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“Dear Folks”: The Webster Letters from Arabia 1944-1959

8 June 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

CHAPTER 7: “You cannot really understand how vast is the effect on Saudi Arabia of the Americans being here . . . my department has $94,000,000 to spend before June 1st, 1949.”

The remainder of 1948 is full of exponential growth for Aramco (more than 4,000 American and 17,000 Arab employees by mid-year), royal and military visits, and a social schedule that would cripple most.  In the midst of it all, the Websters move a fifth and final time to their permanent address at 1423 King’s Road, where they will reside for the next 11 years.

The following excerpts cover April to December 1948, touching on such topics as the continued problems in Palestine, the vast construction projects underway in the Aramco camps, employment opportunities for Americans in Arabia, elaborate dance and music programs for the schoolchildren, entertaining, garden planning, houseboy troubles and other daily activities and observations.  As always, Mildred Webster does most of the writing – but a long letter from Ken helps explain Aramco’s current “big picture” and the staggering building and hiring schedule he is managing as of the spring of 1948.

Mildred Webster Mildred Webster in Dhahran in the late 1940s.
Photo courtesy Ken Slavin, from the family collection

April 24, 1948

Dear Folks:

I am far behind in my letters, but, really, life has been very rugged these last two weeks – what with home leavers going, local leavers [coming and going], and Mrs. Davies coming in.

They [Mr. and Mrs. Fred Davies] are taking the MacPhersons’ place while they are on home leave.  Davies is 1st VP.  She is very nice and we all like her.  There have been parties and parties until I am weary.

I had all the wives in the Construction Dept. in Dhahran in for coffee Thursday morning to meet her – there were 40 of them.  They all seemed to enjoy it . . . Wednesday afternoon I am having some girls in for tea as a farewell for a friend.

We have enjoyed letters from all of you.  Keep up the good work – the mail comes through fine now.

Ken is out to a dinner by Mr. Davies for Ibn Julawi [ruler of the local province].  Judy is spending the night with Nan Cooper and Susan has a friend here with her.

I am going to try to take them [the girls] up to Ras Tanura this next week for a few days, but the Brownie Maypole dance is Thursday and Susan is in it.  I have to play.  (Editor’s note:  Mildred Webster often played piano for the school recitals and such.)  Judy went on the Scout overnight trip Thursday.  They had a wonderful time at Half Moon Bay – slept out in tents and swam every other minute.  She loves the Scout work and keeps busy working on badges.

The girls are both doing well in their music . . . Our yard is looking so nice and we have quite a few flowers and vines.  The kids have a new swing affair – two swings and two chinning bars.  And we have linoleum down now and believe me, we have the snazziest bathroom in town.  We certainly are glad we brought it back with us – it looks so pretty.

I am buying a friend’s wall-to-wall Bangalore rugs – from India – they aren’t expensive and very nice for here. . . we will be so dressed up, [we] won’t know ourselves.  We also have a very ritzy new Cold Wall Frigidaire.  It is grand.  However, it is supplied by the Company.

LATER…April 27th

Here I go again – way behind – but have been on the go.  We went to RT with Ken yesterday and spent the day.  The girls stayed up with friends and will come home tomorrow with Pappy Underwood when he comes down for a meeting.  It is so quiet and lonesome around here today, I feel lost – but they are having a wonderful time on the beach.

School starts again Saturday for three months and this will give them a little vacation.

I had a wonderful day [in Ras Tanura] . . . haven’t been able to get up for a visit since we got back [from Home Leave].  Saw so many friends, then Pauline King, Mgr.’s wife there, had me for lunch with a few friends – including Gladys Underwood – then later had a bunch of old friends in for tea.  I thoroughly enjoyed the day.

We are holding our breath, for the weather has been grand.  If it could just stay this way, we would have a perpetual vacation!

Love, Mimi

May 16, 1948

Dear Folks:

Well, summer has come to Arabia.  We certainly can’t complain this year, though, for the weather has been cool so much longer than usual.  We’ve had lots of shamaals and even though the wind and sand are a nuisance, it does keep the air cooler.

This is the first day I have spent at home for ten days – I’ve been going over to Fullmers’ house everyday and getting things squared away there.  We are just about through now.  The carpenters will come tomorrow to make the crates.  Everything else is packed.  It has been a long tedious job because we had to separate things then try and sell all she [Zoups Fullmer] wanted sold and that drags on and on.  But I am glad we could do it for her – and Housing has been of wonderful help.  I’ve had as many Italians – and often as I wanted them – to do all the moving and packing.  We’ve realized over a thousand dollars for her!

(Editor’s note:  When Elmo Fullmer died earlier that year in Alexandria, Egypt, his wife, Zoups, and her children went straight on to be with family in California.  Mildred Webster, as Zoups’ best friend, coordinated the selling of items, packing, shipping items home, etc.)

Having spent this time going through all of someone else’s things, I think I shall look to my own cupboards.  Not that Zoups’ were in disorder – but I sure would hate anyone to come into my house and have to go through our things. . .

I’ve had to give up working in the yard – it is too hot and besides, I’ve had a siege of hay fever – so much dust and wind.  But we have an excellent little Arab gardener who has slicked the place up just fine – doesn’t cost much, either.

[Dhahran] seems sort of deserted – this is the time of Home Leaves and they have been pouring out by the dozens.  Today’s Camel brings back the Stapeltons and several wives and families.  There were 22 new families [that] arrived this last month and 125 new employees.

