As a journalist who has practiced this odd profession of probing
into people's lives for two decades, I've met more than my share of public
figures who didn't measure up to their own press. But at Korphe and every other
Pakistani village where I was welcomed like long-lost family, because another
American had taken the time to forge ties there, I saw the story of the last ten
years of Greg Mortenson's existence branch and fork with a richness and
complexity far beyond what most of us achieve over the course of a full-length
This is a fancy way of saying that this is a story I couldn't
simply observe. Anyone who travels to the CAI's fifty-three schools with
Mortenson is put to work, and in the process, becomes an advocate. And after
staying up at all-night jirgas with village elders and weighing in on proposals
for new projects, or showing a classroom full of excited eight-year-old girls
how to use the first pencil-sharpener anyone has ever cared to give them, or
teaching an impromptu class on English slang to a roomful of gravely respectful
students, it is impossible to remain simply a reporter.
As Graham Greene's melancholy correspondent Thomas Fowler
learned by the end of The Quiet American, sometimes, to be human, you have to
e sidesI choose to side with Greg Mortenson. Not because he doesn't
have his flaws. His fluid sense of time made pinning down the exact sequence of
many events in this book almost impossible, as did interviewing the Balti people
with whom he works, who have no tenses in their language and as little
attachment to linear time as the man they call Dr. Greg.
During the two years we worked together on this book, Mortenson
was often so maddeningly late for appointments that I considered abandoning the
project. Many people, particularly in America, have turned on Mortenson after
similar experiences, calling him "unreliable," or worse. But I have come to
realize, as his wife Tara Bishop often says, "Greg is not one of us." He
operates on Mortenson Time, a product, perhaps, of growing up in Africa and
working much of each year in Pakistan. And his method of operation, hiring
people with limited experience based on gut feelings, forging working alliances
with necessarily unsavory characters, and, above all, winging it, while
unsettling and unconventional, has moved mountains.
For a man who has achieved so much, Mortenson has a remarkable
lack of ego. After I agreed to write this book, he handed me a page of notepaper
with dozens of names and numbers printed densely down the margin in tiny script.
It was a list of his enemies. "Talk to them all," he said. "Let them have their
say. We've got the results. That's all I care about."
I listened to hundreds of Mortenson's allies and enemies. And in
the interest of security and/or privacy I've changed a very few names and
Working on this book was a true collaboration. I wrote the
story. But Greg Mortenson lived it. And together, as we sorted through thousands
of slides, reviewed a decade's worth of documents and videos, recorded hundreds
of hours of interviews, and traveled to visit with the people who are central to
this unlikeliest of narratives, we brought this book to life.
And as I found in Pakistan, Mortenson's Central Asia Institute
does, irrefutably, have the results. In a part of the world where Americans are,
at best, misunderstood, and more often feared and loathed, this soft-spoken,
six-foot-four former mountaineer from Montana has put together a string of
improbable successes. Though he would never say so himself, he has
single-handedly changed the lives of tens of thousands of children, and
independently won more hearts and minds than all the official American
propaganda flooding the region.
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