Dina Hajjaj-Saouli made the decision to leave Beirut, Lebanon, her home of 10 years, suddenly. She'd lived there since moving from Kuwait to attend college at the American University of Beirut, and was raising her two children with her husband while working in an international bank as a Human Resources (HR) officer. At first, life in Beirut was idyllic, but since 2005, Beirut had become increasingly violent due to political unrest, with car bombings and assassinations becoming ever more frequent. "The past couple of years have been a downward spiral with a lot of uncertainty and strife," she says. "You feel this state of panic one day after another, and it takes a toll on you. You think everything is OK so you start planning something as simple as a birthday party, and then an explosion kills 15 people and nobody goes anywhere. You can't count on anything."
After a leisurely Easter Sunday dinner last year, Hajjaj-Saouli and her husband took their children to play in a park to enjoy the calm, sunny afternoon. Then, she felt something sting her neck. "A bullet must have ricocheted off something, grazed me and then hit a girl next to me," she says. "We were OK but I was a bit panicked because we were in a park for children. My nerves had been rattled before, but I kept saying, 'It's OK.' But that Sunday changed things. I knew it was too risky to stay." So Hajjaj-Saouli decided to move her family to a place that was the antithesis of Beirut: Newton, Mass. She remembered seeing a CNN story featuring Newton as the safest place in America, so she set her sights on the suburb. Before long, they'd moved into a Newton home and Hajjaj-Saouli got a job in Children's Hospital Boston's HR department.
Naturally, the transition has been a bit jarring. "It's so much quieter," she says. It's so quiet, that when they first moved in, they thought their neighborhood was deserted. "We never see people on the streets or kids in their yards or on the porches," she says. "And you don't hear people, either. It's scary, it's so still. Sometimes we'll see a light on in someone's house so we know there must be somebody in there."
Hajjaj-Saouli had travelled the world with her parents before leaving Kuwait, mostly during summers, when they were glad to escape the blistering heat. She'd even been to the Boston area before, having spent the summer of 1990 studying abroad through a Tufts program during high school. Her whole family happened to be visiting the States during that same time, which was lucky timing, since the Iraqi invasion that summer turned Kuwait upsidedown. "It was a frantic time because there weren't cell phones or email, so it was hard to find all your friends," she says. "Everyone sort of scattered and never had a chance to say goodbye." (Hajjaj-Saouli tracked down a long-lost friend just a few months ago on Facebook; she wound up in Egypt.) Her family didn't return to Kuwait for a year, and moved to Paris after leaving America.
Living in several countries and travelling through many others has led Hajjaj-Saouli to value people's differences—their nationalities, beliefs and religions—and she applies this at Children's. "I see different kinds of people here," she says. "I don't think I have any bias because I've learned about so many cultures. And I really like planning events like Asian New Year, Latino Heritage and Black History Month."
She's grateful that making the change from banking HR to hospital HR has been so positive. "Children's health care is such a contrast to banking," she says. "It's a completely different feel. Here, I feel like I'm doing something for other people. I enjoy walking through the hospital and seeing what we're doing for the kids."
Hajjaj-Saouli is also enjoying a newfound sense of stability. "Here, most people have a nice, quiet life," she says. "But many people don't value it. They don't realize that people have such different lives in other countries. Here, it's hard for people to just enjoy a day for a day. A nice quiet Sunday, taking the kids to the park—a lot of people don't have that option."