THANKS BUT NO THANKS: When reporter Scott Baldauf and photographer Robert Harbison visited a lumber yard in Konar Province (page 1), they were looking for a ride into the woods to see one of the massive logging operations.
"One timber merchant offered to take us up in the hills near the Afghan town of Peij, a five-hour drive north," says Scott. "When we asked if such a journey was safe, the merchant said he makes the trip all the time. Then he took a second look at us: two American journalists and our Afghan interpreter. 'It would be dangerous for you,' he said. 'There is a reward for anyone who captures a foreigner and delivers him to Al Qaeda.' Well, that's a relevant piece of information if there ever was one. We graciously declined his offer," Scott says.
BIG, UGLY, AND IN DEMAND: Five years ago, while living in Zimbabwe, reporter Arie Farnam acquired a large umbrella built for heavy tropical rains. She still has it, largely because it is tougher than any other umbrella she has ever owned. "But it usually looks ridiculous in Europe, and I get glares when I go out with it on a crowded street," says Arie.
Now that Europe has been hit by torrential rains (page 1), Arie meets only jealousy at the sight of her huge umbrella. "As I walked through the flooded center of Prague, other reporters or residents often sheltered with me under my shield."
Because the Czech Republic is under a state of emergency, Arie says that people are forced to evacuate from flooded regions, and any needed item usually cars or boats can be commandeered by rescuers. "At one point, a flood-fighter borrowed my tough umbrella to brace against a high wind and lashing rain. For the moment, they haven't confiscated it, but it seems like it's only a matter of time."
A SCARRED TOWN: While reporting today's story on Islamic fighting (page 7), Nick Blanford visited Ain al-Hilweh, a Lebanese refugee camp where the residents are worried about the possibility of a showdown between Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction and the die-hard Dinnieh militants, a group with ties to Al Qaeda. The camp's narrow alleyways and densely packed buildings mean that many civilians could be killed if fighting escalates in the streets.
"Several cars were riddled with bullet holes, the glass windows shot out during the gun battle on Tuesday morning," says Nick. "A Lebanese photographer told me that the fight reminded him of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war when militiamen regularly shot at each other from street corners."
David S. Hauck