I would like to start off by noting that the utmost privilege I have in writing these articles is the conversations I get to have with other Aramco Brats who lived in the Aramco towns at very different time periods. It truly helps me stay connected to my distant past. My most recent conversation was with Charles Foreman, who has such unique and thrilling adventures to share from his time in expatriate Saudi Arabia as a kid, and then twice as an employee, once in the 70s, and then again in the 90s. I wish I could include his entire story as I find it so thrilling, but for the purposes of this piece, the central focus will revolve around his experience around the various wars in the Middle East, through which he learned lessons of resilience, humor, and friendship.

His story gave me goosebumps, and it is one that I will not forget.

* * * 

Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
Charlie’s Mom, Eve Foreman, and Charlie arriving in Amsterdam, December 10th, 1953.

How did your journey to the Kingdom Begin?

My journey began on my first airplane trip on December 9th, 1953, when I flew from New York to Dhahran with an overnight in Amsterdam and two overnights in the air. The previous year, my dad took a job with the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) in Ras Tanura. Due to a housing shortage at the time, my mom, my sister, and I couldn’t accompany him. Our journey started with a really long train ride from Kansas City to New York – wonderfully fascinating for a six-year-old. After a few days in New York, we flew overnight to Amsterdam, laid over in Amsterdam and then flew overnight to Rome then on to Beirut and Dhahran. I saw my first palm trees as we were landing in Beirut. It was raining when we landed in Dhahran on the afternoon of December 12th. Never mind the new sights and smells, guys in thobes and ghutras, and Dad who I hadn’t seen in 19 months; I was looking at those gray clouds. Now you have to understand that the summertime thunderstorms in Kansas City used to really scare me. My dad had written and said that it didn’t rain very much in Saudi Arabia. So when I got off the plane and it was raining; scared-me had to point out to Dad that, “You promised me no thunderstorms.” It turned out that 1953 was one of the all-time wettest rainy seasons in the Eastern Providence. Afterward, it got really dry. First impressions can be sooooo very wrong!

I can’t imagine that, you must have felt so confused! The one thing your dad promised you is the very thing you were greeted with! And that is such a long way to Dhahran. I suppose in those days, you had to travel with so many stops due to the novelty stage of the aviation industry. What are some of your fondest experiences as a kid in Saudi?

Lots of fond memories! One amazing experience was being a Boy Scout in Arabia.

Camping in the desert requires a little more preparation than camping in the woods. In addition to the usual stuff – map, food, mess kit, tent, sleeping bag, flashlight – you have to take all of your water, all of your firewood, at least two well-maintained vehicles, plus leave a detailed itinerary of when and where you will be. It may be a while before someone comes looking for you.

Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
Boy Scouts—December 1959

From December 2nd to 5th, 1959, the Ras Tanura Boy Scouts had a special four-day trip up north to Nariyah, Ras al-Mish’ab, and Safaniya. We called ourselves the “Dune Hoppers” and even had a special flag made for the trip. Early December 2nd, ten Boy Scouts and two leaders left Ras Tanura in two Land Rovers and drove to Qatif Junction which is where the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line (Tapline) road intersects with the Ras Tanura – Dhahran road. From there we followed the Tapline road to Nariyah and then turned northeast to Ras al-Mish’ab, on the Persian Gulf near the Kuwaiti Neutral Zone. It was an all-day trip (about 200 miles) with several rest stops to see the local sights.

The desert was very beautiful, and the weather was quite cool. What we didn’t see were very many other people. We camped in amongst the large rocks near the shore. We got to use all of our camping skills including “fire watches” all night long. The wood we brought was from old telephone poles. So we all smelt like creosol from sitting around the campfire. We explored the surrounding jabals (hills) and visited a drilling rig. One day, we drove down to Safaniya and got to go offshore on one of ARAMCO’s workboats. The captain let us drive the boat, and I was one of the kids who figured out how to steer it straight – anticipate the wind, and waves, and current. I loved it. And on the fourth day, we drove home – more experienced Boy Scouts and with a better appreciation of the Arabian countryside.

That sounds so lovely. I was also part of the Girl Scouts during my childhood in Saudi and I distinctly remember the challenges of camping in the desert, but it also makes for an experience that you don’t ever forget. In fact, one of my friends in Boy Scouts came up to me one day at school and told me that over the weekend Boy Scout camping trip, he had encountered a baboon when he went to use the portable-bathroom at night and got so terrified that he went back to the tent and waited till the morning to use the bathroom. We both had a good laugh on that. Did you ever camp in the desert on your own accord after those Boy Scout trips?

