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2 Sisters Talk About Life In Mosul After ISIS

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's turn now to Iraq, where many towns are just escaping the grip of ISIS. For some young Iraqi women, education or marriage had been put on hold. That was true in Mosul, where ISIS militants killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of people over three years. Some residents survived by staying home until the group was forced out earlier this year. NPR's Jane Arraf spoke to two sisters at Mosul University about enduring the siege and their very different goals for the future.

FARAH KHALED: I want to travel. I want to live in America or in Australia. I love those countries. I love the style there, everything there. And I hate Iraq.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: That's Farah Khaled, a 22-year-old engineering student throwing off the oppression of life under ISIS. We're on the Mosul University campus. Farah is here with her sister Raffal. She's 19. They're both first-year students. Three years ago, when they were looking forward to college, ISIS declared Mosul the capital of its caliphate and closed the university. Women mostly stayed indoors. For Farah and Raffal, there were moments of terror but mostly months of boredom. Farah turned to reading her favorite, Agatha Christie, who once lived in Mosul. And she worked on her English.

F. KHALED: First, I start to listen to the music. Also, I write the lyrics down on a book and listen to music and write them thousand of time and then sing the song with the singer.

ARRAF: Music, unauthorized books, mobile phones, television - ISIS banned all of those. The young women watched movies in secret, worried that ISIS would knock on the door and discover them.

RAFFAL KHALED: Everyone was trying to hide something. My mom was hiding the books, and I was hiding the mobile phones.

ARRAF: With ISIS gone now, the sisters have high ambitions. I noticed Raffalwas wearing a gold pendant with the image of a tooth.

R. KHALED: This is my passion (laughter).

ARRAF: Her passion is to be a dentist, even though with her grades, she can have an even more prestigious career as a physician.

R. KHALED: I think if I became a doctor, I'm going to be a normal doctor because I don't like it. But if I became a dentist, I'm going to be the best dentist in Iraq (laughter).

ARRAF: Her sister Farah studies engineering, and she hates it. She desperately wants to be a pharmacist, but her grades don't qualify. Farah says life in Mosul under ISIS was like being in a cage. It's different now. The campus is full of male and female students. The young women are wearing conservative but fashionable clothing that would have been unthinkable under ISIS.

F. KHALED: People just after ISIS - they all want to make their life better, to just go out from that bad period they were in. So we are willing to move on.

ARRAF: But she says she can't move on in Iraq. She says it's conservative local customs and traditions that are holding her back now.

F. KHALED: You don't have a freedom here for me as a girl. If I dress, for example, jeans and those things, the society - all of them will talk. Oh, look at her. Look what she's dressed. How her parents let her dress like this? And they will keep talking and talk and talk and talk, so...

ARRAF: Farah is wearing a long skirt and a fitted jacket. She says if she could live in the West, she wouldn't have to dress up. She could wear what she wants, and she could marry who she wants. But not here.

F. KHALED: They enforce you to marry someone that you don't like and you don't love - you hate. But you have to marry. For example, if you have someone you love, you can't marry because your parents don't want you to marry that one.

ARRAF: This isn't just theoretical, you understand. Farah is in love with a student who loves her, too. But Raffalsays his parents are forcing him to marry someone else.

R. KHALED: They wanted to have girls who stay at home, who raise children, who cook and - a normal lady. They hated Farah, and they told him that you can't get married from her, and you have to get married from another girl he hate - another traditional girl.

F. KHALED: She's so ugly.

ARRAF: She's decided that, armed with her English and her ambition, she wants to leave Iraq. As for Raffal, she wants to stay. She's eager to help rebuild the historic west side of Mosul, where they lived before ISIS. It was almost destroyed in the battle.

R. KHALED: I love Iraq. I love staying in Iraq. And I think that I am going to make Iraq a better place - me and my friends and people at my age.

ARRAF: After three years trapped at home under ISIS, she and her sister are making plans for a brighter future, although in different places. They're impatient for it to begin. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Mosul.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAHIM ALHAJ'S "LETTER 1. EASTERN LOVE - SINAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.