Reporters on the Job

All the World's a Stage: Reporting a story about a Shakespeare production in Kabul, Afghanistan, was fascinating, says staff writer Scott Baldauf (page 7). "It showed both how Afghanistan was changing, and how it wasn't. The fact that women actors were playing parts was a sign of progress; the fact that the women's families were not 100 percent supportive of their profession was a sign that there was still a long way to go."

The most striking incident, Scott says, happened during a rehearsal when the male actors were asked to roll up their pant legs and dress up in Indian-style dhoti loincloths. It was then that Scott saw the deeply scarred leg of actor Wali Faisal Azizi.

"This happened in a rocket attack by Hekmatyar," said Azizi, naming the Afghan commander who launched a barrage of rockets that killed five of his friends standing around him.

Azizi was the lone survivor of his friends. "I asked Azizi where the attack had taken place, and he pointed to a spot just 300 yards outside the gate from where the play will be performed. Both physically and mentally, war is never far away in Afghanistan."

A Changing Story: Staff writer Dan Murphy woke up Wednesday morning hoping to work on what he'd pitched to his editors as a "bright, interesting" story on the celebration of the martyrdom of Shiite Imam Mussa Khadim.

Dan put on the checked shirt and pleated pants that he hopes help him blend into Iraqi crowds, and headed to the Khadimiya neighborhood to talk to people about the holiday and what it means to them, and to explore the differences between Sunni and Shiite in the process.

Instead, the day led to the greatest death-toll iraq has experienced since the war began. Though Dan was in Khadimiya when tragedy struck, he was at least an hour on foot from a bridge where a stampede caused hundreds of deaths, he was amazed at the speed with which rumors spread through the crowd. "Many said, 'They were all poisoned by terrorists,' " says Dan. Others charged that poison gas was used. Even those clued in to the facts of what happened still saw a sinister hand, says Dan. "An insurgent in the crowd was planted to shout 'suicide bomber' to frighten people," one man told Dan. "They knew this would happen."

Dan says that soon after the incident, everyone assumed the death toll was a few dozen. "But even so, the tension was just tremendous, with soldiers scything through the crowds and ambulance sirens wailing," says Dan. "There was so much frustration and anger around, I worry that it will start to find an outlet."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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