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The chapter begins with Mortenson in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, where
he is staying in a small glass enclosure on the roof of an inexpensive hotel. He is
exhausted after a 56-hour economy plane trip and worried about protecting the large
amount of cash he has brought. He explains his mission to Abdul Sha, the hotel’s
night watchman, who proves to be a very helpful aide. Abdul introduces Mortenson to
the Pakistani ritual of negotiation, which involves drinking many cups of tea and
bargaining aggressively about prices. Over the next two days Mortenson consults an
architect for plans and estimates, accompanies Abdul through sessions of haggling
over cement and lumber, and acquires a variety of items that will be needed to build
the school. Mortenson learns that the cement business is controlled by an
association that Abdul compares to the Mafia. He also finds out it is important to
buy a good grade of lumber, so the school can withstand the mountain climate. Abdul
insists that Mortenson acquire two clean sets of the trousers and shirt
(shalwar kamiz) typically worn by Pakistani men, and takes him
to respected tailor Manzoor Khan. Mortenson asks Khan for instructions in the Muslim
way of prayer and Khan introduces him to the ritual washing that proceeds prayer.
Although Mortenson’s first attempts are awkward, as the chapter closes he attends a
prayer service held at a gas station, during which he experiences a feeling of
belonging. He recognizes the power of communal worship and reflects on the
transformations that may lie ahead for him.
On the morning of his departure for the return trip to Korphe, Mortenson
worries about the many things that might go wrong. It takes all day for the supplies
to be loaded into the truck hired for the trip. Like many local vehicles, the truck
is vividly decorated. A crowd of people gathers to watch the loading process and
when all the goods have been accounted for, Abdul offers a prayer for safe journey.
The onlookers join in a cry of Allah Akbhar, which means “God is
great.” The truck sets out from Rawalpindi to Skardu on the Karakoram Highway (KKH).
Riding atop the supplies on the truck bed, Mortenson feels as if he has already
succeeded, though he realizes he has only a limited amount of money left to pay for
labor and other expenses. In the darkness, Mortenson reflects on the history of the
Karakoram Highway (KKH). The Pakistanis started construction of the road in 1958 and
ten years later it was improved by the Chinese, who wanted to open new areas of
trade and strengthen their alliance with Pakistan against India. The KKH is a great
improvement over the rugged path that preceded it, but Mortenson realizes the next
day that the trip is still difficult and dangerous. The truck proceeds slowly and
Mortenson’s party is stopped overnight due to a standoff between local gunmen and
the Pakistani army. However the dispute is apparently resolved and Mortenson arrives
in Skardu feeling that success is just ahead.
In Chapters 6 and 7, we see further evidence of Mortenson’s naiveté, and we
begin to see indications that his lack of planning skills will lead to complications
in the mission. Despite his months of effort, Mortenson arrives in Pakistan with no
plan. He has not contacted anyone in advance and he does not know the local customs,
so only the fortunate coincidence of meeting Abdul enables him to make any progress.
In fact, this is the same pattern that has taken place in every chapter of the book
so far: Mortenson is lost for some reason, or does not know how to proceed, but he
keeps making an effort and at every turning point someone appears to help him. So
far he has been “rescued” by the guide Mouzafer; Haji and the villagers of Korphe;
the Pakistani man who teaches him to use a computer; Tom Vaughan, who publicizes his
cause to the mountaineering community; and Jean Hoerni, who gives him exactly the
amount of money he asks for. He meets most of these people almost accidentally, not
as a result of intent or planning.
The city of Rawalpindi and the rugged Karakoram Highway offer two very
different depictions of Pakistani life, and both represent dangers for Mortenson. In
Rawalpindi, the threat is to his money. The rituals of Pakistani business practice
are unfamiliar, and he cannot be sure who is honest. Yet he is respectful, follows
Abdul’s instructions, and feels pleased with what he accomplishes. On the highway,
he begins to realize how perilous the region really is, noting the “martyr
monuments” marking deaths that occurred during the highway construction. Even though
he witnesses an armed conflict, he believes that the danger of driving accidents is
much greater than the potential dangers of terrorism. Both the city and the highway
are very different from Korphe, but Mortenson’s desire to return to the village
draws him on despite these difficulties. The title of Chapter 7, “Hard Way Home,”
summarizes both the hardships of the journey and the strong feeling that Mortenson
has developed for Korphe.
Mortenson, meanwhile, alternates between moments of doubt and moments of
extreme, even irrational, enthusiasm. He awakens in terror at the beginning of
Chapter 6, worried about the safety of his money. Yet by the time he leaves
Rawalpindi, he believes the project is almost done. He wonders briefly whether he
can get the school built before the weather changes, but he does not consider any
contingency plan. Similarly, although he realizes during the highway journey that
there are many physical and political dangers in the Karakoram, he remains confident
of his success at the end of Chapter 7. Mortenson always remains focused on
achieving a positive outcome, practically disregarding any signs of trouble. While
this attitude can be a source of strength, it may also be part of the reason why
Mortenson does not feel the need to plan ahead.
Mortenson’s etreme frugality, which is also on display in these chapters, also
plays a vital role in his character. We know already that he was brought up without
luxuries and that he learned early on to build his life around hard work and good
intentions rather than money. Although he occasionally wishes for greater comforts,
he is very content to live with very little. That may be in part why he feels more
at home in Korphe than in California. Like the people of Korphe, he expects that
everything must be done the hard way. His focus on frugality, however, proves to be
a hindrance in some ways. For example, the bargain air ticket leaves him exhausted
after days on various planes, and his failure to factor his own expenses into the
cost of the project makes it difficult for him to get things done