Three Cups of Tea, co-written by David Oliver Relin, is Greg Mortenson’s memoir, a book that recounts Mortenson’s adventures in bringing education to isolated areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The title is derived from an ancient saying that states that the first time you share a cup of tea with someone, you are merely a stranger. The second time, you become a friend. The third, and you are part of the family. Mortenson’s point was to get to know the people that some people might consider their enemies.
What started out as a promise to a small Pakistani village whose members had worked together to save his life after an unsuccessful attempt to climb one of the most dangerous mountains in the world (called K2), ended up with Mortenson creating a non-profit organization. Mortenson’s group sought to construct schools in Central Asia so that impoverished communities could educate their children. With a special emphasis on bringing education to Muslim girls who were often forbidden to go to school, Mortenson raised money and put together the Central Asia Institute to meet this goal. In the process, Mortenson’s life was threatened by local warlords in Asia, and he had to endure hate mail from fellow Americans who thought his efforts were misdirected. Muslims were, after all, enemies of the United States, were they not? Not so, thought Mortenson. He believed that education would bridge the gap that had developed between radical Muslims and the Western world. The first school was built by U.S. school children who made contributions to Mortenson’s cause through their collection of pennies: 62,400 of them. Fifty more schools would be added.
Three Cups of Tea has sold over three million copies and has been published in thirty-nine different countries. Robert Gates, U.S. defense secretary, has praised the book, and Special Forces troops deployed to Afghanistan are required to read it. Time magazine gave the book its 2006 Asia Book of the Year Award. Although some critics point out the flaws in the writing, most agree that the book is inspiring. Margot Hillel, reviewing for Reading Time, thought so and went on to discuss the book’s power. Maria Speidel, writing for People magazine, stated that the co-author, David Oliver Relin, never had to stretch his writing to prove Mortenson is a hero.
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Chapter 1 Summary
The setting is as beautiful as it is treacherous. It is the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan, where no one is there to see what Greg Mortenson sees. Here, more than sixty of the world’s tallest mountains stand watch over the barren terrain virtually untouched by either man or beast. The second-highest peak in the world, K2, is part of this treacherous range. It rises to a height of 28,267 feet and is considered by most climbers to be the most difficult climb on the planet. On September 2, 1993, Mortenson is unaware that he has wandered away from the rest of his party as they trek down the mountain. Instead of heading west toward a village fifty miles away, he is heading south into treacherous icefall territory and the inevitable fighting along the Pakistan–India border. His porter is carrying nearly all of his gear, including his tent, sleeping bag, and almost all of his food; Mortenson is lost in contemplation and fails to pay attention to his surroundings. He is thinking about failure as he touches a necklace tucked into the recesses of his coat pocket.
The necklace is Christa’s, his sister who was not supposed to live an active, meaningful life after her bout with meningitis at age twelve. The family was living in Tanzania, where the parents were missionaries. Greg was twelve years older than Christa, and he determined she would live a “normal” life in as many ways as possible. When they moved back to Minnesota, he taught her how to use the public transportation system, helped her get a job, and did whatever else he felt would make her an independent woman. Wherever he went, Christa came to visit her brother for a month every year. When Greg was an Army medic in Germany, in nursing school in South Dakota, studying neurophysiology in Indiana, or living out of his car in California, Christa came to visit. They experienced the grand things Greg knew his sister loved, like the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500, Disneyland, and Yosemite. Christa died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-three, and he had determined to scale K2 and leave his sister’s necklace at the peak as a tribute to her.
But he failed. Three months ago, at the beginning of this journey, thirty-five-year-old Greg was in high spirits and relishing the adventure ahead. K2 is called Savage Peak, and it provides “the ultimate test” for climbers. The mountain is so steep that snow cannot settle on its ridges, but...
(The entire section is 1055 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
The Wrong Side of the River
In the morning, Greg unwinds from his thin wool blanket and is a bit disoriented. It is a beautiful but still deadly setting, and he tries to rub some feeling back into parts of his body. As the blood begins to flow through his body, the “details of his predicament” flood his mind. His circumstances have not changed, but everything appears more hopeful at the beginning of a new day. A carrion bird circles overhead but leaves as he sees movement below. Mortenson’s plan is to backtrack for a few hours until he runs into the trail, so he begins the journey to find his traveling companions. Several hours pass. Greg climbs over a small peak of the glacier and is blinded by the rising sun reflecting off the towering, ice-covered peaks ahead of him. Stopping to drink some of his water, Greg also drinks in the beauty of his surroundings. For the first time, he sees the peaks not as obstacles to be conquered but as majestic sentinels of beauty. While he knows he is in danger if he does not get warmer clothing and food soon, he is content.
Around midmorning, he hears the faint ring of the bells attached to pack mules and changes course slightly to follow them. Soon, however, he is faced with a looming wall of ice and realizes he has missed the trail; he backtracks once more until he finds a cigarette butt and knows he must be nearing civilization in some form. A mile ahead, Greg sees a man silhouetted against the sky but is not able to shout with enough force; the man does appear to react to him. Mortenson knows he is dressed in clothing that blends into his environment, so he has probably not been seen. He begins shouting then running toward the spot where he saw the man, though his pace is slow and his voice is hoarse. Suddenly Mouzafer, the Balti porter he hired to help haul his supplies down the mountain, hails him. Greg starts to cough, and the porter quickly ushers him into a nearby cave and starts a fire to prepare paiyu cha, a butter tea that is a staple of the Balti people’s diet. It is made of green tea, salt, baking soda, goat’s milk, and a bit of mar—an “aged rancid yak butter” that is a delicacy among the mountain people.
Until now, Mortenson had managed to avoid drinking the foul-smelling brew he had been offered many times; today, though he gagged at the beginning, he drinks—three cups of it. Scott Darsney and his Balti porter...
