Welcome to AbqaiqWelcome to Abqaiq sign.

Daylight brought its own reward - the first real look at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia again and our camp. It dawned bright, sunny and cloudless, as it usually did, with a perfect temperature in the low 80's for now. We would be reminded later that there was no distinct season change there, just a gradual warming until it became the horribly hot, unrelenting heat of a true desert. Oran had to go back to Dhahran for more processing and orientation, but I was shown around Abqaiq by the official Aramco welcomer of the women, at that time, Norma Branch. What a pleasant surprise to find the camp so green and coloful, beginning with the well maintained, grassy lawn, periwinkles, flowering oleander hedges, and large palm and acacia trees right outside our apartment door. And in abundance all over camp were flowering hibiscus, bougainvillea, and frangipani plants. Though small, the entire camp was neatly laid out in square blocks with sidewalks and named streets.

Arabia Street SceneAbqaiq street scene.

Amazingly, the houses were mostly the same ones that had been there when we left 19 years earlier – an assortment of single brick, cement-block, row-houses, pre-fab houses, 7-unit apartment buildings, and rows and rows of pre-fab portables for the bachelors and bachelorettes. All these surrounded a long, rectangular block of recreational facilities. On the outskirts and around all this were a Post Office, Commissary, various office and special activities buildings, a Clinic, a Fire Station, an Administration Building, a small industrial area, a Golf Clubhouse, and a 9-hole golf course. Except for the fences surrounding the entire area and the bare, brown sand dunes beyond them, it was hard to realize we weren't just in a small town in the United States. Adjacent areas held Al-Farah, the Arab employee camp, and the Abqaiq Plants, which were basically crude oil stabilizers and booster pump stations. After the basic tour, I was driven to have my identification badge picture taken (something new), then to the Post Office to be assigned a box, the Housing Office to sign up for permanent housing as soon as it was available, to pick up some linens, and check through the commissary hurriedly. That was a disappointing small, gray, non-descript, cement-block building with a scrawny tamarisk tree and bus stop bench in front of it, on the corner of 11th and "D" St. Just inside the door was a small canteen, 4 checkout stands (with Arab men checkers only), and cold drink cases of Pepsi, Teem and Kaki Cola stacked along the wall behind them. To the left, behind the canteen, was a small area with "not so fresh looking" fresh fruits and vegetables, and beyond that, three rows of shelves in the center of a large room with one shelf along the left wall, holding canned goods and assorted household cleaning products. A waist high, open freezer unit for meats was across the entire back wall of the building, and another freezer unit with vegetables and assorted other frozen items ran down the far side wall to a small upright refrigerator unit for milk, butter, cheese, etc.

Inside Commissary Inside the commissary.

A separate door outside at the back of the building allowed entrance into what was called, the pork room. It is against the Muslim religion to eat pork of any kind, so to keep from tempting them in any way, all pork and products seasoned with pork, were sold in that room, which was used only by Western or non-Muslim employees. It was really a privilege for the Saudi Government to allow us to have it at all. There was a noticeable lack of Arab women in the camp, but all the Arab men who worked for the company were friendly and courteous. Most wore an appropriate uniform for their area of work or a combination of Arabic and Western clothes, always having their head covered with either a small cap or ghutra, which is a red and white checked or white large square cloth, folded in half, in a triangle shape and held on the head with a double round circle of black, thick, rope-like cord. I had no sooner gotten back to the apartment again when Marge DeSantis, Chris' wife, came by to ask me to her home for lunch. She looked about the same to me, after all those years, except her hair, which had turned gray. We walked the couple of blocks to her house, a very large, free-standing, green, cement-block one, which had been decorated very attractively with a lot of Middle Eastern items. We had time for lunch and a very nice visit before she went back to work, and I returned to our apartment. Then, for the first time, I really looked it over thoroughly. The rooms were much larger than I had remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. There was a large, square living room, a long narrow kitchen behind that, and on the other side, a hall with a linen closet and a large trunk room, two bedrooms and a bathroom extending off that. All the walls were painted white so it, at least, looked clean. It was furnished adequately with enough furniture in each room to make it livable, plus linens and throw rugs. In the kitchen were a stove, a new frost-free Frigidaire refrigerator with freezer across the top, a washing machine, and dishes, pots, pans, and silverware. There was even enough basic food in the refrigerator and commissary closet to keep us going a day or two, very generous. As well as the things Aramco supplied every newcomer, Norma had left a casserole and a salad in the fridge and Marge, a cake on the table. "Our cup runneth over".

