Three Cups of Tea

When American mountaineer Greg Mortenson returned from an unsuccessful attempt to climb K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, he was seriously ill. For seven weeks he was cared for in the Pakistani village of Korphe.¬† In return, he promised to build the town’s first school, a project that grew into the Central Asia Institute, which has constructed 50 schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. With co-author DavidRelin, his book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace …One School at a Time, was awarded the 2007 Kiriyama Prize for nonfiction.

In the book, Mortenson tells how to befriend people in the villages. His advice is now entwined with U.S. strategic thinking in Afghanistan. This year, General Stanley McChrystal reached out to Mortenson and sought advice  on overcoming mistrust of Afghan villagers.

The book took on more importance after new commander General David Petraeus, whose wife urged him to read the book, reaffirmed Mortenson’s advice and McChrystal’s doctrine.

The phrase “three cups of tea” is shorthand for any leisurely, trust-building chat with locals. Its central theme is from a Baltistan proverb.
“The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time, you become family.” The stories of unlikely friendships will touch your heart.

With its inspirational tone and idealistic worldview, “Three Cups” would not seem to be a primer of military counter insurgence. But when one bulky-clad armored infantryman asks another, as he emerges from a mud-brick home, “Did you have your three cups of tea?” the message is clear. Other advice includes such matters as, “Take off your sunglasses.”

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … by Greg Mortenson and David Relin is available at the library.