(The entire section is 923 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Progress and Perfection
Mortenson wakes up in the dark, snug beneath a quilt and serenaded by a chorus of snores, then falls back asleep. The next time he wakes up he is alone and it is daylight. The chief’s wife brings him some food and sweet tea, which Mortenson consumes hungrily. She is the only Balti woman ever to approach him, and she laughs as she watches him eat and drink. After she leaves he studies his surroundings, and he sees that though they are a poor people, they honored him with the best they had. When he leaves the house, he joins the rest of the village to watch a spectacle taking place over the river far below. Someone is pulling himself across the river hand-over-hand toward Korphe. Although this is a treacherous journey (a fall would certainly end in death), it saves half a day of trekking by land. As Mortenson watches, the man begins to look familiar. It is Mouzafer, crammed into the tiny wooden box he is sharing with Greg’s giant, ninety-pound pack. When the porter arrives, there is much rejoicing and even some tears from the Balti mountaineer.
Over dinner, Greg realizes that Mouzafer is a well-known figure among the Balti, honored for his astounding skills and experience over the course of three decades. In all their time together, Mortenson had never heard any of this from the humble porter. He discreetly gives Mouzafer three thousand rupees, far more than the arrangement they had made, and the two of them are reunited with Scott Darsney and his porter. While they enjoy a fine meal and comfortable beds, Greg is drawn by something special he felt while in Korphe. He returns to the isolated village as soon as he can get a ride. He lodges with Haji Ali, the Chief of the tribe, and he spends his days observing the people. Always the children surround him, grabbing his hands as he walks, and he notes the ingenious irrigation system used by the villagers.
As time passes, he becomes more aware of just how precarious his situation was when he first arrived in Korphe. Even now, with time and rest, he is not strong and spends the last half of each day recuperating from his morning excursions. He watches as the people of Korphe use every part of every animal for food, and he understands “how close they lived to hunger.” As Greg grows stronger, so does his ability to think and reason. While these are a people to be envied for their rather idyllic and carefree lifestyle, they...
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Chapter 4 Summary
Berkeley Self-Storage stall 114 is Greg’s anchor after he arrives back in California. In addition to jet lag and culture shock, he is overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of things now foreign to him. He feels dislocated somehow, and this musty storage unit smells like Africa. As he touches and smells objects from his childhood, Mortenson is transported back to Africa.
Greg was born in Minnesota, but his parents impulsively moved to East Africa when he was three months old. After four years of working in a remote mountainous area, they relocated to Moshi (renamed Tanzania in 1961) and fell in love with the country. They lived in a sprawling cinder-block home with a giant pepper tree in the fertile courtyard. This pepper tree came to represent home to Greg. Dempsey and Jerene, Greg’s parents, were Lutheran missionaries, but they “wear their faith lightly.” Dempsey taught a Sunday school class, but in most respects their home was more like a recreation center than a religious compound. He made a softball diamond (the pepper tree was the backstop) and initiated Tanzania’s first high school basketball league. The project to which Dempsey most dedicated his time and energy was the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center—the first teaching hospital in Tanzania—founded and funded solely through Dempsey’s efforts. Jerene’s project of passion was founding the Moshi International School, where Greg thrived. This melting pot of nationalities, cultures, and languages allowed Greg to be blind to race and embrace the wonderful variety found in the cultures around him. After begging for years, Mortenson, at age eleven, finally got to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It was a miserable experience for him until he stood at the summit at dawn, looking at the African plains spread out gloriously below him. He was hooked on mountain climbing.
The Mortensons had four children, Greg and three girls born after him. Because Dempsey was often away fund-raising for his hospital and because physically he was already an imposing young man, Greg stepped easily into the position of father. When Christa was born, Greg volunteered to be her godfather. Christa did not grow as the other girls did; she had an extreme reaction to her smallpox vaccination, which began the brain dysfunction she would suffer from her entire life. Christa suffered from severe meningitis at the age of three, and ever after she...
(The entire section is 1080 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
580 Letters, One Check
Greg Mortenson is typing letters to send to people he thinks may help him with his mission to build a school in Korphe. His calculations tell him he can build a school for one hundred students through fifth grade for twelve thousand dollars using local labor. He types slowly, both because his fingers are too big for the keys and because he does not know quite what to say. His first six letters are addressed to Oprah Winfrey, each of the network news anchors (plus CNN), and actress Susan Sarandon. He drops his day’s work into a mailbox and heads to his shift at the ER. One of the doctors, Tom Vaughan, has done some serious climbing; he once served as an expedition doctor on a climb on a Pakistani peak, and Greg wants to spend as much time talking with him as possible. Vaughan understands the magnitude and risk of an attempt at K2, and the two of them talk at length about altitude-related illnesses and conditions. Greg notices an anesthesiology resident named Dr. Marina Villard and is torn between asking her out and avoiding her so he can “think straight.”
While trying to raise the money for his school, Greg lives in his car, though he maintains his membership in a rock-climbing club—for access to the showers and the climbing walls on which he practices. When he can, he pounds out hundreds of letters and sends them to any group of people he thinks might be able to help. He has sent them to every United States senator and keeps a list of movie stars, popular people, and the hundred richest people in America in a Ziploc baggie. Thirty-six-year-old Mortenson lives a diverse and interesting life, but he does not know how to use a computer. One day when he tries to rent a typewriter as usual from a local copy shop, he is unable to do so. The shop’s owner is a Pakistani who, after hearing why Greg needs the typewriter, teaches him how to use a computer. He is amazed at how much more efficiently he is able to work, and before the end of the day he has added 280 letters to the 300 he has already sent. On his days off, he goes again to Syed’s shop and tries to write grant applications for a school in Korphe.
Still enamored of Dr. Marina, Greg talks with her for several months about his hopes and dreams to build a school. She finally ends his misery and asks him out on a date. They are soon dating regularly, and Greg enjoys teaching both Marina and her two daughters how to...
