Company Puts Tablets in Hands of Over 13,000 Deserving Students

23 October 2014 | 0 comments | Saudi Aramco News | by

Saudi Aramco News

With financial contributions from employees, Saudi Aramco began distributing tablets to children from low-income families.

In an effort to spread knowledge across the Kingdom, Saudi Aramco employees were offered to partake in a campaign to provide more than 13,000 students with tablets. For two months, employees donated generously with their money to support the company’s initiative.

The project was a collaboration between Saudi Telecom Company (STC), Huawei Tech Investment Saudi Arabia Co. Ltd., DHL and Takaful Charity Foundation, which dedicates its resources to helping students from low-income families succeed.

Khalid A. Al-Falih, president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, applauded employees for their donations to a campaign that embodies the spirit of giving. “At Saudi Aramco, we believe that education, like water and oxygen, is a right for everyone, and it is one of the essential foundations for our citizenship efforts that we take pride in and work on cementing in our goals and objectives. When we invest in education, we nourish a generation that will lead the way with their passions and aspirations.”, he said.

The Gift of Knowledge is an extension of the School Kit Campaign, which provided students with school bags and supplies for the past 12 years. Al-Falih supported the evolution of the campaign and said the tablets would allow students to learn through discovery and educational programs that will broaden their horizons and strengthen their desire to learn.

James and Rita Maher

23 October 2014 | 0 comments | Annuitants | by

Hundreds of Aramcon ExPat annuitants gathered recently in Asheville, NC for an unforgettable weekend spent renewing friendships, sharing old memories and creating new ones. Among them were James and Rita Maher, residing today in Las Vegas after Jim’s retirement in 1996.

When asked what drew him to Saudi Arabia back in 1973, Jim, an industrial engineer, cited the opportunity to work overseas in his field studying the multiple infrastructures that supported Aramco. He also gave credit for inspiring him to colorful stories told by his uncle who served with the US Air Force in Dhahran during World War II.

Jim remembers fondly his many former Saudi colleagues, especially Maki Al Ghaim who was his manager for a time. Scuba diving in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf is one of his favorite memories of life in Saudi Arabia, along with Arabian dinners on the dunes outside Dhahran and Christmas pageants staged on the local ball field in the early ‘70s.

Hobbies that keep him busy these days include sailing his MacGregor 26 on Lake Mead and giving seminars on Apple computers in Sun City. Like many retired Aramcons, Jim continues his passion for simulated sports. He arrived in Asheville eager to play in simulated NFL football tournaments with fellow enthusiasts. He must have fared well, for he’s offered to chair a committee to organize simulated sports tournaments at future gatherings.

Jim and Rita raised their three children—Julie, Nora and Brian—in the Kingdom and have wonderful memories of the experience. Jim’s fellow annuitants can only nod their heads in agreement when he says that, “Only those who have been there and raised a family in Saudi Arabia can really understand how great it was, both professionally and in terms of the lifestyle ExPats enjoyed.”

When Jim was a child, he listened to his uncle tell exotic stories about the Kingdom. Now that he’s retired, he and Rita no doubt have lots of colorful stories of their own to tell their five grandchildren. In their own way, they are serving as active good will ambassadors to Aramco, the Kingdom and the Saudi people.

Note: Please send a photograph of Rita and Jim to

Uzbekistan – Part I

23 October 2014 | 1 comment | Special Interest | by

In 1956, an eleven year old girl in Mr. Floyd Wagner’s sixth grade class became enamored with geography, as it was called then, and she acquired a thirst for knowledge of the world that would take her to Uzbekistan in July of 2014. Uzbekistan? Fred and I hardly knew it was a country somewhere over there near Afghanistan and Pakistan among the other Stans under the influence of the old USSR and the new Russia. We spent three weeks among a most hospitable people with a remarkably rich history about which we knew almost nothing. Mongols, Genghis Khan, Hordes, Tamerlane—they were names we had heard bandied about, but had never studied in any world history class.