Friends and houses in Abqaiq Oran Wilson, Pat Smyth, Jack Hays and Guy Smyth under palm tree in front yard; Street in front of 7-unit apartment building with Kieth and Vicky Wilson; street in Abqaiq camp; Colleen WIlson at back yard gate, at front door, and on front porch.

Oran came home just beat from his day in Dhahran, so he promptly stretched out on the couch. We both recounted the events of our day while I prepared the food, then we enjoyed our first meal in our own apartment back in Saudi Arabia. Jeanine and Jerry King, who were getting settled in their own 7-unit apartment a block away, dropped in on us to visit for awhile. We talked about what each of us had done and what we all thought about the place so far. Everyone agreed it was much better than expected. We fell into bed as soon as they left, but woke up about 4 o'clock and couldn't go back to sleep. As there is a 9 hour difference between Saudi Arabia and the States, our days and nights were off-schedule, and the jet lag had kicked in. So Oran finally got up to start getting ready to go to work. He had to fly to 'Udhailiyah for the first time. That was a camp about 90 miles southwest of Abqaiq, deeper in the desert, and the place he would live and work all during the week. It was just a bachelor camp at that time, so I could not live there with him then. When he left to catch the bus to the airstrip, I went back to sleep and got more much-needed rest. Later I decided to explore our camp more thoroughly on my own; so I walked to the shopping area, which was just two blocks from our apartment. At the Post Office, I gave them a card Oran had been told to sign and turn in, checked the combination on our box, then went outside, around the corner, to the Travel Agents Office in the same building, to talk to the Alitalia agent, who was in camp that day. I needed to get an idea of an itinerary and price to fly our daughter, Vicky, over to visit us for the summer. This was the standard practice for the high school and college age children of employees. Even though they were brought over at Aramco expense, arrangements were made, and tickets purchased in Saudi Arabia, then sent to the children in the U.S. That finished, I walked directly across the street to the laundry to get some hangers, but they were out, and didn't expect any in for five more days. Who would have thought there would have been a shortage of hangers, of all things. We didn't even have one. Another half block and across 11th Street brought me to the Commissary again. For the first time since we decided to make this big change, I became rather discouraged. There were a lot more items in the Commissary than when we lived here 19 years earlier, such as a better selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, cheeses, frozen items, and even milk in the carton, but a very limited selection of everything else. The milk was just already mixed up reconstituted powdered milk, and the beef was still from Australia. There would either be one brand of a lot of things, especially cleaning products, or things from other countries. It seemed Aramco accepted a number of products from foreign countries in exchange for oil. Even American products, such as Uncle Ben’s rice would have nothing written on them except Arabic directions. I could tell right away that I would have to revise most of my recipes or discard some of them all together. I went back to the apartment, ate the rest of the casserole for lunch before being picked up again by Norma, who drove Jeanine and myself to the Abqaiq Suqs. In those days, before the camp expansion, there was a road inside our camp that went around the fenced Al-Farah Camp to a turn-style gate in the outer camp fence to allow access to the suqs. Western women, who were allowed to drive in the Aramco Camps only, made good use of that special feature of Abqaiq. Located right outside that gate, the suqs proved to be a very pleasant surprise to me. They were two sections of two long rows of cement-block buildings, facing each other, divided into individual native shops. Except for a covered drainage ditch running the entire length between the two rows of buildings, everything was relatively clean. The shops had a surprising number of American items, including groceries, as well as native and other foreign items, so I felt much better.

local arabic bakeryThe local bakery where the round, flat Arabic bread is baked.

After checking everything over, we walked behind the buildings to the local bakery, where the round, flat Arabic bread was made. The dough was put on the end of a long, wooden plank, then inserted into an open flame inside a large, cement-block furnace. It immediately puffed up in the intense heat, but flattened out again when it was re-moved, baked to a golden brown, and smelling delicious. We purchased some loafs, then walked back through the turn-style gate to Norma's car. This was not going to be so bad after all. Oran flew back to Abqaiq that night from 'Udhailiyah, so we went to Marge and Chris' for a dinner of spaghetti and pork ribs, always a delicious treat. We talked about our being back in the Kingdom again, and others that we both knew, as well. We also talked about Oran's first day on the Water Injection Project and my being so pleased with Abqaiq, over all. It had been a long, emotional day for both of us though, so it wasn't long before we went back to our apartment and right to bed.

Colleen with flowers Colleen Wilson with flower assortment.

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