I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I was at my old job, working on a computer, not tuned into the news, when a colleague called and told us to tune into CNN. A rushing sense of unreality, helplessness, and shock followed. Then, we invaded Afghanistan, and I worried about the long-term effects of our military intervention as well as the immediate suffering it would create.
Well, at work, sometime in that period, that same colleague also turned me on to the Central Asia Institute, ikat.org. He circulated a flyer around the office, detailing CAI’s work at building schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Contributing seemed to be the right thing to do, to invest in peace, in education, in a troubled region in a troubled time. What struck me about the organization was its emphasis on educating girls. Over the last few years, I’ve made a contribution to CAI each year.
Three Cups of Tea follows Greg Mortenson from a failed attempt to summit K2, to losing his way on the way down and being welcomed and nursed back to health by a remote village, Korphe. He intends to repay their kindness by raising funds to build them a school. What follows isn’t linear, other villages vie for his funds, the remoteness of Korphe makes building a challenge, and the project takes much longer than he expects. But the story is amazing, one of sacrifice and trust and building connections between people of different religions, sects, and economic circumstance is inspiring. For instance, Mortenson’s staff in Pakistan consisted of Shiite, Sunni, and Ismaeli Muslims. By nationality they were American, Pakistani, and a refugee from Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Three Cups of Tea mentions 9/11, Greg Mortenson was in Pakistan on that day, working to build schools. CAI started sending me postcards about the upcoming release of a book on Greg Mortenson, CAI’s founder. I’ve saved the postcards, and had the book “on my list” for a while, but it took my mom and sister reading it to spur me on. The Ann Arbor District Library has 41 holds on their copy of the book, so I gave up getting it from then. My mom-in-law picked up a copy while we were visiting her on Cape Cod, and I read immediately so that I could leave it here for her to read after we return home.
What struck me most was the transformative power of education on the girls in the book. An inspiring read.