UzbekistanThe Uzbeks make a Good Approximation of a Schawarma

Like many of you, Fred and I spent scores of years in Saudi Arabia steeping our beings in Middle Eastern culture that was uniquely Saudi Arabian. During those years we came to understand the ways of the Saudi Arabs, the hospitality and generosity, the family closeness, Islam, and a land whose ruggedness forged a determined lot of tribes into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Our boys (now 45 and 43) and Fred and I remember with fondness the wonderful Kapsa that we shared with Hassan Al-Sultan’s family in al Mansurah, Hofuf . The many mounds of lamb and rice that we eagerly gathered into our hands and popped into our mouths—all the Kapsa occasions celebrating a number of promotions of Fred’s men in Udhailiyah. We still will go out of our way in the US to find a schawarma! I will slave for hours to make tabbouli that has the right combination of parsley and bulgur—lemony and good.

Alas, we retired in 2006 to the Florida Keys and New Jersey where there is precious little to remind us of our lives in Saudi Arabia. Yet when I hear Arabic being spoken, or see a hookah in a store front, or Arabic splashed across a sign in Paterson, NJ, or a woman in hijab my heart leaps up and I say “As-Salaam-Aleikum” to surprised eyes and ears. Our living room is a testament to our travels and our nearly 30 years in Saudi Arabia. When I am truly homesick I stand in the middle of that room to get the feeling back—a little walk down memory lane as I remember where I was when I acquired each item and where the items were placed in our homes on Qatif Lane, Golden Court, Hibiscus Court, 15th Street, and Udhailiyah. We are only missing the sounds, the smells, the sand and the people and of course Mother Aramco.

Back in 1987 or 1988, when Fred and I and Eric and Peter were living in Connecticut (getting the boys through high school) and I was teaching at Chester Elementary School, I discovered that Yale had an outreach program on the Saturdays for teachers. The workshops consisted of a Yale student from another country sharing their country with Connecticut teachers. Through these workshops I found out about Pier Summer Institute. I signed Fred, his sister and me up for a week’s workshop on the Soviet Union when it was beginning to break apart and “glasnost” was the operative word that had yet to appear in our local news. For some small amount of money the three of us along with several others sat mesmerized by speaker after speaker who educated us on the Soviet Union past, present and future—a future that was yet to be spoken of in the US nightly news but was as predictable as the rising of the sun. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and I knew we had been privy to some amazing information thanks to Yale and Pier Institute.

Back in Arabia in 1991, I wished for the time to attend more Pier Institutes as I was tempted by fliers from Brian Carter each year with enticing subjects. Our school year in Dhahran ended late in July which precluded signing up for the Institutes since they took place early in the month. As years went by, Pier forgot me as I am sure the fliers were returned. I did not know if Pier still existed. Enter the Internet. In 2011, I decided to see if Yale had anything like the Soviet course available in the short format for teachers during the summer. Now I was free to sign up. To my delight, of the several course offerings that year was Islam and Politics. I signed up Fred and me and Carolyn Parks for the course. Carolyn had taught 5th grade at Dhahran Academy and Saudi Aramco and was currently teaching at a Muslim international school in London. The course was taught by some of the most well informed scholars of the time and again we, along with about 30 other teachers and interested parties, were treated to an education on the history of Islam and politics as it played out from country to country. We came to understand that each country, people and history varied widely causing vastly different results and that one could not paint the whole Muslim or Arab or Middle East world with one brush stroke. Very different tools were available to these “countries” as they dealt with their realities and we should not have in mind that they will come through their “Arab Springs” looking like Egypt or Turkey.

UzbekistanSilk Road

This year I Googled Pier Institutes and was delighted to see that, again, they were offering a course on the Middle East—Worlds of Islam: Unity and Diversity. Fred was keen and so I applied on line with the caveat that we not exclude any teacher from the course. Much to our delight we were accepted. Waiting for the acceptance, I noticed that there was a link to an associated trip to Uzbekistan called Heart of the Silk Road. Fred was at his computer paying bills when I suggested that we had never been to Uzbekistan and the price seemed good, even cheap, and if we couldn’t go to the course at Yale, we could at least go to Uzbekistan. In addition, the tour was to be accompanied by Yale professor, Frank Griffel, who, if you can believe a Google search, will know the answer to every question about Islam and the history of this region that we could possibly think to ask. And he did. However, the Pier Institute workshop gave us a grounding in Islam, its history and practice that set the stage for a once in a lifetime trip to Uzbekistan. A country whose history is indelibly interwoven with the Silk Road in the faces of its people, its food, its architecture, its literature, its languages, and Islam.

