• Diary of a Muslim Pilgrim: Saudi journalist Faiza Saleh Ambah didn't plan to go on the hajj this week. She was in Egypt doing research for a novel when she got a call last week from her younger sisters, urging her to come home to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and join them in this year's hajj. The journalist in her was intrigued.
"The idea of spending time with my sisters - who live on different continents - and participating in a ritual that continues to draw millions, was appealing," says Faiza.
The flights from Cairo were booked solid with other pilgrims, but she finally managed to get a seat home. The past few days have been a whirl of preparations. Thursday, she and her sisters bought the white robes for their journey. Starting today, Monitor readers will see the five-day event through Faiza's dairy (page 7), as she offers a unique window on this 1,300-year-old annual event. "I'm excited, and anxious about being able to explain with integrity and feeling a ritual that most Muslims consider the journey of a lifetime. And maybe in the process, I'll become a little more spiritual myself," she says.
• Tares and Wheat of Democracy: While reporting the first in a series about two Iraqi neighborhood councils learning the ropes of democratic governance (page 1), Dan Murphy came across several examples of how a lack of resources and authority hampers their progress.
Baghdad's 12 district councils oversee the neighborhood councils, and Zalzala Haitham, the head of the Al Karkh Council, was helping Dan set up some interviews. But on the day Dan dropped by, Dr. Haitham was bundled up and shivering in a council building without any power.
For weeks, Haithem had been trying to get the municipal government to lend him a truck to bring over a new generator that the US had donated. But the city said he didn't have the authority to use their trucks. The US military didn't have a vehicle to spare. "This is the problem in a nutshell," Haithem told Dan. "The US wants to be out of here as soon as possible, and I appreciate that. But they're leaving before they've set up a structure that leaves government answerable to elected leaders."
David Clark Scott