Towards the beginning of the book, I was really impressed by Mortenson’s perseverance. When he started fundraising, he sent innumerable letters to every celebrity he could think of…including Susan Sarandan…because well she looked like a nice person! Only to be met with no response whatsoever. Anyone else would’ve given up but he kept on writing, day in day out, on a TYPEWRITER of all things and then later progressed on to a computer. But then one fine day, just ONE of those people responded and gave him all the funds he required to build a school! Having only sent out about 2 dozen job applications in the last couple of months, I have absolutely no excuse to complain about rejections…
Towards the end of the book, what really struck me was Mortenson’s bravery and courage. After 9/11 the US Embassy gave orders to every American in Pakistan to leave the country, Mortenson was already in Pakistan at the time on business and refused to leave despite his Embassy getting very fidgety and nervous by his presence there. He stayed on to finish the work he had come for and made some important contacts with the media people who had swarmed into Pakistan hoping to report on Afghanistan’s imminent bombardment by the Americans. As a result, Mortenson was able to form important contacts and put out an alternative opinion out there: Terrorism and extremism were not going to be fought with military might alone, we needed to look at the root causes and EDUCATION was the most important. I wish the Pakistani and US governments would take note of that message.
When those of us who are from Pakistan but living abroad feel insecure or unsafe going back home, I hope we can remember Mortenson’s bravery. If an outsider could feel so strongly about his responsibility to Pakistanis that he doesn’t shy away from putting his life in danger, I wish we can also put aside our fears and concerns and do what’s right.
One aspect of Mortenson’s personality that really shone throughout the book was his humility and humanity. Going to far flung northern areas, he would be invited to stay in people’s homes and share their food, clothes etc. These areas are extremely poor and with extreme weather conditions and little facilities and amenities, except for brief periods in the summer, most people aren’t able to properly shower and/or wash their clothes etc during the harsh winter months. So many narrators in the book have commented on how easily Mortenson adapted to these conditions and never looked down upon the people or feel ill-at-ease whether the bedding was stinky or whether a child was the filthiest thing he had ever seen. He drank their tea made with fermented goat’s milk and being a trained nurse treated their pus-filled wounds and infections. Whether he was hanging out with Pakistani tailors and taxi drivers Rawalpindi or Peshawar, or whether he was living as a guest in the Northern areas or traveling across war-torn Afghanistan, Mortenson didn’t bring any airs or pretenses with him and just became “one of the people” which endeared him to all the locals he worked with.
Finally, if I could give him some advice it would be to take out more time for his family and his own health. It’s amazing what he’s doing and I wonder if he’d been able to achieve all this had it not been for the personal sacrifices and long absences from his family, but at the end of the day I think our family should come first and with bad health, he would hardly be able to carry on his work. With CAI’s finances now improved and a better organizational structure, I hope that is the case and I hope Greg can maintain a better work-life balance. The children of Pakistan need him, but so do his own children :)
I am always delighted to see how this book resonates with some people. That doesn't happen with everyone, but it sure serves as an inspiration for me when I see it happen. Thank you for taking the time to write, Tamreez!
-- The Kettle Rumbles