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Three Cups of Tea

Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

Chapters 2–3

Introduction and Chapter 1

Chapters 4–5

Summary: Chapter 2: The Wrong Side of the River

Mortenson awakes after a freezing night still disoriented, but he sets out to locate the trail. After wandering for hours, he hears the distant sounds of a caravan and turns the right way just in time to meet his guide, Mouzafer. Mortenson and Darsney had hired Mouzafer to help them get down to Askole. Mouzafer is one of the Balti, an ethnic group that inhabits this region, and he insists that Mortenson drink some of the locally popular tea (paiyu cha) made with rancid yak butter. We learn that the Balti migrated to this area from Tibet more than six hundred years ago and became Shiite Muslims. The Italian climber Fosco Maraini, who wrote a book about his 1958 expedition up one of the region’s mountains, found the Balti frustrating because they connived and complained, but he also admired their loyalty, high spirits, and physical toughness.

Mouzafer cares for Mortenson, keeping him close by as they descend, but after seven days, Mouzafer goes ahead to prepare camp and Mortenson again loses his way. Realizing that he has missed the trail, Mortenson tries to head in the right direction and eventually reaches a village he believes is Askole. Haji Ali, the nurmadhar (chief) of the village, finds Mortenson and takes him to his home, where he gives Mortenson more butter tea. Mortenson learns he is not in Askole but in the village of Korphe. Haji’s son, Twaha, who knows a little English, explains that they will find Mouzafer the next day. Once again, Mortenson falls into an exhausted sleep.

Summary: Chapter 3: “Progress and Perfection”

Mortenson wakes up from the first night he has spent indoors for many weeks and Haji’s wife, Sakina, serves him breakfast. He notes how sparsely the household is furnished. Mouzafer comes to Korphe via a dangerous cable car trip across the river gorge, and Mortenson learns that Mouzafer is one of the most skilled high-altitude porters in the Himalayas. Impressed with Mouzafer’s loyalty and modesty, Mortenson pays him as generously as he can. Mortenson is reunited with Darsney and they continue down the mountain to Skardu, but Mortenson is annoyed with the comparative comforts of the lodge there. He feels drawn back to Korphe and returns as soon as he can find transportation. After being welcomed once again to Haji’s home, Mortenson realizes how weak he still is. Haji is concerned about his condition and orders a ram to be prepared for food.

During the following weeks, Mortenson gradually regains his health and becomes more aware of the villagers and their lives. He learns that Twaha’s wife died seven years earlier while giving birth to their only child, a daughter named Jahan. He also realizes that many of the villagers suffer from malnutrition and from various diseases, so he uses the contents of his first aid kit to help as much as he can. The villagers nickname him “Dr. Greg,” despite his explanation that he is a nurse, not a doctor. Mortenson thinks of his sister, Christa, when he sees the hardships of the villagers. He learns that the village has no school and cannot afford the equivalent of one dollar a day to pay a teacher, but the children try to study on their own. After watching them use sticks to scratch arithmetic problems on the ground, Mortenson is deeply moved. He decides that helping Korphe would be a fitting tribute to Christa and promises Haji that he will return and build a school.

Analysis: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3

Chapter 2 offers further detail about the mountainous landscape of the Baltor. Relin paints a picture of the wild and difficult terrain, the grandeur of the mountain ranges, and the challenges of navigating in this unfamiliar and unforgiving land. Although the region is daunting, it is also inspiring, and even while Mortenson is lost and unsure of his fate, he stops to marvel at the scenery. In fact, he gets separated from Mouzafer the second time because he is absorbed in contemplation of his surroundings. Notably, Mortenson finds it difficult to recognize the trail, even though the path is obvious to Mouzafer. Not only does this detail highlight how close the Balti people are to their land, it also symbolizes the idea that Mortenson does not see his path in life clearly. We can also recognize the powerful Braldu River as a dividing line that separates Askole and the return to Mortenson’s “old” life from Korphe and the new life that awaits him. The Braldu will pose a critical challenge to Mortenson later in the book, and this moment foreshadows those events.

Relin uses sensory details not only to give the reader a feeling of being in the scene but also to highlight Mortenson’s introduction to a radically different culture. For example, Mortenson has always come up with a reason to avoid drinking butter tea, which he describes as "stinkier than the most frightening cheese the French ever invented." But he is too weak to resist the beverage when Mouzafer insists, and the more he drinks it, the more he begins to like it. While still a full mile away, Mortenson also notices the smell of Korphe, made up of juniper wood smoke and the odor of unwashed people. As he comes closer to the village, the shift from the sterile air and subtle colors of high altitude to brightly colored, fragrant apricot orchards signals the end of Mortenson’s challenges in a rugged landscape and the beginning of his introduction to Korphe. Since Mortenson grew up in Africa, he is more open to cultural differences than many people would be. Yet Baltistan is very different from any place he has previously known, and we recognize that it will take time for him to feel comfortable in these new surroundings.

Mortenson’s return to Korphe seems almost instinctive, as if he realizes there are lessons he needs to learn there. From the beginning of Chapter 3, Mortenson is on a journey that involves letting go of his old assumptions and recognizing the realities of life through his experiences in Korphe. For example, when Sakina prepares him a breakfast with sweetened tea, he does not realize that the household is giving him things they have little of, such as sugar. In slaughtering a ram for food, the village sacrifices one of its most precious commodities, and when Mortenson sees them devour it, he realizes how near to hunger they often are. He learns that the ginger hair color that he admired is actually produced by malnutrition. After watching the children try to teach themselves, he becomes aware that they have been abandoned by their government. At this point, Mortenson recognizes that political issues in Pakistan have prevented villages like Korphe from having any opportunities for education and improvement. The realization marks the beginning of Mortenson’s new journey, though he is not fully aware of it at the time.

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