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December 3 & 6: from Cairo - Gobi Desert, Mongolia - Quetta, Pakistan - Baghdad

The fossil thieves of the Gobi Desert. Who's poaching pre-history and stealing Mongolia's past?

A Canadian's account of running with NATO's drug-dealing allies in Afghanistan, where the bad guys are also the good guys.

A quest for relevance in the land of the Pharoahs. Why some Egyptians prefer the past to the present.

And, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Good Soldiers. From Iraq, an American memoir of the war that went sideways.

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Individual items from this week's show are not available. But you can listen to them in Part 1 and Part 2 of the programme (above).

Cairo culture clash

In Cairo, Rick was politically corrected by a taxi driver.

They were discussing Egypt's place in the Arab world, the way you do with Cairene cabbies.

"We are not Arabs," the driver said. "We are Pharonic people."

That some Egyptians should still identify with long-dead Pharoahs from the pre-Islamic past was a surprise.

Apparently there are some Egyptians who view themselves as part of a royal race, occupying a special place in the world. Some. Not all.

But among Cairo's cultural elite, CBC correspondent Margaret Evans found others who feel the long reign of the current Pharoah is reducing Egypt to a cultural afterthought.

The Good Soldiers

In he course of every armed conflict, there are a handful of eyewitness accounts that inevitably turn out to be defining.

In the case of Iraq, the work of American correspondent David Finkel would seem to be a certain candidate.

His new book, The Good Soldiers, deals with the universal themes of war and how it changes everyone it touches.

What makes Finkel's book different is his taut phrasing and ear for the dialogue of soldiers and their families.

In loud situations, he likes to write "quiet."

David Finkel is a Pulitzer-prizewinner and National Enterprise Editor with The Washington Post. He spent most of a year embedded with the twitchy infantrymen of the 2/16 in East Baghdad.

Putting a price on history

Mongolian schoolchildren: the front line in the fight against fossil poachers in the Gobi desert (Photo/Danielle Nerman)
The Gobi Desert of Mongolia was once home to dinosaurs. Now it's home to the dinosaur poachers.

They scoop up fossils and sell them to the highest bidders, destroying entire skeletons to get to the prized teeth and skulls.

And paleontologists are beside themselves.

These are priceless artifacts offering clues to a distant past, and they're vanishing into the black market.

More from the CBC's Danielle Nerman, on the road to a 100-million-year-old crime scene.

Danielle Nerman travelled to Mongolia under a media fellowship with the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

And on that note from Mongolia proper, we've got a few more for you from some Inner Mongolians, part of a declining minority living inside China.

It's quite a story.

These guys formed a sort of folk band. Call themselves Hanggai. And they're hoping to revive a Mongolian culture being swamped by the Han Chinese majority.

Ironically, they're singing in an ancient Mongolian language they don't speak, about a nomadic lifestyle they've never lived.

But this tune's pretty universal. It's called The Drinking Song. And the lads admit to having had a few before they recorded it.

Funny thing. We're sure we heard it once in a pub in St John's ...or Sarajevo... or Dublin... or Brussels.

Afghanistan: Where good guys are bad guys 

Why does NATO have a double-dealing druglord on speed dial? Canadian journalist Matthieu Aikins wondered just that when he met one of the organization's nefarious allies in Afghanistan.

A member of Razik's Border Police at the border crossing in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province.(Photo/Matthieu Aikins)

Matthieu Aikins went to Pakistan looking for a story. But the story found him.

A chance meeting with two men in the street dropped him into a clan of smugglers running tons of opium into Iran. All aided and abetted by one Colonel Abdul Razik, a ferocious tribal militia leader.

Which would make him a bad guy.

Except he also heads the Border Police Force in Afghanistan, which makes him a good buddy of NATO commanders who need someone like him to keep tabs on the Taliban.

Aikins account of running with the police-turned-drug-dealers appears in this month's edition of Harper's Magazine.

This program is the work of producers Dawna Dingwall and Alison Masemann, Steve McNally, technical producers Victor Johnston and Tim Lorimar and senior producer Alan Guettel.

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