|Naira Berberian (not her real name) left her home in Baghdad just two months before we met in Amman, Jordan. She'd never before been outside of Iraq.
Naira is nineteen years old—the oldest child of a family of three daughters. Outgoing and full of smiles, she is fluent in speaking and reading three languages in three different scripts—Armenian, Arabic and English. Her family's future is uncertain and in any case, whether they reside in Jordan for two months or two years, their stay is temporary. Thus Naira's schooling is on hold—as is the schooling of her two younger sisters Nune and Sophia.
Just one week before Evelyn and I met her, Naira was introduced to the Internet. A friend told her that a cybercafe in her neighborhood was offering introductory classes. The following day she had her first class during which she was introduced to email, chat and web searching. Although she had completed one year of college study in computer science in Baghdad, she had never before witnessed the power of the Internet or the web. There is no Internet in Iraq.
Not that Naira's school didn't have ample and modern computers—they did—PCs running Windows. Her course study however was in Pascal programming and "The Internet" was just a mysterious buzz-word that she'd heard in passing. She thought it was some hot new program. She had no idea that the computer could be used for global communication.
She was astonished that first day of class and the next day returned to the cybercafe with her sisters and mom in tow. The three sisters haven't missed a day online in the six weeks since then and their mom has been a regular user as well.
Perhaps the most telling anecdote Naira shared with us was her reaction to coming across the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." This amazed her. Such a notion apparently doesn't exist in Iraq.