In 2019, We Were There: 12 Favorite Dispatches From the Earth’s 4 Corners

Being there makes all the difference. When our correspondents are on the ground — or underground or on the ice or at sea — they, and you, can get up close to the story, sometimes uncomfortably so, uncovering essential details that no phone interview could ever capture.

This means traveling to some of the world’s most far-flung and dangerous places, from an Islamic State camp in Syria, to the jungles of Thailand where armed rosewood smugglers roam, to an Afghan arena where the vicious fighting dogs pose the least of the dangers.

Living there matters, too. When our correspondents spend years as residents of the regions they cover, they discover cultural truths about a country that only slowly reveal themselves. The Germans love to go fast and, as we’ll see, to get naked. The Senegalese will never miss a workout. The Lebanese may not like each other, but they love basketball. In China, a parade can mean an eviction.

Spend enough time in a place and even humble objects and everyday animals can reveal outsize insights about a country’s mood and manners. Clay pots in Myanmar. Bagels in Montreal. A quirky ’60s convertible in Britain. A rooster in France. Snakes in Canada.

While covering India’s climatic extremes, a medical emergency intervened, and the story became not only about monsoons, but also about Indian society, the human mind and cancer.

“I was taken for dead by a mortuary crew, who toe-tagged me with the following ID: ‘Unknown Caucasian male, age 47 and a half,’” our reporter wrote. “Nothing could have cheered me up more. It was only days until my 70th birthday.”

—By Rod Nordland

“Paraguay is the land of impunity,” said a notorious drug kingpin we interviewed in his prison cell.

Australia’s largest city has a rare superpower: It turns urbanites into bird people, and birds into urbanites. Interacting with the huge avian population is a daily adventure and (mostly) a delight.

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