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Paynesville Press - January 28, 2004

Living in the Middle East - Part II

In November 2001, just months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and just prior to the war in Afghanistan, Paynesville native Karen Koshiol Breuer described her life in Saudi Arabia - with her husband Bryan and son Nicholas - to Press readers through a two-part series of question-and-answer articles. This is the second installment in a three-part follow-up series about their family, which now lives in Dubai.

Karen Koshiol Breuer and son Their family moved from Phoenix, Ariz., to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, in August 2000. Karen and Nicholas lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly three years, leaving in February 2003, just before the start of the War in Iraq. They lived in Paynesville for nearly six months while Bryan continued to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

Karen Koshiol Breuer and her son Nicholas left Saudi Arabia and returned to Paynesville during the War in Iraq. Then they returned to the Middle East, now living in Dubai, though they came back to Paynesville most recently for Christmas, when this picture was taken.

Karen and Nicholas were relocated to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in August 2003 and have now lived in the Middle East again for five months. Bryan still works in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, but he flies to Saudi every week and returns to Dubai on weekends.

Karen, who graduated from Paynesville High School in 1973, is the daughter of Milt and Rosemary Koshiol of Paynesville. Again she has shared aspects of their life in the Middle East with the Press via e-mail. (To read Karen's article from November 2001, or last week's article, go online to saudikoshiol/saudiarabiakoshiol.htm.)

6. After living in Saudi Arabia for almost three years, what surprised you about living in the United States again?
One big change for me living back in the states - and this somewhat surprised me as to the extent of those feelings - was how much safer I felt being back on American soil. I no longer had to look over my shoulder wherever I went. I no longer had to check my car for car bombs. I could show skin in public and not worry about the Mutawa (the religious police in Saudi Arabia) shouting at me to cover up. I didn't worry about being spat at. I wasn't nervous about going out in public.

Safety and freedom in America are some things most of us take for granted, and a whole new appreciation and respect for our great country has been ingrained in me forever.

Also, before living abroad, I had no idea that the whole world keeps current on America's foreign policy, news, and entertainment world - everything the United States does and says! It is indeed true that America is a superpower of nations, and the entire world is watching our every move. This in turn, I believe, often leads to misinterpretations and misunderstandings about the United States.

7. Why did you and your son decide to return to the Middle East?
Throughout the summer of 2003, we weren't sure if we'd be going back to Saudi, move to another destination, or stay in the states. In July 2003 a decision by my husband's company to relocate us to the United Arab Emirates was made.

I could have easily stayed in the states by then, but the move to the U.A.E. seemed workable. I was also convinced it would be a safe place to live. We would relocate to Dubai, while my husband would continue to work in Saudi Arabia.

Many of our friends had visited Dubai prior to our move, and described Dubai as a great city to live in. Dubai is a modern, clean, and growing city on the Arabian Sea. It's also a popular tourist destination for Arabs, Europeans, and Asians with its many resorts and things to do.

Another plus is that the international educational system is excellent, and we knew Dubai would be no exception. Dubai is also a progressive financial center in the Middle East.

8. What safety concerns do you have for your husband, who continues to work in Saudi Arabia? What safety concerns do you and your son face living in Dubai?
Even with the added security measures in place in Saudi Arabia, one can't help but be concerned with safety issues. Any American in a country in which extremists and fanatics may be living can never feel totally safe. After 9/11, we still felt extremely safe while on the compound and, overall, school went on as usual, we went to our regular dentist and doctor appointments, new westerners moved to Saudi, and we continued to do most of our normal things.

Since the Riyadh bombings, everything changed for us, although many American families chose to remain living in Saudi. Currently, my husband's company allows him to live in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, fly to Bahrain (which is a small country next to Saudi Arabia) each week, rent a car to cross over the border into Saudi, and live in an apartment. This way, his car doesn't have the name of the company on it, and with the added security changes at every compound, we feel confident he is safe. But, of course, one can never be 100 percent safe, even in the United States.

Spitting at westerners was a rare occurrence and many westerners living in Saudi Arabia today believe most Saudi people are peaceful and friendly. While living in Saudi Arabia, we interacted with people from Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Philippines and Sri Lanka on a regular basis, and also Saudi nationals less frequently. Most of the people we encountered were polite and helpful, some exceptionally so. We spoke with and interacted with taxi and bus drivers, doctors, nurses, tailors, merchants, guards, bankers, secretaries, clerks, and compound workers on a daily basis and overall these interactions were very friendly.

As for living in Dubai, I do not have any immediate safety concerns, but I am always aware of my surroundings and will never forget the warden's messages we received concerning safety precautions from the U.S. Embassy while living in Saudi Arabia.

The hazards of driving on the crazy roads here is actually a major safety concern! Other than that, we feel extremely safe living in Dubai.

9. What similarities and differences have you noticed between Saudi Arabia, where you lived for nearly three years, and Dubai, where you live now?
There are many differences between Saudi Arabia and Dubai. I didn't know this until I moved to the Middle East, but I learned about the different Islamic sects throughout the world. Some sects are more strict than others, some more open-minded, and some more tolerant of western beliefs and other religions. Saudi Arabia is a very strict nation, whereas the United Arab Emirates is more western and more tolerant and accepting of others.

Dubai is a city consisting of Middle Easterners, Europeans, North Americans, and other nationalities who practice different religions, live side by side peacefully, and enjoy western freedoms in a very open-minded Arab country. There are even public churches here. It is legal for women to drive and dress as they wish. Alcohol is legal and can be purchased with a special permit. Americans and other westerners blend in, whereas in Saudi Arabia we definitely did not.

In Saudi Arabia, there are no movie theaters. Women cannot drive and must cover up, thus cannot go jogging, roller-blading, or bicycling in public. Men and women are not allowed to mingle or talk to each other unless they are related or married. There are separate entrances for men and women to restaurants, and separate waiting rooms and dining areas. Whereas in the United Arab Emirates, women hold jobs alongside men, Christmas is openly celebrated along with the Islamic holidays, and there are movie theaters and concerts, world golf tournaments, air shows, concert tours, boat races, and horseracing.

However, I have very fond memories of living in Saudi Arabia, even after the 9/11 tragedy. Shopping at the old souks (markets), talking with the friendly merchants, bargaining for the best price on Persian carpets or gold or baskets, exploring the Arabian desert, meeting many people and workers from all over the world, and teaching in an international school were all wonderful experiences that we will never forget. We had a good life while living in Saudi Arabia, and we will always treasure those memories.

Part I (01/21/04) -- Part III (02/4/04)

(Edited by Michael Jacobson)

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