Book Club: 2nd Steep - Three Cups of Tea

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teawing said

“I’m also struggling to figure out if his spontaneity is deliberately or just coincidentally leading to the outcomes..Can people really reason so well as to make seemingly random choices evolve into life changing fortunes… it seems like every other character who speaks about Mortenson hits on his uniqueness…

This is a great question!

He is out of the box, no doubt, I think that is a contributing factor to his success.
Think of the time that has gone by in Korphe, no bridge, no school. Conventional wisdom and thought would never get those things built in that environment and culture. What to some may seem to be random choices evolving into life changing fortunes might be evidence of something else…

I would love to hear some thoughts on this…

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teawing said

Hi everyone, it is my week to supply the questions, so here goes. By the way, I am only posting questions for Chapters 4-6 right now, 7-8 will come in a couple of days.

Feel free to answer some or none and just give some thoughts on the reading. You are also welcome to post any questions you might have.

Happy Reading!


Discussion questions for Chapters 4-6
Chapter 4:
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the hospital, Mortenson’s father said to the African people, “It’s your country. It’s your hospital.” Why did this anger the “expats”? (They wanted the credit for the hospital—they wanted the Africans to give credit to them; Mortenson’s father wanted the Africans to see this as their hospital—pg. 38)

By giving aid we have a right to impose our values? Has anyone read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Achebe’s Things Fall Apart? Both grapple with issues of colonialism.
What do you think about this:
It is your birthday or graduation, some celebration of YOU. A relative gives you $100, but they tell you on what you can and can’t spend the money, or they tell you that you only get the money if . . . . (some requirement with which you simply don’t agree). How does that make you feel? What do you think about that?
Chapter 5
How does Greg’s contact with Dr. Jean Hoerni change things? What do we learn about Mortenson’s character through the events of this chapter? (Kishwar Syed’s assistance, Pennies for Pakistan, selling LaBamba)
Chapter 6
If Chapter 5 illustrated the monetary challenges Mortenson faced, Chapter 6 focuses on the cultural obstacles he overcame. What were some of them? How did he handle himself? What else do we learn about his character at this stage of the story?

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In response to your first question, I think that Mortenson’s father was a visionary. He had the foresight to see that the international involvement was temporary and that the Africans were the driving force that would allow the hospital to endure and thrive. For the expats, their involvement was merely a primary resource to get the ball rolling and establish the hospital. Mortenson’s father never lost sight of the fact that, while thrilling and even life-changing, the hospital wasn’t his. It’s the same reason that people who donate buildings tend to get them named after them, or major donors to different foundations often find their names emblazoned on signs, or engraved onto walls or plaques. I think that many people engage in charity work not only to help people, but also for the recognition and confirmation that they are good people. Seriously, how many people donate time and large amounts of money and want no commemoration of the sacrifice? What Mortenson’s father did was completely give ownership of the hospital over to the African people.

I have read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, but it was so long ago and I don’t have a copy to refer back to, but I have the ideas still in my mind and the recollection that it doesn’t end well. Limitations. Restrictions. Would I accept them in order to get something that may cost me more in the long run? I’ve never been put in that position, perhaps because of having grown up in a free country, being able to make choices relatively freely. I don’t believe that I would want it and contentment certainly wouldn’t come from the gift. Frustration would. At that point, it would no longer be a gift, but rather a manipulative attempt at imposing someone else’s values as to what would be an appropriate way to spend the money. Recognizing this would be devastating and demeaning. I think you touched on this with last week’s discussion, too. “Think of the time that has gone by in Korphe, no bridge, no school. Conventional wisdom and thought would never get those things built in that environment and culture.” Although your point was more about the choices and the relative randomness of Mortenson’s fortuitous outcomes, I think it fits with this point, too. It was the route that Mortenson took that helped him to be successful; using unconventional wisdom, but keeping the culture. In essence, it was the correct recipe for success combining the old with the more out-of-the-box thinking, but never imposing anything the people weren’t open to. He used the people’s advice (and drank lots of tea in the process) to get the materials and take the steps that needed to be taken in a culturally respectful manner in order to accomplish his goal. I loved the line on pg. 67, “Mortenson, swollen with tea, sloshed toward the Khyaban with Abdul…” It stands out in my mind for some reason.

