My mom left a book at my house the other day- told me that everyone was reading it- so I picked it up the other day and literally didn’t get off the couch for hours: it’s 3 Cups of Tea. The story is about a guy who failed to climb K2, and lost his way on the way down, and ended up in a small rural village at the base of a glacier on the Pakistan side. He recovered for a few weeks, grew to fall in love with the village, and before he left, made a rash promise to help build a school for the kids- whom he had observed sharing a teacher with another village once a week, and in the meantime scratching out their lessons with sticks in the dirt outside.
Thus begins the long story of how he commuted from the Bay Area as a poor dirt climber, scratching together his earnings as a trauma nurse to first build a much needed bridge in this village of Korphe, then a school. The biggest lessons weren’t fundraising, but sitting down for at least “3 cups of tea” with local mullahs, expanding his social network to get community support for an Agrezzi to help out. For all of you people who think talking to cabbies is weird: he made quite a few friends by picking the cab driver “less interested in hustling for the fare.” His key ingredients: his mission was largely personally motivated because his sister died the same hour that he fell off K2, he can sleep anywhere, and he has a natural skill with picking up languages (speaks Pashtu, Urdu, many local dialects).
I was at an ad hoc barbecue down in San Jose this weekend and talked to a fellow who was going to the Sudan for humanitarian reasons. He’d staretd the book, but felt it had a distanced feel, since it was co-written by Relin, and at times you forget, so it sounds like Mortensen is talking about himself in the third person. True, it’s not a gem of writing, and at times is purple, but I was reading it for the non-fiction story. I think I’m a lot looser with criticism with non-fictions, which isn’t quite fair to fiction. I liked that the writer, Relin, had a long intro and seemed present in the story. I don’t like it when ghost writers are ghostly, it seems like a big lie to get over and still suspend disbelief. Definitely a one-sitting read.