Oran flew back to 'Udhailiyah the next morning, Saturday, April 5, 1975. I was called again by Ruth Cumings to play duplicate bridge, so decided to go. About 15 minutes before I was to leave, an Arab man, who brought fish and shrimp from Dammam to sell, came by. I hurriedly bought some, then he took the heads and shells off right there in the yard. I put them in the refrigerator until I could get back home to clean them more thoroughly and freeze them. That seemed to be the standard procedure for those fresh, Persian Gulf shrimp we had the privilege of obtaining there.
So I was ready when Ruth picked me up at 12:30 and drove us to the Golf Club House, called Ain Nakhl. This proved to be a unique place in the Aramco camps, at that time. Not only did it have an area for the golfer's equipment, lockers, and dressing rooms, it also had a snack bar, a large room with a raised band stand on one end to hold special dances, parties, or card groups, and a large patio off that for barbecues, and outdoor activities. It was much like a country club arrangement back in the States, but Abqaiq was the only camp to have one at that time.
That afternoon I met more of the other women living in camp and was also lucky playing bridge, as we came in high. I was also asked to play in a bridge luncheon group that met in private homes the coming Tuesday. Activities were really beginning to pick up.
The Newcomer’s Coffee was the next morning at the Women’s Club Portable, located on "C" Street west of the Recreation Building in front of the tennis courts. It was very nice and I met a lot of the other newcomers, including the wives of the men Oran worked with. A picture was taken of all of us for the Arabian Sun, our local weekly news bulletin.
Afterward, I walked to the Administration Building, close to the main gate, to cash a check, then on to the Post Office, and the Commissary before going back home. Fortunately, everything was within easy walking distance.
Jeanine and I caught the bus to Al-Khobar again the next day. I had arranged for us to meet Pat Smyth there, and was looking forward to this trip a lot more as I wouldn't have to worry about tickets. She was waiting for us at the fountain, so after introducing her to Jeanine, we started off together down the main shopping street.
The day went well – Pat and Jeanine hit it off, as they were both from Minnesota, and Pat was very helpful, showing us where specific items were located, and the most popular shops. We went into the Indian Souvenir Store in the first block of King Khalid Street, the Middle East Jewelry in the second, and Baluchi’s Grocery on the first corner of the third block. Behind that on 1st St. was Eve's Jewelry, which was Pat's favorite store, so we had to check that out before going on up King Khalid Street to the next block, where we turned right on 2nd Street. One block down from that on the corner, we found another very well stocked grocery store, which was a pleasant surprise. Catty-cornered across Prince Mohammed Street from that was a fresh vegetable and fruit market.
We were finding all sorts of interesting new places that day. We started back down toward the fountain then on Prince Mohammed Street, past a nut store, an egg store, a stationary store, some tailor shops, more jewelry stores, and a rug store. On the corner of "O" Street we went into the popular book store, and across from that, the most popular hardware store at that time. We stopped in the house plant store just before we got back to Dhahran Avenue and the fountain. That was around 11:30, prayer time, when all the shops close for the afternoon, so we caught the Aramco bus back to Dhahran, ate lunch in the Dining Hall before catching the buses back to our separate camps. It had been a most rewarding and enlightening trip, and I knew I would be spending a lot of time shopping in Al-Khobar.
Oran was coming back to camp that night, so I fixed a meat loaf and the Noodle Roni Parmesan I had found in the grocery store in Al-Khobar, and some peas. We had asked Keith Kaul over to eat with us again and it turned out pretty well. Cooking was still a "hit and miss" proposition, depending on what could be found in the Commissary and the local stores.
Tuesday, April 8, was the day I had been asked to play bridge again, so I was taken by Ruth to Fern McGees’. There were a couple of women leaving, so before the day was over I was asked to join that group, which met every 2nd Tuesday of the month. When that was over, I went to the Commissary to buy what I would need for the weekend, when Pat and Guy Smyth would be coming to Abqaiq to visit us. Guy would be bowling in a tournament there. I worked around the apartment the next day, getting ready for that, even making the Strawberry pies we liked at home, as I had surprisingly found all the ingredients in our Commissary. About 4 o'clock, I decided to go back there to get some tomatoes and a ham from the pork room. As I walked back toward the apartment, Milo Cumston picked me up and drove me there. I invited him in for a drink and to talk about old and present times. Oran had come home by that time, so we invited the Kings over to join us. It was a nice cocktail hour.
