Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15 - 18

Chapter 15: Mortenson in Motion

Not hammer-strokes, but dance of the water, sings the pebbles into perfection.
- Rabindranath Tagore

In Bozeman, Mortenson sets up the "headquarters" of the Central Asia Institute in his basement. One evening, he learns from Parvi that a local cher in the Braldu Valley had declared a fatwa against Mortenson for educating girls. The matter cannot be resolved without him, so Mortenson must return to Pakistan once again.

In Skardu, Mortenson assembles his supporters, including Haji Ali, Mouzafer, Twaha, Faisal Baig, and Mortenson's "fixer" and former taxi driver, Suleman Minhas. The men select a few potential locations for the CAI's next school: Pakhora, Ranga, and Kuardu. Mortenson optimistically says that in the coming year, they will build all three.

He meets with Syed Abbas Risvi, an important mullah and public figure whose support might overrule the fatwa. Abbas is immediately charmed by Mortenson and impressed by his good heart, and pledges to help.

The school at Ranga takes only ten weeks to complete. Next, they turn to Pakhora, one of the most remote villages in northern Pakistan, and require only twelve weeks to construct a school there. The school in Kuardu is completed with the same speed and efficiency.

Since these projects took much less time than anticipated, Mortenson turns to other projects, including expanding pre-existing overcrowded schools, creating a woman's vocational center at Korphe, and hiring teachers to disperse the work more equitably.

Syed Abbas invites Mortenson to his home. Syed Abbas tells him that the fatwa has not been withdrawn, but he does not believe Mortenson is violating any tenets of Islam.

Tara and Amira travel to Korphe for the inauguration of the school, as do two of the members of the CAI Board, Jennifer Wilson and Julia Bergman. Tara is thrilled to see the efforts of his work and how beloved he is in Korphe. Mortenson and Wilson pour Hoerni's ashes into the Braldu off the bridge he sponsored.

Mortenson brings his family to Skardu. He discovers he is being trailed by a member of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. His follower is not very bright or skilled, and Mortenson spots him frequently. One afternoon, Tara and Amira wait for Mortenson in the car, and Tara nurses her daughter. A man presses his face to the car window, watching. Faisal, the bodyguard, beats him unconscious. Word of his disrespect for Dr. Mortenson's wife spreads through Skardu and the man is so ostracized that he has to move away.

Mortenson and Tara's brother, Brent Bishop, organize Pakistan's first porter-training program. Nike sponsors the effort. The program trains porters and also works to protect the environment, including the implementation of a recycling program.

That winter, Mortenson returns home and plans his spring efforts.

Chapter 16: Red Velvet Box

No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. The most beautiful women, the most learned men, even Mohammed, who heard Allah's own voice, all did wither and die. All is temporary. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering.
- Bowa Johar, Balti poet and grandfather of Mouzafer Ali

The ruling on the fatwa against Mortenson arrives in a red velvet box and is delivered by a public reading. The ruling is in Mortenson's favor, and says that no clerics may interfere with Mortenson.

After word of the ruling gets out, Mortenson's work becomes even more popular among the people of the Baltisan. Villagers inundate him with requests for schools and other community needs. Syed Abbas encourages him to address education as the main goal but to incorporate health needs, such as clean drinking water, as well. The children cannot have access to an education if they do not survive early childhood.

Mortenson, Parvi, and Makhmal oversee the construction of a new school in Halde, Mouzafer's village. Mouzafer is aging and can no longer serve as a porter. Though not nearly as famous as his grandfather, who was a famous poet, he earns respect from the villagers by bringing this school to Halde.

Relin tells the story of Mohammed Aslam Khan, who spent his childhood in the Hushe Valley in the 1970s. His father sent him off to school, far from home. He was the first in his village to attend school. When he returned, he was honored by the villagers. He opened a small school for the village's boys, but couldn't convince villagers to send their children; families preferred having their children help with farm work.

Aslam hears of Mortenson's work and seeks him out, inviting him to his village. Mortenson takes to Aslam instantly, and agrees to build a school in Hushe. Aslam's daughter, Shakeela, is educated in the school and then goes off for higher education, the first girl in the village to do so, inspiring other girls in Hushe.

