Its extremely difficult for American journalists to get into Iraq, and gaining access once you get inside is even harder. But I guess the Iraqi government perceived the Marco Polo story as non-political and unlikely to hurt them, so they opened up to us and showed us everything we asked for. Instead of spending two weeks in Iraq, we spent more than six weeks and ended up with a story on the country that ran in November 1999. It was a coup for us. This may have been the first countrywide story on Iraq since the Gulf War.
Afghanistan has basically gone back to the Dark Ages. The roads are beat up. Donkeys are the main form of transportation. There is no water or electricity. And the only communication is by satellite phones. The lack of infrastructure makes it look biblical. That was great for getting good pictures, but working there was a different story. There are no hotels and not much to eat.
While in Feyzabad we had little choice but to eat mutton kebabs from outdoor stalls. That did Mike Edwards in. He came down with a fever and bad dysentery. Somehow I avoided illness until my last days in the country. Then I got very sick for a couple of days. Fortunately we were able to get out of Afghanistan and go on to Istanbul to recover. All the medicine National Geographic routinely supplies us with came in handy.
I followed Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the Northern Alliance, up and down hills as he set up for a battle that was supposed to take place later in the evening. I had become separated from Mike and the interpreter, so I was on my own with a group of Massouds soldiers.
Just before sunset we ended up at the base of a mountain. I followed Massoud as he charged up a hill. The light at the top was perfect. Then the commander pulled off his neck scarf and put it on the ground. Two tanks rolled up behind him. Of course, without an interpreter I had no idea what was going on, but I thought, Damn, theres going to be a battle right now. Then he lined up all his men behind him and, at sunset, they knelt in front of the tanks and started to pray.
It was so unexpected for me, the perfect combination of timing, light, and circumstance.