Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11 - 14

Chapter 11: Six Days

There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don't you?
- Rumi

Mortenson is back in California, working overnight nursing shifts as he waits for his return to Pakistan to build the Korphe school. One morning, he returns home to find Marina waiting outside his apartment, trying to win him back. However, Mortenson has moved on and walks away.

He visits Hoerni in Seattle, showing him photographs and blueprints from Korphe. They get along well, and Hoerni loves Mortenson's entrepreneurial spirit. He respects Mortenson's difficult endeavor, and realizes that because Mortenson is helping Muslims, he is unlikely to receive much help from Americans.

Upon returning to San Francisco, Mortenson contacts McCown, who invites him to a banquet at which Sir Edmund Hillary will speak. At the dinner, McCown gives Mortenson $20,000 to sustain himself as he builds the school. Later that evening, a woman named Tara Bishop introduces herself to Mortenson. Bishop's father was a mountaineer, one of the first Americans to summit Mount Everest. Six days later, they are married. Within fourteen days, Mortenson leaves for Pakistan once again, but this time a married man.

Chapter 12: Haji Ali's Lesson

It may seem absurd to believe that a "primitive" culture in the Himalaya has anything to teach our industrialized society. But our search for a future that works keeps spiraling back to an interconnectedness that ancient cultures have never abandoned.
- Helena Norberg-Hodge

When Mortenson arrives in Skardu, he seeks out Changazi so he can reclaim his supplies and return to Korphe. However, Changazi is nowhere to be found, and his assistants make tracking him down impossible. One of the men, Ghulam Parvi, decides to help Mortenson find the materials without Changazi. They go to an abandoned hotel where they discover that about a third of the materials have disappeared; however, Mortenson believes they have enough to begin building, so he takes the supplies and sets out for Korphe.

Upon arriving in Korphe, Mortenson is upset that the villagers have not made much progress with laying out the stone foundation. Haji Ali tells him that they did not bother hiring assistance because they would have ripped off Mortenson, a foreigner. He says that Koprhe has gone six hundred years without a school - "what is one winter more?"

Mortenson tells Twaha of his marriage to Tara, but Twaha is confused by American wedding traditions. He asks Mortenson, for example, what the dowry was. Later he goes to the Korphe mosque, where he realizes he is praying like a Sunni in a Shia village.

He returns to the United States in November, traveling with Tara to Hoerni's home in Seattle for Thanksgiving. Hoerni is so impressed with Mortenson's work and passion that he offers to endow a foundation - the Central Asia Institute - for Mortenson to make a career out of building schools in Pakistan.

Tara becomes pregnant, so she and Mortenson decide they need to find a more suitable home. They move to Bozeman, Montana, where Tara's mother lives, into a house.

He later returns to Pakistan once again. He writes to Mouzafer, offering him a job working on the school's construction in Korphe. He then visits Parvi and offers him a job as well because Mortenson aims to build schools throughout the Baltisan.

He learns when he returns to Korphe that the bridge is already going to great use: the women of Korphe who left their families upon marriage are able to visit their parents more frequently.

Haji Ali teaches Mortenson that he mustn't be in such a hurry to complete the school - that he must take the time to drink three cups of tea with the people of the Baltisan. Within a few weeks, construction of the school is almost done. One day, Haji Mehdi approaches the site, and tells the crowd that Mortenson is an "infidel" who is indoctrinating Korphe's children and trying to educate girls, a practice he says is prohibited by Allah. Haji Ali sends him away, but has to sacrifice twelve of the village's rams; however, he believes the school is an eternal gift that will change the lives of the people of Korphe.

Chapter 13: "A Smile Should Be More Than a Memory"

The Waziris are the largest tribe on the frontier, but their state of civilization is very low. They are a race of robbers and murderers, and the Waziri name is execrated even by the neighboring Mahommedan tribes. They have been described as being free-born and murderous, hotheaded and light-hearted, self-respecting but vain. Mahommedans from a settled district often regard them as utter barbarians.
- Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition)

With the construction of the Korphe School wrapping up, Mortenson moves onto Waziristan to find the next site for his school. He is in Peshawar, the capital of "Pakistan's wild west." Here, Mortenson witnesses the growth of the Taliban, or "students of Islam," the army of teenagers intent to knock Afghanistan's rulers out of power. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden has just come to Afghanistan, blaming Americans for his exile from Saudi Arabia, and urges his followers to attack and harm Americans at any chance possible. It is a volatile time for an American in the region.

At his hotel, he meets Badam Gul, a man from Waziristan who offers to take Mortenson to his home village. The morning they set out, Gul backs out but sends Mortenson with a driver, Mr. Khan. After many hours of driving, Mortenson and Mr. Khan are invited into the home of a tribe leader, Haji Mirza, where they feast on lamb and are offered a place to sleep. But in the middle of the night, Mortenson is awakened and kidnapped. He is held captive in a small room with nothing to do but read an old copy of Time magazine.

