Reporters on the Job

MUSICAL HOUSES: Accommodations near the front lines of the Northern Alliance, the ragtag army opposing the Taliban, are spartan - by Western standards (page 7). And there's been an influx of close to 100 foreign journalists looking for a place to stay. The Monitor's Scott Peterson spent one night on the living room floor of a concrete-walled home with plastic sheeting on the windows, no electricity, no heat, and no running water. "The owners told us that if we were going to stay, we would have to get a 55-gallon drum for our own water, and put a lock on the door to our room."

The next night, Scott and his interpreter moved into the "Russia House." "There were 20 other journalists there, which made for plenty of companionship. Our room ($25 per person per night) was big, and there was a stove for heat. If you wanted to wash up, there was a trough out back." There was also electricity, but several colleagues said that the power surges have "fried" their computers and other electronic equipment. Some journalists are purchasing old generators. Windstorms and sand also have been a problem. "I keep my computer wrapped in a headscarf," Scott says.

Last night, Scott settled into another house, this one with a balcony and a view of the Panjshir Valley "that stretches for miles. It's stunning." No running water or heat. "We're working on getting a stove," Scott says confidently.

ANOTHER WAR: Today's story on the threat of biological or chemical attacks (page 1) reminded Peter Ford of Saudi Arabia on the first night of the Gulf War in 1991. Air-raid sirens sent everyone in his hotel scurrying down to the basement. There, reporters, hotel staff, and Saudi policemen waited for an Iraqi bombing raid, wondering whether the bombs would contain chemical warheads. The protection people were wearing ranged from blue head-to-toe NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) suits worn by the American TV crews to street clothing, worn by the Saudi policemen. But, Peter recalls with a laugh, "if they had needed those NBC suits, the police were best equipped to get them: They had pistols. Those NBC suits would have changed hands quickly."

ANOTHER WAR: Security at Israel's Tel Aviv airport came under scrutiny after a Russian jet crashed (page 8) yesterday. The Monitor's Ilene Prusher says she and friends used to complain about how intense the airport interrogation was, particularly for single women traveling alone. "The assumption was that their Arab boyfriends might have given them something to carry or put a bomb in their bags." Ilene feels differently since Sept. 11. "It's certainly uncomfortable and unpleasant, but the purpose is now clearer."

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