Reporters on the Job

• THE SILENT INTERVIEW: As the Monitor's Abe McLaughlin headed out to a construction site in Jwaneng, Botswana, to talk to construction workers about their company's AIDS program, he figured it would be a delicate and possibly awkward conversation. But he underestimated just how awkward it would be.

"Ten husky workers in jumpsuits walked in to the shed and sat down - many of them on the concrete floor. I asked them what they had been told in their company's anti-AIDS seminars and got clipped responses: 'condomize'; 'be faithful.' "

In the uncomfortable silence, Abe began to grasp how hard it is to talk about AIDS in Africa. "First of all, it was a big group, which never works well when talking about subjects like sex and disease. Then there's this random white guy in a blue button-down shirt trying to talk to a bunch of black construction workers. And finally, there's the huge stigma about AIDS. In Botswana, for instance, some 250,000 people may be HIV-positive, but only a handful have disclosed that they've been diagnosed with the disease. At one point, one of the workers actually chastised my chaperon in their native language for giving them no warning about this discussion."

But Abe got a break after the group interview ended. "A quiet man who was hanging around the office began to talk. I don't know if he is HIV-positive, but he clearly has had some kind of personal experience with AIDS." Speaking in a near-whisper, the man began talking about how HIV-positive people are ostracized, beaten up, have bricks thrown through their windows. Looking down at his feet, he said, "It's a hard thing to change."

• THE INTERVIEW IN THE DARK: Reporter Howard LaFranchi says he's become accustomed to the occasional power cuts in Baghdad - especially since his hotel has a noisy generator that kicks in when the lights go out. But he wasn't prepared for such problems at the heart of the Coalition Provisional Authority's compound.

"I was interviewing a member of the Governing Council, Judge Dara Noor Alzin, in a windowless room in what had been the 'bungalow' of one of Hussein's relatives on the presidential palace grounds. Suddenly the lights dimmed, then went out. I tried shifting to a chair by the door to get some light from the foyer, but that didn't help. The judge continued as if nothing had happened, but my note-taking suffered before the lights surged back on. I apologize to the judge if the darkness means I got a quote wrong."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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