Conflict Crash Pads
As a freelance reporter specializing in the Middle East and Central Asia, I often find myself in holy-shit-I-almost-pooped-my-pants-because-I-could-have-died situations. The stories I cover might be both extraordinary and terrifying, but the question I get asked more than any other is “Where do you sleep when you’re over there?” I usually deadpan: “Motel 6 if I can find one. If not, I’ll splurge for La Quinta.” If the person looks at me with confusion, that probably means I’m not dealing with a total moron, so I’ll say, “Just kidding,” and tell them about a few of the most notable places I’ve stayed during my travels through the world’s conflict regions.
Quetta, Pakistan ($8 per night, tropical fish included)
The Japan is my favorite hotel in the world. During check in, Muhammad the front-desk clerk informed me that if I booked for a week I could have the “room with the fish.” That was nice—until I realized Muhammad was going to come into my room every morning at seven to feed them.
Unsurprisingly, there are few foreigners in Quetta; it’s located near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, an area Islamabad has forbidden journalists from entering, and, rumor has it, the current home of one-eyed Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The city is also a putrid melting pot of Sunnis, Marxist Baluchs, Shiite fighters, and Christian Punjabis—and they all hate one another. It’s fairly peaceful in the daytime, but nights are often marred by gunfire. Frequently you’ll hear three shots in a row—an assassination, two shots to the head, one to the chest. The chatter the next day, over a breakfast of green tea and lentil soup, usually goes something like, “Last night they assassinated Muhammad blah-blah-blah, tribal chief of the blah.” That’s usually my cue to scram and try to interview the next Muhammad on my list before he gets blown away.
Baghdad, Iraq ($50 per night paid in advance, complimentary breakfast, wi-fi)
Although Baghdad is still far from the safest area of Iraq, the chance of being kidnapped has decreased over the past two years. With that in mind, last February I spent a few nights at the Sabeel, fairly confident I wasn’t going to die. Baghdad might not be as dangerous as it once was, but I don’t think the city will ever be able to shake off the bad vibes of a female soldier finger-gunning the genitals of naked prisoners with bags over their heads.
As in Quetta, gunshots wake you throughout the night, which could signify anything from a “selective” murder to the police using improvised pest control to curb the stray dog population. It’s usually the latter. Things won’t be back to normal here for a long time, evidenced by the fact that journalists are still advised to change hotels frequently to avoid being targeted by kidnappers. My advice to freelance journalists is to stay the fuck out of Baghdad altogether. It’s crazy expensive, and stories from Iraq don’t pay anymore.
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