We had a beautiful Aquacade last weekend – it would have done credit to any community at home – beautiful swimming and diving and all sorts of things.  Judy was in the children’s events.  They have a very god teacher and I hope they will both be finished swimmers. . . they also have a Swiss Folk Dancing teacher and are having lots of fun with that.  Actually they [the girls] do so much here I seldom ever have them both at home for any length of time.

Ken Webster Ken Webster in his office in Dhahran, early 1950s
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

The Scouts gave a very lovely Mother’s Tea and now are working on a Father’s Banquet.  Susan has been elected Secretary of the Brownies and is she bursting with importance!  We have discovered, though, that she has to wear the glasses to school and to movies – otherwise she gets very nervous and cross.  Her teacher says her schoolwork is whizzing along.

We went to a very nice buffet dinner Friday night – given by [Mr. and Mrs.] Rogers.  He is representative out here for Bechtel.  Mr. and Mrs. Bechtel were there, with their son and his wife.  They are all just here on a trip – are going up through Europe again and home.  That is Bechtel Construction, world known – BMC, IBM, etc.

I guess I told you how lovely our bathroom is now . . . I made the new shower curtain and window one, too, and both the bathroom and kitchen have been painted.  The kitchen pale yellow, which looks so pretty with the blue linoleum – the bath is all white above the blue wall tiling.  Snazziest bathroom in Arabia!

We are all fine.  Ken continues to work long hours but has been bringing work home these nights – so at least I get to see more of him.  It is straightening out and he won’t be so pressed always.  Of course, the spending of 94 MILLION DOLLARS in his department isn’t any small chore – that is the project for the year. . .

I’ll have to stop – it is lunchtime.  Susan is already home and Judy will be right away . . .

May 21, 1948

Dear Folks:

It is about time I took typewriter in hand and wrote you all, although Mildred generally is the one who tells you the news.

I am trying to stop night hours, and hope that starting today we shall not normally work Fridays, at least throughout the summer.

The hottest day so far, I think, was 118 and not too bad actually.  Air conditioning makes this country livable, and the men outside all day don’t mind too much, as the breezes blow most of the time, and if they can sleep at night, hot days don’t mean too much.

From the reports made by newcomers, the newspapers at home paint a bad picture of the international situation in these parts, but such disturbances are many miles away across desert wastes and we have little to worry about.  There are days when we wish we could have lobster and clam dinners, and see some of the entertainment we have at home, but most of the time we live here as we would at home.

There are so many people here now, almost 4,000 Americans, including wives and children, and more coming at about 350 per month.  New houses are being built in all districts at rate of 30-family spaces per month, and portable dormitories to accommodate 350 per month.

I hope to have all the bachelor construction buildings completed by August 15th and then get on with storehouses, shops, offices, oil-handling facilities, etc.  My department has $94,000,000 to spend before June 1st, 1949, and I’ll have 2,350 American and maybe 12,000 non-American employees working for Construction Department by January First.  Plans change, and we need more people after every Board meeting, as they keep on approving more projects.

If you have any friends who can fill high positions in Construction and Engineering, have them write to me, and I can give them good ideas about the salaries and future here.   Younger engineers . . . are needed and their future is unlimited.

There are openings for any classification from embalmer to housemother, and many openings never heard of in the States by most people.

The three main American Camps (or towns, if you wish) are complete in every detail.  The new railroad is almost half done from the coast to 65 miles inland, and it still looks like the King will run it on to Riyadh.

We are enlarging many of the palaces, installing air conditioning, electricity, new water systems, roads, etc., and the Royal Family are buying more and more things from the States to make their lives more comfortable and to improve the country.

The King’s four to five thousand new vehicles [require] gasoline hauled by tank truck 450 to 600 miles, food hauls are increasing, and everyone in his group wants electric ice boxes, radios, cars, sewing machines, etc.

You cannot really understand how vast is the effect on Saudi Arabia of the Americans being here, as we now produce, since May 7th, 400,000 barrels of oil per day, which gives a royalty of over $80,000 per day – you can see what the Arabs have to live on.  This is at least five times what they had when pilgrimages to Mecca [were] the main source of income, and with the huge payroll daily paid Arabs, the country has more money than many of the individuals know how to spend.  One big “Five and Ten” [store] would make someone independent for life in a short while, as the thousands of Arabs now working for us, all kinds now totaling 17,000, don’t have chances to spend their money.

Recently, when the Crown Prince visited, I took him for a ride on a part of the new railroad, and he pulled the throttle all the way.  He rang the bell and blew the whistle, and had his bodyguard of soldiers “sing for joy, as this is your railroad.”  It was a windy day, and more sand-laden than I had see since I arrived here in 1944.  At the end of the line we were met by a caravan of cars, and the sand was so thick in the air, we became separated and the party split up.  You couldn’t see ten feet ahead of the cars and every time I attempted to turn in the way I knew we should go, the soldier escorts (in a jeep) turned me what they thought was the right way.  I finally convinced them I knew the way back across 16 miles of desert, and they followed.  The rest of the party took the long way back over more or less main roads, and arrived in camp thirty minutes after we did.

Allyn is visiting today, and at about [7 o’clock] we shall have a roast beef dinner, and he will write abut the horseradish, which to date he hasn’t had a chance to try.  It is very good, and we thank you for it.  Soon we shall go to the swimming pool and see the kids show how well they can swim. . .

No particular news, just chattering about life in Arabia. Tomorrow night we are having a few in for dinner.  It is Bob Clausen’s birthday.  He is chief engineer for my department and expects his wife before June 20th.  Maybe we shall have to postpone it one day, as I have a rumor I shall eat with Sheik Abdulla Sulliman, the Finance Minister, but will know tomorrow.