(The entire section is 964 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Rawalpindi’s Rooftops at Dusk
Greg sleeps with his money in a sack under his clothes: twelve thousand dollars for the school and eight hundred dollars for his expenses over the next few months. His journey takes fifty-six hours because he bought only the cheapest tickets, and he spends his entire first day in Rawalpindi sleeping off his jet lag. In his mind, every cent he spends is stealing money from the school, so he spends the night in a small glass room on the roof of a hotel. The hotel watchman asks about Greg’s plans. When he hears about the school and understands what Greg has sacrificed to be here, he promises to help Greg bargain for the building supplies he will need. As Greg listens to the sound of evening prayers from mosques across the city, he knows tomorrow is the beginning of his new venture.
Buying cement in ’Pindi is like dealing with the mafia: one must know someone who knows someone who suggests someone, and there is no bargaining. One hundred bags of cement will be delivered to the hotel tomorrow, and Abdul the watchman will take him tomorrow to find bargains for the rest of the supplies. When Greg’s shirt literally rips in two, he and Abdul go to the bazaar to find a tailor. As he orders his shirts, the call to prayer sounds and Greg asks Abdul to show him how to pray. Although he is not Muslim, Greg says he respects Islam, so Abdul shows him how to pray. The oversized Mortenson barely fits in the tiny tailor’s stall as he observes and tries to imitate the prayers. The tailor suggests that perhaps the novice will improve by the time he comes back for his clothing.
The bargaining begins the next day at the bazaar, and Greg is giddy at the sight of so many supplies that will eventually be used to build his school. He is wearing his mended garment but wishes he looked a bit more prosperous. Greg has a thousand dollars worth of rupees in a shoebox under his arm. As they shop for supplies, Greg follows Abdul’s lead. They begin with an architect and get their exact list of supplies; the wood is going to be the most expensive item on their list. When the architect quotes Greg and Ali a figure, Ali begins a diatribe calling into question the man’s faith, asking if he is a Muslim or an infidel, and reminding him Greg is building this school as an act of charity. They pause for tea, then the architect brings in a comparison of locally processed wood versus wood...
(The entire section is 571 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Hard Way Home
Moving day begins early for Greg and Abdul. Greg puts on his old Nikes (on which Abdul obviously spent hours, trying to make them look more respectable) on this auspicious day. They stop at the call for prayer then head to Ali the architect’s shop. As the supplies are loaded onto trucks, Mortenson has a moment of panic at the thought that he has spent two-thirds of the money he brought with him. He has three thousand dollars for transportation, labor, and his living expenses. He is nervous. All forty-two of their purchases are making their way to the trucks, and a crowd has gathered. They are gawking at the spectacle of “an enormous infidel in brown pajamas” who is loading supplies with which he will build a school for Muslim children. By evening the load is complete and rises twenty feet high. Mortenson is anxious to leave, and the impressed crowd passes him cigarettes and rupees for his school. It is a melee, but in the midst of it Abdul stands perfectly still and prays the prayer of safety for this journey. Greg perches himself on top of one of the trucks as it roars out of Rawalpindi and heads for Korphe. He contemplates, with some satisfaction and contentment, his work on the project so far as the truck stops for evening prayers. When they resume, Greg notices the air has a hint of winter in it. He wonders if he can get the school built before winter sets in, but he dismisses the thought and goes to sleep.
When he wakes up, Greg looks over the edge of the truck and sees a fifteen-hundred-foot drop into a rocky gorge; when he looks on the other side of the truck, he sees a sheer granite wall. It is a treacherous journey and he does not want to break the driver’s concentration. They stop for breakfast when they find a small village; at the driver’s insistence, Greg rides in the cab when their journey resumes. When they reach a bridge, men armed with rocket launchers stop them. They call Mortenson over, and he hopes he looks enough like a native not to be offensive. The soldiers look upon the American favorably but they cannot let the trucks pass. They had been swindled by a contractor who took their money to widen and improve their roads and then absconded with the cash; the men are waiting here for him to return so they can hang him from the bridge. All the stopped vehicles settle in for the night. In the morning there is the sound of gunfire; Greg’s driver, Mohammed, says it...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
Beaten by the Braldu
Skardu is one of the last stops for those heading for the Karkoram and its giant, icy peaks. The city’s bazaar is full of color and life, a shattering contrast to the “deafening emptiness” of the journey across the Indus Gorge. Their giant truck is blocking the road as the driver asks Greg for directions. The supplies must now be taken to Korphe by jeep, eight hours away, and there is no easy communication to announce their arrival in Skardu. A decision must be made about where to go with the load now. Mortenson thinks of Mohammed Ali Changazi, the Balti agent who arranges trekking expeditions and tours, including last year’s expedition to K2. They pull in and are greeted by the rather haughty businessman. When Greg tells him why he is here, the reaction is less than exuberant. Greg had shared his plan with Changazi before he left Pakistan, so the agent is not surprised at the mission. Instead, he is dismayed that Greg did not buy his supplies in Skardu (which Greg had not known was possible) and that it is too late in the season to build anything. Mohammed the driver is eager to return home, so he and his crew unload the supplies into Changazi’s compound until he and Greg can determine how to proceed.
As the supplies parade by him, Changazi is impressed. He encourages Greg to wash away the grit and grime of four difficult traveling days and to rest until after evening prayers. Mortenson is suddenly a bit anxious and wants to inventory his supplies, but there is no arguing with his host. When Greg wakes, he realizes he has slept through the night. He rises to see that his seven thousand dollars’ worth of supplies are nowhere to be seen—not even a stray nail or a hammer. Word has spread quickly that “Dr. Greg” has arrived, and Changazi is in a standoff with Akhmalu, the cook on the K2 expedition. Greg had once promised to come to Akhmalu’s village, and he is here to make sure Greg follows through with that promise. Although he tries to postpone the visit, Greg cannot say no when he hears the town has prepared a feast in his honor. The journey, according to Akhmalu, will not be long: “only three or seven hours.” Greg, Changazi, and Akhmalu get into the hired jeep and begin their journey. Changazi is not happy, and the journey is filled with tension and uncomfortable. The final leg of the journey requires walking across a single-rope bridge made of yak hair; Greg...
