In 1973, the Oakland Athletics defeated the New York Mets to capture the World Series, the Miami Dolphins capped their undefeated 1972 season with a January victory in the Super Bowl, Secretariat raced to the Triple Crown, a new video arcade game called Pong exploded on the scene and Duane Huetter decided it was time to see the world. Anticipating lots of exciting engineering work awaiting him in Saudi Arabia, he accepted a job offer from Aramco and moved with wife Mary and son Frederick to Dhahran.
For the next 13-plus years, Duane put his project engineering experience and background to work as an engineer/facilities planner for Aramco.
Like so many of his fellow Aramcon annuitants, Duane remembers fondly the many close friendships he developed living in the Kingdom. Among a multitude of adventures, he recalls especially camping with his family at Aramco Beach in their 5’ x 7’ tent.
Now retired and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Duane has become an avid Lionel model train hobbyist.
Duane and Mary attended the recent annuitants’ reunion in Asheville and loved the Omni Grove Park Inn venue with its great location and views. After three days of renewing old friendships, they returned home to Oklahoma feeling a deep appreciation for the persons who organized and staffed the reunion.
Read: Uzbekistan – Part One
Malika and Laurie
Next on our journey was a homestay in Sentyab village somewhere between Samarkand and Bukhara. Here we got to observe life in a small out of the way village where the natives spoke Tajik, an Iranian Farsi language not related to the Uzbek Turkic language. To my ears—I couldn’t hear the difference. Before the Uzbeks of Turkic origin occupied what is now Uzbekistan, the Persians, the Arabs, and Islam held sway. Arabic is the language of religion, but Farsi (Persian) was the language of poetry and culture and was spoken in this region before the advent of Islam. Here I met Malika, an 8 year old with a thirst for learning English. As I cooled my feet in the family pool made by damming up the water from a local stream, Malika sidled up to me. I greeted her and asked her name. She showed off her English hesitantly at first and then after singing the ABC song with a twist together, she became my friend. Malika squeezed out of me as much English as she could absorb in a short encounter. We counted, named the things around us like flowers, leaves, stones, bees, shoes, hair, eyes, and asked and answered simple questions as we hiked up the hill through the village from her home and our home for the night.
The flocks of sheep, some with long hair and others with fat tails (not so different from the sheep of Arabia), were being driven down the mountains by shepherds on donkeys sometimes assisted by dogs. Some of the sheep were prized for their wool (Karakul) and the others with the fat tails produced the meat that is a staple of Uzbekistan. Fred and I loved the kababs, shashlik, manti, laghman, plov and all the ways the Uzbeks thought of to cook the lamb. Small caravans of donkeys carried hay down the mountain and others carried riders. We tourists made way and marveled at the traffic one small mountain road supported. Continuing up the mountain we saw stone houses with nut and fruit trees in the yards as well as vegetable gardens. At the end of the road we walked up a small stream past some petroglyphs left by prehistoric man and then to a place that overlooked an abandoned village, one that was unsustainable because it had no water.
The next day we were off to Bukhara whose roller coaster history saw it hosting a mosque for everyday of the year and more than 100 madrassahs at the turn of the last century. Before the Arabs arrived, Zoroastrian fire worshippers, Manicheanism and Nestorian Christianity among others inhabited Bukhara and were primarily under the rule of the Persians. Bukhara did not give in easily to Arab rule, but with the Samanid Dynasty in the late ninth century came a golden age which brought about a revival of Iranian language and culture after the period of Arab domination. Bukhara became the intellectual center of the Islamic world and therefore, at that time, of the world itself. Muhammad al-Bukhari, a prominent Islamic scholar who gathered the authentic sayings (hadiths) of the Prophet Muhammad, was born in Bukhara. The Uzbeks, nomadic tribesmen, were united by Abdullah Khan in the early 1500’s and the Shaybanid dynasty commenced as the Khanate of Bukhara. It was a pawn in the ‘Great Game’ where Russia and Britain tried to gain influence in the region. Russia prevailed.
