Chapter 7: Hard Way Home
This harsh and splendid land/With snow-covered rock mountains, cold-crystal streams,/Deep forests of cypress, juniper and ash/Is as much my body as what you see before you here./I cannot be separated from this or from you./Our many hears have only a single beat.
- The Warrior Song of King Gezar
Mortenson prepares to leave, supplies in tow, for Korphe. While he slept, Abdul polished his old Nikes in preparation for the journey. Mortenson and co. are to take a 1940s Bedford truck, most of whose parts have been replaced repeatedly over the years. Ali's family loads the lumber and, by evening, all the supplies are accounted for. Before Mortenson leaves, Abdul performs a dua, or prayer for a safe journey for him, and pronounces, "Nowadays, you are the same as a Pakistan man" (a high compliment for Mortenson). Mortenson rides on top of the Bedford, savoring the breeze and change of scenery: "I felt I'd already succeeded. I was sitting on top of my school."
West of Rawalpindi, at Taxila, the truck begins to navigate the perilous, ribbon-thin mountain roads hovering hundreds of yards above sheer drops. A Victorian English explorer, Isabella Bird, had written disdainfully of the earlier "roads" in the late 19th century: "For miles at a time this 'road'...is merely a ledge above a raging torrent." Luckily, what is now the Karakoram Highway (KKH) was reconstructed in the mid-twentieth century, although it cost the life of one road worker for each of its 400 kilometers. The Chinese completed it in 1978 partially as a strategic alliance against India.
Mortenson's progress with Mohammed and his two assistants is sluggish, and stops altogether when a band of gunmen from a nearby valley hold up all who attempt to cross a bridge in the village Dasu in the Kohistan region. Mortenson has a shaky moment when one of the gunmen asks his nationality, but the gunmen lightens upon hearing he is American. "American number one," the gunmen say. The next morning, the Kohistanis declare the holdup over, and they are allowed to continue on along the Indus River flanked by 20,000-foot peaks. In the 1970s, an Irish nurse named Devla Murphy had traversed these roads before declaring, "The only sane way to cover such ground is on foot." Mortenson later says, "If I die in Pakistan, it'll be because of a traffic accident, not a bomb or a bullet." Mortenson arrives in Skardu, certain "his happy ending was about to begin."
Chapter 8: Beaten by the Braldu
Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.
- hand-lettered sign at the entrance to the Fifth Squadron airbase, Skardu
Mortenson goes to Changazi, the man who coordinated his climb of K2, to arrange delivering the supplies up to Korphe. Mortenson learns from Changazi and Akhmalu, the cook on his K2 expedition, that news of his (and more importantly, his supplies') arrival has spread quickly. Akhmalu drags Mortenson to a feast they have prepared for him in Akhmalu's village, and the village elders fight over the type of school they want Mortenson to build for them. Mortenson reiterates that the school will be in Korphe but finds his words ignored.
When Mortenson and Akhmalu finally return to Skardu, Mortenson is wary that Changazi has pilfered his supplies. He grows more concerned when Changazi brings him to his village, where Mortenson is again served a feast as villagers try to convince him to build his school there. Mortenson leaves the meal in anger and runs away from the village Kuardu to be alone with his thoughts. Some goat-grazing children approach him and, forgetting himself, he gives them a little English lesson. Changazi finds him here and Mortenson demands to be taken to Korphe.
Korphe's villagers are overjoyed by Mortenson's return. However, Mortenson is stunned to learn that he cannot transport the supplies to Korphe to start building the school immediately. Haji Ali tells him that, first, they must construct a bridge over the treacherous Braldu River before the supplies can be delivered.
Chapter 9: The People Have Spoken
All my fellows, why license is not deposed on the beautiful eyes of a beautiful lady? They fire at men like a bullet. They cut as surely as the sword.
- graffiti spray-painted on the world's oldest known Buddhist stone-carving in Satpara Valley, Baltistan
Mortenson returns to San Francisco, where Marina tells him she is again seeing her ex-boyfriend. Fired from UCSF Medical Center, he finds overnight nursing shifts elsewhere and saves up enough to rent an apartment as he contemplates how to raise the money for the bridge. Given his breakup with Marina, and his failure in logistical planning for the school, Mortenson slogs through a winter filled with loneliness and disappointment.
He receives a phone call from Dr. Louis Reichardt, one of the first Americans to have reached the summit of K2 in one of the greatest mountaineering feats ever recorded. Reichardt, whose summit of K2 was plagued with challenges, recognizes that despite intense dedication, some goals are incredibly difficult to achieve. "Pull yourself together, Greg," he advises. He convinces Mortenson to give Hoerni another call.
