Study Guide

Three Cups of Tea Chapter 20

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

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.

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