Kalon Minaret, Bukhara
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bukhara’s most prominent landmark, the Kalon Minaret (dating back to 1127 and rising to over 48 meters), is the greatest remnant of truly old Bukhara. In its time it stood out as a beacon of Bukhara’s importance within the Islamic world, but it was also utilized as an early warning system to signal the approach of enemies or as a lighthouse to trade caravans along the Silk Road. In later years it became known as the Tower of Death, when criminals were led to the top, tied in a sack and pushed to their death all in front of a gathered crowd below. Along with the Kalon Minaret goes the Kalon Mosque. It is a huge Jumah (Friday) mosque built to hold 10,000-12,000 or the male population of Bukhara at the time.
Façade of the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, Bukhara
Bukhara is full of wonderful sights at every turn. We enjoyed green tea at a tea house and sipped it at the Internet café. On our last evening we were privy to a small family ensemble complete with Doira (drum), Nay (flute) and Rubab that sounds much like the ‘Ud. Although the music had a Middle Eastern cadence, the result was uniquely Uzbek.
The Ark Fortress cannot be missed for its sheer size. It has existed in some form since the founding of the city, but its present appearance began to take shape in the 16th Century. The compound accommodated the emir, his family and staff and the government. “3,000 inhabitants complete with a palace, harem, throne room, reception hall, office block, treasury, mosque, gold mint, dungeon and slave quarters”. It has been lavishly restored giving the visitor a real look at the beauty and grandeur that was Bukhara.
Khiva is a walled city
A long hot 8 hour drive brought us to Khiva, a break in the heat and Eid al Fitr. Khiva lies in the Khorezm oasis of the Kara-Kum Desert. The capital of the Khivan Khanate from 1592, it is the best preserved city on the old Silk Road. As with other stops on the Silk Road, peace was never long lived and Khiva was no exception. Legend has it that Shem, son of Noah, mapped out the city walls and written history shows that Khiva was a den of piracy, theft and the slave trade. Still there are wonderful sights to behold from this checkered past.
Girls playing from our window in the Khievak Hotel
Khiva is a walled city with the walls and gates renovated and remarkably intact. Inside the walls is a dizzying array of madrassahs, minarets and mosques. The Kukhna Ark (Old Fortress) still stands with most of its interior dedicated to museums, yet the tile work is awesome. Out of our window from the Khievak Hotel (best pizza in the world) we had a view of the Islam Khodja Madrassah Minaret and a number of kiosks selling mostly trinkets for tourists. The minaret is magnificent and we could usually see our way home from an excursion by siting it. Our room in the hotel had a perfect view of the square under the minaret. From there we were able to take many pictures unobserved. Each morning as the kiosks were erected, we watched the small neighborhood come alive. I took a number of pictures of girls at play with a ball. Jumah (Friday) Mosque was the most intriguing with its 213 black elm pillars. It was huge and cool and could certainly hold all the Khivans.
Eid al Fitr in Khiva
Because of the heat, we spent extra time in Khiva and were able to mix with the Khivan population out shopping and celebrating on Eid al Fitr. Before heading out to a small hilltop yurt encampment that would be our last night on the road, we made our way to the local bazaar outside the walled city. As we passed and talked with families celebrating, new clothes were evident and everyone was in a jovial mood. One little boy with a Messi football shirt told me that Germania had won the World Cup and then we recited as many soccer teams as we could. He out did me.
