Reporters on the job

A christmas carp: Arie Farnam arrived in the Czech Republic nine years ago, at Christmas time. Like most newcomers, she was mystified by the fish fascination (page 7) in this landlocked country. At first, she was suspicious that Czech carp might be another one of those dubious Central European specialties. But she now wishes Christmas carp came more often than once a year. Arie spends every November getting muddy in her Czech in-laws' pond, and often gets ice-cutting duty in the winter, when long axes are used to knock holes in the ice to reoxygenate the water.

laidback but listening ... hard: Philip Smucker is heading back to Cairo - maybe for a camel ride with his wife around the pyramids - for the holidays. He's looking forward to the respite, he says, but he's going to miss working with Afghan reporter Lutfullah Mashal. He says working with Mashal has been one of the most pleasant - and educational - aspects of his experience in Afghanistan. "My Afghan friend is the perfect, happy-go-lucky sidekick," Phil says. "He doesn't strike most people as an over-serious sleuth, so they tend to say more in his presence. I often come off as a far-too-serious, sometimes even bumbling American reporter in search of hard facts. My Afghan colleague, on the other hand, manages to pass himself off as a curious observer with no muckraking intentions. That's how we happened to overhear a deal being made with a Western-backed Afghan warlord for Al Qaeda members to leave Afghanistan (page 1)."

cracks in the gloom: Ben Lynfield says he was handed one of his most challenging assignments this past Thursday. "I was asked to find something uplifting for Christmas in all the gloom, and given only 48 hours to do so," Ben says.

"Reflecting before heading out to Bethlehem, I realized the task, though difficult, was not impossible." He remembered one of the most nonpolitical comments he has ever heard from a politician: "Perhaps the human beings suffering on both sides can perhaps, even jointly, create a miracle," said Palestinian official Sari Nusseibeh at a press conference a few months ago. Then billboards started sprouting up on Israel's highways, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, quoting Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated Nobel Peace laureate: "Better Pains of Peace than Agonies of War." The billboards are by the Forum of Bereaved Families for Peace, a group of Israeli and Palestinian families who argue for reconciliation against the strong trends toward vengeance. Not exactly beacons of light, but perhaps a few sparks in the darkness.

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