Mortenson decides CAI schools will only educate students through fifth grade, with a focus on educating girls. Girls, he believes, stay in their communities after they are educated, becoming leaders. He also emphasizes that the curriculum of the schools must match that of Pakistani public schools.

Chapter 17: Cherry Trees in the Sand

The most dangerous place in the world today, I think you could argue, is the Indian Subcontinent and the Line of Control in Kashmir.
- President Bill Clinton, before leaving Washington on a diplomatic visit to and peacemaking mission between India and Pakistan

The chapter opens with the story of Fatima Batool, whose sister was killed in the Kargil Conflict of 1999 between Pakistan and India. Relin describes the conflict between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, a conflict that began with the partition of the two nations. More than 250,000 shells, bombs, and rockets were fired on Pakistan during the Kargil Conflict, rates of fire higher than any conflict since World War II.

Mortenson travels to Pakistan after hearing about the conflict. Syed Abbas visits Mortenson at the Indus Hotel to ask for his help in providing water. Thousands of refugees were displaced by the conflict; Abbas recognizes how much they need, especially clean water. Mortenson pledges to help build an uplift water scheme to bring clean water to these refugees. Mortenson also helps build a school for girls at the refugee settlement.

Chapter 18: Shrouded Figure

Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything.

Back in the United States, Mortenson travels to give talks about his work with CAI and its roots in his failed K2 attempt. At one event in Montana, only a few guests come to listen to him talk, but one guest leaves him $20,000.

As Mortenson receives more publicity, he gains momentum and support from mountaineers. The CAI is growing quickly. However, the board members worry about Mortenson, who is not caring for himself well. He agrees to hire an assistant, take courses about management and Asian politics, and develop healthier habits.

Mortenson is duped by a few older potential donors - including a somewhat lascivious elderly woman in Atlanta - who seek his company but never end up donating money.

Determined to learn more about development, Mortenson travels to the Philippines to observe successful programs. He also stops in Calcutta to pay respects to the just-deceased Mother Teresa, one of his idols.

That winter, Tara gives birth to their second child, a boy named Khyber Bishop Mortenson.


In these chapters, Relin illustrates just how beloved Mortenson is among the people of Pakistan and Skardu in particular. Their deep respect for Mortenson is perhaps best embodied in the story of the man who acted lecherously towards Mortenson's wife, Tara Bishop. The man is beaten senseless and then later ostracized because the people of Skardu are so offended that he would disrespect Dr. Mortenson's wife.

The Central Asia Institute grows as an organization, and as the Institute's Executive Director Mortenson's disorganization and impulsiveness proves to be a flaw. Relin writes that the Board knows better than to bother asking for line-item budgets because Mortenson would never be able to produce one. His naiveté, though, persists, and he ends up being fooled by two potential donors who never truly intended to give him or the CAI any money.

The growth of the CAI takes a toll on Mortenson in many ways. His health is put on the back-burner; he never climbs or exercises and he barely sleeps. He gains weight rapidly. He becomes extremely shy and prefers to hide in his basement rather than speak to audiences about his mission. The CAI also puts a financial strain on the Mortensons - he barely makes $28,000 a year, and Tara must work part-time to take care of the children since Mortenson leaves for stretches of many months. Tara is proud of Mortenson's work but reminds him of his responsibility to his own family and asks him to limit his trips to two months.

Relin selects titles for Chapters 16-18 that are representative of challenges and events in the journey of the CAI. The Red Velvet Box of Chapter 16 is the vessel in which the verdict from the Ayatollahs comes, a verdict that enables the CAI to continue and fuels thousands more Pakistanis to support Mortenson. The Cherry Trees in the Sand of Chapter 17 represent the environment that Fatima misses when she leaves for school, and is part of the landscape that Mortenson helps bring to fruition by providing the water supply. And the Shrouded Figure in Chapter 18 is the challenge Mortenson faces in leaving his basement and combating the anxiety he faces as the political climate in Pakistan worsens and the CAI budget dwindles.