Pat and Guy arrived around 10 the next morning, Thursday, April 10, 1975. After having some pie and coffee, Guy went to the bowling alley in the Recreation Building. The Smyth's twin girls, Melonie and Melissa went to the Kings with their daughter, Jan, as they would be spending the night there. Oran, Pat, and I went to Marge DeSantis' to visit, then to the bowling alley to watch Guy and the others bowl. We met people from Ras Tanura and more from Abqaiq, ate sandwiches, and visited.
That night, we all went to a Cocktail Party and Buffet for the bowlers and their hosts. It was on the outdoor patio of one of the walled, cement-block row-houses (4 houses connected to each other by one wall, and cement-block walls enclosing both back and front yards). We didn't recognize anyone, but enjoyed meeting more people we thought we might be associating with in Abqaiq. We accepted a drink, but noticed it had an oily taste, so wondered if it was safe as we knew it was homemade distilled booze, and possibly not good. We nursed the one drink, visited, ate, then went to the Kings' house. Everybody who hadn't met before were introduced to each other, including the kids, and we had another drink there before calling it a day.
Marge and Chris had us over for breakfast the next morning before Guy went back for more bowling, and we went up to watch. Later, Chris drove us around to show Pat Abqaiq camp, then we played bridge before eating supper. All the while, Guy was bowling in the tournament and didn't finish until about 7 o'clock, then they left for Ras Tanura. All in all, it was a nice weekend on the Smyths first visit to see us in Abqaiq since our return.
Jeanine and I were off on another adventure the next morning, Saturday, April 12, 1975. At 9 a.m. we caught the old green and beige Tasco shopper’s bus to Madinat, the Arab town about a mile outside Abqaiq main gate. The bus turned off the road, drove past several blocks of shops and let us off between a long, cement-block building, which was the slaughter house on one end, the fish market on the other, and the vegetable market in between, and an open, dirt block where all the Arabs came to display and sell their goods on market day. We noticed an Arab loading a goat into the back of a pickup that already had a baby camel in it. We asked to take his picture, and he was very cooperative, although at first he thought we wanted to buy the camel.
First, we walked down one block, and turned right up another dirt street trying to find a particular material shop Jeanine had been told about. When we found it, it was closed, but we had passed two men sitting on folding chairs in front of a shop drinking tea and coffee and smoking a large hubbly-bubbly pipe. That was too good to pass up, so we asked if we could take their picture and thought we got an affirmative reply, so we did. Then one of the men got up and started saying something to us rapidly in Arabic. We thought he wanted the picture out of the camera right then, like a Polaroid, so we tried to explain that it had to be sent off to be developed first. We even offered him money, but he definitely didn't want that. After a few more exchanges of conversation (ours in English, his in Arabic), he seemed to accept what we said, so we went on down the street.
The streets were dirt, and some construction of buildings was going on, so everything was very dusty. A bunch of small boys began following us, saying, "hello". One was particularly cute, so Jeanine took a picture of him, then gave them all a few halalas (100 coins in one Riyal). We walked on down the street, looking in the shops and at the Arab men, women, and children, who were all looking at us with as much curiosity. I had not seen that many Arab women all the time I had been in Arabia before. They were still completely covered with the long, black robes, masks and veils, however.
We made our way back to the open market area, and this was the most interesting place of all. Those people were basically the Bedouin Arabs, who had come to town one day of the week to sell their goods to the towns' people and each other. It was very crowded, and things were spread out on the ground in no particular order, except things sold by the women. They lined a fence on one side of the area, surrounding a water tower. They were selling materials and sewing items, dresses, black robes called abayas, veils, masks and costume jewelry. The men were selling the long, mostly white, shirt-like garments called thobes, that all Arab men wear, the head scarfs, both red-checked and white, called ghutras, the small skull caps worn under them, sandals, fruits, vegetables, and goats.
We slowly worked our way through the crowd. Jeanine bought some thread, zippers, and buttons before we started looking at the black robes, veils, and masks worn by the Arab women. After some bargaining, which is a way of life in that country, and with the help of an Arab man, who interpreted for us, we bought some of these items. Two Arab women shoppers came up to us then, indicated they wanted to see our purchases in sign language, felt the material, then said they were zain (good), so that pleased us. We took pictures of each other, being careful to get some women in the background, but never pointing directly at them. No one seemed to object, or so we thought.