UzbekistanHotel Uzbekistan

On July 14th, the day after our 46th wedding anniversary, we set off on our adventure with  passports, visas, $2,000 dollars in various denominations strapped to our bodies in money belts, various confirmations of airline tickets, hotel reservations and tour vouchers, insurance cards, two carry-on bags and two small backpacks for nearly 3 weeks of adventure Uzbek style. We had Uzbekistan—the Road to Samarkand and our various pills for everyday and just in case. After about 33 hours of travel from home to Hotel Uzbekistan in Tashkent, we fell into our bed for a few hours of sleep before breakfast and venturing out to get our bearings in our new surroundings. The bell boy insisted that he help us to our room, although we packed so that we could handle our own luggage without help per tour directions. Once in our room, he offered to change money at what we knew was a better rate than the bank. We agreed and he gave us a whole fistful of 1,000 som notes for $100—270,000 som all together. Yes, that is 270 bills.  Later we would get 300 notes.

UzbekistanAmir Temur

Tashkent proved to be a challenge for us. We took our first walk past Amir Timur Square, a place that has had a number of dignitaries grace its park over the years, but the latest and current hero is Amir Timur. We were on a mission to replace the ‘sim’ card in our old Nokia telephone that we bought in Khobar near the turn of the century. It has come in handy for our travels to China, Thailand and South Africa as it does not work on the American system. We found Bee Line (a company that sells phones and time) and were able to make our desire for a sim card known. Somehow they managed to scare-up someone we could communicate with. After that we continued on our foot tour of the Hotel Uzbekistan surroundings. Much to our delight we found a well-appointed grocery store where we stocked up on fresh fruit and nuts and lots of bottled water at a reduced price.

UzbekistanMetro Station from an Anonymous Tourist

Our second day in Tashkent took us to Chorsu Bazaar where, of course, they sold everything. We were amazed at the huge fruit and vegetable markets, the stalls of clothing and tons of stuff. Although it was over 100 degrees, people were bustling and we were dragging. We did manage to meet another money changer with bags of money. This time we got 300,000 som for our Ben Franklin and were lucky to get some 5,000 som notes. We negotiated the Metro (33 cents a ride) without getting lost. The metro stations and trains were remarkably clean and each one had a theme artistically illustrated on the walls. On the train we were never without a seat as young people jumped up to give us theirs at the sight of our gray hair. No pictures permitted here.

UzbekistanBlue and White Tiles

That night we splurged at an upscale restaurant called the Ariston Park. It was situated in Uleg Bek Park where there were amusements for families. We were there at sunset and many families were among our fellow diners breaking the fast of Ramadan. Although there are plenty of signs that Uzbekistan is a Muslim country, this was one of the first indications to us that Islam had a loyal following. We never heard the call to prayer and few people seemed to break publically for prayer. As-salaam aleikum is the universal greeting, but after nearly a century of Russian control and prohibition of religion, the outward signs of Islam are mostly revealed in the architecture. Beautiful blue and white tiles and geometric designs abound in the restored mosques and madrassahs that were constructed by those who held power over the centuries—right up until the 1920’s.

UzbekistanMetro Station from an Anonymous Tourist

After a day’s tour of Tashkent with our newly formed band of travelers and Laziz, our Chief Experience Officer, we were off on a cross country trip to our first city on the Silk Road, Samarkand. The land is barren steppe with little to recommend it. But now and then water is brought to the land and green appears in the form of corn or cotton. Our vehicle was a Toyota coaster bus with a very able driver, Rostrum, who did his best to negotiate the rutted and bumpy roads. Lunch was at a roadside restaurant with welcome facilities. The air was dry and we all downed bottled water and green tea. Some even had beer. Lunch was almost always meat with salads from the fields we saw as we drove—kababs, pilov, tomato, cucumber, onion, carrot. After many hours of driving we arrived in Samarkand to a riot of tile work and dazzling architecture in the form of restored mosques, minarets and madrassas.