Don’t be concerned if mail is delayed, as recent events [Palestine issues] may interrupt mail service, but we are in good hands here.  Arlene Johnson, Camel stewardess, should have called you by now, and given you first hand info on us.  The Camel only stopped overnight this time, so we had little time with her or the others in the crew.  Gladys Stapelton said she called and talked to you so guess you know up-to-date news . . .  The girls are growing like weeds, and so healthy, we are happy about everything except being so far from our families, but it won’t be so long before we come home to stay.

Love from us all,

June 3, 1948

Dear Folks:

Field day for the Websters!  We had a letter from everyone day before yesterday, then today one from Alice.  After we read them all as fast as possible, we said we should have staggered them out one a day!

So far [despite troubles in Palestine], our mail service remains the same.  The only thing we notice at all in any alterations is that the Camel or other planes that used to go out of here in the early evening either go in the morning or leave at a time to bring them into Cairo during daytime – or into Damascus.  All the local leavers who have been in Beirut and vicinity, also Damascus, have had a wonderful time and except for more soldiers in the streets than usual, there is no difference.  Personally, we think it is a religious war that probably will go on for years – and won’t include others as long as someone can throttle [President] Truman!  Of course, he is only a figurehead at best and isn’t responsible for everything that happens.

Well, they say every family has to support one “lady” and I guess right now I am it.  So I’ll make the most of it while it lasts.  With two Boys and a gardener I don’t do anything but buy the food and sort of supervise.  It has its nice side, especially in the warm weather – and it will be nice to do some entertaining without having to spend all the day in the kitchen.  As one girl said, “What kills me is myself in an evening dress running around just before guests arrive, with toilet brush, mopping up!”  Machmoud is a good cook – and Hamed seems very happy, too, so let’s hope it stays so.

Susan is having trouble with her eyes again – she has the same nervous blink she had in Tulsa – so we’re concentrating on wearing sunglasses and the others [regular eyeglasses] in school all the time.  Also, the doctor advised stopping the piano lessons . . . she will have plenty of time to take it up again someday and right now we want to build up her weight.  She has grown so tall and is so very active.  He said not to top the swimming, though, and she really swims like a fish now – and always in the deep end.  They both [Judy and Susan] put me to shame, but I am hopeless – I’ll never get over a partial fear of water.

The girls are spending the night with Nan Cooper.  They are so involved in practicing for this and that, Daisy and I were saying last night our whole household revolves around their dates.  But they are happy, so guess that is all that counts.

We stay about the same.  Ken works long hours and has a lot of responsibility and lots of things that are aggravating, but he has a good type of disposition to handle it.  He is terribly short of good help, but little by little it will get straightened out.

Allyn was down for a while last night.  He and his roommate and the roommate’s girl had been invited to Azziziah – the Italian camp here – to a dinner, which they had enjoyed tremendously. . . Allyn’s boss, Matt Bunyan, is leaving for home Sunday night, so Allyn will be moving into their house to stay while they are gone.  John [Allyn’s roommate] will go, too.  Will be awfully nice for them.  All the married crowd up there [in Ras Tanura] like Allyn very much and he gets asked out a lot, so makes it more interesting for him.

Ken has been working so many evenings, we haven’t been doing very much.  This is payday Thursday – for the Arabs, and everyone gets the afternoon off. . .

THREE DAYS LATER … June 6, 1948

Colonel and Mrs. William A. Eddy Colonel and Mrs. William A. Eddy, at the American Legation in Jeddah, wearing Arab costumes presented to them by King Ibn Saud
Photo from April 1948 issue of National Geographic magazine, from Ken Slavin’s personal collection of Aramco memorabilia

I have just come from the most interesting lecture – on Yemen.  That is the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.  It [the lecture] was given by Colonel Eddy – you may remember he was the American Minister to Saudi Arabia when he came out on the flight with us in ’46.  He is now one of the legal advisors of Aramco and invaluable as he was born in Beirut and lived out in this country almost all his life.  He is a most lovable person and a very good speaker.  He is one of the six Americans ever to enter the Yemen.

The Camel gets in Tuesday afternoon with several wives.  One is Bob Claussen’s and we will probably have them for dinner that night.  He is Ken’s right-hand man and we are very fond of him.  They have a 2 ½ year-old daughter, Tina.  I have been trying to help him get his place fixed up a little until their things arrive.

It is really a pleasure to have the two [house] boys.  Outside of planning the meals, after a fashion, and making suggestions for certain cleaning, I can go merrily on my way.  Let’s hope it continues so well!  Next thing is to spring this week’s ironing on Machmoud and see how far I get.  However, there is an Indian laundry service now and they will come and iron for you.

We are really getting to be quite a city.  Received a questionnaire the other day asking our thoughts on installing a Launderette – nothing slow about us.

Queenie, one of our bunnies, presented us with 6 babies this week, but all have died except one – it really is too hot for them.  The boys say, “Too hot – no milk.”

AFTER DINNER…June 6, 1948

Ken just swallowed his meal tonight and went right back to the office.  They are snowed under right now.

The last bunny died – so guess it was too something for them.  Actually, it is just as well.  The girls have to be prodded to get food and water for them and so often they aren’t even here.  Maybe now we can find another home for them.

It is very hot tonight – our AC must [not] be up to par.  Anyway, I am down to practically nothing and still feel warm.

Bob Claussen came by and he is in such a dither.  I had some curtains for him.  Gee, he has only been separated from her [his wife] for 6 months.  Wonder what he would do if it were 17.  (Editor’s note:  my grandparents were separated for 17 months from 1944-1946 while my grandfather became established with Aramco before and just after the end of World War II.)  Of course, I think 6 months is too long, too. 

