Reporters on the Job

Spelunking in Afghanistan: French archaeologist Mickaël Rakotozonia, a free-spirited twentysomething, was determined to show staff writer Mark Sappenfield environs similar to where he thought the lost Sleeping Buddha lies (see story). So he roped in a local Afghan friend to lead them into a pitch-black cave.

The only problem: The cave was littered with land mines, which can explode instantaneously when jarred.

"If we'd had big spotlights and there were carvings on the ceilings, that would have been one thing," said Mark, who inched 100 yards into the cave, bent over, as the fourth and last member of a spelunking chain. "But I couldn't see anything. It was black – it was like, 'Oooooo.' "

And Mark, who has a 7-month-old daughter back at home in India, couldn't put the danger of land mines out of his mind. So when the leader of the group stumbled upon something with his tiny dim flashlight, Mark decided enough was enough.

"Finally I just grabbed him and said, 'Uh, can we go back now?' " Getting a feel for the Sleeping Buddha's supposed bedroom could wait.

A Rare Treat in Gaza: Staff writer Dan Murphy got a look into the diverging economic fortunes of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in recent years (see story) when he was offered a "premium" dessert at an ice cream factory in the Gaza Strip.

Creamy and covered with chocolate, the ice cream was reminiscent of the Magnum bars popular around the world, says Dan.

"The only place you can get this in Gaza is here in my office," the factory owner told Dan. He explained that the treat retails for about $1 in the West Bank, a sum too princely for Gaza's market. "We tried selling it for half price here – and found that people still couldn't afford it."

– Christa Case
Europe editor

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