Many a baby boomer in the U.S. learned the English lyrics to “The Happy Wanderer” during their grade school/scouting years:
I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
My knapsack on my back.
The song is the post-World War II creation of German songwriter Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller and originally was known in German as “Der fröhliche Wanderer”, with German lyrics that go:
Mein Vater war ein Wandersmann,
Und mir steckt’s auch im Blut;
Drum wandr’ ich flott, so lang ich kann,
Und schwenke meinen Hut.
Faleri, falera, faleri,
Falera ha ha ha ha ha ha
Und schwenke meinen Hut.
Translating words like these from one language to another can be problematic. Linguistic purists may rightfully argue over the correctness of the above, most-commonly-accepted English translation.
An alternative, no-less-exact, not-nearly-as-smooth-flowing English translation might easily read instead:
My father was a wandering man,
And I have it also in my blood;
I wander swiftly to the drum, as long as I can,
And wave my hat.
Faleri , Falera , Faleri ,
Falera ha ha ha ha ha ha
Faleri , Falera
And wave my hat.
A good German word to describe this impulse is “wanderlust”–defined by Webster as “a strong desire to travel.” Aramcons are especially noted for suffering from this particular affliction. Many have found solace over the years as members of the Aramco ExPats Travel Club. Which brings us to the point of today’s article.
Volunteers are being sought to assume the leadership of the Aramco ExPats Travel Club. Someone or a group is needed who is willing and able to coordinate the club’s activities.
Aramcons have been planning travel activities since the start of Aramco. Help us help the Aramco community to plan travel activities. In past years, the club has sponsored such activities as luxury cruises in the Mediterranean, treks to Nepal, bike trips across America, social gatherings all over the world, and much more. We can do more than these activities. What about a Mystery Tour with your local Aramcons? Do you RV or do road trips? Will you organize a bus trip to a nearby sightseeing destination? Do you belong to a civic group such as Habitat for Humanity and would like to encourage others to help?
Aramco ExPats needs at least one coordinator or a group of coordinators that would be willing to help organize and encourage Aramcons to travel together. Aramco ExPats will do all of the advertising and travel newsletters to help you get the word out to your fellow Aramcons.
We have members around the world and need coordinators around the world!
With a dedicated membership of hundreds of present and former Aramcons, the Travel Club sports a core group of dedicated adventurers experienced in seeing the world and eager for new exploits to add to their lists. Whoever assumes this role can be assured of an audience of avid followers.
Whether the next club-sponsored activity involves sitting around a campfire somewhere toasting marshmallows and singing scouting songs like “The Happy Wanderer” or feasting on haute cuisine in some swank Parisian eatery, it will assuredly be a moment to remember.
If you are interested in taking on this role, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive more information. Your input is encouraged in terms of new directions for the Aramco ExPats Travel Club.
Whether you personally take part in each new club-sponsored adventure or not, you will have an opportunity to make new friends and open new doorways for fellow Aramcons in search of new ways to explore and enjoy life.
Anyone interested in joining the Travel Club can do so by clicking on the Travel Club icon on the front page of the AramcoExPats.com website.
Every now and then, AramcoExPats.com strikes gold with one of its features. Such was the case back in 2007 when we published a series of letters written by the late Ken Webster, who began his long service with Aramco in 1944, with World War II still raging.
The Webster Letters are as interesting and relevant today as they were eight years ago and deserve a return visit. Beginning with this issue of the newsletter, therefore, we shall be reprinting one of the letters every week. We encourage readers with similar material to share to contact us. Perhaps we can continue with their treasured letters once we have finished revisiting those of Ken Webster. Letters compiled by his grandson, Ken Slavin.
Read Chapter 1 of “Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters from Arabia, 1944-1959
Sharon Eboch wrote she visited the Musical Instrument Museum in northern Phoenix, Arizona and recommends it to Aramco ExPats visiting the Phoenix area. The MIM has exhibits of musical instruments from most of the countries in the world, accompanied by videos of people in those countries playing some of the instruments, singing, and in some cases, dancing. They have greatly expanded their Middle East section since my first visit there. I enjoyed hearing the music and seeing the instruments from the Arabian Peninsula countries.
One visit is hardly enough to cover the entire museum. Sharon thinks it would take two full days to see and listen to every exhibit. The Musical Instrument Museum has been rated one of the top two museums in Arizona.
Mohammad Khokhar responded to last week’s article on Saudi history, Arabia: Land of Mystery, by asking what transpired in the centuries preceding the 1937 discovery of “black gold” at Dammam. We offer here a general response to his question, placing our answer within the context of Arabia’s long history.