(The entire section is 1362 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
The People Have Spoken
It is almost Christmas as Greg steps off the plane at the San Francisco airport. He looks around hopefully for Marina, though when they talked last he was unsure if she got his flight information on their hasty international call. He dials her home number from a pay phone and starts to leave a message. Marina picks up the phone and tells him they need to talk, that “things have changed” since he left. Greg hangs up and heads for her house; he has not showered in three days and is apprehensive about this meeting. He hopes Marina understands that he had no money to spare for calls home while he was away and determines to make it up to her and her daughters now that he is home. When Marina answers the door, she gives him a one-armed hug and does not invite him in; instead, she tells him she is seeing her former boyfriend. She continues chatting, and Greg finally walks away and checks into a nearby shabby hotel with the last of his cash. He showers, selects his least dirty T-shirt, and falls into bed. An hour later he is jarred from a sound sleep by someone pounding on the door. Disoriented at first, Greg imagines he is still in Pakistan, but when he opens the door he finds Marina. They have a brief conversation, then she leaves him with an apology and a half-full bottle of Bailey’s liquor. He would never drink such a thing, and he is sad that Marina did not know him well enough to know that. He drops the bottle in the battered trashcan. The relationship is over.
He has eighty-three dollars in his bank account, and he has no job because he did not make it back for either Thanksgiving or Christmas as he had promised. With no car to sleep in, Mortenson contacts some climbing friends and sleeps in an upstairs hallway of an old house for a month. A trained nurse is always employable, though, and as soon as he is motivated enough, he finds work as an overnight nurse at the San Francisco General Trauma Center and a burn center in Berkeley. He saves enough money to rent a squalid room in a third-floor sublet, where he mourns the loss of Marina and the girls. Mercifully, his nights are filled with work, which keeps his mind from straying back to the seven weeks he spent in Korphe.
After Haji Ali made his pronouncement that the village needed a bridge first, Greg had grown still. He knew walking out would not solve anything. Changazi’s smirk revealed his belief that he had just...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
Greg is in Skardu ordering steel cable, his last acquisition for the Korphe bridge. He finally finds the contractor who has what he needs and can deliver it to the site. It is June 1995, and the bridge should be finished by winter. The following spring is the target date to begin the school. Jean Hoerni has been gracious about giving him another ten thousand dollars for the bridge but wants him to hurry and bring him a photo: he is getting older and wants to see what his money has bought. Greg is happy to be working with Changazi once again; the extra money the agent takes is worth the valuable contacts he has. He makes Changazi sign a complete inventory for the school materials he is storing. Now that the cable is on his way, Greg hires a jeep to take him to Askole. As the last sizable village before the glaciers and peaks, it has become a city of hustlers trying to take advantage of trekkers in desperate need both coming and going. The jeep driver refuses to go any further, so Greg makes his miserable way to Korphe on foot.
He is met by Korphe men who send him over the gorge in the hanging basket. Looking down, he sees the piles of rough-cut granite on both sides of the river. Korphe is poor in nearly every way, but they have an abundance of rock. Greg leads a procession of the town elders to the chief’s house. For the first time, Haji Ali’s wife, Sakina, takes Greg’s hand in welcome, and Greg responds by entering her domain, the kitchen, to prepare green tea for the men.
Every able-bodied male helps carry the cable to Korphe. Thirty-five men walk twelve hours in the rain each way, hauling the eight-hundred-pound coils of steel cable on wooden poles. Their experience as porters has equipped them well for this task, and they do it almost cheerfully. One of the men tells Greg that spending this kind of effort on something that will help his village is much more satisfying than walking up and down a mountain chasing an elusive goal.
The cement will not set during the monsoon, so the men invite Greg to go hunting for ibex (a large mountain goat) with them. The journey is treacherous and the river is angry and swollen. As they approach the edge of the Biafo Glacier, each of the men puts on a talisman of protection, including Greg. Seeing the mountains from this perspective, he is not surprised that it was outsiders who saw them as things to be conquered. The...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
Greg is back in his sublet apartment in California, working night shifts at the hospitals. He knows he is able to help people here, but he is eager for his bank account to grow so he can return to Pakistan and finish what he started. As he walks home after a shift at the burn unit, he sees a car parked in front of his apartment. A sleepy Marina has come to see him in person because he did not answer his phone all night. She confesses she made a mistake with the former boyfriend and makes an overture to resume their relationship. Greg tells her the opportunity has passed and walks wearily up to his miserable third-floor apartment. Now he sees his time here not as a sign of failure but as time for waiting. He calls Jean Hoerni, who flies him to Seattle and asks him to bring pictures of the bridge. Their visit is comfortable, and the two men experience a connection both as climbers and as entrepreneurs. Back home, Greg calls George McCown to reminisce. George invites Greg to an American Himalayan Association event at which Sir Edmund Hillary will be speaking, and Greg accepts.
The event is held in the Fairmont Hotel, the same place forty diplomats from around the world met to draft the United Nations charter. The group gathered for this evening is a conglomeration of climbers, Buddhists, socialites, entrepreneurs, and businessmen. In this room full of insiders, Greg feels rather disoriented and out of place until he sees McCown and Hoerni. Hoerni promptly announces he thinks George should give Greg some money. When Greg reminds them he already has what he needs to build his school, Hoerni indicates the money would be to support him until the project is completed. Greg is speechless at the offer of twenty thousand dollars, but he accepts the money. He does not remember much about the dinner, but he does remember hearing one of his heroes, Sir Edmund Hillary, speak. After downplaying his climbing feats, Hillary speaks of the forty years that followed—years in which he and his younger brother built twenty-seven schools, twelve clinics, and two airfields. Greg is so inspired he cannot sit still, so he paces in the back of the room as Hillary speaks. Hillary says clearly that what he accomplished by climbing a mountain is not as satisfying as what he built for the people and country he loves.
