I’m so grateful to dear Linda Shearon, the co-chair of this beautiful and exciting 29th Reunion, for inviting me to say a few words about the next Reunion in Saudi Arabia which is planned for March 9th through March 18th, 2015. But I did warn her that I would also share some pleasant memorable experiences with Mother Aramco, too!
Firstly, I want you to know how pleased I am to be with you, accompanied by my wife Amira. I see among you many familiar and beautiful faces with whom I have shared many enjoyable and fruitful times – over a period of 50 years, I kid you not! God Bless you, my friends!
I would like to share with you some memories of my early days with Aramco – just the funny parts. In 1947, I was one of about 10 students attending an Aramco- built Barasti School in Al-Khobar where we studied an English course at night. In the audience among you is my life-time friend, Saif al-Hussaini who was also one of the group.
We were selected to join a part-time program in Dhahran – the so-called “Jabal School”. While attending the Jabal School, we were offered a job with Aramco – in my case, I was offered an “Office Boy” position. The salary was 90 Saudi Riyals per month. By the way, that enabled me to buy my first watch!
But let me share with you my early experience with Aramco employment: when I shared the employment offer with my father, he gave me a few tips. The major one was that I should not cooperate with the company’s medical examination, especially regarding sensitive areas. My father continued that if the company insisted, I should just drop the file and come back home because it would be against our customs and religion.
Next day, I told the school principal, Vince Quinn. Vince smiled and reported the matter to Mr. Don Richards, the Superintendent of Schools at that time. Mr. Richards asked Mr. Vince James to accompany me during my entire employment processing, and I heard later that he told Vince to ensure the company adhered to my daddy’s wishes.
After 30 years, I met Vince James at one of the early reunions in the USA and I asked him, “Why did you take me around to complete my physical examination?” He said his boss, Don Richards, had warned him that if Ali drops his file and declines employment with the company, it would reflect on his work performance, including his next raise! Furthermore, Vince told me, a Saudi joining Aramco at that time with some education was viewed as a gift from God! And I was only a 4th Grade student!
Well, in my opinion, Vince did very well – at least, I remained with the company until I retired in 1990. Also, I would like to let you know, I told my first “white lie” by giving my age as 18 during the interview, instead of 13, otherwise I wouldn’t be hired! January 11th, 1964, the day my father died, I shared the experience I went through during my employment processing and the result that lead to my recruitment. My father said, “I know you did not tell me the truth, but I forgive you now”. Furthermore, he said, “Who are you, for the company to change its rules?” We both smiled and shortly afterwards, he passed away. God Bless his soul.
My father was a tough guy. At the time of his death he was the Head Inspector at the Al-Khobar Customs House. He met many expatriate Aramcons on the Al-Khobar pier when they first arrived to take up service with the company in the early days.
We should not forget that the early progress of the Saudis was slow. But over the years, we began to improve with the increase of Saudi natural development through education and better work exposure, and we learned from the Americans in particular how to be punctual and to accomplish our work on time. By the way, the Saudia Airlines is not a Yemkin Airline anymore!!
I experienced this slow progress myself for a while until some of the Americans started to recognize the lack of developmental opportunities. Advancement was also made difficult by some expatriates remaining in positions until they reached retirement age that might be a good company policy. Some expatriates were even tough and mean in handling the nationals, but they were protected since they served a certain purpose. It was a tough time, especially when I was working in Personnel and handling employee discipline and grievances, as I was supposed to protect and support the company’s interests and views.
I would like to recognize some Americans whom I directly worked with or for whom, over the years, I have retained a great respect, not just for pushing Saudi people to move forward, but for making major policy changes. Just to name a few – Larry Crampton, Les Goss, Bob Ryrholm, Dan Sullivan, Paul Arnot, Frank Jungers, and Fritz Taylor.
Now, let me shift to how I became interested in Community Services. In the fifties, when I was young, I became very much involved in the Dhahran community. I can still recall the long nights I spent with many volunteers in decorating Building 510 (the Quarter Meal Dining Hall) for various occasions, especially for the New Year Eve dances and some other activities, even some religious events.
The credit goes to three ladies, Mrs. Hauk, Mrs. Jean Dell’Oro and Ms. Marsha Naylor, my first boss. They were very kind and supportive. By the way, I experienced my first taste of coca cola with Ms. Naylor – she was also Aramco’s Beauty Queen of 1949.
In late 1965, I joined Community Services in Abqaiq. While in the ‘Friendly City’, there were several families who made me feel very at home through their hospitality, namely the Robinson’s and the Grimes’. In 1970, I moved to Ras Tanura. During my era in Abqaiq and Ras Tanura, I believe both communities were well-run and managed under Larry Tanner in Abqaiq and Jim Ehl in Ras Tanura.
