Written by JASMINE YOW
Stones into Schools
Author: Greg Mortenson
The New York Times said that Greg Mortenson’s previous book had “done more to advance US interests in the Pakistan region than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration”.
Based on the strength of that single quote, I read his second book, Stones into Schools.
I found in the book a candid, compelling story that went above and beyond advocating the revolutionary cause of female education in the Muslim world. Woven between the pages was an exceptional tale of grand adventure I could’ve easily torn out from a fictitious thriller.
The motley crew at the Central Asian Institute who are affectionately known as the Dirty Dozen are, in Greg’s words, unrecognized talents who have found a way to harness their untapped resourcefulness and make a difference in their communities inside the loose and seemingly disorganized structure of the CAI.
A third of the men at CAI cannot read or write. They are evenly divided among Islam’s three rival sects: Sunni, Shia and Ismaili – a recipe for disaster in the Muslim world. And yet, these “renegades” and “misfits” shine throughout the book as they pursue their noble quest.
The most flamboyant of all is Sarfraz Khan, CAI’s Indiana Jones who wears a peacock-blue fedora. A combination of prodigious charisma and stubborn persistence, he is described as “a whirling gyre of pig-headed determination quite unlike anything that had ever blown itself across the hinterlands of the western Himalayas”.
As Greg’s point-man, Sarfraz travels through dangerous regions with Greg, and together, they often survive on a jumbo-sized bottle of ibuprofen tablets and one shared toothbrush. It is in this spirit of adventure and fierce determination that hundreds of schools have been built in the most remote places of the earth.
To me, the typos lightly peppered throughout the book were further signs of an urgent mission. I can imagine Mortenson’s publishing machinery rushing to get the book out to match his tireless campaigning schedule in a thrilling race against time…not unlike the elite squadron of 14 Kirghiz horsemen who rode for six days without stopping to bring their urgent request for a school before the mysterious American school builder in October 1999.
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