While he is pacing, a pretty redhead approaches Greg, and they immediately begin a long, comfortable...
(The entire section is 836 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Haji Ali’s Lesson
When Greg goes to Changazi’s compound, he is denied access. Greg produces the inventory list for the supplies but is told the agent is not in Skardu and will not be back for a month or two. He cannot call because the phone lines are cut. As Greg ponders his next move, Ghulam Parvi, Changazi’s trusted accountant and a devout Muslim scholar, arrives. Greg makes his appeal to him. The inventory looks legitimate, but Parvi is puzzled because he has never heard Changazi mention this project, even though Changazi knows of Parvi’s interest in building schools in Pakistan. Because of this shared interest, Parvi agrees to help Greg locate his building materials. They locate the supplies underneath tarps, locked securely and protected with razor wire. Changazi, they are told, has the only key. When they return with bolt cutters the next day, there is an armed guard waiting for them; he was positioned there after a call to Changazi (apparently, the phone lines were not cut). Parvi understands that Changazi is trying to swindle Greg. He turns to the guard and speaks in a harsh, no-nonsense tone; when he raises the bolt cutters once again, the guard puts down his rifle and hands the scholar the key. Lifting the tarp, Greg sees only a third of his supplies, but it is enough to get started. Parvi helps Greg arrange for jeeps to carry the supplies to Korphe; when Greg leaves shortly after, he thanks Parvi for all his help. Parvi expresses his respect for what Greg is trying to do for his people.
When he finally arrives at the site, Greg is discouraged. Before he left, he had staked out the floor plan of the five rooms and had left the chief enough money to hire workers to quarry the stone. He expected to see the foundation completely excavated; instead, he sees a barren field with several piles of stone. When he meets with the chief it is already a month later than he had promised, and Greg is impatient and discouraged. Haji Ali explains that the village decided not to hire laborers who would “work little and argue much” because they were being paid by a rich American. Instead, they did the work themselves, and this is what they were able to accomplish. The money, Ali assures Greg, is safe. While he recognizes Greg’s impatience, the chief assures him they have been without a school for six hundred years and another winter is not very long to wait. As they walk into town, the villagers greet...
(The entire section is 1570 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
“A Smile Should Be More Than a Memory”
Peshawar is a busy frontier city, the capital of untamed western Pakistan and “gateway to the Khyber Pass.” It is the pipeline between Afghanistan and Pakistan through which Taliban forces (literally, students of Islam) head west, and refugees tired of the fighting travel east. The seventeenth son of a wealthy Saudi family, Osama Bin Laden is forced to leave his home country and he flees to Afghanistan and seethes in his hatred for Americans, the people he blames for his exile. While Greg Mortenson is in Peshawar pondering locations for the Central Asia Institute’s school-building projects, Bin Laden is calling for war against America. Greg is hesitant to leave town at this critical time but needs an appropriate escort in this volatile place. A fellow guest at the shabby hotel knocks on the door and enters with a pot of tea. Badam Gul is from Waziristan and makes his living collecting and transporting butterflies to museums all over the world; Mortenson assumes he is transporting illegal goods as well, but he does not say so. Gul offers to be Greg’s guide to regions south of Peshawar, and the American accepts because his wife is due in a month and he must accomplish this task so he can return home. Gul has procured the largest native garb he could find for Greg, and they prepare to leave at dawn. Greg places a quick phone call to Tara, telling her where he is going and promising to be home before the baby is born.
In the morning, Gul meets Greg but tells him he has been called away on business. The taxi driver, Mr. Khan, is familiar with the area and is willing to act as his guide. Mortenson is hesitant but decides to go with the strange taxi driver. They enter Waziristan, and Greg recalls what he read about Central Asia that winter in between preparations for the baby. His conclusion after reading was that the region is comprised of tribal factions moved about into states determined largely by Europeans without consideration for existing tribal alliances. Wazir is what Greg calls an “underdog country,” but he admires the Wazir for standing up as best they can against imposing enemies. He thinks these are the kind of outcasts who might be served best by his Institute.
Their taxi is stopped at six military checkpoints, and at each stop Mr. Khan deposits rupees into the appropriate hands to keep their vehicle moving. They finally arrived at...
(The entire section is 1195 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Back in Montana, Greg walks into his house with a sensation of disbelief that he is here and that this is his home. Tara is upstairs with Roberta the midwife. They have decided to have the baby here in this bedroom, a decision Greg readily agrees with after his hospital experiences. He has been home for a week after three months in Pakistan and is still getting used to the sight of his very pregnant wife. They do normal things and go for walks—it is the perfect antidote to his eight days of confinement as a prisoner.
After he was returned to his Peshawar hotel with almost four hundred dollars in rupees from the Wazir, he had phoned his wife in the middle of the night in Montana. He told her he had been detained but was okay and would be home in a few days. Back in Montana, Tara had not been too worried at first, assuming he had simply lost track of the days and forgotten to call her. Later she considered contacting the State Department but did not want to cause an international incident. She controlled her panic until she finally heard from him again.
Exactly one year from the day they met, Tara begins having contractions. Twelve hours later, Amira Eliana Mortenson is born. Amira means “female leader” in Persian and “Eliana” means “gift of God” in Chagga and is chosen to honor Greg’s sister, Christa Eliana Mortenson. Greg places a small talisman of protection around her neck, which Haji Ali gave him for his child. This home is a cocoon of contentment for Greg and his family.
Soon Jean Hoerni calls. He wants to see pictures of the Korphe School as soon as possible. Greg explains his kidnapping ordeal and the birth of his daughter, but Hoerni is insistent. When Greg asks why he is so impatient, Hoerni reveals he has been diagnosed with a fatal form of leukemia and only has a few months to live. He says he must see the school before he dies and makes Greg promise to bring him pictures.