Actually, yes! It was my friend Craig’s idea that we go camping by ourselves in “the desert”, the buffer zone between the RT Refinery and Najmah. So Craig, Jimmy, Karl, and I would spend the night in “the desert”, about 500 yards away from our homes. We would go after dinner, pitch our tents, light a camp-fire, and just enjoy ourselves under the stars, close to the surf. In the morning we would strike camp and go home for breakfast. The one time that I went by myself wasn’t very much fun. So I packed up and went home about 10:00 PM.

I know exactly what you mean by “the desert”! It’s hard to explain to others, but the towns that Aramco built are literally in the vast desert-land, so apart from the housing and community establishments; the surrounding community is vast “desert” land with rocks, sand, small shrubs and “nothingness.”

Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
Charlie’s parents: Reuel and Eve Foreman, Dhahran 1981

Exactly! Another great experience that I will cherish was the times I spent with my parents as a teenager talking around the dining room table after dinner. Sometime around when I was 15 or 16, I began to enjoy sitting around the dining room table in Dhahran after dinner and talking to my parents. I would ask a question and that would lead to an hour’s discussion of some very important aspect of life. I can’t remember what any of those important aspects were, but I do remember the “good” feelings I had about discussing them. Many years later, this morphed into having a beer at pubs in England with Mom and Dad and solving life’s mysteries. In her 90s, Mom and I were still sitting around the dinner table discussing life. We were still trying to discover “the meaning of it all,” “good vs. evil,” and “what is the afterlife all about.

That sounds so warming, I am sure you all cherished these conversations and the time you spent together. I feel the same way and hold similar memories. It’s a bittersweet feeling because I think the conversations we get to have with our parents at that age are ones that give us the foundation for shaping our viewpoints on life. I definitely miss those late-night talks with my parents about arbitrary deep topics that I thought about for days afterward.

I hear you. My parents were amazing—they were the driving force behind who I am. Their love was unconditional and always there. They always encouraged me to go get ‘em – ‘be all you can be.’

* * * 

So, from what I understand, you and your family were in Aramco through some major political tensions and wars in the Middle East! Let’s see… where were you during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and what do you remember at the time?

So, actually, I was not in Saudi during that time, but my parents were. I was at Drexel University, finishing up a co-op job in Florida and was getting ready to head back to Philadelphia. However, my sister, Pat, was on her way back to Dhahran. But while she was at JFK, the war was just breaking out, so she diverted to Florida while I finished my co-op period. Since the flights had gotten cancelled, she came to stay with me in Cocoa Beach, Florida. But the problem was we kind of forgot to tell Mom and Dad in the middle of this craziness, who were expecting her!

What!! I am sure your parents got super freaked out…there’s a war and our daughter is supposed to come home!

Actually, not really! This wasn’t the first time that she didn’t make it home due to an external event. There was another time when she was flying back to Dhahran, but because there was such an intense sandstorm, the plane flew on to Karachi, Pakistan. For 24 hours, my parents did not know where she was! The American embassy put her and another returning student up and then they eventually made it back!

Oh my gosh. That’s insane. Talk about living in a desert…. literally! People who have never been to a desert probably cannot fathom the idea of a sandstorm…I think “shamal” is something you have to see to understand it. I remember our high school cancelling school days because of sandstorms, but one time Dhahran literally had a giant rainstorm that broke trees and damaged cars and houses and we had school the next day….we never understood the logic!

….but ok, what ended up happening?

Eventually, we did call to let them know she was OK. After about a week, we got her a flight out of Philly, and she was back in Dhahran. The airline reservationist asked her, “Why on earth do you want to go to Dhahran during a war?!” She replied, “Because it’s home!”

Wow. I can completely understand her sentiments, the longing for home, despite the security concerns

Ok so, what about the Yom Kippur War in October 1973?

Yeah, I also wasn’t there then but my parents were. People were being evacuated… but when I asked my parents why they stayed, my dad said it was because “someone had to stay and feed the evacuees’ cats.”

That’s so funny and eerie—talk about dark humor!