Surely wish some miracle could happen so Lynn could come out before she probably will.  In these 6 months deals, the man has had years of services with a parent company.  I wouldn’t do it again for all the money in China.  It is true they make more money out here, but they work twice as hard to get it, especially the ones in the top jobs.  They are so handicapped by lack of trained help, so that they do all their own work, plus half of everyone else’s.  Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it!

The Life magazine photographer is supposed to come in a day or two and take pictures of the children in school.  So maybe you will see them sometime before long.

Best love to all,

June 15, 1948

The Camel . . . got here and so did Louise Claussen with their little girl.  Eleven wives came in this trip.  I had helped Bob get his house ready and was she surprised – and well she might be, for it was all sitting ready for her!  Most of us waited months before we had our own things.  He [Bob Claussen] brought out everything he had and it is lovely – all Swedish modern – white shag rug covers completely the floor.  One of those big 4 sectional couches in lime green – just lush – everything is white, lime green and vermillion, except the long, large black coffee table.  Really something.  She is a cute little blonde and awfully sweet.  They knew Zoups and Elmo before and Bob is probably going to be Ken’s assistant manager . . .

Friday we went to two cocktail parties, both very nice, but it was a terribly warm day and I would just as soon have stayed home.  Monday afternoon was Women’s Club and we had big business there – election of officers and settling a lot of problems, including a donation for Scouts that I got — $50.00.  I took Louise [Claussen] and she liked it very much.  Our nice lady Doctor – Doctor Young – gave a very interesting talk about her work in the Arab hospital with the women patients.  The Company has a million-dollar new Arab hospital almost finished.

Tomorrow night we go to a formal dinner and the next night out to dinner, also.  Ken doesn’t like to go out too many nights, but this sort of slipped up on us.  He works almost every night after dinner – either at home or in the office.  I know he has to do it, but I think it sort of relieves the strain to go out once in a while and relax and forget it all a little bit.

Susan looks so much better just this short time on the iron and B-1 tonic.  She is so much under weight, but will never be fat, I guess, she is so wiry – never is sick, though.  She is wearing the glasses in school all the time, but not other times and I told you we stopped the piano lessons for the time being – think it was a good idea for she seems much less nervous.  I understand the sort of trouble she has is the worst.  Not so much because of the vision, but the fact one eye is strong and one near-sighted – they pull against one another. It makes her very tired and we can tell that when she doesn’t wear them at school or in the movies.  That in turn affects her disposition very much.

They [the girls] are both fine and still busy.  Getting close now to the time they will give their dance program.  Susan is only in the ballet ones.  They’ve really worked so hard and are practicing all the time for the water ballet for the 4th of July – Judy, not Susan – too.  Every meal in our house seems to be scheduled for one or the other.  It is too hot to practice on the Patio in the middle of the day, so they go before school and in the evening, which means 7:15 A.M. and 7:15 P.M. almost every day.

We have had a terrible shamaal for two days.  You can hardly see or stand up in the wind.  Poor Hamed gets the house all shining and then it fills up with sand all around the windows again.   Everything outside – the grass and vines are all sand colored.

The two Boys are working out fine and Machmoud is a good cook.  He doesn’t do a lot of baking, but made a very good cake this week.  [He] baked custard tonight and makes delicious ice cream – and that is an accomplishment with powdered milk.  (I mean to taste like real ice cream.)  His pie crust isn’t up to standard, but I can help him out on that.  Actually, we eat so simply and not so very much that it seems silly to have a cook – but it sure is nice.  I seem to keep pretty busy on the outside, so it is nice to have the meals taken care of.  Especially the dishes in this hard water.

Tonight is the big night and will I be glad when it is over.  I really do appreciate the fact that the children are getting all the dancing training and it is great fun for them and the “Arabesque” is truly lovely, but what a lot of work – even for me and I had nothing to do with it except to take care of the children.

Judy has 8 changes of costume – Susan three – and then we have another child here whose mother is in the hospital and she has three, too.  All of them [the costumes] turned out too big, so I had them all to fix.  Then at dress rehearsal last night, I acted as dresser for as many as I could.  They do three ballet numbers – Scherhezade, Fire Dance and a Waltz ballet.  The costumes are very lovely and the colors beautiful.  Then there are 4 changes for the Folk Dances – Scotch, Swiss, Japanakis and something else – then 6 Square dances, but  [they] wear the same dance costume for that.  These women – the head teacher and the Scout Leader – are both wonderful and nothing is too much trouble.  It will be on the Patio with colored lights, orchestra and everything.  Wish you were here to see it.

Next comes the water ballet for the 4th [of July], but Judy doesn’t do so much in it.  It is mostly for older children and Susan isn’t in it at all.  After that, I hope nothing for a while.  There is a three-day festival for the 4th – Carnival with midway, etc.


. . .  the Arabesque was simply lovely and too hard to explain, but . . . a beautiful affair.  The children were grand.  It is amazing that they could accomplish so much.  I was worn out, too, as I helped them in the dressing room, would rush and get as many ready as I could, then run out to see the dance, then run back for the next change.  Judy is a very lovely and most enthusiastic dancer and, I believe Susan will be, too.

Maybe I can get this finished today.  Everyone is away and I have had a siege of drawer straightening.  Can’t imagine what brought it one, but not that it is done, I feel very smug and self-satisfied.

