For Many Iraqis, a Stubborn Effort to Live Normally

Some 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes over the past four years. For those still in the country, the war is at once terrifying — and terrifyingly banal. People get up every morning, go to jobs, tend to chores and raise their children. Some are defiant and trying to take back what they can of their lives.

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More than 400 million Iraqis have fled their homes over the past four years of war. That number comes from the United Nations. For those Iraqis who stayed behind, the war is at once terrifying and terrifying even now. People get up every morning, go to work, tend chores. And now, some Iraqis are defiant. Fed up with living in fear, they're trying to take back what they can of their lives.

NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

ANNE GARRELS: The classroom in downtown Baghdad hums with discussions and that tap, tap of keyboards. Fourteen women sit hunched over their computers as two young men dart from one to the next, answering their questions.

Twenty-four-year-old Sinan(ph), her eyes tinted by hazel-colored contacts, says she's determined to go to work.

SINAN (Resident, Iraq): (Through Translator) I am a college graduate, but I haven't been able to get a full time job. So I decided to learn about computers. We have to defy the difficulties around us.

GARRELS: The most defiant in the group is 54-year-old Nahal Hikmat(ph), an accountant.

Ms. NAHAL HIKMAT (Accountant, Iraq): (Through Translator) I'm still alive and as long I'm breathing, I want to learn. I'm already in a sort of grave. There's no water, no electricity. But I won't just give up and die. I have to learn new things. That's the only solution for us, especially with computers, we're illiterate people compared to the rest of the world.

GARRELS: Fajatin(ph), her head draped with a scarf, nods in agreement. She says if she stays home one more day, she's going to turn into a piece of furniture.

FAJATIN (Resident, Iraq): (Through Translator) There's so much progress in the world and I want to be a part of it. And this program is the right start.

GARRELS: Microsoft and a woman's organization are subsidizing computer centers like these in several Iraqi cities.

FAJATIN: (Through translator) It's hard for me to get here. There's the fear of explosions but life has to continue. I'm fed up with sitting at home, watching the same news every day. I know there are daily bombings and killings, but I need a change.

GARRELS: Over at Sumaria TV, director Ganem Hammond(ph) has banned death and destruction from his new morning program. The theme music is soothing. The set - modern and white.

Mr. GANEM HAMMOND (Director, Sumaria TV): (Through Translator) The goal is to be charming, but different from other programs. We want Sumaria to give a different picture of Iraqi reality. The Iraqi woman longs for makeup lessons or morning body fitness because most Iraqi women have become obese. They don't leave their homes. They just sit around and watch the bad news on TV. We need to convey nice things to people.

GARRELS: Even, he says, if that means creating a world that doesn't really exist.

Mr. HAMMOND: (Through Translator) When reading the news, we will choose only interesting and exciting news. We will only report good things, even if we have to make it up. We will create the world we want.

GARRELS: Shayma(ph), one of the stars of the program, rehearses the day's horoscope.

SHAYMA (Actress): (Through Translator) People seek relief even if it's thru lies.

GARRELS: Shayma wears tight jeans and a sexy t-shirt. She admits life on the set is a far cry from life out on the streets, where her mother makes Shayma wrap herself up in discreet, long robe and headscarf. But here, she shows off here long hair.

Hassan Fouad(ph) touches up Shayma's makeup. He's also a regular on the program.

Mr. HASSAN FOUAD (Actor): (Through Translator) To appear on this show is a risk I have decided to take. I know I will no longer be able to walk freely in the street and I've started to fear everyone.

Mr. HAMMOND: (Arab spoken)

GARRELS: The director calls everyone to attention.

Mr. HAMMOND: (Arab spoken)

GARRELS: Lights, camera, action, he shouts.

Mr. HAMMOND: Go.

GARRELS: The show must go on.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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