Right…it got a bit scary because some students from the University of Petroleum and Minerals (UPM) got a hold of the fact that the US was helping Israel by supposedly selling weapons and intel, and they wanted to retaliate in some way. So, they decided they were going to go attack the Americans in Dhahran, which is essentially Aramco since it houses so many American expats. They came rolling down Sixth Street, and burnt some cars and smashed some windows, but no one got harmed…. but it freaked everyone out. Since Aramco was the revenue of the Kingdom, the King sent in Saudi Arabia’s National Guard. Aramco evacuated all the dependents who wanted to leave; a lot went to Rome to wait until things calmed down.

Wow, I cannot imagine… I lived on Sixth Street towards the last few years of our time there! I always told my parents, if Dhahran succumbs to a terrorist attack, this street will be impacted first. But paradoxically, because that street is so close to the gate, there is heightened security there.

It’s interesting that Aramco always became the central target of all security concerns because of this very reason — it was a representation of America to some extent and represented Western values. It’s jarring because people don’t stop to think that actions of a country is reflective of the actions of the people, mind you, who are 8,000 miles away! Using people as political leverage is so unfortunate, but it’s been the way since the beginning of time…

But wait, so Rome…wasn’t there a major terrorist attack in Rome that affected Aramco employees and dependents?

Yes. It was awful. Palestinian terrorists shot up the Rome airport on 17th December 1973. Eighteen of the dead and injured were ARAMCO employees and families on their way home to Dhahran during Christmas, and Rome was a layover stop…

That’s terrifying…I remember those returning student flights back home during Christmas holidays. They represented such an exciting time, and having layovers was part of the journey…and to have your life end on a journey back home is heartbreaking…I know a lot of Aramcons permanently left Aramco after the Rome attack. They didn’t feel welcome anymore.

Ok, so what happened during the Gulf War? That’s when you were working in Aramco as an employee, right?

Yes, so for this war, it was me who was there and not my family! At this point in time, I had returned to Aramco for a second time as an employee. But we had just moved there! I’ll never forget the initial shock of hearing that war had just begun….and we had just got there! August 2nd, 1990 was the start of the Saudi weekend (i.e., Thursday/Friday). We had arrived in Dhahran in mid-May, and our household surface shipment had just been delivered. We were about half unpacked – boxes everywhere. My friend Mick stopped by in the afternoon and told us that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. "what?... WHAT?... What the heck is going on?... What is next?..." After Mick left, we continued to unpack while the news sunk in. "Let me go back and check my Offer Letter for the fine print. Nope, there is nothing in the fine print about working in a war zone." Friday was more of the same; friends dropping by to ask if anyone knew anything. The big question was, "What do we do now???"

As my friend Yvonne pointed out; what you do depends upon your personal comfort zone.

What do you mean by that?

I mean, if you are comfortable with your surroundings and your support groups, you stay. If you are new to the environment and haven't developed support groups, you get the Heck-out-of-Dodge. No matter what, everyone had their Plan "B" – water/food, important papers, maps, and change of underwear by the front door for the 15-minute departure. My wife and dog left. In fact, most all dependents were evacuated…but Aramco told employees that while you are completely free to leave, and we would help arrange that, if you leave, you cannot come back here. Basically, if you left, you lost your job….

That’s so tough….so Dhahran became full of just employees then…

Yep. We did get a war bonus, I will say….but yes, Dhahran became a bachelor camp. We got so used to our wives taking care of the home, that a marking moment was that nobody knew where all the food was in the commissary....because our wives used to do the grocery shopping. Who would have thought the raisins were on top of the coolers?!

That’s funny…

Anyway, yes, people back home, who couldn’t find Rhode Island on a map of the US, had suddenly discovered where Kuwait was – only 2" north of Dhahran on the map. Everyone’s friends and relatives were calling to check on them. Actually, it was more like, "Are you out of your mind!!! Get out of there NOW!!! Don't be an idiot, leave now!" "It's OK Mom; the only thing between us and the Iraqis is 195 miles of excellent highways. It will take at least two days for the Iraqi tanks to overrun us. We are Day Two on the battle plan." By Saturday (the start of the workweek), the “war stories” had already begun. My boss was supposed to leave very early Thursday morning on vacation. He was supposed to fly British Airways through Kuwait City. BA already had one airplane captured on the ground in Kuwait, so they cancelled his flight. I was surprised to see him at work on Saturday morning.

