• Yoga and Pretzels: Staff writer Ilene Prusher first met Alia Khalaf, an English literature professor, in June 2003 and wrote about her in a collection of profiles of Iraqi women coping with the war. A little more than a year later, Alia found her way to one of the many Internet cafes that have sprung up around Baghdad, and, with Ilene's business card in hand, sent her an e-mail. "We've been in touch by e-mail ever since. In addition to our electronic correspondence, I often check to see if she's safe when I hear of a bombing in Baghdad," says Ilene.
For today's story about the Saddam Hussein trial, Ilene went to visit Alia at her house (careful not to draw attention to herself, and not to stay too long to lessen the risk of kidnapping). Later, they went back to Ilene's hotel suite to watch more of the trial.
"At one point, Alia said I looked tired, and that maybe I should lie down and close my eyes for a few minutes. I declined, but offered that sometimes I close my eyes for a few minutes each day. Not for sleep, I explained, but meditation," says Ilene.
"She looked at me with a puzzled face. 'Like yoga?' she asked. 'Yes, sort of,' I answered.
She told Ilene that she'd never seen yoga in Iraq but had read about it on the Web.
"I showed her a few of my favorite poses. After the tree pose, down dog, and the sun salutation, I offered to show her what I find to be the best yoga-derived pose for loosening up a tight back: the pretzel stretch.
"Pretzel?" she asked Ilene. "What is a pretzel?"
"I found myself wondering at the culture gap," says Ilene. "Alia, who teaches Shakespeare and speaks English beautifully, can explain the workings of iambic pentameter and Renaissance poetry far better than I could. But pretzels apparently have not made it to Iraq. Struggling to explain, I went to Google Images and typed in 'pretzel.' "
David Clark Scott