Respect seems to be one of the threads that is woven throughout the novel. Would he have had the same response had he barged in, waving money, declaring that he was going to “save” the poor of Korphe? Instead, we see him trying to fit in, learning the language, living like the locals, even learning to pray in the Muslim manner. He doesn’t want to change the people. He took the time to learn what was important to them and then decided to help them try to accomplish their dreams. Never did it seem that his attempt to improve the education of the children of the Korphe village was actually a disguised imposition of his own values on the people. Instead, it appeared to be a sincere show of gratitude for a community who helped him when he was at a low point in his life as well, having failed to summit and nearly losing himself in the process.

Oh, and selling La Bamba… it’s the end of an era. :(

teawing said

“… selling La Bamba… it’s the end of an era.”

I forgot to comment on this! Sometimes you have to burn the ships, to be fully committed to your mission…although in Mortenson’s case, it might be less symbollic than Hernando Cortez. :)

You’re such a historian. ;)

teawing said

Sorry, I can’t help it! :)

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I’ve only finished chapter 6. I think the bargaining process is very interesting :D

Also this book makes me feel that by the standards of modern society, Mortenson wouldn’t be seen “successful” at all when he was in San Francisco. I don’t know how many kids grow up aiming at typical success of modern society such as getting rich and becoming a doctor. But I like it that this book provides a role model who succeeds in another way and more meaningful way.

teawing said

I agree, the bargaining process is a fun and interesting part of the book, almost a game that has to be played…some rules change every time and others stay the same. I am glad we don’t have to buy tea that way!

You are so right, many times our role models come from the financially successful, the famous, sports stars, etc. It is a shame monetary success is driving the younger generations when success is actually found in helping others achieve (build a school) and as Jen noted above…respecting them, dare I say, loving them as they are.
Not that I am against money or anything! :)

I enjoyed learning about the bargaining process too but there are some parts of it that bother me. On the one hand I’m annoyed that the suppliers aren’t trying to help Mortenson more, especially since he is volunteering his life, $ and effort to the cause. But on the other hand, I’m annoyed that Mortenson doesn’t step in to say “enough is enough,” as the suppliers need to live on something too.

This happens to me often when I’m reading. I put myself in the shoes of the characters, turn into a devil’s advocate and think of the consequences of “my” actions as the character.

I know, I sound crazy. ;)

One of the issues we’re having at the middle school level is that when we speak with the students about their life goals, many include being in the NBA (or another sports league), or an actor or actress, but they have no idea how difficult it is to be in the “rich and famous” elite. One girl wants to be “Paris Hilton’s BFF.” They seriously believe that if they want it enough, it’ll happen. It would be lovely if we could have true humanitarians become role models, too. I remember when Mother Theresa passed away. That was the same time that Princess Diana was killed in the car accident. I only heard Mother Theresa’s name mentioned once during that entire time, after a lifetime of service to helping others. Granted, I think that Princess Diana was a really great person, too, and she did a lot of reaching out, but the media didn’t focus on that as much as they did the royalty aspect.

I thought the bargaining scene was really funny and could just imagine Mortenson kicked back, watching the other men hurl insults back and forth. It reminded me of being in Hong Kong. We unintentionally insulted one vendor by not haggling over the price and he ripped the cloth grabbing it back from us when we offered the money. We don’t speak Chinese and didn’t understand why he kept pushing a calculator at us (we were supposed to type in the price we’d pay), but we didn’t understand. Someone filled us in later after we had walked away further into the market. I can’t help but wonder if the two men who were bargaining weren’t having a good time while doing it.

@QuiltGuppy – I know what you mean; kids, and grown ups, think if they have all the money in the world, they’ll be happy. They don’t understand that people like Paris Hilton are NOT good role models.

I always said when I was a kid that I wanted to be a writer. I remember saying that when I was in elementary school and my parents just shook their heads. “There’s no money in that.” I thought to myself, so what? I’ll be happy, I love to write.

But then reality set in when I grew up and I learned my parents were right. Our society views money and wealth as power, which it is in our capitalist society. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, it’s just hard to find your place.

