Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea Summary

When mountain climber Greg Mortenson gets lost on K2—the second-highest peak in the world, located in the Karakoram Range of Pakistan—he is taken in by the village of Korphe. There, Mortenson sees a bunch of children with no school building and no teacher, so he vows to repay the kindness of Haji Ali, the chief, and the other people of Korphe by building a school.

He returns to the U.S. and tries to raise twelve grand for this school. He sends hundreds of letters but ultimately strikes out, until he's referred to a rich elderly climber named Dr. Jean Hoerni, who generously donates the money Mortenson needs for his school.

Mortenson returns to Pakistan and buys all the building supplies he needs—and under budget, too. The problem is that he can't get the supplies across the giant gorge separating him from Korphe. Oops, how'd that get there? Mortenson gathers more money from Hoerni to build the bridge.

While building bridges and schools, Mortenson mostly ignores life back home. He loses his job as a nurse, and his doctor girlfriend breaks up with him. At a fundraising event for the American Himalaya Foundation, Mortenson meets Tara Bishop. They fall in love at first site (aw) and are wed six days later (but not at a drive-thru in Vegas).

With Jean Hoerni's help, Mortenson establishes his charity, the Central Asia Institute, to help build more schools throughout Pakistan. While the Korphe school is being completed, Mortenson heads off to scout new locations—and gets kidnapped by the Taliban. Yikes. Their tea isn't very good, but at least they don't kill him, and they even let him go without incident.

The Korphe school is finished, and Hoerni dies shortly thereafter, like Charles Schultz dying the day the last Peanuts cartoon was printed. Mortenson continues the charity, building schools across Pakistan and having fatwas issued against him and subsequently lifted. When the September 11 attacks happen, Mortenson realizes how important his schools are, schools that will educate children in arts and sciences, not in militant jihad.

On one of his last visits to Korphe, Mortenson discovers that Haji Ali has died. He remembers his last words, "listen to the wind" (19.131), and this gives him an idea for another book and prompts him to expand his vision into Afghanistan. Mortenson travels to Afghanistan, where the former king sends him to an influential man named Sadhar Khan. Khan agrees with Mortenson's mission, saying "we must turn these stones into schools" (23.112), which sets us up for a sequel.

Seriously. This book has a sequel.

  • Chapter 1


    • In Pakistan's Karakoram mountains, Greg Mortenson is lost on K2.
    • He is stunned by "something unfamiliar in his life to that point—failure" (1.7). Other things unfamiliar to Mortenson? Humility, time management, ethics…
    • His motivation for scaling K2 is to leave his dead sister Christa's necklace at the summit, which is 28,267 feet high.
    • Mortenson starts crying ("It's the high altitude, guys, I swear") and bundles himself up for the night.
    • It's been a rough day for him, and he's already had to bail out another climber who couldn't complete the ascent.
    • Because sleep is "out of the question" (1.25), Mortenson sits and ponders his situation—it's his body that has failed, "not his spirit" (1.47).
  • Chapter 2

    The Wrong Side of the River

    • Mortenson opens his eyes—guess sleep wasn't out of the question after all—and his face is frozen under a smooth mask of ice.
    • He sets off, admiring the beautiful mountain ranges and hoping he won't die.
    • Eventually he spots a "man's form" (2.15), which is a heck of a lot more useful on a mountain than a maidenform would be.
    • The man turns out to be Mouzafer, his porter. Mortenson agrees to pay him, even though he doesn't have many rupees left. He plans on giving him more when they'd made it out of the mountains (by going to the ATM at the K2 gift shop, we guess…).
    • Mouzafer leads Mortenson to a cave and warms him up with a concoction of tea and yak butter.
    • Mouzafer "never let Mortenson out of his sight" (2.30) until, four paragraphs later, he does, and Mortenson gets lost again.
    • He assumes he's approaching the village of Askole (but when he assumes, he makes an Askole of himself…) and instead ends up in village of Korphe, where he meets Haji Ali, the chief.
    • Haji Ali gives him some ibex jerky.
    • Mortenson tells the villagers that he's an American climbing K2, and he's glad to find rest in Askole. (All Pakistani villages look the same, we guess…)
    • They correct him and tell him he's in Korphe, which he's never heard of.
    • Haji Ali informs him that Askole is only a half-day away, and Mortenson sleeps to rest up for the journey.
  • Chapter 3

