Reporters on the Job

REPORTING AT A MOSQUE: To report Friday's story about changing standards for Iraqi women, the Monitor's Ilene Prusher spent about five hours at a mosque last Friday in Kadhumiya, Iraq. Alia, her interpreter, had Ilene come to her house at 9 a.m. to get dressed. She told Ilene that if she wanted to go into the mosque to talk to women, she must be respectfully dressed (see photo below).

"The first layer was the black cloak over my clothes, then the black head scarf pinned up to my chin, and then, finally, the traditional abaya. Then she gave me black socks to wear underneath my sandals. Given that the summer heat is just starting to kick in - it was close to 120 degrees F. in Baghdad Friday - this story was, climactically speaking, a lot more difficult for me than the time I tried on a burqa for a few hours in the Afghan winter."

Alia was nervous about Ilene taking pictures or interviewing people. "I waited until we had been at the mosque for a couple of hours before I took my camera and notebook out form under my abaya," says Ilene.

"When it was prayer time, I saw a couple of Iranian television journalists and one photographer taking pictures, so I said to Alia, 'If they're taking pictures, I guess I can.'

"She replied, 'Yes, but don't you see? They are men taking pictures, not women.'

"When working in the Middle East, sometimes I forget the different expectations of women - as a foreigner, you can get away with a lot more and are held to a different standard. But suddenly it occurred to me - I am no longer here as a foreigner, at least in appearance," says Ilene.

"Now I'm here in an abaya with a few thousand other women, and I could no longer use being a foreigner as carte blanche to push the rules a little. But, I coaxed Alia into letting me take a few shots with the camera inside the abaya. By the end of prayers, I was openly shooting pictures, though doing my best to do it from a very conservative distance. I told everyone that I interviewed there that I was a journalist."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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