Reporters on the Job

A MAN'S WORLD: At 6 feet tall, with short hair, the first question reporter Gretchen Peters hears from most Afghan men is: "Are you a man or a woman?" No Western male would be confused. But "men here simply can't conceive that a woman would turn up in their office or bunker or refugee camp without a man to watch over me. When they discover I am a woman, I get better treatment than the male journalists I arrived with, but they still seem somewhat mystified."

The woman in Gretchen's story today, Faranaz Nazir (this page), has the same problem. "We don't like the fact she doesn't wear a burqa. If she doesn't wear a burqa, you don't know she's a woman," Gretchen's translator told her.

CONVERSION OR CONVERSATION? Scott Baldauf went out yesterday to get groceries and his shoes shined. The shoeshine guy asked Scott, in Urdu, if he is a Muslim. (Scott was wearing the traditional salwar kameez, baggy cotton pants and a long flowing shirt, and he has grown a beard.) Scott told the man, "No, I'm not a Muslim." "The man looked hurt," Scott says. But the shoe shiner's friend, another shoe shiner, told Scott: "Just say this phrase [in Arabic] 'There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his only prophet.' "

Scott did, and that seemed to reassure them. "They thought that they had converted me, but what they were doing was teaching me Arabic," Scott says.

FOLLOWING THE TRAIL: Scott Peterson found the bombed Afghan village in today's story (page 1) by visiting a hospital in the Panjshir Valley, where 10 wounded civilians were brought. He wasn't allowed to interview the patients, but the hospital staff told him that not just two villages, but a third - Raqi - had been hit. Scott had a letter of permission to cover "refugees" in the area. Quick talk from Scott's translator got them past military check points. They went to a post close to the front line, and were given an armed escort. After driving even farther toward Taliban positions, they got out and walked a mile - to the ruins of a house, blasted by a US bomb less than 24 hours before.

Let us hear from you.

Mail to: One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 via e-mail: world@csmonitor.com

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