Video: Iraq reality TV

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/10/2004 2:05:32 PM ET 2004-08-10T18:05:32

It isn’t the catchiest name on TV, the show is simply called “Building and Materials,” but it's caught on like wildfire in war torn Iraq.

As ordinary Iraqi's seek out any sign of hope in the midst of chaos, the weekly broadcast of “Building and Materials” shines.

In theory the show is similar to other home makeover shows on American TV, but there's a difference, we're not talking about what color of wallpaper to choose, or what lampshade fits in here.

These homes were bombed to bits in the war, and often little more than a pile of blackened brick and dust remain.

Iraqis rebuilding Iraqi lives
Um Hussein, a poor widow with five children, lives in the rubble of what used to be her home.

"We lost everything,” she said. "I wasn’t even able to find a photo of my late husband.”

So when the team from Al Sharkiya TV appeared, cameras rolling and cell phones buzzing, she was more than skeptical. Hussein appeared confused and a little frightened.

But then a dump truck lumbered around the corner filled with sand, and an army of construction workers appeared from nowhere.

"Building and Materials" first episode was underway.

For a month they returned each day, using supplies donated by other Iraqis - foreign donations were not accepted.

And like an old fashioned barn raising, they all broke bread together.

Sitting in the middle of the construction site, the family, the television crew and the workers dug into Middle Eastern dishes washed down with tea.

Then, in hundred degree temperatures, they headed back to work.

The show's host kept the huge satellite TV audience apprised of the progress, and there were lots of cutaways of the 'Building and Materials' team chipping slop mortar onto bricks or swinging a hammer. Bob Vila would be proud.

As Hussein's bombed out hovel was transformed, she and her family stood awestruck, still not believing what they saw.

"I am breathing so easily these days,” she explained, “before there were bricks in my heart."

With construction finished, and even running water installed, a trip to the furniture store and carpet market added the finishing touch.

All the while, the director and producer were back in the studios at Al Sharkiya, Iraq's first private television network, pouring over hours of tape, scrambling to get the episode ready for air.

“This is so much more than rebuilding a house,” said director Ali Hanoon. “We are rebuilding a family.”

And when the big moment came, there was a ribbon cutting and Hussein was presented with the key to her new home. 

“These are tears of happiness I am crying,” said a weeping show announcer. He was not alone; there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

New symbol of hope
Overnight across Iraq, Hussein's family and their good fortune have become symbol of hope.

"Um Hussein is now more famous in Iraq than Jackie Chan and Richard Gere," Hanoon joked.

Still, the show closed with pictures of Hussein pausing to humbly give thanks in prayer.

While the job of rebuilding Iraq is daunting, the team at “Building and Materials” is happy to contribute, one house at a time.

Kevin Tibbles is an NBC News correspondent recently on assignment in Iraq.

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