Reporters on the Job

• UNINVITED GUESTS: Reporter Philip Smucker's Afghan interpreter, Lutfullah Mashal, came face to face with the sometimes repressive policies of Afghan officials this weekend, when The Chicago Tribune threw a birthday party for their Afghan interpreter.

"It was well attended by Afghans and Western journalists," Philip says. "There was even an Afghan jazz band."

But near midnight, Philip says, some plainclothed defense officials arrived and threatened to arrest the Afghans present. They accused them of entertaining Afghan women in a "decadent way."

The only two Afghan women at the party, Philip says, were also American citizens. One works in interim leader Hamid Karzai's office. Nevertheless, the police tossed both interpreters into a police van. Philip says that the cops punched and slapped Mashal and his friend, Farouq, but later released them into the American reporters' custody.

"The next day, the country's newly elected leader, Mr. Karzai (page 1), was informed of our run-in and vowed to punish the offending officials. Only one problem," says Philip. "Karzai has no police force that he can call his own, and the UN peacekeepers didn't want to touch this one."

• IT'S ALL IN THE NAME: Martin Hodgson says the island he writes about today (page 7) is the only part of Colombia where people aren't completely baffled by his surname. "Hodgson is one of the most common family names on the island, thanks to an 18th-century British official (and presumably, slave-owner) who administrated the San Andres archipelago and Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast," Martin says. "At the hotel I stayed at, the receptionist told me that she'd presumed I was Nicaraguan. I was honored to meet 95-year old Virginia Hodgson, who is a living repository of island folk dancing (she still dances every day) – and, I guess, a very, very, very distant relative."

• SERIOUS FIRST LADY: Nick Blanford says that while interviewing Syrians and diplomats about Bashar al-Assad (this page), it was striking that whatever their view, most of them mentioned what a positive role the president's wife, Asma al Assad, has played.

Although Syria is ruled by a secular regime, it is still a traditional Muslim country where women rarely play public roles. Before marrying the president, Asma al-Akhras lived in London where she worked as a financial analyst. Nick says President Assad's hawkish exterior clearly has been softened by his marriage to Asma. And diplomats told him they were impressed with her high public profile and devotion to social work.

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