• AIDS IN AFRICA: There's a saying in Africa that life and death are always much closer to one there than elsewhere. The Monitor's Danna Harman says that the maxim literally proved true during a tour of a hospital in Ethiopia earlier this week. She visited the hospital as part of a USAID tour. "While the rest of the group continued on, I stopped for a moment to talk to this girl diagnosed with AIDS (page 1). She was dying, but had such a sense of style, like many Ethiopian women. She wore a beautiful scarf and had painted fingernails. But there was no privacy or dignity for anyone. Her bed was next to a mother who had just given birth, and on the other side of the mother was a man with another ailment. Everyone is thrown into the same room."
• HAVEL GROUPIE: Reporter Arie Farnam admits to being a longtime fan of Czech President Vaclav Havel (this page).
"I was caught by Havel's magic when I first came to Czechoslovakia, just before the breakup, in 1992. I was 16, and the fairy-tale story of the artists and students who overthrew the "evil empire" was captivating," says Arie. "That was still the time when Prague Castle (the equivalent of the US White House) was a relaxed and confusing place. Today, every corner is known and cleaned and watched by guards. Tour groups are allowed to walk specific corridors at specific times and no tourist sees more than the glittering gilded chandeliers.
"But back then, a Czech friend and I paid a few crowns to be let in for a tour. But no tour guide showed, so we set off on our own through the dusty echoing halls of Havel's domain. No one stopped us from wandering freely around the castle, and we did not even look too much out of place among Havel's young secretaries who dressed little differently from teenagers. I still treasure a badly lit photo of me standing at the podium where President Havel gave his first famous speeches."
David Clark Scott