Several days into his captivity, he is visited by a man who calls himself "Khan," a Wazir man who learned English from a British school in Peshawar. Mortenson tells him of his work in the Baltisan and his intention to build more schools in Pakistan. He also tells Khan that his wife is about to give birth, but he lies, saying it is a boy when he knows it is in fact a girl. Early the next morning, Mortenson is released and, to his great surprise, given hundreds of rupees by his former captors, to build schools.

Chapter 14: Equilibrium

The seeming opposition between life and death is now cut through. Do not thrash or lunge or flee. There is no longer a container or anything to be contained. All is resolved in dazzling measureless freedom.
- Warrior Song of King Gezar

Mortenson returns to Bozeman, Montana in time for the birth of his daughter, Amira Eliana Mortenson. Soon after his daughter's birth, Hoerni calls, demanding a photograph of the Korphe school. He reveals he has been diagnosed with myelofibrosis and doesn't have long to live. Mortenson pledges to show Hoerni a photograph of the school before his death.

When he returns to Korphe, he discusses with Haji Ali where to build his next school. Haji Ali offers his help in seeking out a suitable location, and Mortenson adapts this new strategy of moving village to village, using his preexisting contacts, instead of jumping around Pakistan and starting over with every school.

Back in the United States, Mortenson brings Amira and Tara to Idaho to visit Hoerni and deliver a picture of the school. As 1996 comes to a close, Mortenson moves to Seattle, where Hoerni wished to spend his final weeks, and cares for him. Hoerni passes away in January, and Mortenson delivers a thoughtful eulogy, commemorating Hoerni's many accomplishments, especially the Korphe School.


Mortenson's impulsiveness in both his professional and personal life is salient in these chapters. He meets Tara Bishop at a gala and within six days they are married (it is she who first suggests getting married though). Tara evidently appreciates and shares Mortenson's spontaneity. Born to Barry Bishop, a National Geographic photographer and among the first Americans to ascend Everest in 1963, Tara briefly resided, as a child, in Western Nepal. Given her family pedigree, it is natural that she is keenly invested in Mortenson's work in Pakistan. Her father's recent death, almost a year to the day before this gala, has been a traumatic event and Mortenson is the first person in whom she confides about her sorrow. Mortenson and Bishop are overjoyed to have met each other, and spend a blissful three weeks together before he departs again for Pakistan. Mortenson's life appears to be taking a drastic turn for the better.

In Chapter 12, Haji Ali drives home the "three cups of tea" idea. He assures Mortenson that his, and other Korphe residents', commitment to the school is absolute, and that Mortenson needs to learn to slow down, build relationships, and entrust the work to them. Only in this way will Mortenson be successful with his school-building. Once Mortenson accepts this, the Korphe School is completed without a hitch. As Mortenson finalizes the Korphe School and spends more time with the villagers, he learns much about the value of education to the people of the Balti. Haji Ali refuses to back down to Haji Mehdi's attempt to forbid Korphe's girls to attend school. Instead, he sacrifices twelve of Korphe's rams - which Mortenson likens to first-born children and prized possessions - an enormous sacrifice for the people of Korphe. Haji Ali notes that the rams would provide food in the present, but a school would insure a better future. He is proud to exchange the rams for the school. Mortenson also learns that the lack of a school does not mean the villagers are not intelligent and wise; though Haji Ali never attended school, Mortenson calls him the wisest man he's ever known.

Gender roles again play a part in Three Cups of Tea in this section. Mortenson is proud to realize that his bridge in Korphe has empowered women: they are now more easily able to visit their families, who they left for marriage. By simply building a bridge, he has strengthened family ties for women. Mortenson also witnesses some deeply rooted opposition to educating girls, which Mortenson stipulates his school must do. Haji Mehdi invokes Allah against educating girls. This foretells later difficult encounters Mortenson will face as he enables girls across Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive an education.

The stage is also set, in Chapter 13, for the rise of the Taliban. Having bin Laden land just outside Jalalabad at the same moment tints Mortenson's upcoming visit to Waziristan with a certain level of apprehension for the reader. And, after Badam Gul, a fellow hotel guest, suddenly pulls out of a promised visit to his hometown but passes Mortenson into the care of a certain taciturn driver, Mr. Khan, the reader's level of wariness rises. Again, had Mortenson been more more cautious and less worried about offending local acquaintances, the hardship he endures (apparent kidnapping) might have been avoided. The captivity sequence in this chapter, and Mortenson's seemingly random release ("We considered other...contingencies," he is told) highlights the danger he is to face in the coming years, and how his nationality may start becoming a liability.