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the Message Continues ... 5/89



Newsletter for January 2009


Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12


Three Cups of Tea

An Inspiring, Analytical and Educational Review by Najmul-Nissa Fatima Naqvi, New Jersey

             The Three Cups of Tea. It is the story of a very unusual man, an American Mountaineer, who went to the Northern part of Pakistan with his goal to climb K2, the second highest peak in the world. The book narrates the personal experience of an exuberant young man who, after failing his ambitious exploits as a mountaineer, changes his path to conquering some thing even greater and more grandiose than the K2 - ornamenting the poor village children in the most remote and difficult area on the foot of the Himalayas, with the precious jewels of learning and knowledge.

Achieving this goal was not easy for him. He went through a lot, but he did not give up. He knew that the best way to eradicate extremism and terrorism was to educate the children living in the hub of extremist organization, Al- Qaida. Being a Pakistani American, I found Mortenson's narrative  very close to my heart. The description given is so touching and real that I felt as if I was with Mortenson along this odyssey. The book provides a vivid depiction of the very diverse culture of Pakistan. The story leads the reader through the tenuous paths of the rugged Himalayan region, showing how one man acting single-handedly fulfilled his promise of building a school for the children of Khophe village.

            Before I would further explain my thoughts about this book, I deem it to be very important to introduce the main character. Both the Author and the main character of this book, Greg Mortenson was born in Minnesota in 1958. His father, Irvin Mortenson and mother, Jerene, were devout Christians. When he was three months old, his father decided to settle in Tanzania, Africa and work as missionary.
            From childhood, Greg Mortenson was exposed to a different culture than his own, and this may be the reason why he did not have any difficulty in adapting to a new culture, in a most remote area in Pakistan. Mortenson also observed his parents being involved in community work from a very early age. Mortenson's parents inculcated the values of compassion and charity into the mind of their son from the very beginning. His tireless work of building schools for the poor children of Pakistan was reflection of his upbringing. Greg Mortenson knew the power of knowledge, and how educating children, especially the girls, helps uplift the society.

           The question is, how educating girls can help uplift the society? The small girls of today are the mother of tomorrow. An educated mother would raise her child instilling the values that can make them good citizens. Good mothers cannot be produced without educating the girls, and Greg was very well aware of this fact. Greg was successful in acclimating himself in the Pakistani culture due to his previous intercultural integration while living in Africa. Another factor which initiated Greg Mortenson to help the people of one of the most remote and undeveloped areas of the world was his generosity. Being a brother to a seriously ill sister, he had the empathy to help people whose lives did not hold much opportunity. This was his way of paying tribute to his sister, Christa, who died suffering from a long illness.

        The culture Greg Mortenson had experienced in Pakistan was very different than his own. Greg Mortenson lived most of his life in America, and a short period in Africa. While being in Pakistan, particularly in its more conservative area, he encountered a totally new culture and way of life. This culture did not allow liberalism to its entirety as in the west.  A culture where amalgamation of genders is considered inappropriate, Mortenson found it very difficult to make a right choice in his communicating with females. It was a culture where everyday responsibilities were defined by genders, men being the bread winners and women performing  domestic duties;  it was a culture where women were startled to see a man helping in the kitchen.

        Language was another hurdle in Greg’s way, because Pakistan is a land of many languages and dialects, such as Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bluchi, Pashto, Balti  and the list goes on. The national language is Urdu, which is spoken in almost every part of Pakistan. Greg not only had to learn the local language of Khope, but also Urdu, which he mastered in a very short time. Living in Africa and speaking the local language had already prepared Mortenson to learn other languages. He also lived in a different continent as young child with parents who were missionaries, thus he knew that he had to have hardworking, and honest people with him in order to learn and overcome the obstacles of a new culture.

        From clothes to buying material for his school, Mortenson had a local person along his side. Shopping experiences for Greg in Pakistan were very different than what he was used to at home. Greg Mortenson also found this experience discrepant because he had no concept of bargaining. Watching the shopkeeper ordering tea and cold drinks for his customers seemed very strange to him. This example connected to ideas we have discussed in class during our group activities. We learned how difficult it was for people who are appointed to make business deals in different countries. They sometimes find their first business meetings to be nothing more than a luncheon, where personal not business, matters are discussed. This pattern of business was very observed in Greg Mortenson’s experience of shopping as well. It is very common in Pakistan for customers to be served with snacks or tea; one reason is the cultural value of being hospitable and other is to create a personal relationship with the customer. This relationship could benefit the business, because the same customer would recommend his friends and families to shop at store.