    "Progress and Perfection"

    • Haji Ali's wife, Sakina, brings Mortenson some breakfast.
    • Mouzafer tromps in later, and everyone greets him because everyone knows him. He's like the George Clooney of Pakistan.
    • Mortenson pays Mouzafer three thousand rupees and promises to visit him later.
    • They meet up with Mortenson's hiking buddy, Scott Darsney, and travel down to Skardu, but Mortenson decides to return to Korphe.
    • He feels a need to repay his debt to them for nursing him back to health. So, appalled by their lack of a school, Mortenson makes a promise to Haji Ali: "I will build a school" (3.30).
  • Chapter 4


    • "The storage space smelled like Africa" (4.1). (Which smells like what? The Sahara? The Congo? The Lion King? Pro tip: Africa's an entire freaking continent…)
    • Mortenson goes through his storage shed and reminisces about his childhood.
    • His parents were teachers in East Africa, between Kenya and Rwanda. Mortenson grew up there, along with his sensitive sister Christa, and his other two sisters, Kari and Sonja Joy, whom we never hear about.
    • When they returned to the United States, Mortenson was bullied for being from Africa, but he soon adapted to American culture.
    • He later enrolled in the Army and was awarded the Army Commendation Medal; then he went to Concordia College on a football scholarship.
    • When his dad died, Mortenson worried about losing Christa, so he researched epilepsy, but realized that a cure was impossible.
    • So he moved out West to be a nurse and mountain climber.
    • One day, Mortenson fell "eight hundred vertical feet" (4.50), and somehow survived. However, that day, Christa died.
    • Back in the present, Mortenson wonders how to raise money for a school to honor Christa's memory.
  • Chapter 5

    580 Letters, One Check

    • This chapter sounds like a disgusting viral video sensation, but it's actually about Mortenson sending off letters requesting donations for his cause.
    • Mortenson starts typing up letters on a typewriter to Oprah asking for money. Just twelve grand will do, please.
    • No, it's not 1893, it's 1993, so someone shows Mortenson this hot new gadget called a computer and he's able to print out 580 letters in a matter of minutes.
    • Meanwhile, he's living in his car, nicknamed La Bomba, and dating a hot doctor named Marina; they go camping on the weekends.
    • One day, Tom Brokaw sends Mortenson his only response: A letter wishing him luck and a check for one hundred dollars.
    • Later, Mortenson gets a message from a guy named Dr. Jean Hoerni (hold your giggles, please), who's a rich old climber and wants to help Mortenson with his goals.
    • Mortenson calls him, and Hoerni asks, "if I give you fund [sic] for your school, you're not going to piss off to some beach somewhere in Mexico, smoke dope, and screw your girlfriend, are you?" (5.43).
    • Mortenson says no and Hoerni sends him a check for twelve thousand dollars.
    • To make more money for his plane ticket, Mortenson sells all his belongings, even his beloved La Bomba, and gets ready to fly back to Pakistan.
    • (Hmm… "580 Letters, One Check," eh? We count two checks. Sorry, Brokaw, your measly hundred bucks don't count.)
  • Chapter 6

    Rawalpindi's Rooftops at Dusk

    • Mortenson wakes up in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.
    • Abdul, the hotel's chokidar, arranges a cab for Mortenson so he can go buy cement.
    • The taxi zips along the Grand Trunk Road to Taxila, where they wander around until they buy some Fauji cement.
    • On the way back, Mortenson's shalwar rips, so Abdul takes Mortenson to a tailor to make him nice new clothes.
    • The tailor teaches Mortenson how to pray, and Mortenson is comically bad at it—"We do not appear before Allah like a man waiting for a bus" (6.48), the tailor corrects him.
    • The next day, Mortenson goes through the process of buying lumber and manages to get a good deal.
    • His clothes are ready, so he tries them on and they look good.
    • For some reason, the tailor and Mortenson then walk "arm in arm" (6.83) down to a gas station to wash, pray, and fart. (We're serious. There's farting.)
    • Mortenson admires the unity of the men at prayer and he wonders where his journey will lead him next.
  • Chapter 7