We had started making our way back to the bus when the Arab man we had taken the picture of earlier, smoking the hubbly-bubbly pipe, came up to me and started talking again about it. I went through the same explanation, plus a word or two of Arabic I thought might help. Quite a large crowd was gathering, and we were beginning to get worried. But finally, he and the other Arabs listening to all this looked at each other, smiled, and shrugged, as if to say, "O.K.".
We headed for the bus, fast, and felt lucky I hadn't had my camera taken away from me, or worse. All in all, that was the most interesting experience I had had with the Arabs all the time I had lived in Arabia, and the type of thing I would like to do more of while living there. I resolved to learn a few more Arabic words, however, so I could avoid getting into trouble.
Back in camp, I played bridge again at the Golf Club House that afternoon, although I was tired from all the activity of the morning. Afterward, I checked the mail and sure enough, we received our first letter since going back to Arabia. It was a short, but very enjoyable, letter from our son, Keith. It was such a pleasant surprise to find something in our mailbox.
I had my hair cut the next day. The company had provided a beauty shop with a Lebanese male beautician and I was a bit leery of what to expect, but he did a good job, so I was pleased.
That evening Norma Branch came by to take me to the Dorcus sewing meeting of the Protestant Women’s Fellowship Group. They sewed baby clothes for the Arab children. All the new women were there, plus some old timers I hadn't met yet, so I had a nice time.
The following day, Jeanine and I went to Rosemary Creighs again to work. She sewed on a tablecloth, and I folded napkins for the Mothers' Day Brunch.
We got our free taxi ride to Al-Khobar the morning after that, with Norma Branch, Ruth Cumings, and several other newcomers. We were driven to several places we hadn't been to before, including the Dhahran Shopping Center, a grocery store, and other shops several blocks from the main downtown area on the Airport Road to Dammam. I was finding more and more to like about Al-Khobar every time I went there.
After our shopping spree and lunch in the Dhahran Dining Hall, we started driving through that camp looking at the different types of homes and offices there. All of a sudden, the wind started to blow extremely hard, and there was a lot of sand in the air. Then it started to rain very hard and kept that up for awhile. We started driving back to Abqaiq in our taxis anyway, and it was blowing sand most of the way. However, it had cleared already in Abqaiq, so we weren't in for a long sand storm as I had feared. We read later in the Arabian Sun that the sudden storm was a rare "Janoub", a wind blowing from the southwesterly direction, picking up a lot of sand from the desert. This one did quite a bit of damage to Dhahran camp. I always seemed to get in on the rare things that happened there. In April, 1952, almost one year after I had first arrived in Saudi Arabia, there had been a freak wind, rain, and hail storm in Ras Tanura.
I had planned to stay home the next day to wash, clean, and cook, but at about 12:30 Ruth Cumings called to say she needed an extra bridge player, so I quickly got ready and went to her house. It was a three table, once a month dessert bridge group, which I enjoyed.
When I got home, I boiled some of the shrimp I had bought from the Arab peddler, so when Oran got home from his week of work in Udhailiyah, we had several drinks, relaxed and just ate shrimp. That was a real treat. We went to bed early as we were leaving early the next morning on a tour to Dammam, the port city on the Persian Gulf, about 10 miles north of Al-Khobar.
Three buses left the next morning, Thursday, April 17, at 8 o'clock. A lot of the newcomer couples were on them, including some of the wives I had met and their husbands who worked with Oran in 'Udhailiyah. We were all introduced to each other at last and enjoyed each other's company that day.
The Protestant Minister and his wife were conducting the tour. Our first stop was in the general market place in Dammam. There were several large and covered but open-sided buildings for different products. We started in the vegetable market, went on through to the fish market, then hurriedly into an enclosed square, where there were small, open stalls in which the individual Arabs had their wares to sell. In this suq area, there were Arabs milling everywhere, bargaining, buying, etc. One store or stall had the brass, Arab coffee pots, and I found the one I wanted. I tried to bargain with the vendor, even going back three times, but he just wouldn't come down on his price, so I bought it anyway. It was the one I wanted and just cost 25 riyals, about $7.00, so I figured that was bargain enough. We went on out of this area, through another group of stalls where we bought a red-checked ghutra (the Arab head scarf), then across the street to look at the gold market. This was really fascinating and almost unbelievable. There were a couple of blocks of extremely small, side by side stores that sold nothing but 18 and 24 karat gold jewelry. If you didn't know better, you would swear it was just gaudy, dime store junk.
