Reporters on the Job

Not Quite American Idol: Reality TV is a relatively new phenomenon in Pakistan. And like some of the shows that have appeared in the US and Europe, it also can be somewhat edgy. For example, one of the current programs, says correspondent Shahan Mufti, is "Late Night Show with Begum Nawazish Ali," a transvestite talk-show host. Today's story is about a reality TV program that is similar to American Idol. But instead of choosing pop singers, the goal is to choose a prime minister for Pakistan.

Like Idol, there are three judges; a Randy Jackson character, and Simon Cowell, but no Paula Abdul. During the taping, Shahan watched the Simon judge, Nusrat Amin, made a banker squirm as he grilled him on economic policy.

Shahan also saw a contestant who could become the William Hung (who performed an off-key Ricky Martin hit in the 2004 American Idol season) of this new show. "He wasn't making much sense. He'll probably end up providing some sadly comic relief as an outtake," says Shahan.

Shoeless in Iraq: It is considered courteous and good manners to take off your shoes whenever you enter someone's home or office in Najaf and Karbala, two cities in central Iraq. It's mandatory for entering the shrines, says correspondent Sam Dagher. He's used to the custom and does it automatically now.

But when he interviewed the Daoum tribe on the outskirts of Karbala, they had carpets and mats set up outdoors. "I wore boots and they had gotten muddy because this place was near the river. Rather than take them off, I sat on the edge of the carpet with feet extended outside. But they kept telling me that I looked 'uncomfortable,' " says Sam.

When entering the Imam Hussein shrine in Karbala, shoes are left at a check-in area and visitors are given a large round wooden token. Upon leaving, Sam couldn't find his token, but eventually found his shoes. "Days later I felt something itchy in my boots. It was my lost token," he says.

– David Clark Scott

World editor

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