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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.
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
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