Considering the subject matter of this blog, I’m sure that most of you are familiar with Greg Mortenson and his wildly popular book Three Cups of Tea. For those of you who don’t know his story, Mortenson was climbing in the Karakoram a number of years back, and after getting lost there, he wandered into a remote village, where the people treated him kindly, offered aid, and got him back on his feet. He was so touched by their generosity, that he vowed to return the favor by building them a school. He would later launch the Central Asia Institute to help fund that project, and dozens of similar ones throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond.
Mortenson rose to international fame thanks to his book, which has been a source of inspiration to many who have read it. In that book he shares a number of miraculous and amazing stories about his experiences in the Himalaya and the people he met there. Three Cups of Tea would go on to be a bestseller and generate plenty of attention and funds for Mortenson’s charitable works.
It turns out however, that he may not be exactly telling us the whole truth. Over the weekend, the long-running CBS television series 60 Minutes ran an expose on Mortenson with fellow author Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into Thin Air, offering up some thoughts. You can watch the whole segment on YouTube by clicking here, embedding has been disabled unfortunately. In a nutshell, Krakauer, and others, say that Mortenson has embellished some of the details of his story to make them sound more dramatic and impressive. That some of the things he claims happened to him in his books are, at best, stretches of the truth, and at worst, outright fabrications. There are even some indications that the funds that are raised by CAI are not being spent properly and that the organization lacks transparency in how it operates. There are even some questions as to the number of schools that have been built. We do know that Mortenson and his team have indeed built schools in Central Asia, but it seems the number could be exaggerated.
These revelations have caused some disillusionment throughout the adventure community, with many people wondering what the real story is. In the interview, even Krakauer acknowledges that Mortenson has done great things in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but wonders if he puts it all in jeopardy with his exaggerations of the truth and potentially shady handling of funding. It also doesn’t help that Mortenson refused to be interviewed for the segment, and at one point is caught on camera looking like a deer in the headlights.
Yesterday, ExWeb weighed in on the topic, posting this story that comes out in defense of Mortenson and takes a few shots at Krakauer in the process. UpaDowna also posted some thoughts on the story, which you can read by clicking here.
So? What are your thoughts on this brewing controversy? Do you buy Mortenson’s tale? Krakauer says “It’s a beautiful story. And it’s a lie.” Others in the interview seem to take the same stance, seeming to indicate that Mortenson has, at the very least, taken some liberties with the truth. Does that change the way you feel about him in any way? After all, he has still done a lot of good in those poor Central Asian nations.
For me personally, I still respect Mortenson for the great work that he continues to do in Pakistan and beyond. But I have to question is motivations for stretching the truth the way he has, not to mention the way he seems to be earning quite a bit of money off of the Central Asian Institute. A non-profit, charitable organization should be more up front and forth-coming with how they use the funds that we donate to them, and at the moment, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Still, in the end, the organization doe a lot of good, and I hope that doesn’t get lost amidst the tall tales.
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