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Reporters on the Job

A NOT-SO-SWEET SIGHT: Driving out of Havana into Matanzas Province, historically the sugar bowl of Cuba (page 7), Monitor contributor Patrick Rucker and a colleague saw the real face of the transition Fidel Castro had begun.

Half of what would have been well-tended sugar fields, Patrick says, were full of overripe cane. The other half was overgrown with weeds, and an occasional cow chomped on the reeds of what would have once been a carefully maintained field. "Our local guides told us that much of the cane would be burned in the field rather than harvested - that was the cheapest thing to do," says Patrick.

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The Cuban media paint the divestment from sugar as a very gentle, even welcome thing. "Actually visiting the centrals and speaking to people put another face on the matter," Patrick says.

ON COMMON GROUND: Meeting an Iraqi family on their own in Baghdad was a surprise and a pleasure for correspondent Scott Peterson (page 1). While he will never know what it is like to raise eight children (he has just three, so far), the concerns of that Iraqi parent matched exactly the concerns of parents everywhere: How do I pay for schooling? Can I feed them right, raise them right, teach them right from wrong, and not get lured into a swamp of popular culture (in the US), or the fear of a new war (in Iraq)?

The 8-year-old Iraqi boy Mahmoud - decked out in skeleton T-shirt, just like US kids everywhere - inadvertently made Scott feel right at home. "He came right up, spent a lot of time leaning on my knee and drawing with his pens," Scott says. He also insisted on playing hand and thumb games during lulls in conversation.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

Cultural snapshot