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Page last updated at 18:28 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

BBC man in Baghdad talks of dangers

Gabriel Gatehouse
Gabriel Gatehouse is the BBC's Baghdad correspondent

Four School Reporters from Villiers High School, Ealing put their questions to Gabriel Gatehouse, BBC Baghdad correspondent.

Q. Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt in danger?

A. I thought you were going to ask me that! The situation where I've felt most nervous didn't involve any guns or tanks or anything like that, it involved a bunch of school-kids.

I was in southern Lebanon and about six months earlier there'd been a month-long war and I went down just where that war had taken place to visit a school.

Suddenly I was separated from my translator and surrounded by - it felt like - about 200 school-kids about your age.

The only words I could understand were 'Tony Blair' and 'Condoleezza Rice'. It was clear that they weren't very impressed by either of these two people and they started crowding around me and pulling at my clothes.

I couldn't find my translator and I couldn't speak to these people and the only solution I could find to stop them being really quite aggressive with me was to start interviewing them so I got my microphone out and I started asking the questions in English and eventually it chilled out.

Q. There haven't been any occasions when you've felt frightened in Baghdad?

A. There have been a few occasions, but the funny thing about Baghdad is that that you can walk around Baghdad and it feels very chilled out and calm until something goes bang. So every time you go out you think well maybe we'll just be in the wrong place at the wrong time and something will go bang.

Q. How did you cope with the violence that you saw and the atmosphere around you?

A. It's strange - you get used to it. You incorporate it - and maybe that's not a good thing. I try to listen to music, I go to the gym - I never used to go to the gym! I started running because I find it's a good way to get rid of some of the bad vibes surrounding you at end of the day but music I find very helpful. You incorporate it and it's ok, I hope.

Q. What sort of music do you listen to?

A. Jazz - very old music, not remotely trendy. I listen to all kinds of 50s and 60s jazz. I play the piano - in fact one of the things that the BBC very kindly promised me when I agreed to take the Baghdad job is they promised to buy me a piano there so we went out in Baghdad and found a piano and it's now in the bureau.

I'm thinking maybe I should stop writing reports and just play the piano to pictures like in the silent movies.

Q. Was is hard to cope without your family?

A. Yes it is. My parents are obviously worried about me because if I don't phone them everyday they inevitably think "What's happened?", when I'm fine.

Maybe in fact it's harder for them to cope because I'm there and I know that everything's ok with me and I'm fine and I have to keep reminding myself that I do have to call them or text them at least once a day.

Q. How does this election affect the country and its people?

A. I think everyone's hoping that it'll make this more calm and it'll get rid of the violence. There is still violence - some estimate there are three or four hundred people a month are being killed in bombings and explosions.

There are tensions between some of the different groups - I think they're hoping if everyone feels happy with the election and its outcome and that they all feel represented that things will quieten down.


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