Reporters on the Job

Contact Sport: The Monitor's Dan Murphy didn't have to look far for today's story about Americans studying Arabic (page 1). An avid ultimate frisbee player, he got a group together along with an old friend from Southeast Asia who's teaching at an American high school in Cairo. At their first game, about 15 US students showed up. "Having recently moved to Cairo I was shocked," says Dan. "With the war in Iraq, I thought Americans were afraid of coming to the Middle East. It's been quite gratifying to see how many people are learning about this complicated region."

Just Instant Message Me: Until relatively recently, making an international phone call meant preparing to shout into the phone, or at the very least, staying calm in the face of delays that have speakers tripping over each other's words. That can still be the case: While reports from the battlefield often sound like they're from a next door neighbor, at other times - well, they don't.

"You said you're approaching the breach?" yelled his editor - me - Monday, trying to communicate with Scott Peterson as he neared Fallujah with his marine unit.

Scott: "No, we're near THE BREACH!"

"RIGHT - THE BR-EACH!"

"NO, IT'S NOT A BRIDGE, IT'S A BREACH!"

But more often, communication - not only by satellite phone but by text-messaging as well - is astonishingly straightforward, a testament in part to Scott's unusual facility with all things wired and battery-powered. And it can lead to some unexpected conversations.

In an earlier call that day, Scott checked in, cracking a joke in the process. Suddenly, a chorus of male laughter rose in the background. Scott, it turned out, was sitting in his light armored vehicle with his marine buddies. "The guys I'm with can't believe I'm talking with my editor in Boston," he said. As I became aware of my larger audience, it seemed strange to be addressing a group poised for battle. "Tell them everyone in Boston wishes them well," I said. "Our thoughts are with them."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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