    Hard Way Home

    • Mortenson wakes up as Abdul knocks at the door.
    • They breakfast, pray, and get a truck to bring all the school-building supplies to Korphe.
    • Mortenson rides atop the load of materials, "like a king, riding high on [his] throne" (7.20) up the steep mountain roads of the Karakoram Highway.
    • Along the way, they encounter a group of men armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles: the Taliban.
    • They've blocked a bridge, saying that a contractor stole their money and left without fixing their roads; they want to hang him. Mortenson and his truck have to stop for the night to see what happens.
    • In the morning, the Taliban is firing off celebratory gunshots. No one is hanging from the bridge, so Mortenson assumes they got some sort of reparations.
    • They continue traveling, and eventually arrive in Skardu.
  • Chapter 8

    Beaten by the Braldu

    • Mortenson is whacked in the face by a branch as they roll into Skardu.
    • They meet up with Mohammed Ali Changazi, a trekking agent whom Mortenson trusts to help him.
    • Changazi lets Mortenson store all his materials at his office, saying it's "too late" (8.10) to build anything now.
    • After Mortenson washes up, he runs into Akhmalu, a cook he knows, who tries to take Mortenson to his village, Khane.
    • Mortenson agrees to the trip, which is "only three or seven hours" (8.21) (give or take a day).
    • He has to cross a zamba, a bridge made of yak hair, to get there.
    • Once he arrives, the chief, Janjungpa, is excited that Mortenson is there to build the climbing school he promised.
    • Mortenson swears he never promised this, and argument breaks out between Janjungpa, Changazi, and Mortenson.
    • Eventually, Akhmalu takes Mortenson to his home and feeds him.
    • The next day, Mortenson returns to Changazi's office, where the man says that he had Mortenson's supplies "shifted" (8.47) to another office.
    • Changazi tries to convince him to build his school in his village, because Korphe is very far away. But Mortenson refuses.
    • They eventually travel to Korphe, but the only way to get across the gorge is by a several-hundred-foot cable, and more importantly, a cable that can't support the weight of all the supplies. Whatever will they do?
  • Chapter 9

    The People Have Spoken

    • Mortenson returns home to San Francisco, where Dr. Marina breaks up with him. "I've started seeing Mario again" (9.12), she says. (Mortenson: Always the Luigi, never the Mario…)
    • She's sad that even though Mortenson wrote to her from Pakistan, all he talked about was his work, never her.
    • To make matters worse, Mortenson gets fired from his job at the medical center.
    • And the final straw: He gets mugged once on the way home. He feels "Broke. Broke down. Broken." (Quick, someone call Louie Zamperini.)
    • Mortenson rents a room from a guy named Witold Dudzinski and spends his time moping; to distract himself, he thinks about the bridge dilemma in Korphe.
    • One day, Mortenson gets a call from Dr. Louis Reichardt, one of the first Americans to scale K2.
    • Reichardt tells Mortenson to call Hoerni, saying, "Ask him to pay for the bridge. Believe me, he can afford it" (9.65). Well if you say so…
    • Mortenson dials the phone.
  • Chapter 10

    Building Bridges

    • Hoerni comes through and gives Mortenson an additional ten thousand dollars, so Mortenson travels back to Pakistan to build a bridge.
    • Changazi helps Mortenson purchase the steel cables necessary, and the Balti men band together to carry them, ten men at a time.
    • It starts to rain, and the concrete won't set while it's wet, so the men organize a hunting trip for ibex.
    • They climb super high into the mountains, sleeping in caves, and finally, four days in, they find an ibex. But it's dead, so Twaha, Haji Ali's son, gives Mortenson the creature's skull as a present.
    • On the seventh day, they capture a live ibex and bring it back to Korphe for a feast.
    • Mortenson is amazed at how Hussain, the teacher, is both an educated man and someone with hunting skills. Mortenson realizes that he will soon be able to "bridge both worlds" (10.71).
    • One night, Twaha and Mortenson talk about marriage in each of their cultures. While they have many differences, they agree on one thing: Mortenson better hurry up and marry before he grows "too old and fat" (10.91).
    • As the bridge is being strung up, scouts report that an American is approaching.
    • It's George McCown, who is on the board of the American Himalayan Foundation. He gushes about how amazing Mortenson is, and Mortenson recruits him to look official and act like Mortenson isn't just operating by himself.
    • Finally they finish the bridge, and Haji Ali lays the last plank.
    • Before he leaves, though, Mortenson makes plans with Hussain to come back and finally build the school.
  • Chapter 11