In a way, that’s what I think Mortenson was doing – finding his place (and even Christa’s place in her memory). He’s lucky to have found his niche, I think, while so many others are still searching…

teawing said

I am going to resist my “materialism and consumerism” rant that will lead eventually full circle to the opportunities our “capitalist society” has to do good rather than just getting fat and lazy AND…just say I agree with you both, and it is a lot about "finding his (our) place. :)

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teawing said

“Seriously, how many people donate time and large amounts of money and want no commemoration of the sacrifice?” I think this describes the irony of Motenson’s father’s actions and his own for that matter.

I am with you concering respect as well, he was constantly aware of his dress, speech, actions, mannerisms…everything. Not to say he may have been offensive to the culture but he was so aware of it, that has to be respect on his part. That is different to me than just going along with the culture to get something in return…

Actually, one of the things that REALLY struck me about the book was Mortenson’s recall. It’s almost as if he had a film reel going in his head, taking in every minute detail and recording it. I was wondering when he had the idea to document it in a book. Hmm… interesting.

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I finally got some time last night to read. I wanted to catch up with you guys, but I just kept reading! I’m up to chapter 12, I think. So I’ll be careful about what I say. However, I wanted to respond to these questions:

-Why does Mortenson consider himself a failure? What do you think?
—I responded to this briefly with one of your posts, twing, but I’ll recap – I think Mortenson is too hard on himself. He carries the weight of his family on his shoulders, even before his father’s death. I think he considers himself a failure because he hasn’t followed in his father’s footsteps yet. Mortenson, IMO, believes that he was put on this Earth to help others, a vision his father shared. He may be right, but he is too serious and too driven to see the entire big picture.
Yes, he wants to help people, and yes he plans on bringing new life to a secluded culture. But he leaves his family behind. And constantly searches for more meaning, more purpose. His drive is needed to accomplish his goals, but he also needs to find his place…
I don’t think I’m describing this very well, but I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll come back to this when we discuss later chapters.

9. How do you feel that Mortenson’s relationship with Christa helped to prepare him for understanding life in Korphe? Why does Mortenson commit himself to building a school for Korphe?
In a way, Christa is his guardian angel, guiding his steps and feeding his drive to help. I believe she was his angel while she was still alive as well. His bond with her is amazing and beautiful, and wanting to help the people in Korphe in her memory is noble and honorable. Christa had to struggle for lots of things in her life, but she was a relatively happy person, according to Mortenson. There were things she couldn’t and would never do. That sadness for her is the foundation for his drive to help Korphe develop. In a way Korphe is the extension of Christa’s life. After all, he carried her necklace there – perhaps she did guide him?
The school will be an extension of Christa’s life, giving her and Korphe things neither ever had. In order for him to find peace within himself – and forgive himself, too, for any “failures” he perceives – he has to complete the quest.

“The school will be an extension of Christa’s life, giving her and Korphe things neither ever had. In order for him to find peace within himself – and forgive himself, too, for any “failures” he perceives – he has to complete the quest.” – Well said.

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teawing said

It does make complete sense..and thanks for helping me see it.

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teawing said

Now we have some discussion!!!


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teawing said

Chapter 7 and 8 Questions:

Changazi, Akhmalu, and Janjungpa want Mortenson to build in their villages. At first Mortenson is angry at Changazi and Janjungpa’s dishonesty, but eventually feels that he has been “too harsh.” Why does be feel this way? (pg. 95)
How are Americans (from the U.S.) perceived abroad. Do you have any personal experiences of this? Are these views justified or fair. Why are we viewed in these ways? Does “American” fit ALL of us or only those public figures who show up in the press. Is it fair to judge the rest of us on the ideas or behaviors of a few?

What is the symboic meaning of the sugar cookies served with the butter tea on page 97? What other (perhaps your favorite) instances of symbolism occur in the book?

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Good questions!

I was really stressed reading the chapter when the men were fighting over the school. I couldn’t believe that Changazi could be as underhanded and deceitful as to “relocate” the building supplies to try to force the building of the school in his village, knowing that he was essentially stealing from Korphe’s children. He’s one character that I just don’t care for (am I missing something special about him?) and I’m not certain why Mortenson trusts him as he does. Until we see him waver a bit. I’m thinking he felt he was too harsh because, after all, they were also fighting for the future of their own village’s children, and that’s what Mortenson was all about. One of the parts that really struck me was when he ran off, sobbing. I could absolutely feel his frustration.

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