Reporters on the Job

MOVE QUICKLY: Reaching the Kurdish town of Qamishly on the Syrian-Turkishborder from Damascus, Syria's capital, involves a drive of about 10 hours across the Syrian desert and flood plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

Reporter Nicholas Blanford says he and his companion were worried they would arrive in Qamishly only to be turned back by Syrian security police. "We were told in Damascus that we would probably be tailed by security personnel for the duration of our stay in Qamishly, which is a sensitive town close to the border with Iraq," Nick says. But they think they matched wits with their watchers. "Although the security police learned of our presence the moment we checked into a hotel, we managed to stay one step ahead of them and avoid a tail - at least we think we did," says Nick.

WE START EARLY: Reporter Rachel Van Dongen got her first hint of Colombia President Alvaro Uribe Velez's love of the job earlier this month, when international reporters were summoned to the presidential palace for a briefing. The off-the-record session began promptly at 7 a.m.

Mr. Uribe softened the blow by serving coffee, along with fruit juice and cheese-bread called bunuelos.

The hottest topic was the new decree that reporters must ask permission eight days before entering a "zone of rehabilitation." International reporters had complained hotly of this, and Uribe seemed genuinely concerned. But "many days later," Rachel says, "the restrictions are still in place."

LONDON'S LOOK: After seven years out of the country, Martin Hodgson was taken aback by the appearance of his home city. "On my street, there are at least five abandoned cars, and a three-piece suite has been abandoned at the corner. I have always loved the city and still do, but I didn't remember it ever being so shabby."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

Cultural snapshot
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