As a thank you for reviewing a composition textbook for them, my textbook publisher sent me a free bestseller for my “summer reading” pleasure. I was pleased to receive something other than the typical reader, filled with college essays to assign to my students *snooze*. They sent me a copy of Three Cups of Tea, a book that’s been on the New York Times’ bestseller’s list for awhile now.
I don’t feel obliged to review the book, since I got it as a thank you for reviewing another book. But, maybe I’ll get one more if I keep this up. =) However, I found the book so surprisingly good that I wanted to share my thoughts (or marginalia) on it with you all.
As a believer, here’s the main take home point I got from the book: God can use even the smallest person to do incredible things. Read the book for that message alone.
Here’s the plot synopsis because that’s what these reviews are supposed to have (it’s been awhile since I wrote a “proper” book review): Greg Mortenson is an American mountaineer whose failed attempt at climbing K2 becomes the beginnings of his mission to transform Pakistan and the war torn middle east through building schools and educating girls. He’s one man singlehandedly fighting the Taliban, and his weapons are books.
With a title like Three Cups of Tea, you must think I’m pulling your leg. My husband certainly did. I think it was a clever marketing idea to get 30-50 year old women, the largest book buying segment of the population, to purchase this.
So guys, if you think your ego might take a hit if you’re seen carrying around a book with women in burkhas and the words “tea” on the cover, consider buying a book cover (or even better, make one out of duct tape), or just get over it. It’s a book men would enjoy too.
Mortenson isn’t a Christian, as far as I could gather. Even if he were, I’m sure that openly embracing the Christian faith would create many roadblocks to doing his work in that part of the world. He continually needed to prove that he wasn’t indoctrinating the children with his western ideas. Interestingly, his parents were Christian missionaries in Africa, and he grew up there.
Many parts of the story read like a faith based narrative of divinely appointed encounters when the right person shows up at just the right time, or someone feels called to help out without an explanation, saying things like “I’m not a religious person…but I felt I’d been brought there for a reason” (186). When you read the book as a believer, you can see how God could be appointing this work, organizing non-believing people, despite their disbelief. After all, he’s done it before (see the Bible for a few thousand references).
The book resounded with my experience in the Middle East, in Israel. While studying abroad in Jerusalem (at Jerusalem University College), Dan and I met a very hospitable Muslim shopkeeper in the old city named Suliman, and he welcomed us into his shop with a cup of tea. We returned to visit him several times, and each time, we’d have a cup of mint tea with him. Before we left the city, at the end of our time there, he gave us each a present, a circle of beads, known as worry beads, or to some devout Muslims, they are used to facilitate prayers. We’d taken a picture with our friend Suliman, and when Dan’s parents travelled to Israel, we sent the picture with them, in case they met him, by means of an introduction. They found our friend, and once they shared the picture, they were welcomed as old friends. As far as we know, a picture of us is still hanging in his shop in Jerusalem.
A cup of tea can’t solve all the world’s problems, neither can three, but if everyone sat down long enough to talk over tea once in awhile, I’m sure the world would be a much better place.
If you want to know how to make Suliman’s tea, I’ve tried to approximate it at home. Here’s my best shot:
2 cups boiling water
2 bags of green tea (use loose leaf for best flavor)
6 fresh mint leaves (ripped a few times to release more flavor)
Steep for 5 minutes. I like to make my tea in a French coffee press, but you can manage in a tea pot if you strain the ingredients as you pour the tea.
Pour into cups with a couple teaspoons of sugar, to make it nice and sweet, just like Suliman served it to us.