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Reporters on the job

Gender barrier: In reporting about Muslim women (page 1), the Monitor's Nicole Gaouette learned firsthand how men and women are treated differently in the Arab world.

Rushing to catch her flight from Jordan to Saudi Arabia, Nicole set her computer onto the X-ray conveyor belt and moved quickly toward the security gate.

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"The guards sprang to their feet and waved me away, clearly irritated," Nicole says. "They pointed to a black screen off to the side - the women's security check. Inside the small tent, a lone female guard desultorily waved a metal detector in my general direction, then sent me out."

Nicole arrived at her hotel in Jeddah modestly covered in a long black coat and head scarf - "feeling like Darth Vader's little sister," Nicole recalls. But when she cited her reservation and tried to check in, the desk clerk flipped through her passport, hemmed and hawed, and then, clearing his throat, finally asked, "Where is your letter?"

Letter? "Yes, the letter allowing you to check into hotels," he said. "It's required for women traveling alone," said the clerk, adding smugly, "We can't let you check in without one."

Nicole says other female journalists jokingly refer to this document as the "I Am Not A Prostitute" letter - a note from the government confirming that you really are a working professional - but not that kind.

"The Saudi Embassy in Jordan had insisted that they are no longer issued, that all I needed was my entry visa, but no one had told this clerk," says Nicole.

"It took a lot of talk and a lucky coincidence - the hotel manager's foreign wife hails from a city near my hometown - before the man behind the counter graciously offered to look the other way and let me go to my room, for which I would pay them $130 a night."

THROUGH THE SIEVE: While reporting on the search for Osama bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda (this page), Monitor correspondent Scott Baldauf and photographer Robert Harbison decided to test the Pakistani border guard, by smuggling themselves into Afghanistan.

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Their guides were members of an ethnic Pashtun tribe who have an extended family network on both sides of the border, and who now control the Afghan district of Marouf in Kandahar Province.

"During a four-hour journey along old smuggling roads toward Afghanistan, we passed just three Pakistani checkpoints," Scott says.

"None of them forced us to stop. If a bunch of amateurs like us could do this, so could an old pro like Osama."

- Margaret Henry

Europe editor

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