King Abdullah I King Abdullah I of Trans-Jordan, who visited the Aramco camps in 1948. The following year, his country became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan is arriving today and will be met here by the Crown Prince, who will escort him on over to Riyadh to consort with the King.  So, there is great hustling and bustling around camp and the Relations Department is humming.  We have soldiers and their tents all back of the Executive Mansion and also around the Guest House – for they will probably stay here a few days.  He [Abdullah] is coming from Cairo, where he conferred with King Farouk, and we can’t imagine why he comes through here instead of direct to Riyadh, except that the King probably wants to show off his great oil industry here.

[The] Life magazine photographer is here and saw the show Wednesday night. He has asked to take color pictures of the kids in their costumes sometime this next week, so if all turns out well, you may seem them in Life sometime in the near future.

I must stir up something to eat, as they will all be here in a little bit, ready to eat.  Judy spent the night out and Susan had a guest.  They all went to Sunday School and on to the 11 o’clock movie.  Ken is at the office.  Machmoud left fried chicken, potato salad and a cake for today, so guess it won’t strain me to get it on the table!

July 20, 1948

Dear Folks:

The Camel crew was by this week and from all they say, there must be plenty in the papers at home about the situation out here.  Funny, though, we don’t have any trouble here at all.  Maybe we are sitting on a keg of dynamite and don’t know it.  But everything goes on as usual here and people by the hundreds coming in all the time – and millions being spent like so much dollars.  The only thing that would happen to us in any event would be to be told we would all have to go home and close down the field here, which seems very farfetched to us.  It means thousands of dollars a day in the King’s coffers.

We are so many hundreds of miles from Palestine that all we know of that is what we read.  Beyrouth [Beirut] has been opened again for visas from here, so that local leavers can go up again and that all is to the good.  As for any difference in anything here, we might as well be in Kansas.  No doubt the Relations department has run into stuff in dealings with the government, but not the Camps.  Oh, well, look for us when you see us.

We have all had colds – the barking kind, but no one sick enough to stay in bed or running temps.  Just nagging coughs and heavy heads.  I am sure it is the AC because it has been very hot and when the children come in so warm and sit right in a draught, they get chilled too quickly.  Maybe not, maybe it was just a germ for there is a lot of it here. . .

Our friends, the Underwoods, have been transferred down here and he will be Ken’s assistant – one of two.  It is a bit ticklish as they came out here – Ken and Bob – on a par as to jobs and Ken has gone up one on Bob.  But he took it very nicely and certainly will be a help and an asset to the Dept.  I will be glad to have Gladys here.  I miss Zoups very much, as she was my closest friend here.  I have lots of friends and there are any number of people I would like to know better – but somehow there is always one you like better than all the rest.

We are making out fine during Ramadan – we don’t expect any but the usual routine from the Boys.

Graduation will be the 28th and they are having a program.  There is only one to graduate from 8th grade.  Daisy Cooper and I are going to make 30 corsages for the girls.

Dhahran Dining Hall Dhahran Dining Hall, early 1950s.  From left, Mildred, Judy and Ken Webster sample a bountiful buffet in the $2 million structure that Mildred declared, “has the very latest of everything.”
Photo courtesy Judy Webster Bauer

Our new dining hall is open and I do wish you could see it.  It cost almost $2 million and has the very latest of everything – all equipment is stainless steel.  There is a beautiful dining room with a huge fireplace and then a snazzy coffee shop – all black tile walls up so far, then beautiful colored washable paper of some sort.  The foyer is one that would do credit to any place at home.  All the interior decorating is lovely.  They have [an] electric garbage disposal, automatic sterilizers for dishes, etc., [and] rooms for everything . . . Then back of the main part is the section for help, and the different nationalities have separate shower, loo [bathroom], kitchen and dining rooms.  All help goes into this part and has a shower and complete change of clothes before ever entering the dining hall proper.  The floors are deep inlaid tile from Italy – all hygienic measures [have been taken].  Pretty soon anyone is supposed to be able to go into the coffee shop at any time and get snacks.  But it isn’t quite that well organized as yet as to help.  The Construction Department is justly proud.

Allyn is coming down Thursday and will stay over until Friday night, so think we will eat Friday dinner there, as he hasn’t been in it yet.  (Families can only eat there on Fridays, so far.)  . . . He looks in the pink and we heard some very nice praise concerning his work from people that count.  I think he is quite happy and contented with the only exception of not having Lynn with him and that is tough going – but they will make it.

You should see Susan!  She has four teeth out — the two front upper and lower.  One is starting to come in, but she does look so cute.  She is growing up by leaps and bounds and gets better adjusted all the time.  She really has quite a sunny disposition most of the time now.  Still has a temper, but it is milder and besides, I wouldn’t want her not to have some.  She is very brown and looks well, though no heavier . . .

Judy is very much the young lady.  Still very conscientious about her work in school and music – but aware of the boys – not too much and fortunately her age group have a lot of fun – boys and girls, with their square dancing – but she is growing up fast.  They mature younger out here, anyway.

Both won several nice prizes in events over the 4th of July – Judy really is a nice swimmer.  Susan has quite a reputation around camp for her “sayings” – she’s pretty fast on the comeback.  Ken doesn’t have much time to spend with them, but enjoys them a lot.

I am beginning to wonder what we will do with the whole situation the end of this contract.  Judy will be 12 ½ and will be through the 7th grade.  I know I wouldn’t leave her for two years and still wouldn’t have Ken out here alone, either.  Well, guess we will just have to wait until we get to that bridge.  If she were older, a year or two in a foreign school would be wonderful, but not at that age.  Still, Ken has made a career for himself here and done so well it would be a shame not to carry through on it.