    Six Days

    • Back in the States, Mortenson moves in with ol' Dudzinski again, and who should knock on his slum door one night but Marina.
    • She tries to win him back, but he refuses. "The door is closed" (11.16), he says… and closes the door.
    • Mortenson meets up with Jean Hoerni and George McCown at the American Himalayan Foundation fundraising dinner to raise funds of his own.
    • That's not the only thing raised, though, since Mortenson also meets Tara Bishop, and it's love at first site.
    • He takes her home and they're married six days later.
    • Everyone is shocked, but they're both sure they did the right thing.
  • Chapter 12

    Haji Ali's Lesson

    • Back in Skardu, Mortenson tries to get his supplies from Changazi's office, but he can't get in since Changazi is out of town.
    • His accountant, Ghulam Parvi, helps him get into the locked storage facility and get his stuff.
    • They haul it up to Korphe, and Mortenson is dismayed to find only two mounds of stone in a field. No foundation.
    • Haji Ali let's Mortenson know it's not a big deal: "The people of Korphe have been here without a school for six hundred years. […] What is one winter more?" (12.26)
    • Mortenson lets Twaha know that he got married—and he didn't even have to give her dad any goats. Amazing.
    • Later, he visits Korphe's mosque to pray, and is shocked to realize that he only knows Sunni prayer, but Korphe is Shiite. Mortenson prays as he was taught (we think, the passage is vague) and they tolerate his differences.
    • To commemorate the site of the school, Twaha drags the village's biggest ram to the site, where Hussain slaughters it.
    • They have a big feast and celebrate.
    • Back in the states (we have no idea when, but it's before this trip and Tara Bishop is pregnant and they've bought a house in Montana thanks to a loan from Tara's mom), Bishop and Mortenson have dinner with Jean Hoerni and they talk about starting a charity foundation: the Central Asia Institute.
    • He hires Mouzafer and Ghulam Parvi to help.
    • Finally, construction begins. Mortenson is so antsy, running around and micromanaging, that Haji Ali finally says, "Sit down. And shut your mouth. […] You're making everyone crazy" (12.87). Give that man a hand.
    • Haji Ali teaches Mortenson to slow down and build relationships, instead of trying to bulldoze through everything.
    • Speaking of relationships, though, there's a bad one brewing. Haji Mehdi of Askole tromps over and says that "Allah forbids the education of girls. And I forbid the construction of this school" (12.129). Well then.
    • Haji Ali bribes Haji Mehdi with twelve rams, "half the wealth of the village" (12.110), and he goes away.
    • The elder has another valuable lesson: "Long after all those rams are dead and eaten this school will still stand. […] Now our children have education forever" (12.110).
  • Chapter 13

    "A Smile Should be More than a Memory"

    • Mortenson watches a legless boy, probably the victim of a landmine, scurry across the road and almost get hit by a car.
    • He's in Peshawar, which is a place of "unsavory characters" (13.11), trying to get by—like Casablanca with landmines.
    • Mortenson is in a hurry, because Tara is due in a month, so he hires a man, Badam Gul, to be his guide to his home village of Ladha.
    • At the last second, Gul hands Mortenson over to someone else, though, a Mr. Khan, to drive him to Waziristan, "the most untamed of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Provinces" (13.19).
    • On the way, Khan teaches Mortenson a few phrases in Pashto.
    • They stop for the night in Kot Landgarkhel, Khan's home, and park the car inside a warehouse.
    • The men inside the warehouse wear bandoliers, and bazookas are stacked up against the walls.
    • They invite Mortenson to Haji Mirza's home, though, where they share a lamb dinner.
    • Mortenson goes to sleep, but is woken up by a rifle poking him in the chest.
    • Some men blindfold Mortenson and cart him away, then put him in a small room, furnished with only a lantern, blanket, and small pad.
    • Mortenson immediately falls asleep (like you do when you've just been kidnapped).
    • In the morning, they feed him, but Mortenson has to do a doo-doo; they lead him to a room with a toilet and watch him. "To have to, you know, clean yourself afterward while they stare at you, was nerve-wracking" (13.51), Mortenson reports. (This would make for the most uncomfortable Charmin commercial ever.)
    • Mortenson passes the time by reading and re-reading a Time magazine from 1979; he also prays five times a day to fit in, praying the Sunni way in a Sunni land.
    • Eventually, a man comes in and takes him from his cell. "Just call me Khan" (13.78), he says. We say, whatever you say, sir.
    • Mortenson tells Khan that his child is going to be born soon, and he needs to get home to be there. The birth of a firstborn son is a huge deal. Fun fact: Mortenson lies and says "son" even though he knows Tara is having a girl.
    • Khan takes Mortenson to a soccer game, and then a feast, gives him a ton of money, and then lets him go. Um, hooray?
  • Chapter 14