The new father leaves his family after just one week so he can go back to Korphe and finish the school and keep his promise to his friend. It is an especially cold fall, but the men work diligently in hopes of beating the snow. One evening Greg confesses the story of his kidnapping to Haji Ali, who has a strong reaction. The chief scolds his adopted son for not following his advice and makes Greg promise never to go anywhere in Pakistan alone. They discuss the site...
(The entire section is 1244 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Mortenson in Motion
In the basement of the Mortenson home is the Central Asia Institute's (CAI's) office. Greg is on the phone with Ghulam Parvi in Pakistan. Greg learns that a village leader near Korphe has declared a fatwa against him because he plans to educate girls as well as boys. Parvi is outraged, knowing this move is about money and power, not religion or Islam. Although Greg understands the gravity of such a declaration, he is far enough away to react more calmly than Parvi. The plan is to find a more powerful mullah to deal with rather than pay the bribe that the offending tribal leader demands. Greg knows he will have to go back to Pakistan sooner than he had anticipated.
In a hotel in Skardu, Mortenson sits with men who support both him and his plans: Haji Ali and Twaha from Korphe; his Balti porter, Mouzafer; self-appointed bodyguard Faisal Baig; Parvi; Changazi; and Suleman Minhas, Greg's taxi driver and new protector in Skardu. They are an unlikely group to be working together, but they are united by a common interest in educating all children in their country. They discuss the fatwah and make plans for Greg to meet with a powerful Muslim leader, Syed Abbas Risvi. They also consider the requests of several communities who have asked that schools be built in their villages; when asked which of them will be built this year, the CAI director tells them they will all be built. He understands that his time to work on behalf of the children is now, as he may soon be required to leave the country and his work because of the political climate. He immediately begins preparations to build three new schools, buying vehicles and other materials. Greg meets Risvi at a public gas station as a precaution for the holy man who might experience repercussions if he is seen with Mortenson. During that meeting, the religious leader recognizes Greg as an infidel with genuine intentions regarding the education of children and determines to help him in any way he can.
The first school took Mortenson three years to build; the next three schools took a mere three months. Each village was prepared and ready to work when the supplies arrived, and the village children's lives were changed in a matter of weeks. Because these projects were finished ahead of schedule, Greg is able to complete several other projects while he is there. He adds an addition to an overcrowded girl's school...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Red Velvet Box
A messenger is winding his way to Pakistan with a ruling from the Supreme Council tucked into his saddlebags—or at least that is how Greg Mortenson envisions it. The reality is that a red velvet box containing the ruling was mailed and, after several stops, is now ready to be read publicly in Pakistan. Parvi reports that government spies have been reported at the school founded by Mortenson, asking whether “Western-style licentiousness” or Christianity is part of the curriculum. Parvi himself is visited and questioned about the American. Does he ever drink alcohol? Is he a seducer of Muslim women? Parvi answers honestly and invites the agent to visit any of the schools Greg has founded. In April 1998, Parvi and Mortenson are summoned to a local mosque and are invited into the inner sanctum, which has never before been offered to an infidel like Greg. Syed Abbas Risvi opens the red velvet box and reads the enclosed parchment. The ruling is clear: the Koran says all children should be educated and the religious clerics are not to interfere with Mortenson’s “noble intentions.” The final words of the scroll are “You have our permission, blessings, and prayers.” The fatwah is no more.
The small group that once met to discuss new school projects has grown too large for a table and now meets in a banquet room. Hundreds of emissaries from villages across the country are here to request schools. Life changes for Greg: he can no longer meet with every person bringing a request but sorts through the requests as he has time. Syed Abbas makes the case to Greg that while education is important, too many children in the most remote villages do not live long enough to reach school age; he lists poor hygiene and impure drinking water as reasons why a third of all these children die before their first birthdays. Mortenson quickly adds this component to his plans. In one building project, village men dig trenches and lay twelve thousand feet of pipes to provide clean, fresh spring water to a public tap in five villages.
Plans for three more schools are approved, and Greg concentrates his attention on the one to be built in Mouzafer’s village. His former porter has not been well, and Greg wants to ensure the building is completed in honor of his friend. Mouzafer had no special standing in his village until he was able to bring a school to his people; he wishes he...
(The entire section is 1038 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Cherry Trees in the Sand
Pakistan sees Kashmir as a “symbol of all the oppression they felt Muslims had suffered,” and India sees it as a line past which they will not be moved. It is an inhospitable place filled with glaciers and mountains as tall as eighteen thousand feet. Pakistan and India have each established outposts and a military presence in the mountains. There has been little actual fighting and few casualties as both sides have chosen to keep up the appearance of aggression and defense. But in the spring of 1999, fighting begins in Kashmir and continues into the summer. Greg Mortenson is losing sleep worrying about the Pakistani refugees who are on the move to Skardu in the Baltistan region and the services the region is ill equipped to provide. He finds no answers as he paces in his house, so he goes to Pakistan.
The normally empty roads are busy with bearded Taliban soldiers and truckloads of military equipment and supplies. In Skardu, military activity is everywhere. In the hotel, Greg sees something he has never seen before: a man bigger than himself. He is summoned to join the large man and another man for tea—with a couple of AK-47s nearby for company. The man’s name is Gul Mohammed (his car license plates read “United Arab Emirates”) and he describes how the mujahedeen (of which he is one) have been fighting valiantly against the Indian forces. After hearing about Greg’s organization and his schools, Gul asks him to come build ten or twenty schools in his country. Greg explains there is a process for such things, smiling inwardly at the uproar such a move would cause. When Greg can no longer keep his eyes open, he heads to his room. The rather eccentric kitchen boy stops him and frantically warns him that the man with whom he has been associating is Taliban, something Greg already knows.
Syed Abbas, the supportive cleric, finds Greg the next day. He is as upset as Greg has ever seen him as he pleads for help for the Gultori refugees fleeing from their caves and flooding Skardu. His similar request to the government has been ignored, and he knows Greg is his best hope for help. Greg establishes that their most immediate need is water, so the two men and Parvi go to the temporary tent city to see how best to provide this basic necessity. The camp is located in the barren desert no one else wanted to inhabit and is an hour away from the nearest water...
