When I saw that Julie's Book Club at Rakestraw Books in Danville was discussing "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin last Friday, I joined them. "Julie" is Julie Barnard; her son Michael owns Rakestraw and she works there, too. She said she formed the book group about three years ago and now it regularly draws eight to 10 people. A few others were new to the group, too. One said she'd joined to keep her New Year's resolution to read more. Another is the mother of 3-1/2-year-old twins and she also wants to read more - more adult books, that is.
The conversation flowed easily, with Julie occasionally interjecting comments or reading a quote from the book. It's the story of Mortenson, a mountain climber who staggers into a village in Pakistan and collapses after a failed attempt to ascend K2 and becoming separated from his guide. The villagers care for him without hesitation, and when he leaves, he promises to return their kindness by building a school.
The book details his fundraising struggle back in the States, a return to Pakistan to buy materials in the alien culture, and finally arriving in the village to learn that first they must build a bridge to be able to get the materials to the site. Mortenson eventually founded the nonprofit Central Asia Institute, dedicated to building schools, especially to educate girls, and has now built dozens.
One of the women had lived in Pakistan in the 1950s when her father was in the State Department. "Things haven't changed," she said. (She is a teacher at San Ramon Valley High and it turns out the kids love this book. They have raised $900 to go toward building a school with their One Cup of Tea campaign - forgoing one cup of tea/coffee/smoothie and donating the money to the cause. Mortenson is going to visit the school May 16.)
Julie read a quote from the village chief that explained the title. He said they 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."
Why is this sense of responsibility for each other missing here? someone asked. And several noted that it is present in smaller places. "Danville was like that when we moved here and there were 8,000 people," one woman said.
The book brought up a lot of issues, from understanding the mentality of mountain climbers, to the way the author was accepted into the foreign culture, to the status of women. A couple of teachers agreed that students who move here from Central Asia only respect teachers who are men.
We also talked about America's promises to Afghanistan, which were broken, and Mortenson's promises to villagers, which he keeps. And his statement: "The enemy is ignorance."
We compared countries and states, with several saying California is like a foreign country to those in other states, and aren't we lucky to be here? Julie recounted living two places where she was in the minority and what an eye-opener it was. One woman said a relative living in the South goes to a Baptist church that offers a class for woman on learning to be submissive to their husbands.
No one seemed willing to sign up for that. But they all seemed ready to read next month's selection - "The Year of Fog," by Michelle Richmond - and return again for another lively discussion.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com
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