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Commentary | LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Americans in Saudi Arabia

June 12, 2004

I oftentimes wonder why or how Americans can just go on about their daily lives so removed from the hatred. After reading your "Dispatch from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia" (June 6), it is only too clear. Wives of Aramco employees sip Diet Pepsi and iced tea and drive their Land Rovers as they contemplate whether they should protect their children and themselves and leave Saudi Arabia, where only a few minutes away over 20 foreign workers were killed by Islamic militants. They live in a country where their Saudi female counterparts can't even drive a car or show their face in public, and too many of the people live in poverty in the world's richest oil-producing country, and all they're worried about is that their vacation plans to New Zealand might be in jeopardy.

If these women can live with this hatred just outside their front door, then I guess we could all learn to deal with it half a world away, or until the next 9/11.

Dennis McKee

Simi Valley

I take strong exception to your article. It portrayed Saudi Aramco employees and dependents as materialistic, even silly, risking our families' lives for the almighty dollar. Although it is true that most people here come to Saudi Aramco for a better financial opportunity than was available in their home countries, many do not isolate themselves from Saudi society.

The article refers to "pesky inconveniences of foreign language, unfamiliar mores or strange cuisine." Many of us enjoy and have stayed here for what [the writer] considers an annoyance. Arabs are famous for their hospitality and most are willing to share their culture, cuisine and language. Some Westerners here did bother to learn Arabic in order to understand and converse with the majority of Saudis who do not speak English. If any Westerner here even attempts to speak Arabic, the Saudi response is usually a look of surprise followed by a smile. Those who come here and avoid all but minimal interaction with Saudis may do so, but it is their loss.

Many of the wives here are employed full time for Saudi Aramco in professional capacities, and others actually work in schools, hospitals and businesses outside of our gated compound. Most of us have dear friends among the Saudis. We attend their parties, weddings and funerals and have been to Saudi homes. Yesterday, my best (American) friend here had to tell a Saudi friend about having to leave "for now." The Saudi cried and apologized for what was happening in her country and begged my friend to return.

I have lived in Dhahran for 13 years and have long-term friendships with many Saudis. I love and respect this country and its people. I am saddened and horrified at what is happening here, as are the majority of Saudis.

Dale Jones

Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Your account of family life in an oil-company compound in Saudi Arabia shows us American colonialism up close. Except for Diet Pepsi instead of gin and lime juice and for ice cubes in the tea, we could be in a British cantonment in India a century ago. If we had more families in our foreign military bases, the repetition would be complete, American-style.

The Raj has changed to a different kind of rule by the U.S. military-industrial complex in a new imperialism. The intents and effects, though, are similar. When asking, "Why do they hate us?" think of the Quit India campaign, but without Gandhi leading it with hunger strikes instead of suicide bombers.

David Eggenschwiler

Los Angeles

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