    • Back home, Mortenson arrives at his house to see a car in the driveway with a license plate that reads "BABY CATCHER" (14.1) which means that Montana must have the longest custom license plates in the country.
    • It's the midwife, and Tara soon gives birth to Amira Eliana Mortenson.
    • Mortenson later tells Hoerni about his kidnapping. Hoerni doesn't think a kidnapping should have stopped him, though—he wants to see the school before he dies, and he might be dying soon.
    • Mortenson returns to Korphe that fall, and Haji Ali chastises him for traveling in Pakistan alone, when Mortenson tells him of the kidnapping.
    • Haji Ali tells Mortenson to let him pick the sites of future schools from now on.
    • While the school is being constructed, one of the village people's wives (none of these Village People) is sick after childbirth.
    • They let Mortenson tend to her, even though men aren't supposed to touch the women, and Mortenson fishes her decomposing placenta out. She lives.
    • Finally, on December 10, 1996, the Korphe school is complete. Yay.
    • Back in the States, Mortenson, along with Tara and the baby, drive to see Hoerni at the Blaine County Medical Center.
    • They put up a photo of the school in his hospital room.
    • Hoerni dies in January 1997, and Mortenson gives a eulogy at his funeral. Sniffle sniffle.
  • Chapter 15

    Mortenson in Motion

    • At 3:00AM (what year? What month? We have no idea) Mortenson finds out that the sher of Chakpo has issued a fatwa against him. (And when sher speaks, you listen.)
    • He types up an e-mail informing the board of the CAI (Central Asia Institute) of the fatwa (a "religious ruling" (15.11)) and he lets them know that will not be stopping him.
    • We get a quick flashback to when Julia Bergman, a.k.a. "the blonde in the helicopter" (15.17), joined the board. She's a librarian who has been helping Mortenson gather books for the schools.
    • In March, Mortenson travels back to Pakistan and meets with Haji Ali, Twaha, and Faisal Baig, who was once George McCown's chaperone and now assists Mortenson.
    • They've decided to try to break ground on three schools pronto.
    • Mortenson then meets with Syed Abbas Risvi, a religious leader, who agrees to help and try to remove the fatwa.
    • While he's off doing that, Mortenson "whirl[s] around Baltistan like a dervish" (15.52), constructing schools, women's centers, and more.
    • He even brings Tara over to see his work, and they scatter Hoerni's ashes off the Korphe bridge.
    • At a gathering, Mortenson discovers he's being followed by a Pakistani intelligence agent, but he has nothing to hide, so he isn't concerned.
    • When a man spies on Tara while she's nursing, Faisal Baig beats him up.
    • Winter is coming so Mortenson heads home after his busiest year in Pakistan yet.
  • Chapter 16

    Red Velvet Box

    • After a mullah interviews a few people about Greg Mortenson (does he drink alcohol? Seduce women? Swindle charities?), he sends his verdict on the fatwa to him in a red velvet box.
    • Mortenson and Co. open the red velvet box… and find the fatwa is lifted. Yay.
    • Syed Abbas lets Mortenson know that many communities need clean water. And since if the kids are dead from thirst, they can't go to school, Mortenson starts working on getting spring water to remote villages.
    • In spring of 1997, a man named Mohammed Aslam Khan travels to Skardu to invite Greg Mortenson to his village.
    • He "[falls] in love with his personality" (16.54), and Mortenson helps him to build a school.
    • Aslam's eldest daughter, Shakeela, becomes the first girl in the Hushe Valley to get a higher education—"For these blessings, I thank Almighty Allah," Aslam says, "and Mister Greg Mortenson" (16.65).
    • Meanwhile, Mortenson's omnipotent omnipresent god complex grows as he funds free eye surgery, builds waterways, turns water into wine, walks on giant bodies of wine, and cures cholera. Okay, some of that's not true.
  • Chapter 17