Intermittently from the dawn of civilization in the region, waves of foreign conquerors have occupied parts of the Arabian Peninsula for varying periods of time, in some cases for centuries. Among them were the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines. A few times, Semitic invaders rose out of Arabia to subjugate foreign lands, most notably the Akkadians who took power in Mesopotamia and the Hyksos who accomplished the same in Egypt. In subduing the Nile Valley, the Hyksos employed two powerful, never-before-seen-there weapons whose adoption by the defeated Egyptians transformed the Pharaoh’s armies: the composite bow and the chariot.
Within Arabia, internecine struggles between an inchoate mass of indigenous tribes shaped life on the local level. On a larger scale, a succession of Arab kingdoms struggled for hegemony, their trajectories testified to today by the magnificent ruins of palaces and fortresses and places of worship they left behind. The intricate pattern of human endeavor woven by these many events served as an extended prelude to the rise of Islam.
The Rise of Islam
Page from the Oldest Surviving Islamic Book
Printed on Paper
Dating from the Early 8th Century CE
Of the three great monotheistic Abrahamic religions originating in Arabia, Islam has been paramount in its influence on Saudi history. Only by taking into account its contributions can one understand the history of the Kingdom and, as well, the history of the modern world.
In the Qur’an it is written, “Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error.” Islamic caliphs are said to have showed noteworthy tolerance toward the religious beliefs of Christians and Jews living under their rule. Adherents to those faiths are known to have held important public posts.
All Muslims were expected to learn Arabic so they could understand the Qur’an. This sharing of a common language helped unite diverse ethnic groups encompassed by the sprawling Islamic empire. It made possible the fruitful exchange of knowledge and ideas, with profound, lasting, widespread results.
The Area in Green Illustrates the Reach
of the Islamic Conquests
at Their Greatest Height
Through an extended series of conquests over an array of cultures, the caliphs created a vast empire lacking internal political boundaries and largely free from external attack up to the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols in the mid-13th century. Internally, until that tragedy, life in the Islamic world for centuries was peaceful and secure compared with much of the world. Commercial and intellectual and cultural exchanges flowed freely throughout the Islamic sphere, bringing together the knowledge and wisdom of India and China, ancient Greece and Rome, Persia and Egypt. Rulers in the main left their new conquests administratively and intellectually intact, preserving, not destroying, the best of those civilizations.
The Roman Empire at its height at the time of Christ enjoyed what historians have labeled the “Pax Romana”—the Roman Peace; similarly, the Muslim Empire at its height from the 8th until the mid-13th century enjoyed what some historians have labeled the “Pax Islamica”—the Islamic Peace.
Islamic civilization at its medieval height embraced belief in the paramount importance of knowledge. In the mid-9th century CE, the Muslim world, stretching from east of Arabia across the southern shore of the Mediterranean into Spain, entered a period of astonishing economic, cultural and scientific achievement lasting some 400 years—an era known as the Golden Age of Islam.
Muhammad mandated public education for Muslims, giving a boost to the pursuit of knowledge. Paper-making technology was introduced from China, leading to the replacement of expensive parchment and papyrus with inexpensive paper. There followed an explosion of printed works, accompanied by the rapid expansion of knowledge in diverse fields. Extensive libraries, public and private, sprang up throughout the Muslim world.
Arabs built the world’s first astronomical observatory, and their scientists speculated on the rotation of the planets around the sun at a time when many in pre-Copernican Europe believed the earth was the center of the universe. Scholars used their knowledge to calculate the circumference of the earth to within a few thousand feet. Arab cartographers applied their extensive knowledge of the world beyond their immediate borders to produce the finest maps the world would know for centuries to come. Arab scholars translated classical Greek works into Arabic, including the writings of Aristotle and Plato, preserving vital texts fundamental to the development of modern civilization that otherwise might have been lost.
Arab mathematicians developed and refined algebra and geometry and spread the use of Arabic numerals—originally introduced from India—in place of cumbersome, unwieldy, severely-limiting Roman numerals. They also introduced the concept of zero. Their innovations opened a new world of rational, quantifiable scientific inquiry that would have been impossible to enter otherwise.
Other innovations introduced included the astrolabe for navigation, advances in health care and medicine, new methods in agriculture, livestock breeding and water distribution and fresh approaches to understanding history and philosophy. Over a period lasting a millennium, the culture and civilization of Arab lands shined like beacons in the night. When Europe entered the era known as the Renaissance, Arab contributions to that reawakening were prodigious.
Worlds Diverge, Then Converge
Euro-centric historians have long dated the “birth” of the modern world to the Renaissance, an epoch stretching across the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. Much ink has been spilled chronicling the Scientific Revolution that succeeded it and the Industrial Revolution that followed that. The designation, definition and delineation of historical periods are always subject to debate, and scholars have argued endlessly about the interrelationships between these three eras. Consensus holds, however, that the Arab and Western worlds followed widely-divergent paths from the Renaissance into the modern age. The essence of Mohammad Khokhar’s question relates to that span of years. Going into greater detail than this will have to await another essay.
