Reporters on the Job

It's no Yale: During a recent visit to the Ivory Coast, reporter Lane Hartill stayed with a friend in a dormitory at the University of Abidjan.

"It was a real eye-opener. Many of the people who live there are no longer students but have been able to bribe the right people to retain their dorm room," says Lane. "Because of high unemployment and the lack of affordable housing, the practice is common."

Lane says the rooms themselves were poorly lit, and covered in graffiti and filth.

"Early in the morning, people would parade up and down the halls selling bread and milk for breakfast, announcing what they had by shouting at the top of their lungs. The worst was FESCI, the very powerful student union, which took a megaphone and announced meetings," he says. "I always travel with earplugs, but the noise was so loud, even they didn't help."

An 'e-visa'? E-tickets have become so ubiquitous that perhaps it didn't seem too strange to reporter Simon Martelli when a tour operator sent him an e-mail to print out as a visa for his recent trip to Libya. But the "e-visa" didn't fly with Libyan officials, who said they had never heard of his tour operator, and held Simon at the airport for six hours.

"For at least five of those hours I was convinced they were going to send me on the next plane home," he says. Finally, Simon was able to locate a phone number for the company, which turned out to be legitimate, and the matter was resolved. "With hindsight, I am amazed that I wasn't completely hoodwinked" by an unscrupulous operator.

Yet fair treatment as a tourist turned out to be the story of his visit to Libya, a country very eager to court tourists after years of isolation. "All the taxi drivers charged me the same fare, and I didn't get pestered by street kids," Simon says.

Ben Arnoldy
Asia editor

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