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Paynesville Press - November 21, 2001

A view from Saudi Arabia

Karen Koshiol and Bryan Breuer Karen Koshiol Breuer, the daughter of Milt and Rosemary Koshiol, graduated from Paynesille High School in 1973 and earned a teaching degree from Bemidji State University.

She taught elementary school in Farmington, Minn., for 11 years before marrying Bryan Breuer and moving to Phoenix, Ariz., with him. She taught fourth grade in Phoenix for another 11 years before moving to Saudi Arabia in August 2000 with their son, Nicholas, 9.

They still have a house in Arizona, where they intend to return when they leave Saudi Arabia in June 2003.

By e-mail, Karen shared with the Press aspects of their life in the Middle East and the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. war with Afghanistan.

What brought you to Saudi Arabia?
My husband, Bryan Breuer, has been traveling to the Middle East for 10 years, working in sales for Honeywell. He started traveling to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia shortly after the Gulf War and, in 1999, there was a need to open an office in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Bryan would rotate working in Dammam for six to eight weeks, back to Phoenix for three weeks, back to Dammam, etc. We then decided to take on a three-year contract living in Saudi Arabia as it was a great opportunity to see the world, meet new people, save some money, and experience other cultures.

Was this your first experience living abroad or your first experience in the Middle East?
This is my first experience living abroad, not to mention living in the Middle East. However, my husband has been working in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other parts of the world for the past 10 years, and lived in the Pacific-rim countries while in the navy in the late 1970s.

Where do you live in Saudi Arabia?
Middle East map We live in Al-Khobar, which is on the Arabian Sea in the Eastern Province. (Americans call it the Persian Gulf, but here it is referred to as the Arabian Gulf). Al Khobar, Dammam, and Dhahran form a "tri-city" area. It is a small city, with no large skyscrapers. There are many office complexes, ranging from a few stories tall to around 15 stories, for the numerous western businesses here. This area is one of the most westernized cities in Saudi Arabia as this is where operations were set up in 1938 by the Saudi-American oil company, ARAMCO.

About 12,000 Americans live in this area. We live on a compound or "gated-community," which is a walled-in, guarded western community. There are many compounds in the city. It's a gated-community with armed guards, so I suppose you could think of it as similar to a military base. We have to go through two gates with armed guards to get in and out of the compound.

It's like a very small town. We have a little store, a small restaurant, a snack bar, a mailroom, a library, a track and field, exercise rooms, but that's about it. There are Safeway grocery stores and good hospitals off-compound. It is referred to as a "western" compound as the people living here are from countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, South Africa, and Japan.

Within the compound, it is semi-normal life. We can dress just like we do back home, play sports, rent movies, go to organized functions (Halloween parties, Christmas dinners) and have other activities.

My husband Bryan truly enjoys this lifestyle for a number of reasons: (1) even though he works more here, he feels he has more "family" time because everything we need and do are centrally-located on the compound so it takes little time to get anywhere; (2) we have an adult softball league that plays on a softball field; (3) we have our own bowling alley; (4) the beach is very close and very nice; (5) the compound gives a sense of "smalltown" living with everyone being very friendly, with children's sports and activities, with party functions, and with much visiting since there is not much to do in the city.

For myself, I have had a harder time adjusting. I substitute teach at the American school to keep busy, besides other activities.

What have you enjoyed about your time there?
Meeting people from all over the world and the opportunity to travel world-wide. It is so interesting to talk to people and hear their stories, especially getting to know the many workers on this compound who are from Third World countries. They can only go home once every two years. They work for $4 an hour, cannot bring their wives and children with them, and work long hours. Yet, they are always happy. It has been a humbling experience listening to them and being their friend.

We enjoy shopping locally: the old fashioned way with numerous family-owned stores selling only carpets, or only light bulbs, or radios, trinkets, and other Arabian items. There are tailor shops and fabric shops and jewelry souks. Getting to know the sales people is an experience in itself. Every shop owner is extremely friendly. Bargaining for the best price is a fact of life here.

We enjoy going out into the desert, seeing camel herds with local herdsman on camelback, living in tents in the desert. There are huge sand dunes with virtually no vegetation or life, unlike the Sonoran desert in Arizona. We have a new appreciation of the Bedouin Arabian culture but on the other hand have also learned a great deal how this country represses its women.

What was your response to the terrorist attacks in America on Tuesday, September 11?
We had the same reactions as people in the States did: shock, sadness, anger, and grief. Then fear, as we heard of the nationalities of most of the hijackers. Then patriotism, as our country started mending itself.

We watched the events unfold live on World CNN and panic set in almost immediately concerning our safety here in Saudi. Many of us were afraid to go off the compound; school was closed. No one knew what would happen next as we awaited news from the U.S. Consulate. We strongly considered leaving here immediately. We soul-searched many many days over this, and finally agreed to take things day-by-day, then week-by-week. At the moment we feel secure and safe but are also aware that things can change any minute.

We never forget about the Khobar towers, the bombings of the British and American people last year, and the latest bombing in Al-Khobar.

(Editor's Note: The second half of this interview will run next week. News about Saudi Arabia is available online at

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