American employees who were former US Marines (actually not “former,” just “inactive”) were gassing up their desert vehicles and checking the tire pressures. The US Consulate in Dhahran was useless – they knew about as much as we did and were not prepared to handle thousands of Americans in the Eastern Province who wanted to know what to do next. By Tuesday, August 7th, the first of the advanced US troops began arriving in Dhahran (some were met at the airport by Aramcons with coffee and donuts), and the rest is History... – the dependents were evacuated – the Allies built up their forces – the air war started – SCUDs were fired at us – the ground war started – and then it was over. From September to February, I carried a gas mask everywhere that I went – sort of felt like going to class with a book-bag, but a lot more serious. I still have my t-shirt that says “NON-ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL AUGUST 1990 DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA” as in: non-essential personnel get evacuated first. There is a whole book’s worth of adventures from the Gulf War, but they will have to wait for my memoir.

I did get to spend a few nights in the desert with the US Marines camped near Abu Hadriyah – very impressive. The first night that Patrick Copps and I went to Bahrain after the Causeway was reopened was also the first SCUD attack on Bahrain. We Aramcons started calling ourselves “SCUD Magnets.” If I never hear another air raid siren ever again, that will be way too soon.

Wow! I cannot imagine this…well no, I can imagine it, because I lived there…but still, the shock of it all. And the worried relatives back home….how often would the sirens go off and what would you do??

Honestly, nothing really, I had gotten quite used to them. Air raid alerts and SCUDs were like “whatever...” CNN and the news, in general, hyped it up. We did have gas masks with us at all times…

But I do remember when all the shooting started, January 17th, 1991, I had gone to bed, only to be woken up by my wife calling me in the middle of the night from Virginia, and she says, “Get into the safe room, you guys are under attack. CNN has just announced that there are SCUD missiles on the way to Dhahran.” I was like “what?! Everyone around the world knows this before me, who is actually here….but I guess it makes sense because I was asleep.” That’s when I heard the local Civil Defense sirens go off… there’s always someone who is last to know…

So freaky! Did you have a hiding spot for when the sirens went off?

Of course…the hiding spot / safe room was the bathroom because of its interior walls. But honestly, I just stayed in bed after a few weeks of getting used to them. But I do know some of my friends were totally freaked out. There was a concrete bunker at the Dhahran Middle School gym, and they slept there every night…

I also saw shrapnel. SCUD and Patriot pieces fell inside Dhahran several times.

Did that scare you though, seeing shrapnel?

Hmm. Not really because nobody got hit by it…the odds of getting hit were almost none. Instead, those missiles were meant to make you scared; the random way in which the missiles were fired. Instilling fear was one of their major objectives.

Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
SCUD Missile Shrapnel
Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
Patriot Missile Shrapnel

I see…so, the US military, were they flying in and out of the Dhahran airport?

The Coalition forces had this brand-new airport — the one in Dammam, which hadn’t opened for commercial purposes yet. So, they turned it into the military airport. The A10s were staged out of Dammam. Lots of the fighters were at the Dhahran Airbase. The big military transports used both the new Dammam airport and the Dhahran Airbase plus other airbases around the Kingdom. Aramco didn’t have to give up any of its runways…but they did supply the fuel for the military.

Okay, got it…you mentioned that you fed the US troops, right?

Yep. During the war, many Aramcons fed US troops, every single week. This was special because this was the first time since the US Civil War that US civilians had been so close to their fighting troops.

We brought in the troops and fed them dinner, washed their uniforms, and let them call home. It was nice to see them relax for a bit…after seeing the desert terrain, they enjoyed just laying down on the grass. We enjoyed providing them with hospitality. We also gave them cookies to take back! And for the troops that couldn’t come into Dhahran, many of us would get our four-wheelers and caravan out to meet the soldiers at their campsites. We would take our grills and cook up a barbecue for them, with ice cream!

Wow! That’s fantastic…but how did you guys gain knowledge of where these campsites were?

So, Aramco had around a hundred or so employees who were “inactive” US Marines and US veterans, and trust me, Marines can find other Marines…they just knew where they were.

Was Aramco aware that people were driving into the desert to the campsites to see the soldiers?

Oh yeah, it was no big secret. It wasn’t Aramco’s efforts or resources that allowed people to drive out to the campsites…. that was done solely on their own accord and desire. Although, Aramco was very appreciative of the US military being there.

You mentioned you all went around with gas masks to work…in case of a SCUD gas attack.

Oh yeah, we even had gas mask parties….trust me, there was a lot of dark humor that got us through this time.

I hear you…you had to adapt. Adaptation probably was a survival tactic.


