Reporters on the Job

DINING OUT IN SIERRA LEONE: To get today's story on integrating the rebel and government forces in Sierra Leone (this page), reporter Greg Campbell and a photographer joined several local journalists for a six-day jaunt with the UN forces in the rebel-controlled eastern region of the country.

"It was extremely hectic," Greg says. "The first day out, a monsoon struck, so the troops were extremely preoccupied with where to set up camp." What went by the wayside, he says, was meal planning. They had left the Army base at 8 a.m. that morning, after a quick breakfast of rolls with honey. By 10:30 that night, they still hadn't eaten.

But one of the local journalists went foraging. She came back and told Greg that she had found something.

She led them out in the gloom, into a darkened cellar where someone filled a big bowl with rice and covered it with "unidentified" meat, Greg says. He said it was very tasty, spicy. But, being the inquisitive journalist, he couldn't help ask what he was eating. The local journalist just laughed and said, "Bush meat. Don't even think about it."

The next morning, in the bright sun, as he left his tent, he saw a group of kids "shucking frogs." He asked what it was, and they told him "Bush meat. It's what you ate last night - boiled frogs."

WINDOW ON GRAFT: While reporting today's story on how corruption flourishes in war-ravaged Kashmir, India (page 1), the Monitor's Scott Baldauf decided he needed a clear example of how the hawala (literally, "in the air"), or illegal cash-transfer market worked. "Surprisingly, a respectable academic told me he had used the hawala himself once," says Scott. The academic's uncle was in Jaipur, India, visiting friends when he remembered he'd forgotten to pay 200,000 rupees ($4,250) to his neighborhood housing association in New Delhi. So the uncle called his nephew, the academic, and told him, "Reach into your wallet, and pull out a 1 rupee note." The academic did. "Now read me the serial number on the bill."

The uncle hung up, and then called back a half hour later and gave the address of a hawala dealer in Delhi. The uncle had paid a hawala dealer in Jaipur 210,000 rupees, and that Jaipur dealer had then called a hawala dealer in Delhi to release the cash to the academic. When the academic showed up, he didn't need any identification card. He just showed the 1 rupee note with the magic serial number, and the dealer gave him the money.

Scott says the black-market system is faster than bank transfers, and is increasingly used, not just by organized crime, but by average Indians.

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