Every time I stepped into the book store I saw this book on the best selling shelf, picked it up, looked at it, read the back, thought about buying it and every time I proceeded to put it back on the shelf and walk over toward the more superficial, meaningless, no lesson to be learned and romantic novels that I love reading. As though the book was stalking me, it showed up as a suggestion in our monthly Book Club and won the pick. So I ended up purchasing Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.
Three Cups of Tea is a story of an American man, a mountaineer, who stumbles upon a small and poor village in Pakistan after he strays from the rest of the climbers and loses his way. He is so touched by what he sees in that village and in the people whom he meets there, that his life mission becomes building schools for girls all over the country of Pakistan. Throughout the book, the American goes through such tough ordeals such as being kidnapped, getting shot at, riding alongside dead and skinned cattle for hours and just lack of some basic luxuries that the Americans are so used to having, in order to accomplish his tasks. He learns two languages, meets many characters, some with the biggest hearts and some very scary. He mingles with the American politicians and has a chat with some members of the Taliban. He lives away from his family for months at a time and puts his life at risk only to reach his goal of educating the girls of the neglected areas of Pakistan. He believes that education is the only way to help impoverished societies and to fight terrorism. This American has won awards and has been recognized for all that he has done for the people of Pakistan, for his selflessness and for his dedication to fight ignorance. Three Cups of Tea which is a story about one person taking an unselfish step to change the world warms your heart and opens your mind.
OK, that being said, I am going to play the devil's advocate here and point out something in the book which made me wonder if this American's work was really positive. Just bare with me.
The first thing that attracted the American to Pakistan and its villages was the people, their kind hearts and their hospitality. He was greeted with a steaming, tasty cup of tea each time he met a new person or visited an old acquaintance. As he was told by one wise Pakistani man: "Here, we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything- even die." These cups of teas were prepared in the traditional way, the way they had been for years, brewed into perfection by the women of Pakistan who were the hearts of the home. The women were the ones who made and served the sweet and buttery tea, which was such an important part of their lives, to the men who while drinking, built their businesses and eventually their families.
Fast forward 10 years from when the American met the Pakistani people and worked on building schools for girls. He sits down with one of the girls of the village who received an education with his help and was now graduating and planning a future with higher education for herself. This was such a satisfying experience for the American that it brought tears to his eyes, confirming to him that all of his sacrifices were worth this moment. During the visit, the educated girl serves her father and the American Lipton tea, LIPTON TEA! Not brewed, milky, sweet tea that took it's time to be simmered, but a TEA BAG! Now the book does not focus on this small part, but for me it felt like a screeching halt to the entire story. Through out the book I was with him, the American, feeling for him, wanting the girls to get an education, hoping for the destruction of the Taliban, but all of a sudden the Lipton tea stopped me on my tracks.
I am definitely not saying that I am by any means on the Taliban's side or am in any way against education for girls, I am merely playing the devil's advocate like I mentioned earlier, so hear me out. Is it not so typical of Americans to come into a strange land, intrude on the people's lives and waltz right in with their own beliefs, morals, ideals and how they think things should be, and force their ideas upon the people of that land? Is this not exactly what this American did? He came in to Pakistan and brought in his belief that education will make the girls stronger, more powerful and happier, however he did not consider the consequences. What he failed to notice (just like every other American does) was the fact that this act was the start of the destruction of these people's culture. Their rich culture of brewed, sweet, milky tea that sat within all of their discussions, socialization and lives, was now going to be turned into a Lipton tea bag, it makes me sad to even think about it. I can just imagine, the men of the little Pakistani village sitting in a circle on a roof top under the dark sky lit by millions of stars, with no woman in sight to help them with their tea (because she is in some big Pakistani city pursuing her education and career), drinking a sad sad Lipton cup of unsweetened tea.
Yes yes I know, women's rights, equality of genders, girl power, yati yati yatta, I get it. Tell me though, what about the culture and the tradition? What about the brewed tea made by a woman's tender touch and by her love? Should that be sacrificed and turned into history just like home made apple pie and fresh squeezed orange juice? Which is more important? Is it worth it?
Do you really think that after the third cup, when you joined their family, they will be prepared to do any thing for you, even die, over a cup of Lipton tea?