    Cherry Trees in the Sand

    • Half of this chapter is propaganda about how terrible life is for people in Pakistan, especially girls like Fatima Batool, before Greg Mortenson, and how freaking amazing life is for girls in Pakistan after Greg Mortenson. (They've started measuring time in Pakistan in years B.M. and A.M.—before and after Mortenson.)
    • The other half is about Mortenson continuing to work miracles by supplying people with food, medicine, and education.
    • Donate money to Greg Mortenson so he can work miracles for you!
  • Chapter 18

    Shrouded Figure

    • Poor Greg Mortenson has to set up two hundred folding chairs by himself. (What, he can't move them with his mind at this point?)
    • He's giving a fund-raising talk at a sports store… and no one comes.
    • His audience is made up of employees and one "professional-looking" customer. (We're not sure what it means to look professional in a sports store, but we're hoping it looks something like this.)
    • After Mortenson's talk, one of the employees gives him a ten-spot, even though he was planning on buying beer after work.
    • We're not sure, but Mortenson probably treats himself to a couple of beers with that ten because Mr. Professional secretly left a check for twenty thousand dollars—and as Tom Brokaw learned in "580 Letters, One Check," Mortenson doesn't exactly value small donations.
    • Meanwhile, the CAI is having trouble with Mortenson because he doesn't communicate with the board when he's at home—and to make matters worse, he doesn't want to hire a staff or delegate projects.
    • Hoerni's widow quits the CAI board because of this. Makes sense.
    • Mortenson does hire an assistant, though, and decides he needs to court more high donors.
    • One woman, Vera Kurtz, ends up not having a lot of money—she just wants to invite Mortenson to her home, give him a nude massage, and seduce him.
    • Mortenson's wife tells him that he needs to set limits on how much time he spends in Pakistan and to learn to manage his time better.
    • He takes a trip to Southeast Asia to take a course in development in 2000 and decides to visit Mother Teresa's body. She was one of his biggest heroes, and, according to Mortenson, she "just died" (18.69)—because we guess, for Mortenson, three years is like the blink of an eye (Mother Teresa died in 1997).
    • Mortenson goes back home, and everyone gushes about how wonderful he is, and Tara gives birth to another child: Khyber.
  • Chapter 19

    A Village Called New York

    • Mortenson and Hussain are checking out something called a Wahhabi madrassa—they're schools popping up around Pakistan, which Mortenson would be excited about except (1) they're not his schools, and (2) "Some of them seem to exist only to teach militant jihad" (19.24).
    • Conflict is brewing between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and there's lot of political background in this chapter (suicide bombings, changing regimes, all that jazz).
    • One day, Mortenson is hanging out in Zuudkhan village watching a polo game when someone pulls him aside and tells him "A village named New York has been bombed" (19.79). It's September 11, 2001.
    • Mortenson realizes that these Wahhabi madrassas are very dangerous, so it's all the more important for you to give him money to build his schools—the safety of the United States is at stake.
    • He zips around Pakistan, throwing down a few a more schools and receiving gifts like when women "pressed eggs into the Americans' hands" (19.111).
    • When he finally makes it back to Korphe to sip tea with Haji Ali, he has died.
    • Mortenson remembers one of his last talks with Ali, when Mortenson asked what he would do when the man died: "Listen to the wind" (19.131), Haji Ali told him.
    • So Mortenson stands near Braldu Gorge… and listens.
  • Chapter 20

