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Reporters on the Job

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Chaiwat Subprasom

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Got Happiness? As staff writer Mark Sappenfield reported today's story about successful Afghan dairy farmers, he was struck by how genuinely happy they were.

"Afghan people are generally very good-natured, but also rather fatalistic. In Afghan jokes – of which there are many – the Afghan are always characterized as poor, wretched sods who have nothing and whose utter poverty is meant to invoke deep sympathy," says Mark.

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"The characterization, obviously, is based on the fact that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on earth. The fatalism is born of experience," he says.

"But these farmers seemed as if they'd struck the jackpot – and could not believe their own good fortune. One of the more successful farmers, Mohammad Hanif, looked as though he was constantly on the verge of pinching himself," says Mark. "It was an enjoyable experience to meet some Afghans who did not feel the need to append their contentment with an asterisk."

A Welcome Mat, Now: A couple of years ago, correspondent Nicholas Blanford tried, and failed, to interview the sheikh – allegedly closely involved with Al Qaeda – who is today at the center of an effort in Lebanon to lower tensions (see story).

"I approached a local warlord in Ein el-Hilweh, who I knew was on good terms with all the factions and figured that if he was unable to arrange an interview with Sheikh Jamal Khattab, no one could. He called the sheikh in my presence," recalls Nick. "He explained who I was, adding his endorsement that I had a 'good heart.' The sheikh's response? 'I don't want to meet any foreigners.'"

Fast-forward to today. Nick found a changed sheikh. "In my interview with him, I found Sheikh Khattab to be charming, warm, and hospitable. He gave me as much time as I needed and invited me back to see him whenever I liked."

David Clark Scott

World editor