Amer Al-Alwani, Interview Example

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Interview

The purpose of conducting my interview with Amer Al-Alwani was to better understand the housing issues faced by people of Saudi descent in the Lawrence area.  As a student at Kansas University who has lived in several different familial arrangements both within the United States and in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Al-Alwani had a unique perspective on the needs of Saudis when determining what kind of dwelling in which to live.  Mr. Al-Alwani is a married student in his freshman year at KU; he has no children and currently lives in a townhouse that is part of a complex near campus that has many other Saudi Arabian residents.

I was put in contact with Mr. Al-Alwani through the KU Saudi Arabian Students Club, a connection which illustrates one of the largest factors that determined the choice of living arrangements for Mr. Al-Alwani.  During the course of our interview, he remarked several times that he chose to live in this particular location because it was popular with other Saudi Arabian students at KU and would enable him to maintain the cultural, ethnic, and familial ties that he enjoyed while living in Saudi Arabia.  According to Mr. Al-Alwani, in Saudi Arabia it was common for families to live in multi-generational arrangements, often within the same dwelling, and take part in family and community events that utilized the home as both a private family space and a more public meeting space that could be used for parties, religious events, and other special occasions.  He noted that feelings of isolation are common amongst Saudis in Lawrence, and that the townhouse complex allows for individuals who are far away from their country of origin to forge family-like connections with people that share a common cultural and social identity.

One of my main purposes in conducting this interview was to determine the key issues that Saudi Arabians face when choosing housing.  A constant theme throughout my discussion with Mr. Al-Alwani was his perceived need for safety, both inside and outside his townhouse, and the desire for privacy especially as it relates to a division of space for men and women.  The issue of safety was remarked upon by Mr. Al-Alwani on several different occasions during our interview.  For example, he noted that he didn’t use his backyard very often because it faced a road and was unfenced, meaning that anyone walking by could see him and his wife–a situation which made him feel uncomfortable and unsafe.  He also remarked that he felt safer within the townhouse community knowing that there were other Saudi men nearby on whom he could call should he or his wife fall ill or encounter a dangerous situation.  As a member of a visible minority within Lawrence, it is understandable that Mr. Al-Alwani should feel ill at ease, and explains a great deal about why he has chosen to live in this particular complex rather than on campus or in a different neighborhood.

The issue of private spaces for men and women illustrates the unique religious and cultural needs of Saudi Arabian men and women.  Mr. Al-Alwani pointed out that homes in Saudi Arabia tend to have very large and wide rooms and an enclosed kitchen which allows for female family members to cook meals and socialize without fear of intrusion from non-family guests.  As many Saudi women adhere to strict rules regarding interactions with men who are not family members, it is vital that they have their own private space.  Mr. Al-Alwani lived in a townhouse with his parents prior to getting married and related that his mother disliked the open concept kitchen because her son and husband would have to drape the opening that divided it from the living room whenever there were male guests in the home.  The lack of separation between the kitchen and living room also presents a problem in Mr. Al-Alwani’s current home, often requiring his wife to prepare food in advance of a guest’s arrival before retreating to the more private space on the second floor.

Overall, I’m pleased with the information that I gathered during this interview.  Mr. Al-Alwani’s comments about his home have provided me with valuable insight about the housing needs of Saudi Arabians, and have illustrated some of the important differences in American and Saudi home design.  In future interviews, I would be interested in following up on the themes of safety and privacy to determine whether, as I suspect, these views are shared by other people of Saudi origin.

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