Globalization, three cups of tea at a time

Greg Mortenson has devoted his life to building schools in Central Asia -- with a little help along the way from a Pakistani in a Berkeley copy shop.

Published April 7, 2009 3:31PM (EDT)

I am reading the riveting "Three Cups of Tea" -- an account of one-time mountain climber Greg Mortenson's extraordinary efforts to build schools in some of the poorest, most out-of-the-way regions of Pakistan. As an example of what one can do with one's life, if one simply applies one's will, Mortenson's story is incredibly inspiring.

I did not know when I started the book that Berkeley, Calif., was Mortenson's home base between mountain climbing trips in the Himalayas, and I found myself oddly transfixed by the knowledge that Mortenson was writing his initial fund-raising letters in the very same copy shops where I hung out making color copies of my first journalism clips in the early 90s. Did our paths cross?

One amazing passage:

One day Mortenson tried the door of Krishna Copy and found it unexpectedly locked. He walked to the nearest copy shop, Lazer Image on Shattuck Avenue, and asked to rent a typewriter.

"I told him, we don't have typewriters," remembers Lazer Image's owner, Kishwar Syed. "This is 1993, why don't you rent a computer? And he told me he didn't know how to use one."

Mortenson soon learned that Syed was Pakistani, from Bahawal Puy, a small village in the central Punjab. And when Syed found out why Mortenson wanted to type letters, he sat Mortenson in front of an Apple Macintosh and gave him a series of free tutorials until his new friend was computer literate.

"My village in Pakistan had no school so the importance of what Greg was trying to do was very dear to me," Syed says. "His cause was so great it was my duty to devote myself to help him."


"It was pretty interesting," Mortenson says. "Someone from Pakistan helping me become computer literate so I could help Pakistani kids get literate."

In 1993, I am sure that I patronized Lazer Image, and I probably laid eyes on Kishwar Syed. But we did not connect as human beings, and I may not even have entertained the possibility that we could connect as human beings. And yet Greg Mortenson stumbled into the copy shop and laced far-flung cultures and peoples separated by chasms of history and religion and geography into an instant bond. That's pretty neat -- my kind of globalization.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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