Went to a cocktail party yesterday afternoon and this afternoon Susan is having the 14 Brownies to a farewell party for one of them who is going on Home Leave tomorrow.  I will take them all to the swimming pool and back here for ice cream and cake.

Bye now and write when you can.  I’ll be thinking up something for the Christmas box.  One thing:  put in several sets of “jacks.”  Theirs [the girls’] must have been war models and they break every time the ball hits them.

School Days School days in Dhahran, with Miss Mary Leonardini at the chalkboard.
Photo courtesy Bill Brown, photographer unknown

August 13, 1948

Dear Folks:

Last weekend we had a little holiday.  It was the end of Ramadan and the Arabs and all Moslems got a three-day holiday for their feasting and such.  The Company gives them one . . . and all Americans get that day, too.  So, we went to Ras Tanura and stayed from Thursday night till Sunday.  I was delighted to get Ken away, even if he did spend all day Saturday up there looking over things.  It was very hot so we didn’t do much beaching, but had a grand time visiting friends and going to several parties and dinners.

And then, when we got up Monday morning, Susan had MUMPS!  Ain’t that sumpin’?  A little boy arrived some weeks ago who had been exposed and his mother didn’t know it – or maybe she did – anyway . . . now there are six cases [as of] last weekend.  Susan apparently has them very lightly – this is the fifth day and she hasn’t been very swollen, just enough that we know she does have them and on both sides.  Judy will no doubt come down with them in 14 days or so, as well as half the others.  I am keeping the Boys out of her room entirely even to clean, as it isn’t a disease this part of the country has had and an epidemic among the houseboys and in turn among the others would really be something.

The last Camel brought in lots of visiting dignitaries and so the social swirl has resumed its mad rush. . . . the President with his wife and daughter – who have been out before – the return of our MacPhersons VP – the head of the legal dept. – and wife – and the farewells of the VP and wife who replaced MacPhersons while they were on home leave, etc.   Our Camel crew came in yesterday and will be by today – at least those who have had mumps.

I do hope, Alice, that you received the letter about replacing Susan’s glasses.  We thought maybe they might be on this Camel and maybe they are.  She likes to read without the glasses. I hope they get here before school starts.  Did I tell you that Judy was promoted with “honors” to the 6th with a straight A card, plus three A pluses?  And Susan to the 3rd with a card of all B pluses and three A minuses?  We are very proud of them.  They have started rehearsals for the new water show in November.

Ken got me a beautiful hand-inlaid table from Damascus – lovely and a small game table, but can be used as an end table, too.

Bye now…I must spend some time with Susan … she is clamoring for attention – she has been busy cutting out paper dolls. . .

August 27, 1948

Here it is Friday again.  They do roll around.  I am all alone for a while.

Judy got up at 6 this morning and went with all the Scouts up to Ras Tanura to visit a large American Navy ship – USS Pocono.  They are spending the day as guests of the RT Scouts.  Susan has gone to Sunday School and on to the movie.  She is fine after the mumps.  (Editor’s note:  Judy never got the mumps.)

There are several changes and shifts in top management that caused a stir.  No change for Ken except in the setup of his department.  They SAY he won’t be working such long hard hours as soon as this goes into effect.

Things move so fast out here there is never time for a dull moment.  We went to a nice dinner this last week and I went to a coffee and Ken to a stag cocktail party.  Still no word as to just what we will do about moving.  It is possible they will put on another room for us here, which we would prefer.  I loathe moving and we have everything set here, plus the linoleum.  This is a good location.

Ken ordered a record player – RCA I think.  It was to have been here for my birthday and was a surprise, but it hasn’t come yet.  Will be here in a few days and then has to clear customs.  I didn’t know anything about it, but the girls couldn’t keep it [the secret] and so told me on my birthday.  They have quite a good supply of records in Bahrain now.

Dhahran Classroom Photo of the Dhahran classroom from the April 1948 issue of National Geographic magazine.  Judy Bauer is believed to be the young girl, second from left, petting the gazelle.  Original caption:  “Teacher’s Pet Gazelle Emulates Mary’s Little Lamb in the American School at Dhahran – Dhahran, an oil center, is a bit of the United States 6,000 miles from home.  Here the American colony enjoys air-conditioned homes, swimming pool, tennis courts, soft-ball diamonds, and hospital.  Boy Scouts and glee club carry on the tradition.  Two Americans and one Arab conduct a school for 50 children.  To this wild-life class, teacher doubtless explains that English owes the word gazelle to the Arabic ghazal.
From Ken Slavin’s personal collection of Aramco memorabilia

September 11, 1948

Dear Folks:

We have had another tragedy out here.  A new baby, much wanted and waited for and finally achieved, but it only lived two days.  That is the first of that kind of thing [here], so everyone was upset and so sorry for the young couple.

We have had a busy week.  We had a very large cocktail party . . . sort of unexpected, but had 100 people while we were at it and got off lots of obligations. . . Hamed got sick just at 5 o’clock and Ken had to take him to the hospital and I was a bit concerned, but there were several other boys who had come to help, so everything went off just grand.   Wednesday night we had four members of the Camel crew to dinner and had a very nice time.   Allyn came down Thursday afternoon and [we] went to the skits put on by the Drama group – it was really very good and we enjoyed it a lot.  Last night we went to the swimming events for three hours and they were good, too.  Judy won one first and two thirds . . .

Everyone is as busy as ever, but Ken’s new arrangement is supposed to eliminate so much overtime work, but I will have to see it to believe it.  I worry about him working so hard and it is hard work, but he really loves it and I don’t think any of them would have it different.

