Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea Women

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin


[The women] pulled their shawls over their faces when they saw [Mortenson] and ran to put trees between themselves and the Angrezi, the strange white man. (2.37)

If this were the U.S., women would be running from Greg Mortenson because he hasn't showered in weeks. But in Pakistan, the Shiite women are running from him because it is against their fundamental beliefs to be that close to a foreign man.

Haji Ali's wife, Sakina, saw [Mortenson] stir and brought a lassi, a fresh-baked chapatti, and sweet tea. She was the first Balti woman who had ever approached him. (3.2)

Just as Haji Ali is a little more advanced than his villagers (it takes a smart guy to be the village chief), his wife is a little more progressive as well, not shying away from Mortenson simply because her customs tell her to.

Mortenson asked if Balti women whose husbands were away could also be granted muthaa. (10.26)

In this culture, it's okay for men to have affairs (it's approved at the mosque) but not women. Talk about a double standard.

At Haji Ali's, Sakina took Mortenson's hand in welcome, and he realized it was the first time a Balti woman had touched him. (10.41)

Here's Sakina again, breaking barriers with a simple handshake. What's she going to do next? Let down her hair and tango with him?

Mortenson's Balti had become fluent, and he and Twaha sat up long after most of Korphe slept to talk. Their great subject was women. (10.79)

Just because Mortenson is trying to educate the young women of Pakistan doesn't mean that he and Twaha still aren't above objectifying them.

"How many goat and ram must you give her father?" Twaha asked. (12.37)

In Pakistan, marriage seems to be more about a business transaction than it is about romance or love. Good women are worth their weight in livestock.

By August […] Hawa presided glowingly over the new Korphe Women's Vocational Center. In a disused room at the back of Haji Ali's home, Korphe's women gathered each afternoon, learning to use the four new Singer hand-crank sewing machines Mortenson purchased. (15.64)

Mortenson expands his educational pursuits beyond young girls and decides to help the women, too, by giving them a safe place to gather. And if they're going to spend all day sewing anyway, they might as well be fast about it with these brand new machines.

"At first, when I began to attend school, many people in my village told me a girl has no business doing such a thing," Shakeela says. (16.57)

Mortenson might build the schools, but it's up to the people to change the perceptions and opinions of their country themselves. Shakeela defies expectations by going to school, and she sets a precedent so that other girls can go to school, too.

"You can change a culture by giving its girls the tools to grow up educated so they can help themselves." (18.65)

Hand-outs and aid are well and good, but education is important. What is that saying again… build a man a fire and he's warm for a night, set a man on fire and he's warm for life? We might have messed that up, but you get the gist.

"We have a word for someone like you: a man." (20.20)

In Afghanistan, people see men as innately superior, so this quote is a "compliment" given to a female journalist, though she doesn't see it as such.

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