UzbekistanInterior of Madrassah in the Registan

Samarkand is an ancient city that traces its existence to the time of Babylon, Rome and Athens. It hosted such notables as Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and the Uzbek national hero, Amir Temur (Tamerlane). Genghis Khan leveled the city in 1220 as he did to many others in this region. Temur revived Central Asia by creating a great empire at the turn of the 15th century.  Ancient Arab manuscripts describe it as the gem of the East while Europeans refer to it as the land of scientists. It is both and more. The most magnificent landmark in the old city is Registan Square. The square is lined on the three sides by sparkling turquoise tiled buildings—Ulug Bek Madrassah, Shir Dor Madrassah, and Tillya Kari Madrassah.  Interior and exterior facades of the madrassahs are decorated with glazed brick, mosaic and carved marble. The Square is considered an architectural gem representing the finest in Islamic Art. These beautiful remnants of ancient grandeur can be directly attributable to Amir Temur. Tamerlane, although he claimed Mongol blood (probably for effect), was a local boy who gained supremacy of the Transoxiana  in 1370. His deadly campaigns are well documented. Less well known is that Samarkand was Temur’s choice of capital and he embellished it with master craftsmen and the finest minds and hands from all of the lands he conquered including the Persia, Syria, Asia Minor and India. These achievements grant hero status upon Amir Temur in Uzbekistan.

Madrassah in Arabic means school and these were universities in many senses of the word. They were renowned for teaching not only about religion, but also promoted studying about the sciences, mathematics and medicine. Foremost among the scholars of this time was Ulug Beg, the grandson of Temur, who ruled at his father’s discretion in Samarkand. Here he facilitated all the intellectual pursuits—mathematics, history, theology, music, medicine, astrology and poetry. He constructed an observatory that allowed 1,018 stars to be plotted much more accurately than had been done by Ptolemy. We owe much to the efforts Mirza Uleg Beg for setting the stage that led to a state supported university education system.

UzbekistanWoodworking in Tashkent

Today Samarkand’s importance to the history and the culture of mankind is being recognized by the UN, UNESCO and the WTO, which are helping to promote tourism to the region.   Several of artisans that we discovered on our explorations had shown their works and craftsmen skills at a number of workshops worldwide in such cities as Houston, Cairo, Phoenix, New York, etc. I have touched on only a few sights in Samarkand; we saw so much more. To truly take them in you would need weeks.

UzbekistanGigantic Shadows on the Sand

The Golden Journey to Samarkand
We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow,
Across that angry or that glimmering sea,

White on a throne or guarded in a cave
There lives a prophet who can understand
Why men were born: but surely we are brave,
Who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
When shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
And softly through the silence beat the bells
Along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.

Poem by James Elroy Flecker

Article by Laurie & Fred Swanson

Next Week – Part 2

Massive Project will Help Deliver Sales Gas Kingdom Wide

22 October 2014 | 0 comments | Saudi Aramco News | by

Saudi Aramco News

Saudi Aramco recently signed a contract with the Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation to design and build a Master Gas System Booster Gas Compression Station.

The massive project will help to deliver sales gas produced in the Eastern Province to customers in the western region of the Kingdom such as King Abdullah Economic City, the growing petrochemicals complex at Petro Rabigh and the Independent Power Plant on the West Coast.

By committing to this massive project, Saudi Aramco is supporting the company’s corporate strategy to ensure a reliable supply of sales gas to meet the energy demands of the Kingdom’s growing industrial sector.

The Master Gas program will also diversify the company’s portfolio of local energy consumption and reduce reliance on liquid fuel. Shifting local energy consumption from liquid fuels to natural gas will not only make good economic sense by maximizing fuel-cost savings but it will also have a positive impact on the environment. This will also benefit the Kingdom’s economy by increasing the volume of liquid fuel supply available for worldwide export.