We still don’t know what we are to do about the house, but looks like we will move across the alley so the Underwoods won’t lose out on a nice house.  Either way, we will not have the linoleum.  I hate to lose it, but the other house will be quite nice and we do need the other room.  The yard there is nicer than ours, as they got a two years’ start on trees and shrubs.  Guess it doesn’t matter too much one way or the other – I don’t have to scrub the floors – at least as long as my set up remains the way it is now.  The Boys get along fine and it works out swell for me.

It is hard for me to realize Susan is so far along and so grown up now . . . she is still an independent soul, but much happier about everything.

September 28, 1948

Dear Folks:

Goodness!  September is almost gone already – soon we will be thinking about Halloween.

Well, I am back on the one-Boy status.  Ken fired Hamed.  He had never given us any trouble, but we had suspected he was a troublemaker among the boys.  Machmoud went to Ken’s office and said he wouldn’t work with him – and Machmoud we want to keep.  So he is doing everything for the time being.

The Haj – Pilgrimage to Mecca – is on now and so no new boys can come in or go out without paying the Haj tax of 500 roupees per person. . .

We really liked Hamed and I miss him, but he was a sharp individual and the Company interpreter said he was the root of a lot of trouble and we didn’t want to keep anyone like that. 

We have acquired a dog – a hound pup.  He just wandered in and Susan loves him like everything, so Ken said she could keep him until or if the Company says we can’t.  It was against the rules to have them, but there are several about town.  They [the authorities] will go out and clear them all up one of these days and she knows that may happen, but is satisfied for the time being.  Really, she should have lived on a farm.  I’ve never known a child to love animals more.

We have been sitting out.  Ken having a bottle of beer.  But now dinner is almost ready.  It is pot roast – potatoes, carrots (fresh), gravy – apple and raisin salad and fresh frozen strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.  Also have French bread today.  We don’t fare too badly, so far from the source of supply.  The ice cream the new dining hall makes and that is sold in our commissary is very good – so everyone is happy.

October 11, 1948


Dear Folks:

This is a big weekend and holidays for all Moslems – the end of the Haj period (trip to Mecca) is comparable to our Christmas.  Tomorrow and Thursday are holidays and Thursday is one for the Americans, too.  So all work will cease until Saturday.  Being the impatient type, I always want to get right into anything to be done . . .

I’m chief cook and bottle washer for these three days.  Sort of enjoy it and the girls are a great help.  Judy had coffee made when we got up and always helps with dishes.  Susan will, too, under a little pressure.  I believe in having them know how to do [housework], even if they don’t have to ever do it.  Cooks [houseboys] don’t like people in their kitchen and since they do all the housework, I always make the girls do a few things on Fridays.

Allyn may come down Thursday and spend the weekend with us . . . he did hit a very low spot for a while – they all do – but we think it has passed.  Ken is trying to find out what can be done, but he can’t hurry it because it is family.  (Editor’s note:  Allyn was still waiting on a change in his job classification so that his wife, Lynn, could join him in Arabia.)  It is no fun, as I well know, and I doubt that I could do it again.  But time does pass – then when you get back together again, it doesn’t seem so long after all.  I hope he won’t give up, too, for he is doing very well – is liked and is learning a good profession.  He couldn’t hope to equal the situation at home.  Allyn is such a gregarious soul – I think he knows practically everyone in Saudi Arabia.

I have put on THREE POUNDS – isn’t that wonderful?  Weigh 113 now.  Guess it is the cooler weather or maybe just middle age spread.  They [the pounds] are beginning to pile up on me now!

We are all well.  Susan is growing quite tall and not gaining, but seems well.  I got her a little tonic the other day at the Clinic to sort of help her gain.  ‘Course, she goes like greased lightning, so guess I shouldn’t expect her to get very fat.  She wears the glasses all the time, except while outside playing – and it has been remarkable the change in her.  She looks cute in them, too.  I think next time I will have them made with red frames.

LATER. . . October 14, 1948

Maybe I can finish this up today. . . Susan has gone on a Brownie picnic, but I have my doubts that they went out, for it is a shamaal-y day and surely would be much worse out there.  She was so thrilled over the whole thing, I didn’t have the heart to say anything.

I’d better stop.  The Company gardener is coming by in a bit to see what we want done in the other yard and they they will work on it Saturday.  I want the garden plot fixed and several things moved and others put in.

Bye now – keep well, all of you.  We have been back practically a year and only one and a half to go.  Won’t be long!

October 29, 1948

Dear Folks:

We still haven’t moved, but they have been working in the house all week and start to paint tomorrow.  There was a lot of repair work to be done and they are doing a good job for us.  It will be very nice.  There was a lot to be done in the yard, too.  We have moved a lot of stuff that was up too close to the house and they also have fixed a good garden plot for us – enclosed with a “bar rastie” fence and gate.  I hope to go in for vegetables in a big way.  It is so necessary out here where we don’t get any fresh stuff shipped in, [although] I must say that we do very well with the frozen foods.  We hope to move this next weekend.

The girls are quite thrilled with having their own rooms.  I plan to sort of fix them up for them – dressing tables, etc.  I’m not going to buy a lot of things, though, but with what I have and a little work on my part, I can do it.

Ken is having a patio put in on the porch side – it’s nice with a pretty good-sized tree in the middle of the space.  It is on a corner and on the main King’s Road.  (Editor’s Note:  1423 King’s Road.)  All the newer section is going the other way, but they won’t have any yards for a long time.  And who knows what the next two years will bring.