Hospitality is a  common practice and hall mark of Pakistani culture. This book is a very good source of first hand information about a culture which is either little  known, or misperceived. Greg Mortenson was considered a guest, which holds a very high place in Pakistani culture. Even a very poor person would not let a guest leave without entertaining him with whatever he would have. Pakistani culture is based on collectivism, as opposed to western ideology of individualism; sometimes it only takes three cups of tea for a person to become part of your family. The same stranger is loved and cared for if he were part of the town for a long period of time. No one would hesitate to protect him even at the cost of their own life.

Greg Mortenson became part of Hajji Ali’s family by the end of a “third cup of tea” and from then on he was the “adopted American” son who Hajji Ali advised and loved like his own son, Tawha. Greg found the family lifestyle to be very invigorating. Gathered on the roof tops, every evening where they would have their dinner. As Mortenson has said very beautifully, “Despite all that they lacked, Balti still held the key to a kind of unaccomplished happiness that was disappearing in the developing world as fast as old growth forests.” The roof top meeting allowed people to talk and further strengthen their relationship; this value is becoming rare in more developed countries where everyone in the family is confined to their own lives and needs. Taking this disintegrating value on a larger scale, it can be seen that, the lack of integration between countries is a factor that contribute to misunderstandings.

            The book also gives out knowledge about the different schools of thought in the faith of Islam. They are considered “schools of thought” not sects, because Islam does not believe in sectarianism. These schools of thoughts, such as Shia and Sunni, all believe in the common, fundamental Islam a monotheist religion. Greg Mortenson was exposed to these schools of thoughts at different times during his visit. For example, from his tailor, learned how the pray the Suuni way, but had to fix the minor difference while being present in a Shia mosque. It was not difficult for Mortenson to understand the different beliefs because Christianity also appears in many forms that overall have the same basic beliefs.

 Greg Mortenson built a very good relationship with the people. This relationship grew stronger after the 9/11 tragedy, where people protected Greg Mortenson in every possible way, knowing how vulnerable it would be for an American to be present in a Muslim country. This explains how relationships between cultures can go above and beyond the manipulations of world politics. The people of khope village protected a friend who risked his life for them. Mortenson sacrificed living away from his wife and children in order to provide the villagers the basic needs of life, and I think this kind of relationship cannot be confined to borders. People manipulate religion for their personal interest. These sorts of people are found in every culture and religion, and are not the true representatives of the faith.

Greg Mortenson, after being a part of the Muslim culture, realized how things seemed to be one way from a distance like a mirage, but when you came closer, you found reality. A speech given by a Muslim clerk during the 9/11 attacks was so overwhelming that it brought tears to everyone’s eyes. This speech was not in any way demeaning to Americans or in favor of terrorists. In his speech he clearly called this act of terrorism against the teachings of Islam. His speech was so overwhelming that it brought tears into the eyes of people. Greg Mortenson says, “ I wish that some ill-informed Americans who think Muslim is just another way of saying ‘terrorist’  had been there that day.

The true core tenants of Islam are justice, tolerance, and charity, and Syed Abbass represented the moderate center of Muslim faith eloquently.” It is very obvious that the change in perception was not one sided. Many Muslims who thought of Americans as hostile people changed their perspectives by having an American present with them; an American who with his character and good conduct, proved himself to be righteous. On the other hand Americans who thought of Muslims as rugged Bedouins and barbarians witnessed the true essence of Islam and its followers. This was all made possible not by simply watching a documentary film about Pakistan and its culture, but by becoming part a of pakistanis’ lives. It can be seen through Mortenson’s example that communication and complete understanding are crucial to make this world a better place.

It was Greg Mortenson’s tireless efforts which greatly contributed to the war against terrorism. He won this war not by using the most sophisticated weapons, but by simply placing a pen in the hands of the children. His strategy was far more effective compared to the fighting force of the most powerful army in the world, which is far from from achieving the goal of eradicating terrorism through sheer exercise of warfare. Mortenson has seen the fruits of his labor in the shape of Jahan, Haji Ali’s granddaughter, who became the first educated girl of Khope, who has the ambition to have her career in maternal care. He witnessed another girl, Tahira, who, after finishing her education dreams to become teacher, she wants to continue to kindle the light of knowledge for the coming generation as Mortenson did for her.

Educating the people is the only way to combat and root out the evil of terrorism, and Mortenson was well aware of the fact. Reading his book helped me understand the importance and true value of the intercultural communication and its effectiveness. Mortenson’s experience is a wonderful confluence of eastern and western cultures, demonstrating beautifully how in spit of their disparity and difference, the cultures can work out constructively by bridging the gap and changing many perceptions for the better.                  






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