Another interesting observation during the war was its impact on local merchants in Khobar, who were always doing great business because of the Aramco wives who would go to the souks and shops in Khobar to buy all sorts of Arabian inspired decorations. So the Khobar merchants suffered….one time I went to Khobar, and a merchant asked me, “When are the wives coming back?” The lack of cash flow was a tough time for them.

I can see that…it is embedded in the Aramco culture to have women spend time at these stores…and I don’t blame them, I would spend hours at such stores because of how beautiful the items were! I still have souvenirs and shawls from the merchants.

So, as the war wrapped up….did you get to see the US troops again, to say goodbye?

Oh yes! After the Gulf War, the Army and Marines took several months to demobilize back to the States, while the Air Force stayed on. Aramcons (especially the veterans) set up a hospitality operation where four nights a week, about 150 US troops would be invited to dinner in our homes in Dhahran. Each ARAMCO family would take anywhere from four to six troops for a home-cooked meal and socialization. After being deployed in the desert for six to nine months, the troops really appreciated some Americana (especially getting to interact with kids).

Barbequed hamburgers, salad, ice cream for dessert, and some cookies to take with them was all it took to put big smiles on their faces. It was our way of saying “Thank You” for protecting us – simple, but deeply appreciated by the troops. For our efforts entertaining the troops, they gave us an artificial Christmas Tree that they used during the 1990 Christmas season. I still put it up every year and think of them and what they did for me. As the Army and Marines left, we turned all our attention to the Air Force in Khobar Towers. We generally entertained the officers, and they reciprocated by inviting us to their “digs.” Talk about people making the most of their situation! At first, the Air Force had three-month, then six-month, and finally one-year deployments. We took the Air Force tourist shopping in Khobar, street-dining in Khobar, to ARAMCO plays in Dhahran, site-seeing to Hofuf, sailing at the ARAMCO Beach on Half Moon Bay, to see Santa Claus at Christmas time, Christmas socials, etc.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, I was in our kitchen in Dhahran when the Air Force living facilities at Khobar Towers were truck-bombed. I watched the sliding glass doors flex in and then out when the pressure wave hit – very scary. We were very concerned and, afterward, helped in any way that we could. Over the years, we met a lot of characters who could let their hair down when they got away from “the office.” I think we had more fun than they did. Lt. Col. Mike Butler taught us, “Babies need altitude.” One time when he was at the house, my baby daughter, Kirsten, was crying and wouldn’t stop. Mike grabbed her up, and she immediately stopped crying. “Babies need altitude.” The Air Force officers gave us a couple of large pictures/posters of all the US planes in the Theater. We had them framed, and at the end of each dinner, we would have our guests sign the backs of the pictures with their name, rank, and home base. I believe that we helped make their stay in Theater a little more enjoyable and memorable. Their professionalism made me proud to be an American. Truly, a bunch of great guys and gals!

Wow— what an experience! I am sure they appreciated the amazing welcome of the Aramco families and the hospitality they got…and I’m sure you were thankful for all the security they provided. I remember, for me, when terrorism was gaining traction and the rise of ISIS meant increased security threats, the presence of security patrols, snipers at the Aramco gates, and knowing the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain wasn’t too far away helped me sleep better at night. So I can only imagine the feelings of gratitude you all had for the forces. A beautiful relationship, it sounds like, something to truly cherish.

So, tell me, what was post-war life like?

Hmm, well things slowly got back to normal, but the Saudis took a long time to process visas…My dog got his permits before my wife got her visa…

When did you leave Aramco?

I left in 2000 as I had retired then, so my daughter was just about four. She doesn’t have much recollection of events there, but I try to fill in the blanks.

Charlie Foreman’s Story: Stories from Expatriate Arabia: Through the Eyes of a Third Culture Kid
Charlie Foreman and his daughter, Kirsten Foreman, at Shaybah. Charlie took his daughter to the Kingdom in March 2015.

Were you able to take her to visit Aramco at any point?

Yes! We went to the KSA Expatriate Reunion in 2015. For her, it was magical, and she didn’t want to leave! She found everything so fascinating. For me, it wasn’t so special.

Oh, why not?

Because I had already had my closure with Aramco when my parents left. I had moved on. And when I came back the first time, I left again. And when I came back the last time, I had already said goodbyes and processed it enough times. Also the people I knew no longer lived there, so it wasn’t the same….I feel like my experience is different than that of others because a lot of people’s memories are locked in the Arabia of when they were around 21, or whenever they left.

