We had already made plans to fly to Riyadh on the AEA tour Thursday, February 2nd, 1978, so we caught a bus at the Dining Hall at 5:00 A.M. that morning to the Dhahran Airport local terminal. We flew on a Saudia Air flight to what was the old, original Riyadh Airport.
Immediately upon landing, most of the women had to use the restroom, and we were surprised to find that it still contained only Eastern hammams, (these were just holes in the floor with a place on each side for your feet that you squatted over to do your business. There was no paper provided, just a water hose for cleanliness). I had been exposed to these in some restaurants and shops in Al-Khobar, but it was a surprise not to have a choice in the airport in Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Anyway, a bus was waiting for our tour group, and we were driven to see all the Palaces of the Saudi Princes (one of which was a duplicate of our "White House"), Government Buildings, Historical Places, and the Museum of Antiquities, which had just opened December 31st, 1977, and was very impressive.
We had a very nice lunch in a modern looking hotel, then were driven to some market suqs, where we shopped for gold, rugs, coffee pots, etc. I bought another Arab brass coffee pot, but they were getting so expensive they weren't the bargain they once had been, especially since most shop owners weren't as inclined to barter like they used to. I was impressed with Riyadh, though, as it was very clean in comparison to the towns and villages we shopped in the Eastern Province, with divided streets throughout.
We had been allowed to take pictures of a lot of places, but forbidden to take them mostly in Government Buildings, and some Palaces. I had taken my camera and merrily clicked away, but for some unknown reason I never did find that roll of film after I got back to Abqaiq. I always wondered if the bus driver had orders to remove film, if possible. There were times we left some things on the bus, although I thought I was very careful to keep my camera with me at all times.
Finally we were driven back to the airport, took our flight to Dhahran, and arrived back in Abqaiq by 6:30. Although we just hit the "High Spots" of Riyadh on our one day trip, it was extremely interesting and I hoped to have the opportunity to return there someday.
Jeanine and Jerry King had a problem come up concerning their son, Jeff, who was in Okinawa, so Jeanine decided to fly there to check it out, Sunday, February 5th, 1978. That left her office at work empty again, so I was asked to fill in for her as the Superintendent's secretary. It meant I had to go back to the full work day again and be extra busy, but it would be nice to have a desk of my own and the pay was terrific. I had gotten the hang of the place by then, so it wasn't as complicated, plus Faruq was right there to help me again. It was an interesting and important office in the Abqaiq community, so I would give it my best shot.
Although I continued to bowl 2 nights a week and we went to an International Food Night Arab Style Feast in the East Lounge one night, our social life suffered a bit for a couple of weeks. But we already had plane reservations and tickets to fly to Bahrain to visit Sharon and Jim Morris.
So on Wednesday, February 15th, 1978, I left work early enough to get to the Dhahran Airport for us to catch the late afternoon Gulf Air flight to that small island off the Saudi Arabian coast.
Unlike the small, virtually empty planes I had flown back and forth to Udhailiyah, that small airplane was packed to the gills. It seemed like everybody and his dog, was trying to get out of Saudi Arabia, for the weekend at least. I was beginning to wonder if it was necessary for us to be there, but we did want to see Bahrain and the Morris’ before we left that area for good.
As we flew in that cramped, crowded, small plane over the narrow expanse of the Persian Gulf, I didn't imagine, in my wildest dreams, that we were about to have the worst airport experience of our lives in all of our travels throughout the world. Landing was a relief, but going through customs the Bahrain airport officials herded our entire plane load of people into a special room, and took our passports away from us.
Now, we were used to giving up our passports in Saudi Arabia while there, but we had never heard of them doing it in Bahrain. Not only that, we were left there for a couple of hours without even being told what was going on. I was already very tired from my extra work, so was almost ready to get hysterical.
They finally came in, lined us all up, and forced us to take some type of medication in capsule form, saying it was for the prevention of a suspected communicable disease we had never heard of. After that, they returned our passports and released us to go on to the baggage area and into Manama. Sharon and Jim were waiting for us there and could see how upset I was. They said they had been trying to find out what the holdup had been, and were shocked when we told them what happened.
On top of everything else, our bags had not gotten on the plane with us from Arabia. I'll always be grateful we were being met there by friends who lived there and knew the area. They were so concerned, helpful and hospitable trying to show us a good time.
It was already so late that night we just drove to their house, which was a lovely, new, two-story building surrounded by a walled fence and garden, with 4 large bedrooms and 4 baths.
The next morning we drove back to the airport to retrieve our luggage, then Jim and Sharon took us on a tour of Manama and the surrounding area.
First we drove by the Sheik's sandy beach and garden area, which was very pretty, then to the Dilmun Mounds, believed to be the burial grounds of the first Bahrain settlers. In fact, some archeologist wondered if this could be "The Garden of Eden", but I had severe doubts about that.
Back in the city, we went through the streets of Manama, past the market suqs, to the beautiful Bahrain Hilton Hotel.
Up to that time, we hadn't seen a hotel of that grandeur in Saudi Arabia. The closest thing to it would be the Al-Gossibi Hotel in Al-Khobar on the road to Dammam.
A Ramada Hotel was under construction just out of Dhahran on the corner of the roads to Ras Tanura and Abqaiq, but wouldn't be finished before we left.
Inside the Hilton was even more magnificent than imagined with an ice skating rink in the center of the lobby. It seemed very strange to us to see Arab children skating around on it, some of them wearing their thobes.
After the tour we went back to the Morris' house for a much needed rest, then returned that night to the Hilton for a wonderful western steak meal.
Friday afternoon we returned to Saudi Arabia and Abqaiq with no problems. Although we got off to a shaky start, it was an incredible and informative trip and we enjoyed the Morris’ company, as usual.