Reporters on the Job

• GIFTS FROM A BODYGUARD: In a nation where assassination attempts are common, reporter Rachel Van Dongen was surprised by the eagerness of the students at a bodyguard school in Bogotá, Colombia (page 7). She watched as 40 transfixed recruits from mostly humble backgrounds listened to their teacher, Pedro Nel Rincon, a martial arts specialist (who also plays the harp and accordion), expound on the "golden opportunity" to move up in the world as a security guard.

During one exercise, students were asked to pick which posts they would prefer to monitor at a hypothetical multinational company. Betraying their youth and inexperience, the majority said they would not take posts on the rooftop - arguably the safest location. Why? Because of the cold and a fear of heights.

"Before I left," says Rachel, "Mr. Rincon instructed his pupils to give the visiting reporter a round of applause. He then presented me with my own means of protection, pointing out journalism wasn't exactly the safest profession in Colombia: a lipstick case and key chain, each hiding a small but lethal knife.

• THREE WHAT? While working on the story about workers rights in China (page 7), reporter Jasper Becker discovered something else: Few knew the meaning of the government's new "Three Represents" political theory.

"It's a strange, Maost-like campaign," he says. "It's painted all over China, on walls and advertisements. Every time you open the newspaper, there's someone quoted saying that 'Three Represents' helps them to be a better surgeon, or helps lift people out of poverty. But if you ask many people in China what it means, they can't tell you. Workers are some of the only people who are paying attention to it, because it is actually bad for them."

– David Clark Scott

World editor

Baghdad journal

• PAYING THE DINNER BILL IN BAGHDAD? PACK A SUITCASE The El-Sa'ah Restaurant, with its dark wood paneling, green velvet upholstery, and intimate lighting, is one of the paragons of Baghdad dining. Its buffet features the salads that begin most meals in the Arab world – hummus, tabbouleh, puréed eggplant – along with a selection of Western dishes.

The main courses include beef with potatoes, veal piccata, and chicken in white sauce. For desert, there is that inescapable mainstay of international cuisine: crème caramel. The waiters bustle about in two-tone brown jackets with white satin ribbons knotted at their necks. Any one of them could play the saloonkeeper in a John Wayne western, except that the saloon analogy isn't apt. Iraq banned the public consumption of alcohol in 1994 in deference to Islamic sensibilities.

El-Sa'ah's piano player twinkles his way through "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," and other classics, both Arab and Western. For a moment, you can imagine yourself far, far away from Iraq.

Reality intrudes with the check, which is delivered in a green velvet box the size of a videocassette case. The Iraqi dinar has become so devalued that paying for a meal in an expensive restaurant requires a wad of bills the size of a beach novel.

Iraq's is strictly a cash economy, since credit cards do not exist. Before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, 1 US dollar bought 135 dinars. Today, after more than a decade of economic stagnation, caused in large part by a UN trade embargo, one dollar buys 2,000 dinars. Dinner for two at El-Sa'ah came to 30,000 dinars, and the lid of the green velvet box didn't close.

– Cameron W. Barr

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