I actually liked the first 153 pages of Three Cups of Tea. Sure, I join most of my peers in finding the other 200 pages sappy and, sorry David Relin, poorly written. But those first 12 chapters I really enjoyed. I liked the story of how this nobody, coasting through life could become a hero. His Horatio Alger-meets-Mother Teresa story made me believe in the potential of the individual. So, like many others, I was gravely disappointed when I heard that the efforts of Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI) were now being called into question.
The charges made against Mortenson fall into two categories: misappropriation and lies. He has been accused of misuse of the CAI’s funds and disorganization in the construction of his schools in the Middle East. His stories in Three Cups of Tea have been accused of fabrication—especially those involving his K2-disaster-turned-humanitarian-mission and his kidnapping (except not) by the Taliban (except not).
I make no effort to cloak these accusations in any cosmetic protection for Mortenson. Some completely denounce Mortenson, like Mansur Khan Mahsud, who, after being accused of being a member of the Taliban in the book, calls it “lies from A to Z.” Others say that his work has shown no mismanagement, no lies, and no scandal. Personally, I believe the truth is in between. But the legitimacy of Mortenson’s shortcomings isn’t what I find so debatable in this issue; how we should react is the true question. What should we think of Mortenson now? It all comes back to that one thing that annoyed us students all summer: the book. Should we still read his book, despite the charges against it? I say yes, and I divide my defense of our tea-drinking crusader into three parts:
1: He could do worse. Mortenson did not break into the Watergate Hotel. He did not take steroids, and he certainly didn’t sleep with Monica Lewinski. His lies in Three Cups of Tea were immoral (and unnecessary, seeing as the book still wasn’t very good with them). But that’s all they were: embellishments, maybe thought up by Relin, for the purpose of selling more copies of the book to raise funds for CAI. As for his misuse of those funds, I am not surprised. Mortenson never got a business degree—how could he be qualified to run a multi-million dollar non-profit corporation? It’s not reasonable to expect him to be flawless. And if you want to raise a hand at Mortenson for his charity’s mismanagement, why take a look at your local United Way, whose CEO pocketed $1,037,000 last year.
2: From a literary perspective, it’s okay. We don’t stop reading Lord of the Flies because (spoiler alert) Roger kills Piggy. As we have done in years of English classes, we look past these actions to find the deeper meaning in the story. Purely from a literary standpoint, why wouldn’t we do the same with Three Cups of Tea? Do accusations from outside forces alter what Mortenson was ultimately trying to say? I don’t think so.
3: Deeper meaning, emotions, blah blah blah. What I got out of the book is this: an individual can change the world. What I loved about those first pages was that Mortenson told us how he managed to build a school. He tells us how one man rose from obscurity and changed the world. That story, which is not being accused of fabrication, is proof that one man can accomplish what he sets out to do. And that is a message worthy of being read.
I think that I am with most fellow Chadwick students when I say that the book Three Cups of Tea isn’t the most action-packed thriller to hit shelves. It isn’t even close, but it does give an inspiring story of one man’s attempted journey to the top of the world. That’s why when I found out that the book was fabricated I was very upset. Not because I care too much about Greg Mortenson, but because we read an entire book that was untrue. Now, let it be known that only a few things are allegedly false in the book and last year there was $11.67 billion in sales of fictional books. That still doesn’t excuse the fact that the stories were fabricated and passed off as true. The book might have been a okay fiction book but instead Greg Mortenson used it to create his Central Asian Institute (CAI).
The CAI has also been subject to much scrutiny. One of the biggest accusations is about the mismanagement of funds. Only 41% of donations make it to the schools and of that, there have been reports that money is being misused. The money is used to build the schools, but the village must maintain them by their own means. When the community can no long keep up the school, they start using it for storage. So, an American who gave $10,000 to build a school in war-torn Pakistan is really donating a very expensive storage shed. Those accusations are terrible because there are children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other places the CAI works who do need an education.
We have it really good here at Chadwick. When we graduate we aspire to go to a great university. In the places where the CAI works the best job you can get for most people is as a terrorist. At least you know that your family will be taken care of when you die. The point I’m making is that just because Greg Mortenson lied doesn’t mean the action he was taking wasn’t necessary. Keep the stories from the book alive, even if they are made up. The children are still out there. The CAI can still save itself. 41% isn’t even close to the worst operating cost compared to some charities. After 9/11 the Red Cross only got 30% of the over $500 million those who needed it, and they didn’t have to send it half way across the world. My point is that if the CAI still functions and Greg Mortenson leaves, I see no reason why they can’t keep helping and why you shouldn’t keep supporting them. Greg Mortenson is a different matter.
Greg Mortenson is stealing money that he shouldn’t have. A shocking fact is that the books sales of Mortenson’s books don’t go to the CAI. The CAI pays everything from the privet jet to the advertising to the actual printing of the book. That is right, not the profits from the book, but the CAI pays for the printing of the book. 1.6 million dollars from the last filing period alone. A New York Times best seller is living up to its charitable reputation. Instead it goes right into his pocket for his spending discretion. That is the reason no one should ever teach this book. Teach the stories of people who are actually there and fighting to survive. Donate to those people and make their lives easier. Give them an education so they can pass it on to their children. The story of the CAI, Three Cups of Tea and Greg Mortenson is not yet done. We could find out that 60 Minutes is wrong and he really was kidnapped. We could find out that the CAI is really the CIA working to find terrorists and this is all a big government conspiracy. We don’t know yet so stay informed. The people of the world need your help and this is no excuse to ignore them.