Chapter 22: "The Enemy is Ignorance"
As the U.S. confronts Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Greg Mortenson, 45, is quietly waging his own campaign against Islamic fundamentalists, who often recruit members through religious schools called madrassas. Mortenson's approach hinges on a simple idea: that by building secular schools and helping to promote education - particularly for girls - in the world's most volatile war zone, support for the Taliban and other extremist sects will eventually dry up.
- Kevin Fedarko, Parade cover story, April 6, 2003
In early 2003, Mortenson is accompanied to a meeting in Korphe by Kevin Fedarko, a journalist reporting on high-altitude warfare. However, his story changes course when, in the middle of the meeting, Haji Ali's granddaughter, Jahan, comes in to remind Mortenson of his promise to help her pay for medical school; she has itemized each fee. Mortenson immediately gives her the money. Fedarko finds Mortenson's story as a humanitarian so compelling that he convinces Parade magazine to publish a cover story about him and the CAI.
The United States invades Iraq in early 2003. Mortenson's article is published shortly thereafter, suggesting that his commitment to peace and education is another option in place of war. The story in Parade draws in many donations that enable the CAI to increase the salaries of Mortenson and the teachers, to rent an office and support a small staff, and to begin new projects and schools in Pakistan.
Mortenson is a bit derailed when another mullah, Agha Mubarak, issues a fatwa against him and damages one of the CAI's schools. In a Muslim court, the fatwa is ruled out of order and Mubarak must pay for the damage to the school. Later, Mortenson advises a Pakistani official on the most effective way to spend government money in the Baltisan.
Mortenson pays a visit to Jahan. Thanks to the education Mortenson funded and enabled, Jahan is confident in herself and her future.
Chapter 23: Stones into Schools
Our earth is wounded. Her oceans and lakes are sick; her rivers are like running sores; The air is filled with subtle poisons. And the oily smoke of countless hellish fires blackens the sun. Men and women, scattered from homeland, family, and friends, wander desolate and uncertain, scorched by a toxic sun...
In this desert of frightened, blind uncertainty, some take refuge in the pursuit of power. Some become manipulators of illusion and deceit. If wisdom and harmony still dwell in this world, as other than a dream lost in an unopened book, they are hidden in our heartbeat.
And it is from our hearts that we cry out. We cry out and our voices are the single voice of this wounded earth. Our cries are a great wind across the earth.
- The Warrior Song of King Gezar
Mortenson meets King Zahir Shah, former ruler of Afghanistan, on a flight from Islamabad to Kabul. Mortenson is on his way to begin building the schools in Badakshan and the Wakhan that he promised years ago to the Kirghiz men. He tells the King about his mission. The king suggests that Mortenson visits Sadhar Khan, a leader of the mujahadeen, or freedom fighters, who cares about his followers.
Mortenson sets out on a journey to Baharak with a few calamities. First, after the Jeep's rubber radiator disintegrates while traveling in a steep tunnel, Mortenson, Adullah, and their young companion, a Tajik named Kais, avoid calamity when an oncoming car sees them. Then, escaping onto the mountain, they enter a literal minefield (and turn back). Five smugglers help push their Jeep out of the tunnel. Later, after completing repairs and continuing on their journey, they have the bad luck to find themselves in the middle of a firefight among opium smugglers. Abdullah and Kais help Mortenson onto a truck bed and go back themselves to hide, reasoning, "These Shetans shoot each other, not us."
When he arrives in Baharak, Mortenson finds Sadhar Khan, who turns out to be not only familiar with Mortenson's work, but also overjoyed to see him. They discuss possibilities for new CAI schools. Khan tells Mortenson that he would like to build schools to memorialize his nation's soldiers: "To make their sacrifice worthwhile, we must turn these stones into schools," Khan says.
Mortenson slowly sees his work in Afghanistan unfurl before him, as he lays his hands on Sadhar Khan's shoulders.
In Chapters 22 and 23, Mortenson and the CAI are no longer constrained by their finances. Before, a lack of money made finishing projects difficult and often required fundraising breaks mid-project (notably with the bridge for Korphe). Now, Mortenson has achieved national recognition and faces no shortage of money; this also means he faces no shortage of places to send it. The CAI's bank account is full, as is its agenda. More projects are fiscally possible so Mortenson and the CAI must figure out where to place their focus and how wide to cast their net. This may prove challenging for CAI, which lacks a firm organizational structure.
Perhaps one of the greatest highlights and a distillation of all of Mortenson's hard work occurs when Jahan makes her requests for tuition for medical training. She embodies all that Mortenson strives to develop in his female students, especially the lesson "not to take a backseat to men." It is a revolutionary moment, disintegrating centuries worth of barriers to women's equality. Haji Ali arguably provided the impetus for Mortenson to create the school, and it must be particularly gratifying for Mortenson to see the bloom of opportunity and verve in Haji Ali's own granddaughter.
Mortenson also undergoes a change in how he views his fellow Americans, following the great success of his profile in Parade. Even a thirteen-year-old Jewish child from the suburbs of Philadelphia is moved to send money, declaring, "We all need to work together to plant the seeds of peace." Finally, Mortenson's mission appears to be taking firm hold in America's popular imagination.
The sacrifice Mortenson's colleagues so readily undertake to protect him is depicted once again, as Abdullah and a young Tajik, Kais, stay on and endure a firefight among opium warriors, sending Mortenson onto safety himself. Baig and Abdullah have been faithful servants during Mortenson's career there, and their strong cultural understanding of tribal honor ensures that they will keep their promise to Mortenson to keep him physically safe.
As Chapter 23 draws to a close, Mortenson moves into a new era in his life and his career. He undertakes a new project in Afghanistan with Sudhar Khan serving as his new Haji Ali: mentor, leader, partner, and friend. Relin compares the new project to the next "inner" mountain Mortenson will climb. The language is, of course, hopeful and forward-looking. Khan says that, "Five thousand teenaged girls were attempting to holds classes in a field besides the boys' high school," and that there was a "vast litany of need that could keep Mortenson busy for decades." With the support of thousands of Americans back home, Mortenson is confident that his compassion and natural abilities will be put to good use for decades yet.