    Tea with the Taliban

    • Suleiman, Mortenson's driver, takes him to see "the circus" (20.1). It's not lions jumping through hoops or French clowns pushing balls, it's a media circus: CNN, BBC, NBC, XYZ, QED, OED, and the rest of their gang.
    • Mortenson sidles up to Kathy Gannon, "the blonde Canadian journalist" (20.13), because all women in this book have to be described with their hair color first.
    • She tells Mortenson that the Taliban has closed Afghanistan to foreign reporters.
    • Mortenson gives interviews to journalists, and he talks about the "root causes" (20.39) of the conflict—namely, lack of education and the rise of the Wahhabi madrassas.
    • One day, a group of "top Taliban leadership" (20.40) stops into the hotel and Mortenson decides to have tea with them.
    • They agree on the importance of education, and Mullah Zaeef wonders if they should turn in Bin Laden to save Afghanistan.
    • Later, Mortenson travels with a Denver Post reporter to a refugee camp.
    • Then Mortenson decides to see what would happen if he tried to go to Afghanistan.
    • The sentry in charge tells Mortenson that he has a "number-two visa" but needs a "number-one visa" (20.59), and then he tears a page out of it.
    • Mortenson has to go to the embassy to replace his mutilated passport. They take his passport and tell him to come back later.
    • The next morning, a group of Marines escorts Mortenson to the embassy, where he's interrogated by men in suits.
    • They ask him what he does ("I build elementary schools for girls" (20.71)) and how many schools ("I'm not exactly sure" (20.73)).
    • When they wonder why he doesn't know this information, Mortenson gives them a bunch of sass. "The number is always changing. […] Lots of times we add extensions to government schools, if they have too many kids crammed into their classrooms. […] Also, we pay teachers in Afghan refugee camps to hold class where there aren't any schools. So the number changes from week to week. Did I answer your question?" (20.75). See? We told you: sass.
    • They continue questioning him until they ask point blank "Where's Osama?" (20.111), to which Mortenson replies, "I hope I never know a thing like that" (20.112).
    • He's let go and returns to Islamabad.
    • When Mortenson returns home, he realizes that he's been getting hate mail and death threats from people who don't believe he should be helping anyone in Pakistan.
    • But in November 2001, Mortenson speaks to a crowd of supporters at a fundraiser and feels that "his life had reached a new summit" (20.141). Aw.
  • Chapter 21

    Rumsfeld's Shoes

    • Mortenson is in a plane to Afghanistan, and he "press[es] his nose to the scuffed windowpane" (21.2) to check out the view. Anyone else picturing boogers? Just us? Ahem. Anyway.
    • He thinks back to all the hate mail he got, and how there were some nice letters in there, too, and how he met "an attractive woman" (21.12) who turned out to actually be a politician. Gee golly—a lady politician! And she's purty!
    • In fact, it's Mary Bono, and she's so impressed with Mortenson's mission that she wants to help him out any way she can.
    • Back in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, Mortenson and his pals Hash and Abdullah set out to scout for Kabul's schools to see if they're still functioning.
    • He sees a lot of damaged buildings and shorthanded schools barely functioning; he is also told that one of their newest schools was attacked by Agha Mubarek, who has issued another fatwa against Mortenson.
    • Parvi suggests they take the matter to Shariat court to settle it once and for all. Parvi decides to do all the work himself while Mortenson keeps his distance.
    • Keeping his distance, Mortenson continues to rescue Kabul.
    • With "blonde Julia Bergman" (21.42), Mortenson meets the principal of a school and pays her and the teachers some of the CAI's money because they're not receiving their salaries.
    • Mortenson wonders exactly where all the U.S.'s aid money is going…
    • We're not sure if the next part is a flashback or something that happened after. Cue transition effect, though, whether this is a flashback or flash-forward.
    • Mortenson talks to a room full of Congressman assembled by Mary Bono and tells them about the importance of education in Pakistan as a way to prevent terrorism.
    • After the meeting, Mary Bono tells Mortenson, "You need to write a book" (21.75).
    • Later, a man approaches Mortenson and offers him over two million dollars in government money.
    • Mortenson doesn't want to take government money, so the man says that he can "Make it look like a private donation from a businessman in Hong Kong" (21.101). But Mortenson has ethics, you guys, so he refuses.
  • Chapter 22

    "The Enemy is Ignorance"

