Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Scratching your head about why many Middle Eastern peoples hate Americans? Many of us are. Ever wonder what it’s really like to be kidnapped by the Taliban or caught in the cross-fire of warring heroin dealers? Maybe not, but getting a true picture, not just how Hollywood might imagine it in a movie, could be educational. Would you like to be a fly on the wall of Islamabad’s Marriott when the world’s press corps arrives? Hmmm, could be interesting to see behind the scenes of TV news.

If you answered yes to any of these questions, or even if you just want to be inspired, read Greg Mortenson’s story told by David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea, subtitled One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time. Since this 2006 book is a New York Times Bestseller, you may already know the story: Mortenson and his nonprofit association Central Asia Institute have built more than 55 schools in the poorest villages of rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. What stirred this passion in Mortenson’s soul?

After a failed 1993 attempt to scale the 28,251-foot mountain K2 in Pakistan, the kind families of a remote mountain village, Korphe, nursed Mortenson back to health. While he was in their village, totally dependent on their care, he was humbled by what they gave him out of their poverty. They wrapped him in the plush silk comforter that was their finest treasure, while they slept in the cold under thin, patched, wool blankets. While Korphe villagers’ daily diet was flatbread chapatti, to honor Mortenson’s presence with them and to nourish his weakness, Haji Ali, Korphe’s nurmadhar, or village chief, ordered one of the precious chogo rabak, or big rams, slaughtered. Mortenson saw how close to hunger these Balti people lived.

Mortenson loved the simplicity of life in Korphe and the custom of venerating elders, which gave him the wind beneath his wings, his mentor Haji Ali. But he also noticed the back-breaking labor it took to irrigate fields and orchards with glacial meltwater. And with little connection to the rest of civilization, children were plagued with lice; goiters and cataracts afflicted every family; and villagers suffered in silence with infected wounds and broken bones. Mortenson had gotten to know these families, and he took his medical kit and nursing skills around the village to help—to the point that he soon became known as Dr. Greg. A telling sign of the villagers’ trust in this foreigner, Dr. Greg, came when he was allowed to touch a woman dying in childbirth in order to save her life.

Mortenson also saw firsthand the corruption and neglect of the Pakistani government. What little money was meant for the Baltistan went to the army, and none came to provide schools for Balti children. In Korphe, the children sat on the ground in the open air, weather permitting, to scratch their lessons in the dirt with sticks dipped in mud and water. There was no teacher. When he was strong enough to go home to California, Mortenson promised Haji Ali that he would build a school for Korphe.

Fifty-five Pakistan and Afghanistan schools later, Mortenson hopes that his schools may well prevent Afghan and Pakistani children from joining the Taliban. With the aggressive oil-money-fueled expansion of madrassas, the success of Mortenson’s hope remains to be seen. At the very least, he has improved the people’s quality of life, connecting remote villages with “civilization” by replacing their yak hair bridge with a safer one, bringing clean water to remote villages, and teaching thousands of children to read, write, and do arithmetic.

Because of this book, the eyes of my heart have peeked inside some Middle Eastern cultures and seen true love conquer fear. Although I cannot reconcile the part of the Koran that calls for ridding the world of infidels, I can see that many Muslims believe that only a shetan, or devil, would carry it to that extreme. Many Muslims are also alarmed by the militant hatred taught in the madrassas. Although I don't condone hatred in either direction, I can’t say that I blame Pakistani or Afghan people for indignant feelings when Americans come to their countries and demand the best Americalike accommodations instead of accepting humbler offerings. If we examine our hearts, we often also think our materialistic ways would suit other cultures better than their own beloved, but primitive in our eyes, customs. We really can be very rude guests.

Mortenson is still climbing mountains, now different from K2, and Three Cups of Tea challenges each of us to take ice axes to the glaciers in our own lives and climb higher. Especially relevant now in light of heightened Middle East tensions, this book should be required reading for Americans. We need to better understand the people we are both dependent on for oil and trying to help be more independent of tyrants and terrorists. This book is a great start toward understanding our differences as well as our common ground as humans.

Let's not just talk about the mountains of cross-cultural adventure, selflessness, compassion for the poor, making education a priority, mutual respect, diversity training, keeping promises, or perseverance in the face of adversity. Read Three Cups of Tea, examine your own heart for the -ice of prejudice and cowardice, then go out with melted heart and steel will to reach out to someone different from yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Questions for the Candidates

First, let me thank Blog University for hosting tonight’s debate between presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain.

My first question is for Senator McCain: Please tell me how your presidency will be like George Bush’s and how it will be different. You have five minutes for your answer.

Next, for Senator Obama: I do not understand why Hamas supports you. Please explain why you think they want you to be president of our country. What would they gain? You have two minutes.

Also for Senator Obama: I wonder if the terrorists’ next attack on domestic soil might be your presidency. Take as long as you like to explain your plan to protect America from nonbomb-related tactics of extremist Muslim jihad goals; your understanding of how close Israel is to the heart of God and the role of Israel in end-times prophecy; your reason for believing finding Osama bin Laden is key to stopping al Qaida’s terrorist plots against us; what you would do about the huge number of radical Muslims being trained in the madrassas; and how you would use your own education in Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity to promote understanding and peace.

Senator McCain: You see Israel as a United States military ally. Is that your only reason for wanting to protect it? If not, what are your other reasons? You have two minutes.

Again, for Senator McCain: Please give me the math. Of the 100 percent of income taxes paid in 2007, what percent was paid by people/families earning less than $10,000, people earning $10,000–$30,000, $30,000–$70,000, $70,000–$100,000, $100,000–$250,000, $250,000 or more? You have two minutes.

And finally, the same question for both of you: You acknowledge corporate greed as a culprit in the current economic meltdown; what about individual greed? What role has it played and how would you address it during your presidency?

Thank you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries...
~an excerpt from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem "Aurora Leigh," published 1864

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footstep in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow'r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

~"Light Shining Out of Darkness" by William Cowper (1731-1800)

Thou art every where present...
~an excerpt from Three Prayers by Jane Austen (1775-1817)

...Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven...
~what Jesus taught us to pray, Matthew 6:10