Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea Contrasting Regions: The U.S. and the Middle East

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Contrasting Regions: The U.S. and the Middle East

"Isn't it better to live in ignorance of everything—asphalt and macadam, vehicles, telephones, television—to live in bliss without knowing it?" (3.16)

This is a quote from 1958, and something that would be completely impossible to do today, even in the remotest regions of Pakistan. Information may travel more slowly there, but it still travels.

Mortenson watched, his heart in his throat, as the students stood at rigid attention and began their "school day" with Pakistan's national anthem. (3.24)

Pakistani children are just like many American children, beginning their school day with their respective nation's anthem.

"It was pretty interesting. […] Someone from Pakistan helping me become computer literate so I could help Pakistani kids get literate." (5.19)

Mortenson finds a helpful Pakistani in the U.S. who helps him learn to use a computer. Although he finds helpful Americans in Pakistan, too, the Americans are usually there for tourism or business purposes; they don't live there.

"Children had taken the first step toward building the school. […] And they did it with something that's basically worthless in our society—pennies. But overseas, pennies can move mountains." (5.28)

While it might seem unfair that Mortenson only pays his Pakistani employees pennies on the dollar (we'll let you be the judge), the exchange is so different that a few U.S. dollars go a long way in Pakistan.

"Slowly and painfully, we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technologically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the underdeveloped ones. […] Only in this way can we ever hope to see any permanent peace and security for ourselves." (5.32)

As a "technologically advanced" country, the U.S. exerts its power over other countries in a variety of different ways. Whether it's through aid or through war depends on a lot of different factors. In many ways, Pakistan is simply at the mercy of what the U.S. decides to do.

Every rupee counted now. […] For eighty rupees a night, or about two dollars, Mortenson inhabited this afterthought, an eight-by-eight-foot glassed-in cubicle on the hotel's roof that seemed more like a garden shed than a guest room. (6.4)

Here we see an example of just how far a couple dollars can go in Pakistan. Two dollars in the U.S. wouldn't even get enough gas to get to a hotel, much less a room, no matter how small.

"Very near," Akhmalu countered. "Only three or seven hours." (8.21)

In the U.S., three or seven hours would never be considered "near" for a commute… unless you're in rush hour traffic in Los Angeles.

"The people of Korphe have been here without a school for six hundred years. […] What is one winter more?" (12.26)

The people have Korphe may not have running water or PlayStations, but they have something that Mortenson lacks: patience.

"A village called New York has been bombed." (19.79)

People in the remote regions of Pakistan either don't have a word for, or don't understand that there are, large cities in other parts of the world, and that New York isn't a village.

"We need to settle this once and for all in court. Shariat Court." (21.39)

The court in the U.S. isn't influenced by religion (ideally), but the court in Pakistan is pretty much run by religious leaders. That complicates things a bit.