    • Mortenson meets with a journalist named Kevin Fedarko in Korphe to help him write an article about the conflict between India and Pakistan.
    • While they're sippin' tea in the meeting hut, a woman named Jahan comes up. She's from the Korphe school, and she says that Mortenson promised to help her achieve her goals to become a doctor when she was done with school.
    • Well, she's done with school, so it's time to pony up. She needs twenty thousand rupees to begin medical training.
    • Mortenson says he'll discuss it with her father, but Jahan's all, nope, now.
    • He gives her the money, and Kevin Fedarko is so impressed, he writes an article about it for Parade magazine.
    • When everyone opens up their Sunday papers (which people still kind of read back then) and cracks open the Parade, they're so amazed by Mortenson that the letters and donations start rolling in.
    • Mortenson says, "I felt like America had spoken. My tribe had spoken" (22.31).
    • With so much business rolling in, Mortenson rents an office, hires employees, and accepts a raise.
    • He also hires some of his Pakistani friends, like Suleiman and Hussain, full time, and pays to send Parvi's daughter to private high school.
    • In summer 2003, there's a problem: Yakub, a porter Mortenson met back in 1993, has chained a school's doors shut because he was denied the position of watchman.
    • Mortenson drives up there and hands him dynamite and tells him that he might as well just blow the school up if he's going to close it.
    • Later, Mouzafer tells Yakub to open the school or he'll tie him to a tree and blow him up himself.
    • The school reopens, and Yakub is forced to sweep it every morning without pay as punishment.
    • Finally, in August 2003, they get the ruling from the Shariat Court: Yet another fatwa against Mortenson is lifted. Boo ya.
    • When Mortenson is being transported via helicopter by Brigadier General Bhangoo, he tells Bhangoo about the conflict with Agha Mubarek, who issued the latest fatwa, and Bhangoo dive-bombs Mubarek's house to scare him.
    • Later, Bhangoo's boss, Brigadier General Bashir Baz, tells Mortenson that "the enemy is ignorance" (22.86)—just like the chapter title says—and that Osama is a "creation of America" (22.86).
    • He says that the only way to fix things is to build relationships with everyone. And then he orders buckets of KFC, which is another good way to fix things.
    • Before Mortenson leaves Pakistan, secure that he's done all he can, Jahan tells him that she wants to be a "Superlady" (22.103) and thanks to Mortenson, she totally can be.
  • Chapter 23

    Stones into Schools

    • Mortenson is on a plane and "The king sat in the window seat" (23.1). So this is where Elvis has been hiding out all these years…
    • Oh wait, Mortenson's referring to Afghanistan's former monarch, Zahir Shah.
    • He's surprisingly uninformed for a king, having no idea that Mortenson has been building schools in Pakistan for ten years and is branching out to Afghanistan.
    • The king tells Mortenson to speak to Sadhar Khan, who might be able to help him.
    • Mortenson lands in Kabul and will have to travel to Faizabad, the largest city in northeastern Afghanistan, by road.
    • Abdullah informs him just before midnight that the Salang Tunnel will close at 6:00AM so they have to haul.
    • Halfway through the tunnel, the radiator blows and the men get stuck.
    • They almost get run over by a speeding cargo truck.
    • To get out of the tunnel, Mortenson finds a crack in the wall and they push themselves through to the snowy mountain pass outside.
    • Mortenson realizes they can't hike down, so they go back inside, where they meet some refrigerator smugglers who are able to load the Jeep into their truck and haul it to the end of the tunnel.
    • Sitting in the back of the truck, Mortenson munches on some of the "juicy fruit" (23.55) and the taste is gonna move him.
    • They emerge from the tunnel, repair the Jeep, and get gas.
    • The area they are in is full of damaged buildings from the ongoing conflicts.
    • All of a sudden, machine gun fire breaks out, and the men have to lie face-down in the mud.
    • They are rescued by some friendly passing strangers, who smuggle them out of town as they hide under a pile of goatskins.
    • When they make it to safety, Mortenson says, "I was alone. I was covered in mud and goat blood. I'd lost my luggage. I didn't speak the local language" (23.78). Ugh.
    • After staying in a hotel, Mortenson travels to meet Sadhar Khan, who agrees with Mortenson's mission, saying, "We must turn these stones into schools" (23.113).
    • And with that, we're set up for the sequel.