"That was a lovely sortie," Bhangoo said, lighting another
cigarette. "But it might not have been without Mr. Mortenson."
Later, after refueling by inserting a handpump into a rusting
barrel of aviation fuel, we flew up the Braldu Valley to the village of Korphe,
the last human habitation before the Baltoro Glacier begins its march up to K2
and the world's greatest concentration of twenty-thousand-foot-plus peaks. After
a failed 1993 attempt to climb K2, Mortenson arrived in Korphe, emaciated and
exhausted. In this impoverished community of mud and stone huts, both
Mortenson's life and the lives of northern Pakistan's children changed course.
One evening, he went to bed by a yak dung fire a mountaineer who'd lost his way,
and one morning, by the time he'd shared a pot of butter tea with his hosts and
laced up his boots, he'd become a humanitarian who'd found a meaningful path to
follow for the rest of his life.
Arriving in Korphe with Dr. Greg, Bhangoo and I were welcomed
with open arms, the head of a freshly killed ibex, and endless cups of tea. And
as we listened to the Shia children of Korphe, one of the world's most
impoverished communities, talk about how their hopes and dreams for the future
had grown exponentially since a big American arrived a decade ago to build them
the first school their village had ever known, the general and I were done for.
"You know," Bhangoo said, as we were enveloped in a scrum of 120
students tugging us by the hands on a tour of their school, "flying with
President Musharraf, I've become acquainted with many world leaders, many
outstanding gentlemen and ladies. But I think Greg Mortenson is the most
remarkable person I've ever met."
Everyone who has had the privilege of watching Greg Mortenson
operate in Pakistan is amazed by how encyclopedically well he has come to know
one of the world's most remote regions. And many of them find themselves, almost
against their will, pulled into his orbit. During the last decade, since a
series of failures and accidents transformed him from a mountaineer to a
humanitarian, Mortenson has attracted what has to be one of the most
underqualified and overachieving staffs of any charitable organization on earth.
Illiterate high-altitude porters in Pakistan's Karakoram have
put down their packs to make paltry wages with him so their children can have
the education they were forced to do without. A taxi driver who chanced to pick
Mortenson up at the Islamabad airport sold his cab and became his fiercely
dedicated "fixer." Former Taliban fighters renounced violence and the oppression
of women after meeting Mortenson and went to work with him peacefully building
schools for girls. He has drawn volunteers and admirers from every stratum of
Pakistan's society and from all the warring sects of Islam.
Supposedly objective journalists are at risk of being drawn into
his orbit, too. On three occasions I accompanied Mortenson to northern Pakistan,
flying to the most remote valleys of the Karakoram Himalaya and the Hindu Kush
on helicopters that should have been hanging from the rafters of museums. The
more time I spent watching Mortenson work, the more convinced I became that I
was in the presence of someone extraordinary.
The accounts I'd heard about Mortenson's adventures building
schools for girls in the remote mountain regions of Pakistan sounded too
dramatic to believe before I left home. The story I found, with ibex hunters in
the high valleys of the Karakoram, in nomad settlements at the wild edge of
Afghanistan, around conference tables with Pakistan's military elite, and over
endless cups of paiyu cha in tearooms so smoky I had to squint to see my
notebook, was even more remarkable than I'd imagined.
British Parliament asks Amazon to clarify why it pays $9 million in income tax on $23 billion of UK sales.(May 20 2013) Amazon will be called back to give further evidence to members of the British Parliament "to clarify how its activities in the U.K. justify its low corporate...