Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Three Cups of Deceit (30 DPC Day 23)

Day 23: Main Mode of Communication

While brainstorming a way to depict my main mode of communication as talking without going Rocky Horror on you and posting a picture of my mouth, I learned about a gross deceit on the part of a humanitarian activist whom I once admired. Before I elaborate on that point, however, my main mode of communication is depicted in the image below:

If you’ve read this blog post you now know Brenna quite well (at least, virtually well from my perspective). This was a little party I planned for her birthday where we all went out for a meal and had a lovely time communing with one another!

And it occurred to me, while racking my brain for a deep and provocative and blog-appropriate way to display my main way of sharing my thoughts with the world how much communicating occurs over a meal. One of the big things I had to adjust to coming to college was constantly figuring out meal plans with other people. Not that I’m opposed to eating by myself, but having a meal together is something my family really prized when I was living in NC and that is a value I carried with me to school.

When you’re eating together you’re nurturing your bodies and your soul. Every human being needs sustenance, and sustenance comes in many forms. But because of the necessity of eating to survive it is not an activity to be taken casually, but dually because of the instinctual need we as human beings have to eat meals are a common ritual. Therefore, food can say much about a person; where they come from, what they like and do not like, how they were raised. Sharing this need with other people is a form of what we sociologists (eee!) like to call “solidarity.” While I am not, per se, using that term in its purest or most direct sense, I contend that it is often in sharing what is vital to all of us that we bond on an intimate, perhaps even biological level.

And in more practical, concrete terms having a meal together is a ritual that 1. provides continuity in a crazy schedule/life and 2. is really quite enjoyable. My meal times are hours during the day that I simply sit and get to enjoy being with my beautiful friends on my beautiful campus in this beautiful life I have been given.

Sharing meals with my friends has wrought deeper friendships. While often the dining hall is not the place to share profound wishes or secrets (or whatever) many of the more memorable moments in my first year of college have occurred over a meal.

And coming to the more concrete, planning times and places to meet for these meals requires my other big form of communication: my cell phone.

And perhaps a little obviously, how I communicate with you, my computer:

Fun fact: Grace took this while I was actually writing a blog post!
Now, to what I decreed I was going to elaborate on earlier. In an odd twist of events my depiction of my main mode of communication is akin to what Greg Mortensen claimed to be the act that solidified his friendship with the people of Central Asia.

Which brings me to a (be warned, colorful language) rant: The Three Cups of Deceit.

As you may or may not know, a man by the name of Greg Mortensen wrote a book called Three Cups of Tea about being rescued by villagers in the Himalayan mountains. From this experience he claimed to forge an intense connection to the women of the village (through sharing cups of tea) and wanted to raise funds to build schools in Central Asia.

Turns out he’s full of shit. Pardon my English, but I am pissed off.

I have never read the book itself, though two extended family members sent me copies to read. Just never got to it, but knowing what I did about Greg Mortensen I was a full endorser of his Central Asia Institute (CAI) to build schools for girls in Central Asia.

Until one of my favorite contemporary journalists/authors, Jon Krakaur, did a 60 Minutes exposé revealing how many funds had gone missing, that most of the book itself is a complete fabrication, the existence of “ghost” schools, and the fact that key members of the CAI (two CFOs, 1 project leader, 1 board member all in the states and multiple more in Pakistan) quit because of Greg’s refusal to be transparent with the funds.

On so many levels, this is so hurtful. A powerful story about a daredevil mountain climber (whose parents were Lutheran missionaries in Africa) building a partnership with communities halfway around the world, empowered especially because he wanted to help the young girls, is totally invalidated by his selfish aims.  To me, any good he accomplished with his sob story is tainted by the deceit and self-gratifying false humbleness he painted himself with.  

Excuse me, but what an ASSHOLE. I am so angry because he played on sympathy by painting himself as this incredible humanitarian who, through basic human connection, forged these amazing relationships with people and then began an organization to promote understanding and education for young women. President Obama  himself donated $100,000 of his Nobel Prize money to Greg Mortensen, who himself has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

As Krakaur details in his 79-page exposé (which you can download for free until tomorrow here):

“The first eight chapters of Three Cups of Tea are an intricately wrought work of fiction presented as fact. And by no means was this an isolated act of deceit. It turns out that Mortenson’s books and public statements are permeated with falsehoods. The image of Mortenson that has been created for public consumption is an artifact born of fantasy, audacity, and an apparently insatiable hunger for esteem. Mortenson has lied about the noble deeds he has done, the risks he has taken, the people he has met, the number of schools he has built. Three Cups of Tea has much in common with A Million Little Pieces, the infamous autobiography by James Frey that was exposed as a sham. But Frey, unlike Mortenson, didn’t use his phony memoir to solicit tens of millions of dollars in donations from unsuspecting readers, myself among them. Moreover, Mortenson’s charity, the Central Asia Institute, has issued fraudulent financial statements, and he has misused millions of dollars donated by schoolchildren and other trusting devotees. “Greg,” says a former treasurer of the organization’s board of directors, “regards CAI as his personal ATM.”’ (7)

  This is atrocious. He even went so far as to accuse men who acted as his personal bodyguards and friends of kidnapping and holding him hostage. Krakaur reveals to be an intense fabrication of an already fictional account.

“When the residents of Ladha bid goodbye to Mortenson, they did so with affection, and they believed the feeling was mutual. “Years later,” says Naimat Gul [a man whom Mortensen accused of kidnapping him], “when I scanned through the book T hree Cups Of Tea and read that Greg had been abducted and threatened with guns, I was shocked. Instead of telling the world about our frustration, deprivation, illiteracy, and tradition of hospitality, he invented a false story about being abducted by savages. I do not understand why he did this.”’ (19)

I highly encourage you to read Krakaur’s work on the subject. And as for now, I am at a loss as to what to express other than anger. Yes, some good came from this. But I have a hard time validating anything Mortensen has touched now.

It is people like him who are a) causing us all to be wary of any form of charity/nonprofit work and b) forcing me to question whether it’s even worth it to keep forging ahead. Of course I’m going to keep fighting for human rights universally, but this is just so disheartening.

days until departure: 42

1 comment:

  1. I remember a part in the book where he explains how humble he is and how he refused to take a pay increase from the non-profit. He went on and on about how he lived in total poverty until he got married. But the picture of him with his wife and baby in native garb holding automatic rifles was really odd to me.

    So disappointing!