I see what you mean. I would probably be one of those people whose memories are locked because March 2020 was supposed to be my last trip to the Kingdom, as a closure trip. My parents retired in May so that was my chance to say goodbye to my home, but obviously, the pandemic stole away my chance to go have my goodbye. So I’m left with my memories that are locked from my last visit in December 2019. It’s sad….but it is what it is, I suppose.

I hear you, that must be hard. You know, you should go on one of the reunion trips sometime. That will be nice. But remember, it won’t feel the same!

Yeah, I know, because it’s not so much the place that you miss, but the place in time that is frozen in your mind, you know. I mean…what I miss the most is the time of my life when there was the togetherness of my family, and friends. The people, the togetherness, the memories, the food and the innocence of those days are what I miss the most. The place in and of itself doesn’t hold much value. At all. I guess that’s what you’re saying…so when you went back as an employee, and even in your 2015 visit, things didn’t feel the same?

Nope. Because I went back as an employee, I didn’t have the burning nostalgia that a lot of the teenagers and young adults have today. When I went back as an adult, I lost the naïveté of what it was like as a kid because I knew what it was like as an adult…so it’s different.

Yes, that makes sense. Because leaving and coming back were your choices. For a lot of people, leaving wasn’t so much their choice, but more so their parents’ retirement. Things hurt more when it’s taken away from you, rather than when you are making the active choice.

Exactly…that’s how it was. It wasn’t taken away from me; I had the chance to come back, twice, as an adult, and left on my own accord.

* * * 

Well, Charlie, I can’t thank you enough for sharing parts of your amazing journey in Arabia with me. I can’t imagine the feelings you and your family felt during many of the turbulent times in the community, as shaped by political events of the region.

Well, it’s just the way it was, and we are stronger for it! My parents were like the American pioneers moving West…and I guess that rubbed off on my sister and me. Through all these wars, none of us really left! We stayed put. But yes, thank you to you as well.

* * * 

Charlie’s story was incredibly fascinating. Even as he was describing some of the sentiments and snippets of his journey, I was matching it subconsciously with the similar feelings and moments I encountered, especially the scout troops, having deep conversations with his parents, etc. Although I wasn’t there during a full-fledged war, I was witness to the instability that the rise of terrorism had caused. Aramco was on high alert for a few years due to ISIS’s growth. I remember going into gym class in 2014, and our instructor sat us down and said that there have been threats against the school, and we have been required to participate with the US consulate’s terrorist simulation drill. Since the US consulate was next door, targeting them also meant targeting us.

During the day of the simulation drill, we were locked into a dark room with the lights out for an hour, and the consulate had people dressed like “fake terrorists” with “fake guns.” The point was to stage an actual attack. They had the fake terrorists who bang on doors and yell slurs. At this point, I started to get scared, but my friend kindly reminded me, “it’s just a drill! Not real.” But in my head, I thought, it could be real. It could have been real, sure, but I think that I, along with many others suffered because of the paranoia that the sheer threat of terrorism had instilled within us.

Just as Charlie shared that the randomness of the missile attacks that resulted in shrapnel flying around Dhahran was meant to instill fear and scare people, I felt the same way when we read threats against expats in Saudi on the news, terrorist simulation drills, and even random events like security guards checking our car trunks on some nights. Every time they did that, we knew there was a threat going around—it was not typical of them to do it otherwise. Sometimes, they also made eye contact with passengers in the car in the most vigilant manner, you could tell that they were on edge and were watching out for the slightest hint of questionable behavior.

The paradoxical simplicity and complexity of life in Aramco is something that Charlie beautifully described. While we got to experience the innocent joys of camping in the desert, and spending time with our families, we also were caught in the middle of major political tensions in the region that made our lives complicated. War or violence, or even the sheer threat of it, changed the way we thought and behaved.

This is a part of the terrorism and violence that people don’t often address. The sheer threat, or the possibility of violence and war, carries the propensity to impact your life and change you. But you do find yourself more resilient and able to adapt in the face of it all.

Charlie’s story reminds us of that —of resilience and constant adaptation to the turbulent times. Through dark humor, trust, and perhaps some faith, Charlie, and others like him made it through those days. His story is a beautiful capture of the dichotomy of the lives people had in Aramco, regardless of the time periods they were there—the simplicity and complexity of it all captures the Aramco experience.

Arabian Nights and Mornings: The Emblems of an Expatriate Upbringing in Saudi Arabia

Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.