FURNITURE SHOPPING IN IRAQ: There was a look of concern on the Iraqi taxi driver's face, when the Monitor's Scott Peterson hopped into the worn white Toyota earlier this week. "I didn't have an official 'guide,' and the two cameras on my lap told Adnan, the driver, that we would be working.
"No one from the ministry?" he asked Scott. Foreign journalists especially those with cameras are meant to travel everywhere in Iraq with a 'minder' from the information ministry (page 1).
Scott handed Adnan a map that had been drawn, with Arabic lettering, to show a certain rundown street in the capital Baghdad's block-long furniture district.
"What do you want to do there?" Adnan asked hesitantly, as he pulled the car into traffic.
"Don't worry," Scott replied, pointing at the cameras. "We're not working we're going shopping."
With hundreds of journalists packing into Baghdad for Iraq's referendum, space is at a premium. All satellite phones must be registered with the ministry, and correspondents sign a letter promising not to use the phones at their hotel.
That means that on the southeast side of the press center outside on a patio there stands a bank of satellite phone antennas and makeshift desks. Scott quickly realized that if he didn't stake out a claim ASAP like a gold prospector, protecting his patch there would be no space left.
"Adnan relaxed when we got to the furniture market, and it was clear that my cameras would remain unused. We walked from shop to shop, surveying all manner of office hardware.
The Monitor's "bureau" in Baghdad now consists of one of the finest desks on the patio dark-blue mottled plastic exterior, pasted over wood, and two drawers replete with a key lock and plastic diamonds on tin handles and two aquamarine plastic deck chairs. Total cost: $5 for the chairs; $25 for the desk.
WHO'S ON FIRST? The Monitor's Scott Baldauf, like most observers, found it difficult to read the political crosscurrents in Kashmir (page 7). For example, he notes there's a surprising degree of horse trading after the elections.
"One candidate I met, Manjit Singh, switched parties after our interview, on the same day. I have no idea what motivated him to join the party which was tossed out of power," says Scott. "One Kashmiri journalist attributed it all to a culture of opportunism. 'Nobody in Kashmir is sincere, not even the common man,' he told me, ruefully."
David Clark Scott