Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Where can you find an American mountain climber aka philanthropist whose quest for peace turns stones into schools; a Swiss-born Muslim Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford who proposes a future where Islamic values and Western culture are in harmony;  and a zany Ukrainian lady whose writings are described as “mad” and “hilarious” and whose mere entrance into the room elicits warm bubbles of laughter?

Accompanied by my aspiring author friend Anne “The Writer” O’Connell, we embark on a two-day adventure into a multicultural literary scene.  While we are both veterans of The Broward County Library Literary Feast   in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, this is our first experience at this similar event in Dubai.  
Brazenly, we forge through the crowds gathering at the beautiful InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City with high hopes of gorging ourselves on an multicultural literary feast  where we can sate our never ending appetite to be among  . . .  OMG  . . . PUBLISHED AUTHORS!
We are not disappointed and are ravenous for seconds!    
First up is Greg Mortenson, an experienced mountain climber, whose failed attempt to scale K2 in far north Pakistan nearly ends in disaster. In gratitude for saving his life, Greg promises the impoverished villagers that he will return to build them a school.  Three Cups of Tea, One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time is the riveting account of the fulfillment of that promise.
“To really help people you have to empower them.  And that begins with education.” he starts. "I'm no military expert, and these figures might not be exactly right, but as best I can tell, we've launched 114 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan so far. Now take the cost of one of those missiles, tipped with a Raytheon guidance system, which I think is about $840,000. For that much money, you could build dozens of schools that could provide tens of thousands of students with a balanced, non extremist education over the course of a generation. Which do you think will make us more secure?"
Quoting the prophet Mohammad (PBUH), “The ink of the scholar is more powerful than the blood of a martyr!” Greg puts forward that the “best way to peace is through education.”
Most of Greg’s schools educate girls. Greg firmly believes that, "Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities; but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls."   
Greg’s schools also teach Arabic so “the children can read the Qur'an and learn that boys and girls both are entitled to education.” 
Greg’s second book, Stones to School, Promoting Peace through Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan, concentrates on this same effort in the land of the Taliban in northeast Afghanistan. By the time he begins his work in Afghanistan, thanks to generous benefactors, the Central Asia Institute (CSI) is established to organize the effort. 
Today, as testament to the difference one person can make, there are more than 145 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan educating more than 64,000 children. Through CSI scholarships the first female physician in Afghanistan has just graduated and the first female student from Kashmir has started her law studies. Children from around the world have joined Greg in his effort to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan through the Pennies for Peace Program of CSI (Read more in postscripts).
David Oliver Relin, co-writer of Three Cups of Tea, notes that “this soft-spoken, six-foot four former mountaineer . . . has single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and independently won more hearts and minds that all the official American propaganda flooding the region.”  
Postscripts. . .
Any students looking for a community service project? Then look into Pennies for Peace.  In 1994, after Greg Mortenson spoke to students at Westside Elementary School in River Fall, Wisconsin, USA, they collected 62,340 pennies to help Greg build his first school in Pakistan (this represented ½ of the total cost to build the school).   "And they did it with something that is basically worthless in our society - pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains!" Greg pronounces.
Today, Pennies for Peace, a service-learning program for children, is making a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time. The program’s main goal is to teach students their capacities as philanthropists. My hope is that at least one child of my readers takes on this program to help the children of these war torn countries.
The program is easy to implement and any grade level can conduct a successful campaign.
Do we have any students interested in helping children in Afghanistan and Pakistan build a school?
I sure would like to hear of any efforts towards this goal.
Leave me a comment and let me know how I can help.
 Stay-tuned for PART 2 - BROTHERLY LOVE IN DUBAI!!!


  1. It was truly an amazing weekend, Katie. Thanks for getting me my "back stage pass!"


  2. Amazing...utterly amazing. Thinking of the Pennies for Peace Project...Claudette Bruck

  3. Where can I find details about the Pennies project? I'd like to ask the 10-year-old Youth Spokesperson for our literary competition American Poet - GA Sports if she would consider this. Does your program provide an opportunity for sharing because I'd like half the proceeds to go to a local educational opportunity in my community and half to Afghanistan. When I lived in NYC I would very often visit an Afghan restaurant. The food was awesome! The owner's daughter was studying to be a doctor.

  4. For information on Pennies for Peace you can go to their web site The program looks to be fairly simple and easy to implement. You should check directly with the organizers regarding your request to split the proceeds. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.

  5. Those of you in the USA may have seen the CBS broadcast of 60 Minutes on Sunday April 17, 2011 which questioned the validity of Greg Mortenson’s account of how he began building schools, especially for girls, in Afghanistan and Pakistan and certain financial arrangements he had with the Central Asian Institute (CIA).

    In light of this controversial report, I am providing the following responses from Mortenson as posted on the CAI web site. I decided not to take down my blog posting on Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea because I felt that each of us should make our own decision.

    I am also including, for your information, the Charity Navigator evaluation of the agency and an interview Greg did with

    Greg Mortenson response to the CBS 60 Minutes questions

    Charity Navigator


  6. Additional information about the ongoing saga regarding the veracity of Greg's claims in his book Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortenson’s Climbing Partner: I “Must Have Misspoken” To Krakauer