Tea-drinking is not something to be taken lightly. Making it well is an art. There are ceremonies the world over involving it. And drinking it draws people together. You could make the argument that all beverages, when approached with a spirit of intention draw people together and you would not be wrong. In Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Haji Ali, village chief of Korphe in Pakistan says
Here (in Pakistan and Afganistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything--even die.
Three Cups of Tea is a phenomenal portrait of the varied peoples and complicated relationships of Pakistan and Afganistan. It's tempting in America to lump all the people in that area together--like those awful cubes of sugar. Whether you see all Arabs as terrorists or as radical Islamists or as victims, they're so much more than any label. Perhaps you read this and nod sagely and think, "Of course they are. We're all our own person," or similar. There's a difference between academic recognition and the story Mortenson has to tell. Some folk are indeed terrorists, pure and simple. Some are thugs. Some are protecting the land they've lived on for centuries from all comers--India, Russia, the US, even mild-mannered Mortenson. Some are victims. Some believe powerfully in Islam, but so, too, do many of us believe powerfully in Jesus. Some live and work and try to make do with what they have. And Mortenson met them all. He says
"I don't do what I'm doing to fight terror. I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my list of priorities. But working over there, I've learned a few things. I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afganistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death."
He failed his attempt to climb K2, one of the tallest and most dangerous mountains in the world. He barely made it down the mountain alive and made a wrong turn in his way back to the nearest town. What he found was a tiny village at the edge of the glacier which welcomed him in as a stranger and later as a brother. They fed him tea with rancid yak's butter (their cream and sugar) and nursed him back to health. While there, Mortenson discovered that the village had no school--something like 50 children of all ages met on a wind-swept rock to copy out their lessons on their own with no help from a regular teacher. The cost of a teacher is the equivalent of $1 a week but the Pakistani government refuses to pay it. The children don't even have a building to meet in, yet they meet day after day on the rock. As my friend Bob would tell you, it's the small things that make you feel human, that give you hope. For Bob, it was having his teeth fixed so he was no longer ashamed of his smile. For this village and hundreds like it, it was having the opportunity to learn. The people of Korphe offered Greg Mortenson tea and he offered them hope.