Early morning on Saturday August 7, 2010, I was finishing reading the book, Three Cups of Tea, with the sounds of CNN in the background. That’s when I heard about the ten aid workers killed in the Badakshan province of Northeastern Afghanistan. It was a synchronistic moment as I was, in that same instant, reading about Greg Mortenson’s trip through that same area in his quest to build schools in those regions threatened by the Taliban. Details of his trek through that province to meet with the commandhan of Badakshan echoed the dangers that tragically cost those workers their lives. I was struck by the grace of the workers’ family members and friends who told the world of their loved ones’ affection for the people they were helping in that region. Those aid workers were no strangers to Afghanistan. They understood the culture and loved the people. And, perhaps what was even more striking, was how the Afghan people loved them. The world was made to understand that their deaths were linked to the fundamentalist group of the Taliban and were not a reflection of the beliefs of the Afghan people.
Listening to these reports by friends and family members, I was taken back into the book I was just finishing. Greg Mortenson’s account (written with David Oliver Relin) is filled with stories of how he won the trust and affection of first the Pakistani people and then the Afghans. You learn how he navigated cultural and religious differences by showing respect for their ways, managing to cut through the shroud of fear and suspicion. When you read Three Cups of Tea, your understanding of that part of the world, which is geographically and culturally remote, deepens. And understanding is the first step toward compassion….and peace.
It has been our history as humans that when we are attacked in some way someone has to be blamed and retaliated against. Unfortunately, we usually direct our anger and retaliation not just at the attackers but at the larger group the attackers represent. We need to make them all suffer as we suffered. This “eye for an eye” and “It’s us against them” mentality will never bring peace. Never. Greg Mortenson knows this. The Pakistan and Afghan leaders, who became champions of Mortenson’s mission, also know this.
“The enemy is ignorance,” Brigadier General Bashir Baz of Pakistan told Mortenson in 2003. He continues, “The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.” (quote taken directly from Three Cups of Tea)
The aid workers who died were peacemakers. Greg Mortenson is a peacemaker. It’s important to keep their efforts going. Please visit Greg Mortenson’s website www.threecupsoftea.com for more information and suggestions on how you can help.