Reporters on the Job
• Praying and Dancing for Interviews: The hardest part of reporting today's story about Poles working illegally in Brussels (page 9) was getting undocumented Poles to talk, says reporter Deborah Steinborn. "In Brussels, many Poles who had promised to talk with me, or show me their homes-away-from-home, got scared about opening up once it came time for our meeting," she says. "Others never showed up for interviews, or gave me fake mobile numbers in order to avoid me."
Deborah countered with several strategies, including attending two baptisms, a wedding, the market where Poles shop, and several bars and nightclubs that cater to Poles in Brussels. "I followed around a Polish priest who was giving confessions at another Polish church in order to persuade him to talk to me about his (mostly illegal) parishioners," she says. "I got on his nerves, but it worked; he told me he'd give me two hours of his time provided I sat through his mass first - which did involve a lot of kneeling and praying."
The evenings of reporting were the most fruitful. In Brussels, there are several nightclubs that cater exclusively to Poles (though run by non-Poles). Deborah was told by several Poles that the two most most popular hangouts were places called "Chez Olga" and "The Disco."
What she wasn't told was that in Polish circles, it's almost an unspoken rule that these evening haunts have different names from what's on the door. One Pole told Deborah it was because Poles have trouble pronouncing French names. Another suggested it was to keep nonPoles from tracking their hangouts. So it took some detective work to find "The Disco," which it turns out is actually the Taverne, a darkened pub on Rue Théodore Verhaegen.
David Clark Scott