We completed our shopping in the more modern part of town with paved streets and sidewalks, and stores with glass fronts and an assortment of products. Back on the bus, we were driven to another part of Dammam to the home of an Arab who bought and reworked Mecca and Kuwaiti chests. The minister, who was guiding our tour, also did this, so he was able to explain all about it. I decided to try to get one of the beautiful brass-encrusted, wooden chests before I left Arabia. That finished our tour, so we drove back to the Dhahran Snack Bar to eat lunch before going on home to Abqaiq.
On our front porch the next morning, we met and talked to Sharon Morris, our next door neighbor, whose husband was the manager for the Santé Fe Drilling Company in Abqaiq. As luck would have it, Aramco had assigned the Apartment right next to ours for that purpose. She invited us over to see her apartment and to have coffee. Her husband, Jim, came home while we were there, so we met him too. We all seemed to hit it off, and they turned out to be very good neighbors and friends the short time we were there together.
That afternoon we played bridge with Chris and Marge awhile then went swimming. Between the two of us we had written a number of cards and letters to various people during that weekend, so the next morning after Oran had gone back to work, I mailed all of those. Then I went back to the swimming pool with Marge Williams, one of the other wives whose husband. Marvin, worked with Oran in 'Udhailiyah. I had decided to work on a tan as it was so easy there. We went again the next morning, as well.
That afternoon was the Spring Tea in the Women’s Club Portable, which was really nice. Everyone dressed up and there were a lot of goodies to eat, both desserts and finger sandwiches, with punch, tea, and coffee. The pink, net table-cloth that had been made at Rosemary Creigh's sewing sessions was won by Jeanine.
Toward the end of the week, I bussed to Al-Khobar again to get Jack Hays' wife, Vivian, who was back in the Kingdom to visit. Jack had arranged for me to meet her in the Bechtel Office Compound there, so when I got off the bus I took a cab, as it was located several blocks from the downtown area. We greeted each other warmly before one of the Bechtel men was kind enough to drive us back to the main street of Al-Khobar. We shopped for a couple of hours, took another cab back to the Bechtel office to get Vivian's bags, then on to Dhahran, where we ate lunch before catching the 1:30 bus back to Abqaiq.
That ride turned out to be the worst one I ever had over there. Everyone on the bus was literally scared to death. The traffic situation was bad enough, but I had felt safe enough on a bus up until then. The driver acted like he was not in full control of himself. He looked like he kept falling asleep, then jerking awake. He ran off the road twice and almost into the back of a large truck loaded with pipe another time. It had been raining, so the roads were wet and we could feel the bus sliding back and forth when he jerked the wheel. I'm sure Vivian was regretting her decision to return at that particular moment. Anyway, we made it, and it was really a relief to get back to Abqaiq.
That evening, we went by Cumston’s so Vivian could see and visit them again. We had a drink, and Milo gave us a bottle to take home before we went to the Recreation Building to show Vivian around and eat in the Dining Hall. Back at the house, the Kings dropped in unexpectedly with a return gift of a bottle of booze, so "our cup runneth over” again.
Oran flew home from 'Udhailiyah the next evening, got reacquainted and visited with Vivian again before we went to the DeSantis' for dinner and another session of fond remembrances of the good old days.
The next evening Jack was able to drive up from Hawiyah. Oran and I had been invited to a Cocktail Buffet Party for the Water Injection Dept., so Vivian and Jack visited Milo and Norma again. They were off to Hofuf early the next morning, so Vivian could see that area of Arabia. We had a meal fixed for them when they returned and enjoyed a nice evening before Jack drove back to Hawiyah.
Vivian wanted to buy an Arab woman’s abaya and veil, so we bussed to Madinat the next morning for that. Back home she helped me make tuna and English Pea salad, which I took to a bridge luncheon going away party for Joanie Kircus. While I was gone, Vivian packed and rested before I put her on the 4:30 bus for Dhahran and the Bechtel Compound in Al-Khobar. It had really been nice to see her again after all those years.