A VISIT TO BASILAN ISLAND: To get today's story about the American missionaries being held hostage in the Philippines (page 1), reporter Christopher Johnson traveled to the the town of Lamitan on Basilan Island. "It was a spooky trip. I took the ferry alone, and saw no other foreigners. My local contact, a woman from the mayor's office, wasn't at the dock when I arrived. I found myself at the mercy of the local dockworkers and taxi drivers. I've been in Southeast Asia off and on since 1988, but never seen guys so surly and aggressive. About 20 of them mocked me as I stood waiting, trying to pick a fight, I guess, thinking I was a US special forces guy."
Finally, the mayor himself pulled up in a black pickup truck with tinted windows and four machine-gun toting guards riding in the back. "As we drove through the forest, the mayor and his gunmen were strangely quiet, and I wondered if I was being kidnapped by Abu Sayyaffers, until we finally arrived at the mayor's air-condition office." The gunmen accompanied Chris around Lamitan as he interviewed people, including a former hostage. "It's a Wild West kind of town, not far from where the Army is fighting the Abu Sayyaf, and hunting for the American hostages. I noticed the guards left their truck running the whole three hours I was with them, and never put down their weapons."
FIRST IN THE DOOR: To ensure that an interview with a busy official occurs, in this case with Afghanistan's first-ever minster of women's affairs (page 7), the Monitor's Ilene Prusher says the best approach is to get the first appointment.
"I was glad to get the 9 a.m. slot to meet Sima Samar. We got some good, quiet time together over tea and cookies. A half hour later, the delegations of visitors - in groups of about 20 - started to arrive, and the unscheduled appointments began. With so few working phones in Afghanistan, everyone just shows up."
- David Clark Scott