Chapter 10: Building Bridges
In the immensity of these ranges, at the limit of existence where men may visit but cannot dwell, life has a new importance... but Mountains are not chivalrous; one forgets their violence. Indifferently, they lash those who venture among them with snow, rock, wind, cold.
- George Schaller, Stones of Silence
After Dr. Jean Hoerni donates $10,000 to build the bridge over the Braldu River, Mortenson returns to Pakistan and begins collecting the necessary supplies. He hires Changazi to assist him, cognizant of Changazi's extensive network after spending years as a policeman. Changazi also tells Mortenson about his many conquests of foreign women (in addition to providing for two wives). He justifies these dalliances in the sight of God by obtaining muthaas, or temporary marriages, before them.
A rockslide interferes with the transportation of the bridge supplies to Korphe, so 35 of Korphe's men retrieve them by hand. When the rainy season prevents them from beginning construction, Mortenson and some of the village men go on a hunting trip to find an ibex. The men's tools are rudimentary - a colonial-era British musket - but Twaha handles it expertly. The hunt takes a week, and the men return with hundreds of pounds of meat to distribute among the families of Korphe.
During the construction process, Mortenson and Twaha share stories of their personal lives. Through these conversations, Mortenson realizes he is no longer interested in Marina.
Mortenson meets George McCown, an American and board member of the American Himalayan Foundation, who is hiking K2 with his children. Mortenson had earlier been passed a birthday card for McCown by the AHF's board of directors in Askole, which he gives to McCown in person. McCown will later support him and his school projects, and McCown's guide, Faisal Baig, will become Mortenson's bodyguard.
The bridge is completed, and Houssain donates a field to Mortenson to serve as the home of the new school. Mortenson makes Houssain the Korphe school's first teacher.
This era of Mortenson's work is mainly an exercise in disappointment: how to balance the ideals of a project and its projected schedule with the often (especially in Pakistan) much messier reality. When, at the close of Chapter 7, Relin writes, "Right now, around the next curve, Mortenson felt certain his happy ending was about to begin," one cannot help but read this with a tinge of wariness. And indeed, Mortenson is almost immediately beset with difficulties, starting with Changazi's attempt to divert all the building supplies to his own village, Skardu. Thereafter, Mortenson faces a comedy of errors, culminating in a rather considerable one: the question of how, exactly, to transport the building materials across a river gorge into Korphe.
Until now, readers have mostly been familiarized with Mortenson's strength - his language skills, his dedication, his easy fraternizing with almost anyone he meets. In these chapters, a more complex image of Mortenson starts to emerge: the same qualities that serve him well in some contexts bode ill for him in others. Mortenson's disdain for showing disrespect is an admirable quality, but it is also easy to take advantage of. Akhmalu may know this, and so his urging for Mortenson to come to his village ("You promise!") is an exhortation Mortenson should refuse, but does not. His flexibility in general ends up costing him nearly a year of work. A less flexible, more detail-oriented person would have foreseen the obvious fact that a bridge would be necessary in the Korphe project. This flexibility, combined with the Baltistanis' loose relationship with time ("[Khane is near," Akhamalu countered, "only three or seven hours") creates quite a slow pace when it comes to considerable construction projects.
His diffidence with Changazi, with whom he should ultimately be more forceful, also costs him time and causes personal distress. "Mortenson, suddenly anxious, wanted to take an inventory of all the supplies, but Changazi insisted there would be time later." Someone with greater natural forcefulness would likely avoid the unsavory (and predictable) situation in which Mortenson later finds himself. On the home front, his inability to see how his (geographical, emotional) distance from Marina would naturally result in her sensibly moving on sends him into a months-long slump.
As Mortenson becomes more entrenched in the culture of Pakistan, and the Baltisan in particular, the theme of cultural difference comes closer to the fore. Mortenson is eager to learn about the traditions and language of the Balti people, but certain unfortunate trends emerge, especially regarding gender roles. Notably, Mortneson asks Changazi whether women can obtain muthaa, or temporary marriages, and is met with an incredulous laugh from Changazi. This foreshadows the educational gender gap with which Mortenson will be faced with later. On a more positive note, Sakina, Haji Ali's wife, begins to tease her husband about being more helpful around the hut after Mortenson sets an example.
Mortenson's work with Changazi portends future work with unsavory characters. Changazi is one of the first Pakistanis he has met whose wealthy status is immediately apparent (he wears an Italian cashmere in one scene), and this wealth is likely the result of "hustle." Mortenson learns that, if he truly wants to succeed, it will be necessary to work strategically with characters such as these.