A Third Cup of Tea

Henry David Thoreau states in his novel Walden that, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” According to Thoreau’s criteria, Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea unexpectedly exemplifies this success. Mortenson was on a mission to summit one of the greatest peaks on earth in Afghanistan and came across many obstacles. He failed to reach the summit at first, but courageously fulfilled his promise to make it to the top in honor of his sister. He followed this dream, is living a life he feels has an impact on the world, and as a result of his expeditions unexpectedly ended up starting one of the largest charitable organizations on earth, the Central Asia Institute. Through his organization he built schools in Korphe and all over the Middle East. Greg Mortenson truly is living a worthwhile life and as Thoreau said, “advancing confidently in the direction of his dreams.” He is also behaving in the words of Thoreau, living deliberately, and by taking everything out of life as possible. Mortenson has been able to find a profound happiness through genuine relationships and perseverance.

The first component of Mortenson’s happy and meaningful life is based on relationships. When Mortenson was coming down from one of his climbs, he came in contact with the people of Korphe. The people welcomed him wholeheartedly, but they still felt like there was a giant stranger in their village. They have never had a guest in their village, especially a six foot five former football player. Over time, he shared his first cup of tea and created the village’s first school. Ultimately, Mortenson has made the people’s dreams a reality, and put the village in a situation to have a better education. This wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the genuine relationships he formed in the Middle East. The relationships have grown from having one cup of tea, and being a stranger, to three cups of tea and being a part of their family. David Oliver Relin comments on the relationship that, “as he worked his way through the pot of tea, Mortenson told Abdul the story of his failure on K2, his wanderings on the glacier, and the way the people of Korphe had cared for the stranger who wandered into their village” (58). This took time to build the trust and connection with the people in the Middle East. However, over that time frame Mortenson has made everlasting relationships, many of which are integral parts of his life. He says, “Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them” (150). By setting up these relations, Mortenson was able to give the available tools to a village, and let them rebuild their lives and education system. The situation that Mortenson was put in has also allowed him to learn significantly new things, especially from another culture. For example, he was able to learn patience where the village of Korphe has been waiting for a school their whole lives. Making the village of Korphe, along with many other cities, a happy place has absolutely made Mortenson delighted in return.

The other component of being able to live a happy, meaningful life is being able to persevere. Mortenson exemplifies his perseverance at first, when he wasn’t able to summit K2. However, he stayed true to his promise and eventually made it to the top in honor of his family. This was the start to a long road ahead which now consumes Mortenson’s life. His charitable organization started with one school, but that school also had to start somewhere. Upon returning to the United States he made great sacrifice to enable to beginning of his future project. He sold many of his belongings, only owned a storage unit, and lived out of his car. While doing this he composed 580 letters to everyone he knew, and celebrities who he thought would be interested. Although many people did not respond, one of these letters eventually got passed on to someone who was fortunate to give a large donation. Throughout a course of failures and accidents Mortenson was able to be transformed from a mountaineer to a humanitarian. During the last decade alone, he has attracted what has been considered one of the most under qualified and overachieving staffs of any charitable organization. From there, his organization took off. Through the long experience of building schools there were minute times where Mortenson also had to persevere. At times he took over too much in the construction, and simply had to let the villages come together by themselves. By letting the lives of others make their way, Mortenson was able to shape his life the way he wants it, in happiness.

Like Henry David Thoreu once stated, if we live in the direction of our dreams and live how we wish to expect, success will be presented when you least realize it. Mortenson is a typical example of Thoreau’s work when he questions that, “isn’t it better to live in ignorance of everything – asphalt and macadam, vehicles, telephones, television – to live in bliss without knowing it?” (30). Mortenson lived his life up to his dreams, and lived happily without even realizing it. To lead a successful and worthwhile life relationships must be formed, and perseverance can be shown. Greg Mortenson symbolized this by overcoming many obstacles and creating a second home, and maybe even a first home, in the Middle East. Mortenson says that the reason he is able to give so much charity and live so happily is because, “when I look into the eyes of the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I see the eyes of my own children full of wonder – and hope that we each do our part to leave them a legacy of peace instead of the perpetual cycle of violence, war, terrorism, racism, exploitation, and bigotry that we have yet to conquer” (335). Mortenson found what was right for him in life and what was able to bring him joy, and I know many people are capable of accomplish this happiness in life. A worthwhile life can only be accomplished one cup of tea at a time.

About Zak Suhar

Explorer, photographer, and digital marketer. New York City by way of the Midwest.
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