Summary: Chapter 12: Haji Ali’s Lesson

In Skardu, Mortenson cannot find Changazi or the building supplies that were left in his keeping. He receives help from Ghulam Parvi, an astute accountant working for Changazi. Parvi stands up to Changazi’s men and locates the supplies in an abandoned hotel. About a third of the materials are missing, but Mortenson has enough to return to Korphe, where he expects preparations to be far along. Little has been done, however, and Mortenson is upset. Haji explains that the villagers decided to work on the stones themselves rather than hiring laborers who might exploit Mortenson. He puts the matter into perspective by saying that one more winter will not matter after six hundred years without a school. Mortenson tells Twaha about his marriage and Twaha is delighted, although somewhat baffled by Western marriage customs. Sher Takhi, the religious leader of Korphe, gives special prayers for the school-builders and Mortenson goes into the village mosque for the first time. He realizes nervously that he has been taught the Sunni form of prayer, which is different from the Shiite form used by the villagers.

Mortenson returns to America and he and Tara have Thanksgiving dinner with Jean Hoerni. Hoerni announces that he wants to start a foundation, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), and make Mortenson the director. The goal will be to build a school every year. After learning that Tara is pregnant, the Mortensons move to Bozeman, Montana, to be near Tara’s mother. Back in Pakistan, Mortenson invites his former guide, Mouzafer, to work for the CAI and also engages the accountant Parvi. He travels to Korphe to complete the school, but when he tries to oversee construction, Haji tells him that his Western impatience is making everyone crazy. Haji explains that Mortenson must respect the ways of the Balti people if he expects to succeed. He must understand that building relationships is as important as building schools. As the chapter ends, Haji Mehdi, a corrupt leader who dominates the local people, comes to Korphe and threatens Haji Ali. Haji Mehdi says he will not allow Mortenson, an “infidel,” to build a school and claims that girls should not be educated according to the Koran. He demands that Haji Ali give him twelve rams, half of the village’s wealth. Haji Ali agrees, and explains to Mortenson that this is not too great a price to pay for the village children to have education.

Summary: Chapter 13: “A Smile Should Be More Than a Memory”

Mortenson is intent on going into Waziristan, an untamed area of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier, to look for another school site. The year is 1996, a time of political upheaval, and Osama Bin Laden has recently arrived in Afghanistan. In the frontier town of Peshawar, Mortenson sees Taliban forces heading across the border to Afghanistan, while refugees flee in the opposite direction. Mortenson sets out with a driver, but along the way he is kidnapped. For eight days he is held in a small room, although the reasons why are never made clear. He tries to make friends with his captors by asking for a Koran, and he passes the time reading an old copy of Time Magazine and thinking about Tara. An English-speaking Wazir arrives, and Mortenson, who believes the man to be a Taliban commander, tells him about the work he has been doing in Baltistan. One night, Mortenson is blindfolded and taken away in a pickup truck. Mortenson fears he will be killed, but when Khan removes the blindfold, Mortenson sees his captors holding a feast. Without explanation, they embrace Mortenson, give him money for the school project, and take him back to Peshawar.

Analysis: Chapter 12 and Chapter 13

Chapter 12 contrasts the Balti’s ancient culture with Mortenson’s modern way of life. Three years have passed since Mortenson originally wandered into Korphe, and in that time his life has changed a great deal. But his personality and his way of doing things are still very much the same. He is impulsive and impatient, with a great need to see results immediately. Like many people from modern societies in the West, Mortenson makes spontaneous decisions and craves excitement. Haji, on the other hand, has lived all his life in a fixed society where very little changes. Everyone in Korphe carries out their expected roles because the group’s survival depends on shared responsibility. Life is difficult, and things often go slowly. Haji has developed his view of the world as the result of a lifetime of dealing with this reality, and although he has no formal education, he has learned from the traditions handed down to him. In sharing his wisdom with Mortenson, Haji teaches Mortenson not only how to get things done in Baltistan but also how to live his life differently.

Haji’s decision to give over the rams reveals how important the school is to the people of Korphe. His decision also demonstrates his ability as a leader. The rams represent half of the village’s wealth, making them difficult to part with, particularly since the village has so little. To make clear how valuable the rams are, Mortenson describes them as being like “a firstborn child, prize cow, and family pet all rolled into one.” Giving them up is difficult, but Haji recognizes that a better life is possible for his people, so he believes the sacrifice is worthwhile. He is sad that he cannot read the Koran and he does not want the children of Korphe to grow up illiterate as well. As he explains to his people, the rams would only last a little while, but the school, and the education it provides, will last for a lifetime.

The second half of the book, in which Mortenson’s experiences become part of the larger political developments in the region, begins in Chapter 13. Previously, the action has switched back and forth between California and Korphe, with other places, such as Rawalpindi and Skardu, appearing only because of their proximity to Korphe. Once Mortenson’s mission has been extended beyond Korphe, however, tensions beyond the village become much more important. We have already heard about the political problems of Pakistan, including the ongoing conflict with India and the differences between the two factions of Islam, Sunni and Shia. In this chapter, we also learn more about the dangerous tribal lands that lie along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we get a closer view of what life is like in this area. The most telling point about Mortenson’s kidnapping is that we never know why it happened or what it meant. The situation in this region is complicated in a way that no outsider can fully understand.

Throughout the book, Mortenson has frequently behaved somewhat recklessly, but in Chapter 13 his willingness to take risks goes still further. Although he was warned by Haji Ali never to go anywhere in Pakistan without trustworthy allies, Mortenson is so intrigued by tales of Waziristan that he ignores the potential danger. He realizes he is taking a chance by traveling into unknown territory with a strange driver, yet he does it anyway. From the reader’s viewpoint, it is obvious that Mortenson does not have to go to Waziristan. He could just as easily look for potential school locations in safer places. We also see that he is repeating a familiar pattern, setting out with no preparation and having made no connections ahead of time. In previous circumstances, however, he was operating in a reasonably safe part of the country, where Western climbing expeditions often traveled. In going to Waziristan, he acts foolishly, and he ultimately suffers the consequence of being kidnapped. In addition, Mortenson’s risk taking takes on a new dimension as he is newly married, meaning his actions will affect someone beyond just him. Still, he never appears to consider this fact.