Interviewed by Helena Cochrane
Basma and Karl Kleemeier moved to Singapore Oct 1st 2020, from Saudi Arabia after living there for almost 20 years. She is from Beirut, Lebanon and Karl is American. Her gracious, observant, and steady demeanor may be the result of having lived in so many unique locations across the globe since she and Karl married in 1992. Her entire Singapore experience has been colored by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the many complications it posed for her to nurture her daughters in the US, and remain in contact with her siblings and mother in Lebanon. Basma’s calm puts one at ease as she tells her story of resilience.
“We met 33 years ago in the United Arab Emirates where I was working as a nurse-midwife and he was on the road for his job with oil refineries. I followed him to the US and quickly adjusted. We moved four times in the US during those nine years. We relocated to Saudi Arabia with our two daughters and there, had our youngest. We traveled to many countries from Saudi with the generous leave the company gave us. My last few years, an empty nester, I was working as a school nurse, and taught childbirth classes to Saudi and expat couples.”
What have been your biggest challenges, and your greatest positive surprises?
We arrived during the pandemic but I had to return to the US a few times while our youngest was in boarding school, for her school breaks, graduation and putting her in college. As a result, the multiple testing and quarantining. Singapore rules made it much harder, but I did fly to visit my family in Lebanon. However, quarantine time had some positives because I ended up making new lifelong friends during it.
Have you adopted a habit in Singapore that you hope to take with you to your next home?
Getting out and hiking. Being in nature surrounded by greenery and stopping to enjoy the migrating birds or animal behaviors. I have time for that since I am not working. Living in a condominium when we move back to the US is not out of the question after living here and enjoying the view from way up.
I used to drive my daughters to their different activities in Saudi Arabia. Now, I do this for myself, going to play tennis or hiking or going on an organized AWA or FOM tours. It keeps me busy and is enriching my life in Singapore.
What advice would you give to first-time expats in Singapore?
I am both social and active, but sometimes hesitant.
It’s important for anyone to keep growing and take life opportunities as they come. Live the life you have now, not the one you have left.
What item in your Singapore home-away-from-home makes you feel the most settled?
We moved to our apartment in November 2020 and a week later we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for new friends and some old ones who we knew from Saudi. We had everything we needed for hosting. Shopping for food and a turkey were not easy. In Saudi we had to travel sometimes to Bahrain to find a turkey. It's so easy to buy anything here. Just don’t look at the price.
Is your quality of life different in Singapore than it was before you were an expat? What aspect of it would you like to preserve?
I was a full time employee at my last job in Saudi working as the middle-school nurse. For the longest time I identified myself as that role of working mother in addition to being a wife/mother. Loved doing both. For the first time in my life I am comfortable being an expat-wife, not working, and growing in diverse directions. I am hoping to get involved in volunteering or working giving childbirth classes for couples.
Since moving from Philadelphia in 2018, Helena has been active with AWA's Walking with Women, Writers' Group and International Vocal Ensemble, as well as with Urban Sketchers of Singapore. See her artwork on Instagram @helena_antolin_cochrane