A ‘houseboy’ serves a birthday party at our house, 4491-B. Clockwise from left bottom are me, my brother and sister.
For many Aramcons, servants personified “the good life” in Dhahran. These ever-present helpers performed all the onerous domestic chores everyone abhors, and prepared food and served guests at Aramco communities’ endless, labor-intensive parties.
Houseboys, mostly Christian and mainly from India (where St. Thomas the Apostle — apparently very successfully — introduced the faith in 52 AD), could be hired to keep your house clean, cook your meals and even raise your kids if you didn’t feel like doing that yourself. The gardeners, on the other hand, were generally Arab, keeping your lawn mown, bushes trimmed and perennial plants blooming year-round. People also hired what we referred to as “ironing boys,” which I don’t remember much about, except ours, Mohammed, a pint-sized, soft- spoken, gentlemanly fellow from Yemen. As the job title implies, they only ironed.
With houseboys, Americans could pretend they were actually Brits living in India during the 19th-century Raj, and happily rich.
Of course, Aramcons were none of those things. Aramco salaries in mid-century, according to my dad, were somewhat better than stateside but not exhorbitant. That made the illusion of wealth one of the major benefits of working for the company and living in one of its three main communities: green Dhahran; Ras Tanura, a charming shoreline place on the Gulf about 50 miles away; and even barren, remote, dusty Abqaiq.
Americans in these communities enjoyed comfortable if modest-looking company housing and were charged only token rent (for U.S. tax purposes), all utilities included. This covered electricity (a gigantic perk since, if you had to pay its actual cost, electric bills would have bankrupt everybody every blazing summer). Aramcons also saved on transportation costs: Company-subsidized taxis in town were dirt cheap, which meant you didn’t really need a car.