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Your passport to living

Samantha Dunn, Excretive Editor

My mother, Deanne, was 44 when she decided to take on the most unlikely adventure imaginable.

Deanne was a divorced single mother and a career woman who had risen from a staff nurse position into the administrative ranks at the tiny regional hospital in the New Mexico cow town where we lived.  All this is to say Mom was by nature a bold woman, but what she did next was jaw dropping.

I was a junior in high school at the time, preparing to spend my senior year in Sydney, Australia, as part of an international student exchange program. Maybe Mom didn’t know what to do without her daughter around, maybe she was feeling stymied at her middle-aged place in life, maybe my trip awoke her own long-abandoned wanderlust. Maybe all of these combined to make her answer a scouting call from an international corporation that was recruiting health-care professionals for a hospital infrastructure being built for an oil-rich nation, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The year was 1982. Off she went, a brash, lone American woman into a closed monarchy that practices one of the world’s most restrictive interpretations of Islam, with no hope of returning to the States for at least a year.  It sounded like a recipe for disaster.

It was anything but.

Mom thrived, making her home there for a little over a decade. She said she felt strangely at ease in the harsh desert, among a people and a culture she found endlessly intriguing. (My Catholic mother’s take on Ramadan was that it was a lot like Lent, “but you get to eat better food at night.”) She started peppering her speech with casual phrases in Arabic—it was no longer “hello,” it was “Salam.”  “Welcome” became “Marhaba.” “Shokran” replaced every “thank you.” Eventually she became passably conversant in Arabic—not bad for taking up her first foreign language at mid life.

Her best friends were a United Nations sampler platter—Syrian, Irish, Danish, Brazilian, Lebanese, Filipino, along with a lot of other Americans. One of whom, Frank, a certain former Army captain who worked for the same corporation, became my stepfather, and turned out to be the love of her life. Frank and Deanne flitted around the globe, with trips to Nairobi and Rome, Dubai and Petra. (By this time I was living in France myself.) For a while they owned a favorite vacation home in Cyprus, but I was always too busy to join them--one of the great regrets of my life.

Both of them have now passed on, much to my infinite sadness. But they left me a rich inheritance: the knowledge that travel almost always changes you for the better, and that real love is always possible.

It’s in that spirit we offer this issue of Coast. May you taste adventure and may it lead to new possibilities.

Rafaqatkal Salama,



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