Friday, September 21, 2007

The Lesson of Three Cups of Tea: Greg Mortensen

Mountaineer, Greg Mortensen, entered a poor, remote Pakistani village in 1993 after a failed attempt to climb K2. In his weakened state he was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people and as a parting shot he promised to return and build them a school.

Three Cups of Tea is written by David Oliver Relin and it is the account of Mortensen’s work, not only in fulfilling this promise but in growing an organization that is committed to building schools as a way of promoting peace.

He appears to read the culture well and observe the customs but at one point a wise man from Baltistan invites Mortensen to his place for a deep conversation:

“‘Sit down. And shut your mouth,’ Haji Ali said, ‘You’re making everyone crazy…’

“When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways,’ Haji Ali said, blowing in his bowl.

‘The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,’ he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortensen’s arm. ‘Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.’

‘That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life,’ Mortensen says …. ‘Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.’” (p150)

Source: Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: Greg Mortensen with Pakistani students.