Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea Summary and Analysis of Chapters 19 - 21

Chapter 19: A Village Called New York

The time of arithmetic and poetry is past. Nowadays, my brothers, take your lessons from the Kalashnikov and rocket-propelled grenade.
- Graffiti spray-painted on the courtyard wall of the Korphe School

Driving towards Skardu in 2001, Mortenson notices that the countryside is suddenly dotted with Wahhabi madrassas, schools sponsored by the Saudi Wahhabi sect and the reams of money they smuggle into Pakistan. These schools are ubiquitous and free of charge, so they attract many Pakistani boys. While some of the schools are genuinely beneficial for students, many are simply fronts to indoctrinate children with militant jihad.

On September 9, 2001, Mortenson sets out to attend the inauguration of three projects funded by the Central Asia Institute. Along the way, he learns that Ahmed Shah Massoud has been murdered by Al Qaeda assassins. Massoud was a famous leader of the resistance against the Taliban. Mortenson and his companions in Pakistan recognize that this death is just the start of more trouble.

On September 11, Mortenson and McCown are welcomed warmly to Zuudkhan, Faisal's home and a village the CAI had supported. After a day of celebration, Mortenson is awoken at 4:30am by Faisal Baig, who tells him that "a village called New York has been bombed": the World Trade Center has been attacked.

McCown figures that the United States is on the brink of war, and is eager to get out of Pakistan. On September 14, Mortenson and McCown travel to Kuardu to inaugurate its new school. In a speech, Syed Abbas addresses the September 11 attacks, asking for the forgiveness of Americans and for them to see that most of the world's Muslims are peace-loving people.

McCown leaves with his family, and Mortenson travels north to Korphe. When he arrives, he is saddened to learn that Haji Ali has died.

Chapter 20: Tea with the Taliban

Nuke 'Em All--Let Allah Sort Them Out
- Bumper sticker seen on cab window of Ford-F150 pickup truck in Bozeman, Montana

Suleman, Mortenson's driver, brings Mortenson and Faisal Baig to the Marriott Hotel to see the media "circus" in the wake of 9/11. Mortenson speaks with AP reporter Kathy Gannon, who tells him that most of the reporters covering Pakistan don't know much about the region. He talks to several reporters to tell them more about Pakistan but they are not very interested - they merely want Mortenson's help getting into Afghanistan and collecting sound bites about the Taliban to demonize them as the likelihood of war escalated.

Mortenson travels around Pakistan to complete his goals for that trip to Pakistan. Bruce Finley, a reporter for the Denver Post, accompanies him. He sees the valuable work Mortenson is doing in the region.

After the trip, Mortenson attempts to get into Afghanistan. A Taliban worker at the border tears out part of Mortenson's passport, rendering it invalid. Islamabad's American Embassy declines him a new passport, suspicious of his activity. He travels to Katmandu, Nepal, hoping to receive a new passport. There, he is interrogated by American intelligence officers. They are suspicious of his activity, but give him a temporary passport. He returns to the United States.

In Montana, he realizes that since he made statements urging Americans not to paint all Muslims with the same brush, he has begun to receive stacks of hate mail. He is disheartened and considers quitting, but remains encouraged after seeing some letters of support. He travels to Seattle to speak to an audience of mountaineers, which renews his faith in his efforts.

Chapter 21: Rumsfeld's Shoes

Today in Kabul, clean-shaven men rubbed their faces. An old man with a newly-trimmed grey beard danced in the street holding a small tape recorder blaring music to his ear. The Taliban--who had banned music and ordered men to wear beards--were gone.
- Kathy Gannon, on November 13, 2001, reporting for the Associated Press

In early 2002, Mortenson returns to Afghanistan, where Taliban rule has ended and the United States is at war. Though he once supported the war, Mortenson is distraught over the many civilian casualties that do not seem to concern United States officials. He tries to register the CAI in Kabul, but the ministry is empty. He returns to Pakistan. Julia Bergman comes to Pakistan and offers to join Mortenson on his trip back to Kabul, where Parvi has encouraged him to continue his work.

He visits one of his schools in Kabul and is frustrated to find that neither the principal, Uzra Faizad, nor the teachers, have been paid in months.

Mortenson travels to Washington, D.C. after Representative Mary Bono saw one of his talks and was impressed. She arranges for him to speak to members of Congress. He tells them about his mission and his work, and demonstrates how education is instrumental in stopping terrorism.

Later, Mortenson returns to D.C. to speak with Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld. The meeting is extremely brief, and Mortenson does little but stare at Rumsfeld's expensive, shiny shoes. He also speaks to military personnel and analysts, who offer Mortenson $2.2 million. Mortenson does not take it, knowing that association with the United States government would destroy his reputation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The interaction of politics and Mortenson's mission crescendoes in these chapters. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 broadcast to the world the danger of the Taliban. They put Mortenson in greater danger in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as bombs fall from the sky and leave thousands of civilians hurt or dead. They also make Mortenson's mission more imperative than ever - his work, he believes, gives children opportunities beyond madrassas and militant extremism.

Mortenson's mission, accordingly, expands - he serves as an ambassador and informant about the region. He is a leading expert on Pakistan. He educates his interrogators in Katmandu, he speaks to Congress, and he meets with military analysts. Because his work has become intertwined with a war that dominates the United States' resources and attention, he no longer just builds schools, but also speaks on behalf of the thousands of innocent Muslims that many Americans have demonized.

In these chapters, Mortenson has shifted from an impulsive humanitarian to a professional, a leader, and an ambassador. He briefs high-level government officials, including the Secretary of State; he speaks to the press; he watches firsthand the consequences of 9/11 and the War on Terror. The stakes are much higher for him, as his life is often in danger. He thus becomes an expert and a professional.

As these major political events unfold, however, Mortenson remains true to his roots and core mission. When he learns of the death of Haji Ali, for example, he is reminded that he must continue to serve the children of the region. The passing of his mentor and hero further represents Mortenson's growth, but does not distance him from his or the CAI's mission. This is best represented by his commitment to paying Uzra Faizal after learning she has not been paid. Even as he speaks to Congress, he thinks of Faizal and recommits to correcting these injustices as well as he can.