In 1971, I moved to Dhahran where I remained in the Community Services organization until I retired on April 1st, 1990. If you ask me about Dhahran, I’d say everyone there liked to be the boss! While the “old-timer” Saudis say they still recall Abu Kabbos, meaning the person who wore the hat; this referred to the early Americans they worked with who wore hats to protect them from the sun. I still remember Ken Webster and Ned Scardino.
I was not known in Community Services for being tough on the behaviors of the visiting children (summer students) while some who were in the same position as me were tough and sometimes even mean in response to even minor incidents.
I still recall one kid was told to leave the kingdom because he was caught removing the hood ornaments from vehicles. I was really influenced by having my own children and living with their daily behavior and conducts. In other words, I was naive or very easy going!
Being involved in Community Services, I shall say, encouraged me to get involved socially, to know how to live and to enjoy the lives of others as a continuation of my earlier involvement and development in community activities. I did this through participation and involvement in areas such as being a member of the Recreation Library communities and various sports clubs, including tennis and badminton.
The fact remains that my interest and overall exposure has created a great deal of desire to share the lives of our expatriate communities, as evidenced by my life. It has been a learning school for a wide range of cultural exposure. The minute I became interested in community affairs, I also found myself wanting to attend the USA reunions. I believe I have attended all, except one, since 1958. I find the Reunions a nice way to cement the friendship with the people who physically and mentally helped us build our country, and we are very much indebted to them. That’s you.
That’s why in 1996, when many retirees expressed the desire to return to KSA, I promised my friends at the Reunion that I would organize the first in-Kingdom reunion in 2000. With the help of many dedicated Saudi and expatriate volunteers, and of course Saudi Aramco, we did and it was well-received, thanks to God.
As regards the 2015 KSA Reunion, various committees are working vigorously on some very ambitious plans and identifying many resources in order to successfully accommodate a large group of annuitants. We have received over 1000 expressions of interest to attend the reunion, while our plan is to accommodate at least 600 participants (in 2009, there were 503). By the way, we have also encouraged present company employees (around 40) who want to bring their relatives to the reunion to obtain the visas themselves, thus freeing up opportunities for others to come.
A big difference this time was the survey we conducted to identify the specific interests and expectations of people in returning to their second home. In response, we are putting together a varied program of activities and events for our visitors to help them better enjoy their forthcoming visits.
A brochure is available about the 2015 Reunion, including the tentative program planned for March 9th through March 18th, if you would like a copy. If you can’t find one, please look for Mrs. Connie Sutton who is also attending the current Asheville reunion.
By the way, today is Connie Sutton’s birthday, so let us all wish her a very “Happy Birthday”. Also attending is a dear friend, both of mine and the reunions – Mrs. Laurie Tanner Kelsch. Let us give them both a hand for the hard work they are doing.
I fully understand that some annuitants might not find their specific choice of activity due to low interest, and others might change their minds, which can be very disruptive to the planning process. I strongly recommend that attendees stick to their selections wherever possible.
As most of you know, the KSA Expatriate Reunions were established in response to your popular request of 1996 to bring retirees back to their second home. Furthermore, the Reunion has always been for the retiree, his spouse and the immediate family. However, many retirees misunderstood ‘immediate family’ to include the spouses and children of ‘brats’. Please note that the brats, and even friends and recent former employees, have only ever been included when and if space became available, and that rule will apply this time too.
Because of the overwhelming response, the 2021 Reunion has been forwarded two years and is now planned for March 11-21, 2019, so we hope that those who miss this reunion may join us then. This is also another indication that the KSA reunions will continue. Bay the way, we have been involving some younger leadership in the preparation of the next one.
I would like to draw to your attention that we have some merchandise available in the USA promoting the reunion logo. You may order it through the KSA-Reunion.com website. It also gives me great pride to let you know that Mrs. Marian Steineke Toffee has been asked to join us in KSA as a special guest to the 2015 KSA Reunion. No official word yet, we are still hoping!
We are anxiously looking forward to everyone’s visit and sincerely hoping the efforts of our organizing committee and steering committee will generate great satisfaction in meeting the expectations of all the dear participants.
I would like to conclude my remarks with special thanks to the President and CEO of Saudi Aramco, Mr. Khalid Al-Falih, for his total support in making the 2015 reunion dreams a reality. Also special thanks to Mr. Nasser Al-Nafisee, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs for his follow-up on our activities and personal interest.
Have fun and enjoy all the entertainment and activities put together by Linda and her various committees. Again, my personal thanks to Linda and her team – good night to everyone and may God bless you all! Massallamah!
Ali M. Baluchi