(The entire section is 823 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
In a sports store in Minnesota, the Director of the Central Asia Institute (CAI) is setting up chairs for a slide presentation in hopes of garnering donations from those in attendance. Greg has put on some weight and is sweating with his effort, but the organization’s funds are perilously low so these kinds of activities must be done. When he is not in Pakistan, Greg gives a presentation every week; it is something he hates, but even a bad night’s donations of a few hundred dollars could make the difference for the children of Pakistan, so he endures. When it is time to begin, he sees nothing but empty chairs. The posters on local college campuses and his morning radio interviews had apparently not been as successful as he had hoped. After an announcement over the store’s public address system, two young employees sit in the last row and Greg begins. He is soon past his K2 experience and concentrating on the refugee schools when he sees a middle-aged professor-type man sit and watch the screen. Greg gives his impassioned plea to an audience of three. At the end, one wants to volunteer (which CAI does not do because of the expense involved), one hands Greg a crumpled ten-dollar bill, and on the last chair in the last seat is an envelope with a personal check for twenty thousand dollars.
Greg’s story is being told in newspapers around the country, and the mountaineering community is beginning to support his cause in big ways. The message is that Greg is doing more for peace in the Middle East than any other government or agency is doing. When he is not in Pakistan or making presentations, Greg jealously guards his time with his family in Montana. Several key board members begin to distance themselves from the CAI because Greg is not taking care of himself—and he is the organization. He is not sleeping enough and is so out of shape he could easily be struck by a sudden and critical health disaster. Greg eventually hires an assistant, but any money spent in America would go further in Pakistan, and his fund now has less than a hundred thousand dollars. Twelve thousand dollars will build a school there; here it will not buy anything particularly meaningful. The Mortensons are eking by on Tara’s part-time salary and Greg’s original $28,000 salary, and Greg becomes obsessed with finding one rich donor, like Hoerni, who will underwrite the fund. A wealthy widow tempts him with...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
A Village Called New York
When Greg returns to Skardu, he is stunned by the ubiquitous presence of the Wahhabi, a “conservative, fundamentalist offshoot of Sunni Islam” and the Saudi rulers’ official religion. The oil money has been used to build both walled madrassas (radical extremist schools of Islam) and mosques in an attempt to proselytize poor, young students and indoctrinate them into this religious and political way of thinking. Estimates of the number of such mosques, schools, and Islamic centers built in 2000 range from 1,100 to 3,800 at a cost of up to $45 million. In contrast, the CAI buildings and money spent was virtually nothing. Often when Greg goes to check on the progress of one of his schools he feels as if ten madrassas have appeared virtually overnight. These madrassas offer free room and board as well as an education, and poor villagers see them as the only option in the face of a failing or nonexistent public school system. Although all of these madrassas do not teach militant jihad, a sizable percentage do (as many as twenty percent, by some official estimates); and they do so by eliminating the basics of education young people all deserve to have. In September 2001, a mosque and madrassa compound are built in the center of Skardu, and Greg is growing anxious.
Martial law now reigns in Pakistan, and General Pervez Musharraf has pledged to defeat the radical Islamist forces that have taken over the country, which makes him an ally of Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI). During Musharraf’s tenure, money is actually being spent on schools and public health projects. Greg is preparing to attend the inauguration of some CAI projects in northern Pakistan and receives word through a static-filled satellite phone conversation that Ahmed Shah Massoud has been assassinated by Al Qaeda members. His death on September 9, 2001, virtually ensures there will be no peace because he was the one leader who might have been able to unite the warlords of the region in coalition with American forces.
The next day Greg and his old friend and contributor to this project, George McCown, arrive by helicopter at the last settlement in the country, Zuudkhan, home town of Faisal Baig, who is waiting proudly for his friends. Their arrival is greeted with tribal festivity; the water, electricity, and public health projects are ceremonially christened. Greg is...
(The entire section is 1145 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
Tea With the Taliban
Suleman, Greg’s trusted taxi driver, meets Greg and Faisal Baig in Islamabad. He takes them to what he calls “the circus.” The city was designed for the rich, cosmopolitan travelers, and the Marriott Hotel is the five-star seat of luxury in the city. Normally it is rather subdued and fairly empty; today, however, in late September, it is a hive of activity. The “world’s press corps had arrived.” The hotel is using the opportunity to make money, gouging the reporters who are desperate for a decent place to stay and a place from which to film their stories. Although he has been to this hotel, Greg has never stayed there because he could not justify the expense. Kathy Gannon is a Canadian journalist and veteran AP bureau chief in Islamabad with a reputation for toughness. She sits with Greg and expresses her disdain for these “foreigners” who report stories without checking them out because it is too dangerous for them to do so. Even if they wanted to go, though, Gannon tells Greg that the Taliban has just closed the borders of Afghanistan to reporters. She has just returned from Kabul and will hold her position here until she can return without sneaking in, as some have been caught doing.
Greg avidly watches and listens to the latest political maneuverings. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have both severed diplomatic ties to the Taliban and Afghanistan is closed; that leaves Pakistan as “the only place the Taliban could make their case to their world.” Press conferences and briefings are held constantly, and reporters are desperate to get into Afghanistan. Mortenson is consistently interviewed as local color, offering his insights into the people and the culture; he consistently makes his case for education in these forums. Each evening, Taliban leaders gather around a table and sip tea and talk. One evening Greg joins four bearded Taliban, but he is no better informed at the end of the evening than he was at the beginning.
On a trip to the school in Peshawar, Greg takes a reporter with him and attempts to make him understand that these people are not the enemy and that education is the key to a more peaceful and prosperous future in the region. On his way, Greg decides to see what happens if he tries to cross the Afghanistan border. A teenage boy with a gun looks at Mortenson’s passport, which includes several special, handwritten visas, and...