“This is a very big project and very important to the Kingdom,” said Fahad Al-Helal, vice president of Saudi Aramco’s Project Management Team during the signing ceremony. “With this project, we will be taking the gas produced in the eastern regions and delivering sales gas to the western part of the country, which will aid their economic growth.”

The Master Gas System Booster Gas Compression Station project will greatly expand the capacity of the East-West Pipeline system to deliver sales gas around the Kingdom, from its current capacity of 8.4 billion standard cubic feet per day (SCFD) to 9.6 billion SCFD by year end of 2016. By 2018, that capacity will increase further to 12.5 billion SCFD.

The first two phases entail the installation of hundreds of kilometers of pipe branching off and along the East/West Pipeline, construction of three compression station facilities, and residential facilities. The project will also introduce, for the first time in the company, an integrated waste-heat recovery system for power generation.

Indoor Winter Olympics!

21 October 2014 | 0 comments | Opinions & Editorials | by

Abdulateef Al‐MulhimAbdulateef Al‐Mulhim, Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

Hosting a sports event is considered a major achievement of any country especially if it belongs to the Third World.

But there are some events, which can only be organized in a few countries such as the Winter Olympics. Since the beginning of major international sporting events like the Summer Olympics (1896), the Winter Olympics (1924) and the World Cup (1930), many countries literally run from pillar to post to host these events.

With the passage of time, the FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) emerged as the two most powerful and influential sports organizations. Interestingly, these are considered more powerful than the United Nations. That is why; their decisions usually create a stir in the media with numerous columnists coming up with analysis and commentaries. On the basis of some recent developments, a question comes in ones mind: Are various countries losing interest in hosting such events?

Until now, countries lobby fiercely to host the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. However, hosting of the Winter Olympics is a different story altogether.

This event is usually held in rich industrial countries mainly European. It is mainly due to its unique requirements. As the name suggests, holding of this event requires special weather conditions like snow etc. In addition to that sufficient infrastructure and special accommodation are also required.

These conditions restrict the options for holding this event. And this is why the world saw the Winter Olympics being held more than once in the same place such as Lake Placid in New York State.

Few days ago and to the surprise of many sports commentators, hosting the Winter Olympics enthusiasm is getting colder than the air in the Olympic villages. Earlier this month, Norway withdrew its bid to host the 2022 edition of the Winter Olympics.

When one sees Norwegian children skiing, one would think they were born with a pair of skis in their hands. Other countries like Sweden and Ukraine have also withdrawn their bids. There are rumors that German city Munich is also not interested in hosting the event.

Is it because people are losing interest in the Winter Olympics or is it the behavior of the IOC?

Many international sports watchers say that the IOC is becoming a Jet Set organization rather than an organization caring about and bringing the world youth together. Norwegian and other European media reports criticize the initial requirements of the committees visiting the bidding cities. According to those reports, when members of the Olympic committee visit the bidding cities, they would set many conditions, which have nothing to do with sports but for their personal prestige. For example, they want to stay in best hotels, priority traffic lanes during the events, red carpet arrival ceremony and mobile phones for their use. With these kinds of requirements, it is very easy to lose transparency, which results in corruption.

Due to these reasons, many European cities have lost interest in the event and the IOC is left with just two options for the 2022 event — Almaty in Kazakhstan and Beijing.

Many people have started to raise a question what if the Winter Olympics are held indoors. In such a case, the event can be organized anywhere across the world. Would there be any country willing to pay for the expensive super huge indoor facilities? Many experts say it is possible.

With the advent of social media, any sporting event could expose the host country’s achievements and the truth about life inside the country. Oh, I forgot to mention that Poland and Switzerland are also not enthusiastic about hosting the Winter Olympics. In the past decisions were coming from the top about hosting an international sporting event, nowadays, it is the ordinary people who decide. The IOC has to change the rules or it will find no takers or the future Winter Olympics games will be held indoors and the Summer Olympic will be played using simulators such as the PlayStation.

Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Indoor Winter Olympics! reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.