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Reporters on the Job

January 8, 2002



WHO ARE YOU REALLY?: The Monitor's Danna Harman found her powers of persuasion tested often during her trip to Somalia for today's story (page 1) about a suspected terrorist training camp.

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It took three days of going to an airfield in Nairobi, Kenya, to persuade a pilot who ferries khat (a leaf that's chewed as a stimulant) to give Danna a lift. "He told me I wasn't worth my weight in khat!"

Once in Mandera, Somalia, she and a colleague had to rent not one, but two four-wheel-drive trucks plus a team of two Kenyan soldiers and four Somali militia-men. This multinational security team was required because the road to El Wak, Somalia, goes back and forth across the border. "Actually, it was good we had so many people. We had seven flat tires along the way," she says.

When Danna finally reached El Wak, the locals didn't believe that she and her colleague were journalists. They had heard on the radio the suspicions about Al Qaeda training camps in the areas. They assumed Danna must be an FBI agent. "We had a meeting on the second day with all the town elders. They sat around this massive room with their staffs and their long kikoys [traditional dresses] and sunglasses and stared at us. When we finished with our questions, I asked if they had any questions for us. One after another, they warned us how, in their custom, lying is a very bad thing and we'd better tell them at once if we were really journalists or from the FBI. So, we produced business cards and gave them assurances about who we were. But we didn't get very far. The next question was: 'Are you from the CIA?' Then, 'Are you from the Pentagon?' It was endless.

"When we finally got back to Mandera - hot, dirty, and exhausted - the guesthouse owner wasn't sure if he wanted to rent us a room. He wanted to know if we were from the FBI!"

David Clark Scott

World editor

Cultural snapshot

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