Reporters on the Job

DRESS THE JOURNALIST: Soon after arriving in Libya (this page), reporter Catherine Taylor asked her government minder to meet a typical Libyan family. Her notebook was packed with questions about life before and after Muammar Qaddafi and the family's views of the West and the Lockerbie compensation deal.

But the visit didn't turn out quite as Catherine had planned. "My journalistic ambitions didn't stand a chance," she says. "As ssoon as I set foot in the house I was surrounded by a team of excitable, smiling women on a mission to transform me into a desert goddess."

Their first target was Catherine's attire. "Before I could protest, I was stripped, wrapped in lengths of fabric that were pinned together with huge amounts of silver jewelery. My face was painted with mock tattoos. I had no choice but to relax into my new look and sit with the girls sipping tea and talking about when to marry.

WELCOME CHANGE: The last time the Monitor's Scott Peterson was close to Biyara (page 1) was last November, just before the Iraq war. Then, Biyara - located in a sliver of Kurdistan along the border with Iran - was off limits, ruled by Islamic militants. Scott visited the front line of the Kurdish militia high above the area.

Scott says shocking, almost unbelievable stories emerged that mirrored extreme hardships imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But what was really going on down below - what life was like under the Ansar al-Islam yoke - remained a mystery.

Now the doors are open once again, but the effects of the repression linger on. "Even today, people are still afraid to talk unless they have convinced themselves that Ansar will never return," Scott says. "I haven't seen as much gratitude for the US occupation of Iraq anywhere else."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

Cultural snapshot

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