A Diamond in the Desert

“Diamante” is the Italian word for diamond. It also happens to be the last name of Giovanni Diamante, Badge Number 160876, a former senior trainer with Saudi Aramco who came to Ras Tanura in 1993 and worked for the company for the next four years as a teacher. Twice previously—in 1981-3 and 1986-7—Giovanni had come to Arabia as an outside contractor for Aramco. Then, in 1993, laboring at a job on Long Island that did not live up to his expectations, he seized the opportunity when the chance came to formally join Saudi Aramco.

A Diamond in the Desert

Giovanni went to work in the Kingdom during a critical time in its history—the time when Aramco was transitioning to full Saudi ownership and was in critical need of well-trained Saudi professionals to step into positions of responsibility typically held by expats in the past. The efforts of high-quality teachers like Badge Number 160876 helped make that transition a success. Some people consider teachers like Giovanni the “unsung heroes” of the changeover. They had a difficult job to do and they did it well. The proof can be seen in the results.

“Teaching has been my vocation since time immemorial,” Giovanni told AXP recently. “Two times before I had been a contractor. Now I was joining the training department as a full-time employee doing what I love, teaching. I loved teaching! I was given a chance to teach Saudis my way, and I had some success. Several of my students went on to assume duties once handled by American engineers.”

Giovanni, a diamond both in name and teaching excellence, essentially took uncut Arabian stones and transformed them into shiny polished diamonds that became invaluable members of the Saudi Aramco team. So, too, did many other expat teachers. Readers, you no doubt know some of them. Perhaps you were one of them. That possibility is more likely than you may realize.

Good teachers strive to bring out the best in their students, to find ways to reach inside and touch their native genius, to inspire them to accomplish great things. Many good people who are technically not teachers do the same, whether consciously or not.

Think about it and decide if this applies to you. Most Aramcon annuitants I know at one time or another during their days in the Kingdom served as teachers to Saudis. Some were trainers and teachers by trade as was Giovanni. Others were skilled engineers, drillers, programmers, scientists, and specialists of every kind with a gift for communicating with and caring about others. Together, they (you) shared their (your) wealth of knowledge and hard-won wisdom and rich experience with students and colleagues and friends from the Kingdom. The proof of how effectively everyone did their jobs again can be seen in the results. Each in their own way, every expat “teacher” and every Saudi “student” played their own special part in creating the modern business and technology marvel known as Saudi Aramco.

“Living in Saudi Arabia inside of an Aramco compound was like paradise,” Giovanni wrote, “compared to what it was like working there as a contractor. Inside the Aramco compounds, we had almost everything.”

Giovanni’s favorite memory of Saudi Arabia was also the origin of his saddest moment there.

“It was the warm ‘Thank you!’ that one of my former students gave me after his class had been forced by me to retake one of my tests together with members of another class. I had decided that both classes must retake the test after I noticed there had been a flaw in the original test, one which I believed had caused all the students in one class to fail—while all the students in the other class passed! The second time around, the class whose students had all failed the first time all passed, while the class whose students had all passed the first time all failed. I felt that I had been proven right in my teaching by those results. However, this episode eventually led me to resign my position and leave the Kingdom. This I deeply regretted, because I had discovered a way to teach Saudi students that seemed to be working fine. I was teaching them using lessons from their own language and culture. I was borrowing examples from Arabic and from Saudi customs to teach my students about electronics, and it worked. I could see it.”

After leaving Aramco, Giovanni earned two additional degrees while continuing to teach. Having suffered a mild stroke eight years ago, today he spends much of his time writing his memoirs. A widower who has since remarried, Giovanni finds great joy sharing in the lives of his three sons, Oscar, Fabio, and Alberto and, of course, in that of his granddaughter, Alessandra.

He and his wife Cathy are fond of traveling. (Of course they are. After all, he’s an Aramcon!) In May, they plan to visit Spain and Italy. The high point of that trip will no doubt be their planned stop in Venice, where two of Giovanni’s sons and his adored granddaughter live.

“I am 78 years old,” Giovanni concluded, “and I suffered a mild stroke at the end of 2010 from which I have since fully recovered. I would like to go back to Saudi Arabia again one more time before it’s too late.”

Giovanni is a diamond, not only in name but in every sense of the word. And so, too, in a similar fashion, are any of our AXP readers who, like Giovanni, once helped teach and train Saudis, whether they were your students, your colleagues, or your friends. For what you gave to the Kingdom and its people, you are all diamonds, too—bright and sparkly and precious.

Giovanni invites former friends, colleagues, and students to write to him. His email address is [email protected] His street address is 602 Deep Dale Court, Unit 11, Union, New Jersey 07083 USA.