(The entire section is 894 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
The bombings continue, and Greg is heartbroken at the reality that many of the children who are casualties of the war are from his Central Asia Institute (CAI) schools. He continues to get hate mail as well as occasional letters of encouragement. He determines to speak when he has the opportunity, and in a small basement room with only six people, Greg impresses Representative Mary Bono. She says she learned more from him than in all the Capitol Hill briefings she has heard and invites him to speak before Congress when it reconvenes.
Mortenson returns to Pakistan in February and is encouraged that some of the cities that had been too dangerous to visit are probably now accessible to him. He flies into Kabul and has no friendly face to meet him; he needs to find a driver and escort to take him to the more remote regions he wants to see. Hashmatullah (Hash) is a former Taliban soldier who was recruited because it was a paying job rather than because he was passionately committed to the cause. Greg dresses his wounds and gives him some antibiotics, and Hash becomes a loyal servant to this tall American—the only one he has ever met. As he tours the existing schools, Greg is encouraged that students, particularly girls, are coming out of hiding to attend classes. Greg wants to gain permission to build here in Kabul, but the entire city is in disarray and there is no one from whom to ask or receive permission. Instead he gathers supplies and decides to do what he can while he can.
He is looking forward to another trip to Skardu until Parvi tells him another fatwa has been issued against him. It is again merely a political move rather than a philosophical argument against the building of schools. Money in the right hands will eliminate the problem, but Greg and Parvi are tired of such games and determine to get a final ruling on the matter from the Shariat Court.
In the meantime, Greg is purchasing supplies for building in Kabul, and Jean Hoerni’s wife, Julie Bergman, insists on coming with him on this dangerous trip. She understands the suffering of these women and is determined to help. Suleman is upset that he cannot be there to protect them (he does not have the appropriate passport) but provides them with a driver, someone he trusts. Kabul is two hundred miles away, an eleven-hour drive, and the Americans see devastation everywhere they look. When they...
(The entire section is 874 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
“The Enemy Is Ignorance”
Mortenson, Hussein, Apo, and Baig arrive in the Karakoram. It is a familiar place for them, but Kevin Fedarko and his photographer feel as if they have been “dropped at the wild edge of the Earth.” Fedarko is about to be the first reporter to tell the story from both sides of the India-Pakistan conflict, and Greg does everything possible to help him do it. The Korphe villagers are ecstatic to see Dr. Greg again and begin sharing their news and progress since his last visit. A young woman, Jahan, steps into the circle and sits boldly in front of Greg. She reminds him that he told her he would help her achieve her dreams. She is ready for medical school and needs twenty thousand rupees as outlined on a detailed itinerary of anticipated expenses she has prepared. When Greg says he will look over her list and discuss it with her, her reaction is immediate. Her classes begin next week and she says she needs the money immediately. Jahan is the first graduate from his first school, and Greg is impressed with her insistence. He counts out the required rupees (approximately four hundred dollars) and gives them to the woman’s father. Fedarko is amazed at how far things have come when a teenage girl in a Muslim society is bold enough and prepared enough to speak to an American male about her university education. This incident changes the article Fedarko plans to write.
Later, in April, Parade magazine publishes a cover article titled “He Fights Terror With Books” as American troops close in on Saddam Hussein. The reaction is immediate and powerful; it threatens to overwhelm the small organization run from the basement of a Montana bungalow. Two days after the story appears, Greg finds eighty letters in the Central Asia Institute (CAI) post office box. The next day he finds a note telling him to pick up his mail at the counter—all five canvas bags of it. There are four more bags the next day. The response to the Parade magazine article continues for three months. Greg hires a media consultant; she hires a phone bank and increases the bandwidth on the website to accommodate the influx of activity. After eventually reading all his mail, Greg is stunned to realize only one letter was negative. The support came from every kind of political and religious group and individual, including a Jewish teenager who donated more than a thousand dollars of his bar mitzvah...
(The entire section is 1250 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Stones and Schools
On a flight from Islamabad to Kabul, Greg meets Zahir Shah, the former king of Afghanistan who has been exiled in Rome for the past thirty years. During his tenure, this man presided over his country during its most enduring peace in the modern era. Earlier, he had overseen the creation of a constitution that emancipated the women of Afghanistan and founded the first university of the modern era, recruiting teachers from around the world to help establish a strong academic tradition in his country. When he returned to the region a year ago, he was met with great enthusiasm as a hopeful sign that things would soon be peaceful and prosperous in Afghanistan. But the hope was short-lived.
When the old man asks Greg what he is doing in the region, Greg explains he is building schools for girls in Badakshan. This captures the interest of the former monarch; he invites Greg to come sit next to him and asks how he came to be building in Afghanistan. Greg explains he is finally able to keep a promise he once made to someone who rode over the pass to Pakistan and asked him to come. The former king pulls a card out of his pocket and tells him to talk to Sadhar Khan, who is a mujahid but cares about the welfare of his people. He proceeds to put his thumb on an inkpad and place his thumbprint on the back of the card, giving the card and his blessing to the American builder of schools. After landing, Greg is alarmed at the lack of control in Kabul. He is anxious to get to his destination; the site had been completely surveyed by the leader of the region and delivered at great cost to Faisal Baig in Pakistan. The 5,200 elementary school children who have no school are waiting for him.
As he hurriedly leaves Kabul in hopes of making it through the Salang Tunnel before it closes indefinitely at 6:00 a.m., Greg sees the former Ministry of Defense building aglow with the fires of squatters living in the gutted structure. The Tunnel is only a hundred kilometers north of town, but the terrain is so steep that travel is slow and the journey takes hours. Greg sleeps on the journey but is awakened when the jeep comes to a stop. The radiator has blown in the middle of the tunnel, in a place around a curve where they are not visible to oncoming traffic. As they examine the disintegrated radiator hose, they are nearly crushed by oncoming Russian trucks and escape the tunnel through a door...
(The entire section is 1093 words.)