Friday, April 22, 2011
Three Plates of Matoke
Greg Mortenson has been getting some heat lately. For those of you who are not familiar with Greg Mortenson, he is the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” For the sake of being brief, basically, Mortenson wrote a book about his efforts to build schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan; He subsequently founded his own NGO for the cause and the book has brought in a lot of financial contributions. However, 60 minutes recently did a report on the author, which found that many of the claims he makes in his book may not be true. For instance, Mortenson claims that he was kidnapped by Al Qaida, but 60 minutes basically exposes this as a lie. The report also investigates claims that Mortenson treats his NGO, "The Central Asia Institute," like a personal ATM. And one of the main people calling Mortenson out is Jon Krakauer (author of Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven), a former donor of The Central Asia Institute.
My main point, however, is that Mortenson got ridiculously famous (and rich) by writing a book about his humanitarian efforts, a book that tugged at people's heart strings, but one that was also packed with a bit of adventure (i.e. getting kidnapped by Al Qaeda).
Which leads me to my next point – If Greg Mortenson can get rich and famous, why can't I?
I've spent 20 months in Uganda, a country that lately has been in the news for all kinds of business – anti-gay legislation, riots, bombing. Surely, this holds just as much allure as a story set in Afghanistan/Pakistan? As a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, I could write all about my efforts of trying to promote football for girls (donors and readers alike love a gender equality focus) as well as my efforts to help orphans.
Adventure is important. If I just talked about saving the children people would get bored. That's why I would also write about that time I was kidnapped by Al Shobab, our local terrorist organization.
And to further add to the “adventure” element, I could slip in bits about the time a rode an elephant to work, that one time I ran with the gazelle at sunrise, and that other time when I got lost in the jungle and was forced to kill a hyena with my bare hands.
Of course, being the amazing/famous humanitarian that I am also grants me access to many impressive people in Uganda. Readers love a sensational bit here and there, so of course I would have to mention that time when Museveni and I went clubbing in Kampala (Presidents and Aid workers got to de-stress somehow) and Museveni totally blacked out in the bathroom at Iguana and woke up with obscenities written in sharpie on his forehead.
I will equal Mortenson in terms of fame, but won't have to deal with all the scandal concerning whether or not I'm a fraud because I will be more careful than Mortenson. For instance, unlike Mortenson, I will not include a photograph of my captors. Also, the only witnesses to my safari adventures will be trees, which can't call me out.
As far as the name of the book...Since drinking three cups of tea is not really a custom out here, I would have to alter the title a bit, substituting tea with something more applicable to Uganda.
My book, on the other hand, shall be called “Three plates of Matoke.”
Additionally, I could take a cue from Mortenson and call my NGO “The East Africa Institute.” Geographically confused people might even confuse our organizations and accidentally donate to me instead of Mortenson. After all, how many times have we heard the question, “isn't Afghanistan and Pakistan somewhere in East Africa?”