Reporters on the Job

Quick Cash: In reporting today's story on a new cellphone-to-cellphone cash-transfer service offered in Kenya, staff writer Matthew Clark thought it would take a while to find customers who had benefited from the service (see story). "Boy, was I wrong," says Matt. "All I had to do was go to a few stores in Nairobi's huge Kibera slum and there were people lining up to sign up for the service or put more money into their accounts so they could send it to people – usually family – in more rural areas."

The primary benefit seemed to be safety, says Matt. "People were relieved not to have to transport cash in person, which often meant risking months' worth of money to travel roads that bandits attack."

What surprised Matt was the number of people in the slum receiving money from people in even poorer rural areas. "Many got money from family back in the village to put it back into their small business in the city. Others were actually conducting business with people in rural areas."

Matt says he saw first-hand the benefits of the service. "I got an account while there. It was very convenient not to have to find a prepaid scratch card. All I had to do was press a few buttons and I had more minutes to call sources."

Transformed, Yet Familiar: The last time staff writer Robert Marquand was in Belgrade, reporting on the Bosnia war in the mid-1990s, guns, camouflage fatigues, and tanks were common sights on Serbian streets, he recalls. "When people asked me what it was like, I told them, 'Everyone looked like actor Ernest Borgnine.' Now, everyone looks like Tom Selleck." The city's perpetual frown has given way to a lighter feel, too.

But despite all the change, some things stay the same. Bob stayed in the same hotel he did 14 years ago. "It was more than double the price, but no renovation had been done," he says. "It was certainly the same carpet and probably the same bedspread."(See story.)

– Amelia Newcomb

Deputy World editor

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