religions and ethnicities live together in relative peace.

But that peace is gradually under assault.

As our plane from London to Bombay flew over Pakistan, I discussed the degrading situation in Bombay with the man sitting next to me. His family is from Northern India, and he bitterly spoke about how the native Maharatis (full disclosure: I'm half Maharati) have been trying, with some success, to Maharati-cize this cosmopolitan city. I nodded in agreement and then mentioned the terrible ostracization of the Muslim populations. At which point, my educated and wealthy plane-mate, sat up straight.

"Well, that's not just a Bombay thing. Muslims have problems everywhere." And then he told me a joke about a man who had made the statement that "All Muslims are terrorists," and then finally, under much pressure, revised his statement to "All terrorists are Muslims." It was clear that this man sitting next to me on the plane agreed that while all Muslims might not be terrorists, certainly, all terrorists are Muslims.

I didn't know what to say, but not wanting to engage in a lengthy debate with a man I was stuck sitting next to for the next few hours, I shut up.

The world has changed tremendously since 9-11, and India along with it. Where once, Muslims may have lived next to Christians and Hindus, now Muslims are pushed out of housing complexes, regarded as potential terrorists by their neighbors.

And it's a vicious cycle. The more Muslims are ostracized, the more they resort to violence. And the more Muslims resort to violence, the more the rest of the world ostracizes them. It's a downward spiral, and an incredibly dangerous one at that.

That's why Three Cups of Tea is such an important book. Perhaps the most important book I've read all year. In a time when most of the non-Islamic world is turning its back on Muslims, Greg Mortenson is gaining the trust of Pakistanis and Afghanis, one school at a time.

Three Cups of Tea relates the true story of Greg Mortenson, an American former mountain climber. How a wrong turn coming down from K-2 resulted in his new life path building schools for girls all over Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mortenson believes strongly that education and especially the education of girls is critical in diffusing tension and fanaticism. He points out articulately that terrorists are not created in a vacuum. And that when children are given education and opportunity, they are much less likely to resort to terrorism and fundamentalism.

Three Cups of Tea makes the case that the majority of Muslims are peaceful people who want the best for the children, just like the rest of us. So, today, on September 11th, I highly recommend you go to the library or your local bookstore and pick up this book.

Is it about the environment? Not really. But it's about humanity, and about the values and beliefs that unite us all.

Five out of five stars, and recommended for everyone, green, dark green, fuschia or turquoise.


sunflowerchilde said...

What a beautiful post. I heartily agree that Three Cups of Tea is a great book, and well worth reading. Greg Mortensen's dedication is awe-inspiring, and his experiences are fascinating (and sometimes terrifying). I sometimes had to remind myself that it wasn't a novel and these events really happened to a real person.

Joyce said...

I'm reading this one right now, too, and it's great. Thanks for your thoughts, Arduous.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

You know, I spotted this book as a recommendation when I was buying something else from Amazon yesterday, but I bought something else instead. (You know how you get free shipping if your total is over a certain amount? I've got lots of what I convince myself are "free books" in this way - bad little APLS person that I am). I wish I'd read this post first because now I definitely want to read it. He sounds like an amazing (and very brave) man.

Can you believe it is 7 years since 9-11? I was just finishing up my PhD... seems like yesterday. My cousin lived in Manhattan at the time (now Brooklyn) and had been at several early morning interviews with large financial companies. That was all anyone knew, and even though we were all telling ourselves that the chances of him being involved were small, we got more and more worried as all communication attempts continued to be futile. It was more than a full day later when we finally heard that he was OK. Can you believe he got mugged in Manhattan on the evening of 9-11??? They took his cell phone, all his cash and cards, and his transit pass, so he was completely screwed and unable to get home (other than by walking, which took all night) let alone contact his parents. He was unhurt though which was a huge relief.

Anyway, that wasn't entirely on topic. So. Are you ever actually un-jetlagged enough to sleep through the morning call for prayer? I've stayed in some largely Muslim villages in northern Israel and never once managed to sleep through. Also, may I ask why you use the name Bombay rather than Mumbai? Apologies if this is a stupid question, but I thought it had changed from the colonial British name (Bombay) back to the original, Indian, name of the city...

pink dogwood said...

I loved that book and was thinking that when someone who is so unfamiliar with the country and the culture has the guts to do what he did, why can't I do something similar for illiterate kids in India?

About some other reader's comment about Bombay and Mumbai - they might have renamed the city, but I still like the sound of Bombay.

I also like the early morning prayers that we hear coming out of the mosques - I find them very comforting and soulful - I think they are called azaan.

Enjoy it over there Arduous - I was there last summer and had a great time :)

Stephanie said...

Sobering thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I recently read that book as well, and found it so inspiring, but also overwhelming. You almost got the sense that he got in at just the right time and I felt like no other American could again manage to do what he did. He also must have an amazingly supportive family.

Green Bean said...

GREAT book! I'm getting ready to post my own review on it. Perfect day to do it on, too.

"And it's a vicious cycle. The more Muslims are ostracized, the more they resort to violence. And the more Muslims resort to violence, the more the rest of the world ostracizes them." This is such an important statement. We need to realize, as we careen toward election day, that our actions have repercussions far beyond our borders. And we are responsible for those repercussions - whether it be the children killed by US (collateral dammage) in Afghanistan or the young boys who, without options, turn to terrorism.

Great review. An absolute must read book!

ruchi said...

Sunflowerchilde, I know what you mean. The book was so amazing you really did feel like it was a novel not a real life story!!

Joyce, look forward to reading your thoughts.

Cath, still sort of jet-lagged. And still wake up during the morning prayer though am now able to go back to sleep. As regards your question, in fact, Bombay is the original name of the city. I think, it's true, that Bombay was named so by the Portugese, but before then, there was no city here. The city grew up in that time. The name Bombay thus is very significant because it's a sign of the cosmpolitan history this city has always had. Mumbai is not the Hindi name of the city, it's a made-up Maharati name and actually a sign of the sectist/statist society that has started growing all over India. Maharatis renamed Bombay Mumbai because they wanted Bombay to be a Maharati city, not the cosmopolitan city it really is. So it's actually a sticking point for me, and on principle I tend to refer to Bombay as Bombay and not Mumbai. Not sure if that made sense. India is very complicated.

PD, the morning prayers are very comforting it's true!

Stephanie, it is sobering but the book is such a page turner too! It's not just depressing, it's very uplifting.

Jen, I know, you really have to admire Mortenson's wife and all she does as well.

GB, look forward to your review!!

Bobbi said...

Did everyone notice how many 'community' related posts went up yesterday, of all days? Some of us are remembering that we have to reach out to others and that, as Americans, we can't become closed off to the rest of the world and have to let them know that some of us want to be friends and not colonize everyone.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Going Crunchy said...

And peaceful thoughts on everybody for this subject. Just peace and understanding for others. Shan

Donna said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. I thought it was awesome.