We arrived at a Yurt camp near Ayaz Qala in the late afternoon. The camp held about a dozen Yurts including one larger than the others which served as the dining hall. We were divided into groups of four to a Yurt and deposited our “stuff” accordingly. Each Yurt was circular, about twelve feet in diameter, with a vertical wall a little less than six feet high. The wall was made of light wood poles or sticks (each about one inch in diameter) crisscrossed forming a lattice frame with the intersections of the sticks tied with leather cords. When dis-assembled the lattice is collapsed for transport without untying the individual poles. The roof frame was made up of slightly larger poles tied to the top of the circular wall then angled towards the center of the structure forming the roof. These poles were bent about 60 degrees slightly above head height to facilitate attachment to the vertical wall and tied together near the center of the structure. The roof had a slope of about thirty degrees. The frame was covered with heavy felt, walls and roof. The end result was a tent like structure that was large, very solid, and to some extent portable – usually moved four times a year when the animal herds shifted grazing land. The covering could be removed from the frame and the frame collapsed into sections (without having to untie all of the poles). The floor was covered with carpet and our beds were pallet-mattresses on the floor.
Our camp was equipped with an electric generator and solar panels providing a light bulb in each Yurt, lighting in the dining Yurt, and light for the WC building set slightly apart from the Yurts. It was of cinder block construction and housed two toilets, two shower stalls and two outside sinks. All were fed water from a roof top tank.
An ancient walled fortress (built in the 4th to 3rd century BC) dominated the area from a hill about mile distant. Our group scaled the hill and inspected this long abandoned fort. It had massive mud walls that were initially about twenty feet high and enclosed a Centerarge square area several hundred yards on each side. The walls were not intact, but whole in some areas with the outline clear in the other areas. From the fort walls we could see for miles in all directions. This is a pretty flat steppe region. From the walls we viewed two other fortified locations at the site. One was an older walled area on the flat land that was simpler to begin with and much more weathered. The other was the ruins of the local ruler Ayaz Khan’s residence. This was also a significant structure (viewed from a distance of about a half a mile) which was located on a hill somewhat lower than the fort.
The area inhabitants generally did not live in the fort, but would store their harvest in the facility and could take refuge there from nomadic raiders that would appear on occasion.
Bread is revered and lovingly presented
We returned to the Yurt camp about sundown in time to sample fresh baked bread being produced in a clay oven. The staff at the camp prepared a wonderful meal for us. We sat on rugs on the floor (I comfortably had a small pillow beneath my seat being a bit inflexible to manage sitting cross-legged on the floor). This was our group’s final dinner together and was quite a feast. After our dinner we retired to sleeping quarters (we offered earplugs to our Yurt mates to facilitate sleeping).
“The Bull” by Vladimir Lysenko is the signature piece in the Igor Savitsky Museum
Our last day on the road took us to the Igor Savitsky Museum in Nukus, an unlikely find in the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan—literally black hat people who are more closely related to the Kazaks than the Uzbeks. Ig1or Savitsky fell in love with Karakalpakstan and at the same time collected illicit Russian avant garde artwork and local Uzbek paintings and drawings. He spirited the works of art away out of the reach of Moscow into the safety of Nukus. He was such a prolific collector that only a small percentage of his collection can be shown at a time. PBS showcased a very interesting film telling the whole story. For sale at: www.desertofforbiddenart.com . Your money will go to a very good cause.
We are back from Uzbekistan with stories of the Silk Road and the people who evolved from its fascinating history and then were submersed in Soviet rule for most of the 20th Century. Since 1991, they have been freed from the tight yoke of Russia, but Russia and Russian are pervasive everywhere. Yet there is a steady effort to recover and remake an Uzbek identity. Corruption prevails and a police state is evident, but for the tourist, Uzbekistan is safe and magnificent. You will have to travel far and wide to see better preserved antiquities or encounter more shocking yet enlightening histories.
Teachers can bring the world to the classroom and change the life of one child at a time. One teacher changed mine.
Article by Laurie & Fred Swanson
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 email@example.com.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
Metro 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.
Blue 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.
Metro 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.
Interior 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.
Woodworking 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.
Gigantic 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
Read: Uzbekistan – Part Two
ca. 1981 – Udhailiyah Women’s Softball Team – ChampionsFront Row: Annie Hourie, Sherry Jarvis (Schumacher), Cheryl Simpson, and Cindy Werner Gates.
