Monday, January 20, 2014

Three Cups of Deceit

Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

So pretty much everyone has read the book Three Cups of Tea, myself included.  In Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer points out the differences between the events portrayed in TCofT and what actually happened.

Krakauer interviewed the people who were with Mortenson on his fateful K2 expedition.  In TCofT Mortenson claimed to have been separated from his guide and wandered alone and haggard into Korphe.  According to his companions, this never occurred and they all made their way safely down the mountain into Askole and then into Skardu where their two porters left them to return home.  Mortenson and his friend Scott Darsney stayed in Skardu for about a week and then traveled to Khane in the Hushe Valley to visit the home of the expedition cook, Akhmalu.  It was to Akhmalu that Mortenson made his promise to return and build a school.

Mortenson seems to be a great story-teller knowing when to bend the facts to create a more compelling story.  If bending the facts were the only issue, I don't think Krakauer would have written his book, though.  Unfortunately, it seems that Mortenson was never very keen on the checks and balances of accounting and making sure that money donated to Central Asia Institute or to Pennies for Peace were actually used for building schools and not for his personal gain.

I have had this book on my Kindle for quite some time and just haven't gotten around to reading it so I am way behind the times. After this book was published and 60 Minutes did a story on this, a lawsuit was created (of course). According to Wikipedia (citing articles from Vancouver Sun, BBC, Charity Watch, and Bozeman Chronicle), "In April 2012, after a year long investigation by the Montana attorney general, Mortenson agreed to repay $1 million to the CAI. The Montana inquiry had found that he had misspent over $6 million of the organization's money, although no criminality was found. Montana Attorney General Seve Bullock said: "Mr Mortenson may not have intentionally deceived the board or his employees, but his distregard for an attitude about basic record-keeping and accounting for his activities essentially had the same effect." In addition, under the terms of the selltement agreement, Mortenson was required to resign as executive director and could no longer serve as a voting member of CAI's board. However, he was allowed to remain with CAI as an employee. The settlement was criticized by CharityWatch, an advocacy group, for permitting the existing three-member board, including Mortenson to select the new board."

Okay, so the fact that Mortenson was legally called on the carpet makes me feel a bit better but reading this book made me really mad.  I, like so many others, had donated to the CAI after reading Three Cups of Tea. I was not only mad about the lies and the apparent misappropriation of funds, I was mad about the mismanagement of the schools. The fact that schools were being built in places where they weren't needed (being called ghost schools by the locals) and those that were being used and run didn't necessarily have adequate supplies or trained teachers.  It's one thing to have lofty goals and ideals but another thing entirely to pull it all off and reach fruition. 

In researching the aftermath of Three Cups of Deceit I found a couple more things that are saddening. So to start off, in the book writing world, if there are two authors on a book (usually the first name is the famous person and the second is either someone you've never heard of or only heard of slightly), the second is generally the writer of the book and the first either dictated their story and expected the second name to make it into a legible and coherent story or, in the case of many novels, the first person gave the second person a general outline of a story and had the second person write the book.  This is how many authors get their start in publishing, by the way, being ghost writers and then second names on a book.  So anyway, the second name on Three Cups of Tea was David Oliver Relin and on November 14, 2012 he committed suicide.  He had, reportedly had his own difficulties with Greg Mortenson and when the lawsuit against Mortenson was raised, Relin hired a lawyer to protect himself and separate himself from the apparent inaccuracies of the book that had been dictated to him.  Since he didn't leave a suicide epistle, one can only assume that the scandal surrounding his book had something to do with his decision to end his life.

I was hoping that with all the over-haul required of CAI after the 2012 resolution to the investigation, the CAI would be performing with transparency and working toward the lofty goals of not only creating schools but providing teachers and supplies for the teachers.  Unfortunately in April 2013 at article on the Nonprofit Imperative blog, says that the new executive director Anne Beyersdorfer is operating in much the same manner.  She has been giving "full transparency" lip service to the press and anyone else who asks but in reality, she is doing her best to shield Mortensons misdeeds from the world.  Mortenson is no longer on the board but seems to hold much sway over the organization anyway.  He is still an employee of CAI and very much still the public face of the organization.  Here's the link to the blog in case you care to read it.

I have decided that any organization that Greg Mortenson is involved with, does not get a penny of my money no matter how lofty their goals.  Too bad.

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