Neither the Renaissance nor the Scientific Revolution could have unfolded the way they did without the contributions of Arab science and scholarship, While the Industrial Revolution took hold in Europe and beyond in the 18th and 19th centuries, for more than a hundred years the Arabian Peninsula experienced nothing comparable for a complex set of reasons. The salient point is, with the discovery of commercial quantities of “black gold” in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia finally enjoyed the resources necessary to modernize. Since then, the economy of the Kingdom has advanced at warp speed into the new millennium. In a greatly-compressed time frame, Saudi Arabia has undergone economic and social change Europe and America had centuries to master. Aramcons like Mohammad Khokhar have had front row seats to one of the most compelling stories in modern history.
Legends abound regarding the history of the Arabian Peninsula, where the earliest confirmed signs of human settlement date back over five thousand years to the epoch when the Egyptians were first establishing their civilization along the banks of the River Nile. In comparison, without a mighty river like the Nile to water and enrich their soil, blessed with scant resources, confronted by a climate of extremes, and visited upon all too often by a succession of invading armies marching across their perimeter reaches (but rarely far inland from the surrounding seas) in search of conquest in the realms beyond, the native peoples of the Arabian Peninsula throughout history have faced myriad challenges in their everyday lives. And yet, for five millennia and more, they have survived, and thrived, and contributed mightily to the history of the world.
Vintage Latin Map of “Arabia Felix” -
One of the Roman Terms for Arabia
Set at the crossroads of three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—Arabia was famous to writers from antiquity forward as the conduit through which much of the spice trade in Greek and Roman and medieval times flowed. For untold centuries, strings of camels burdened with pepper and ginger, cardamom and cinnamon from India’s Malabar Coast crossed Arabia’s caravan routes, bringing in their train wealth and splendor to cities along the way like Petra that fed and fed off the traders and assorted wayfarers as they passed. Other rare and exotic and expensive goods making their way across Arabia in those times included precious stones, and gold, and aromatics like frankincense and myrrh. Enduring myths and storied traditions emerged from this fabled land and its neighbors—accounts of the Queen of Sheba appearing at King Solomon’s court, of three wise men bearing gifts to honor the birth of a child in Bethlehem, of Sinbad the Sailor battling monsters and visiting magical places. Until the dawn of the sixteenth century, when the voyages of explorers like Vasco de Gama from Portugal and Christopher Columbus from Spain led to the opening of direct, all-sea trade routes to India, China, and the fabled “Spice Islands,” a large portion of the luxury items craved by the European world passed through the land and waters of Arabia. Nearly five hundred years passed before the discovery of a new source of wealth buried deep beneath its sands would enable the Arabian Peninsula—known to the modern world as Saudi Arabia—to fully recapture and ultimately surpass its former levels of wealth and prosperity.
Map of Historical Caravan Routes
for the Spice Trade in Arabia
For vast stretches, the land those caravans of yore crossed was arid, challenging terrain, mostly desert, with a seemingly endless ocean of sand dunes lying far to the south in a region known as “Rub’ al Khali”—“The Empty Quarter.” A crazy quilt admixture of local tribes populated the Peninsula—each with its own distinctive traditions and fierce loyalties. Over the centuries, those tribes struggled often amongst themselves for preeminence, their endemic conflicts in some people’s estimation a direct reflection of the harsh realities of a land that demanded strength and endurance and courage of anyone who wished to survive. Through countless generations, hardy Bedouin tribes found ways to survive in the harshest of regions imaginable, steeling themselves to the desert’s heat and cold and conditioning themselves to endure for one or two days at a time without water and sustenance. It took the rise of a great leader in the 20th century—Ibn Saud—to finally shape these disparate tribes into the unified, modern nation we know today as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Spices from a Saudi Market Today -
A Valuable Trade Commodity Yesterday
Elements dating from the Arabia of yore live on today. In Saudi markets one can still find a bewildering array of exotic spices being offered—the same sort of spices once transported across the peninsula on ancient caravan routes. As the month of December approaches, tales will again be told of wise men bearing frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense from Arabia has been harvested and traded for better than 5,000 years. References abound to its use by Romans, Greeks and Egyptians of antiquity as incense and in perfumes and even to flavor wine.
The Trees from Which Frankincense is Harvested
The history of myrrh is somewhat clouded. It is widely held that the myrrh popular in antiquity came from a different source than modern myrrh and possessed a superior, more enchanting odor. While frankincense was harvested from the bark of easily-recognizable frankincense trees, myrrh resin is a natural gum harvested from a variety of thorny tree species. Determining which species the ancients relied on remains an unsettled question.
Articles on the history of Saudi Arabia are part of the AramcoExPats Speakers Bureau. More information can be found there.