Back Row: Karen Huggins, Sylvia Ahearn (deceased), Brenda Taylor, Myron Fogle, Trish Major, Vicci Turner, Mary Lero and Valarie Head (deceased).
Missing from Photograph: Jane Stead, Laurie Swanson, Carolyn Baker and Doris Jarvis
My fellow Aramcons no doubt remember how sports helped bind us together during our time living in oil patch camps scattered across the Kingdom. High on my list of favorite memories from those years are the softball games that filled so many of my hours away from work. I played on a stellar softball team, Udhailiyah Falcon’s, as short fielder in my heyday in Udhailiyah, for those of you who wonder—all sixty-six formidable inches of me. Added to that in my memory bank are the countless little league games I attended, watching my sons Rusty and Brad cavort on the diamond with friends and friendly foes. Teams from the Arabian Little League have competed numerous times in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In short, baseball has long been an integral part of the Aramco ExPats’ experiences living in Saudi Arabia.
Henry Cook waits for his pitch at Dodger camp
Now living in Bellingham, Washington—an hour-and-a-half drive north of Seattle—I have adopted the Seattle Mariners as “my” team. Rarely do I miss a televised M’s game, and several times a year I take in a game in person at Safeco Field. A few weekends ago, in fact, freshly returned from the annuitant’s reunion in Asheville, I caught a game between the Mariners and the Oakland Athletics that had play-off intensity, with both squads battling for a place in the post-season. However ardent a Mariners fan I may be, my devotion pales when compared to the passion that the late Henry Cook showered upon his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. Henry’s dedication to overseeing drilling for Aramco was unquestioned and his devotion to his family unparalleled, but his absorption in all things Dodger was nearly as powerful. Henry was “Dodger blue” through and through—just ask Bonnie.
Cricket may be the national game of Britain, Pakistan and other countries, and soccer (“football” to non-Americans) may be the world’s game, but baseball remains unquestionably America’s game. During my recent visit to Safeco Field, I witnessed the phenomenon first hand as a voluble participant in the ritual.
Courtesy of a friend, we secured Diamond Club seats for the game, placing us six rows up from the visiting team on-deck circle with a direct view straight across home plate and first base down the right field foul line. I’m certain it’s not a reflection of my age when I say that I can’t believe how YOUNG the players appeared. They all seem bigger than life on television. Amazingly, however, when viewed up close from spitting distance, they’re actually life-sized, not the giants of the earth I had supposed.
Our Diamond Club tickets came with all the fixin’s—free food, free drinks, free everything, with personalized service that saw servers bringing our orders to our seats during the game. Pre-game, we feasted indoors at an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord offering a dizzying array of food choices. Our biggest challenge was not eating and drinking too much before the first pitch was thrown. Otherwise, we would not have had room to sample the full range of ballpark foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, pizzas, nachos, peanuts, popcorn, you name it, it was ours for free!). By the time the game ended, neither one of us had a room for another bite or sip.
Sports teams are well known for their colorful mascots, and the Mariners are no exception. Their mascot is a moose—or, to be more precise, an amazingly agile athlete dressed in a moose costume. Starting during batting practice and continuing non-stop over the length of the game, the Mariner Moose entertained fans with his antics. Somersaults, back-flips, wild and wiggly dance moves and more—he was a hyperkinetic dynamo expending boundless amounts of energy.
The Mariners came away with a 4-2 victory, adding to the afterglow that lasted late into the night. Sports bring us together, whether it’s Aramcons tossing softballs on a sandy field in Abqaiq or million-dollar super heroes like Robinson Cano blasting hard ball home runs at Seattle’s Safeco Field. I’ll long remember my night at the Diamond Club; I’ll never forget my nights shagging softballs on Udhailiyah’s well groomed diamond or the ones hit nightly into my backyard!