There were several Halloween celebrations this weekend.  The school costume party was Wed. night on the tennis courts.  The children all looked too cute for words.  There are 75 in the school and there were several small brothers and sisters.  We went to watch.  Last night was the Masquerade Ball on the patio.  Tomorrow night all the kids are going “Tricks or Treats.”  The Scout Leader is taking the larger girls and I guess I will be elected to take some of the smaller ones.

We had lots of fun at 1 o’clock today.  The Camel was due and on it were three families and children, as well as several others – all old timers.  So they had out the public address car and a five-piece Italian orchestra.  We had a picnic.  The Singelyn family was among them and they are Irish, so when they opened the plane door, we were all singing at the top of our lungs, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” – mostly for the Grandmother who lives with them.  We all love “Gaga” – she is our Camp Mother and Irish as can be.  They went through Ireland on their way home and Gaga visited her family – she hadn’t seen them in 42 years.  Judy and Susan were happy, as very special friends returned for them.

Ken has a little more time with us now and should have more as the new setup gets underway.  Why, we even went to the movies TWICE lately!

We are concerned with Susan’s eyes.  We have an appointment with the eye doctor from Beirut tomorrow.  He doesn’t come but about every three or four months, but is good, they say.  She is 100 percent better in every way since she has been wearing the glasses – but is still somewhat nervous.  He [the doctor] said not to let her use her eyes any more than necessary, but she loves to read and we find her with a book every time we turn around. . .

November 1, 1948

Dear Folks:

I spent one whole afternoon waiting for the eye doctor.  He is prescribing stronger glasses for Susan and thinks [her eyes] are the source of her nervousness.

November 15, 1948

Dear Folks:

WE MOVED.  I never had a more confused time.  I am numb from the waist down and from the neck up.

We made the mistake of believing that because it was just across the alley, it would be easy to just carry stuff across.  Well, it wasn’t. 

We like it ever so much and it does look very nice.  They did a beautiful job of painting inside and I got the colors I wanted – I mean, I stood over them while they mixed them.  . . Judy has a pale yellow wall with light green furniture, yellow spread and will have a yellow figured-with-green and rosy pink-and-white [pattern] for her dressing table skirt and a ruffle across her white curtains . . . Susan has pale blue walls with the dusty pink spreads (twin beds) with the candy-striped flounces and dressing table skirt.  She has white furniture.  They are both so happy and proud of having separate rooms and did all the moving and putting away of their own clothes and things.

Our bedroom has the light gray walls and white ceiling – the white Chinese rug – white furniture and the chintz spread of white with the roses on it.

They finished pouring the cement on the patio today and it will be so grand to have.  There was a tree right in the middle of the space – precious, especially out here – so we left it and they made a brick and cement seat around it. 

Now to finish the yard . . . living/dining room [combination] kitchen . . . laundry room down a long hall . . . bathroom . . . screened-in porch which opens onto the patio . . . French doors open off the dining room onto the porch . . . we are on a corner, on King’s Road – the main thoroughfare and it is a boulevard street with oleanders down the parkway.  The house is red brick and there is a red brick fence on the Northside and hedge of false jasmine across the front and down the other side.  We also had walks put in – have grass and trees – not great big ones, but coming along nicely – and flowers.

I am so weary I am slap happy, so had better stop . . .

Aramcocade Girls The “Aramcocade” girls, 1948.  The girls were taught water ballet by Florence Chadwick, an Aramco stenographer who three years later became the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions.  She also appeared in an MGM movie, “Bathing Beauties,” with Esther Williams.  Bottom row, from left:  Susan Webster, Judy Webster, Nan Cooper, Florence (?), Maureen McKeegan, Patty Dale.  Top row, from left: Tory Collins, Ann Howley, Mimi Kaufmann, Gracie MacPherson, Carol Abbott.
Photo courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

December 11, 1948

Dear Folks:

I know you must all think I have deserted you, but ever since we moved I haven’t caught up.  It has been one thing after another – and I guess it will be until after Christmas now.

We really love our new house and everyone compliments us on the inside and outside, too.  We have the beginnings of one of the nicest yards in camp.  I keep working everyday and it shows.

Right on the heels of our move was the “Aramcocade” – the big water show.  Rehearsals got thick and fast at the last, then dress rehearsal and six nights of performances.  I went every night to do French braids on the small swimmers and some of the large ones, too.  Then several nights I stayed through the whole thing to keep a check on our group of ten swimmers – Daisy stayed some, too.

It was a remarkably good show and considering they were all amateurs, it was wonderful.  The costumes [were] just out of this world.  I have sent you programs with the children’s pictures.  Their number was to the Doll Dance and Judy and Nan Cooper were the stars of it.  They did a lovely solo in unison – and did back dolphins, ballet leg, etc., during the number.  They kept perfectly together and with all that backstroke stuff, were really very good.  The rest of their act were the 8 girls – four on each side of them with kick boards painted bright blue with white sails on the boards.  They did formations while the other two were soloing.  They all wore white satin lastex (laytex) suits with big pink bows in their hair.  No one [in] all the swimming acts wore caps – just tightly braided hair, lacquered.

It was lots of work and everyone had fun, but were exhausted after the last night – 7 nights from 7 till 10:30, then home with a wet head to be partially dried before going to bed.

Right in the middle of it was Thanksgiving, but we had ours on Friday in the late afternoon.  Allyn came down and we had 12 altogether – Bob Ritchie was one (Editor’s note:  Bob Ritchie was one of the Aramco photographers – his work is now legendary.  He took the early photo of my mother and her sister running into the surf at Ras Tanura in 1946.  See chapter 1.)  He took Technicolor movies of the whole show that morning.  Also lots of camp pictures.

I have had several parties and still can’t catch up yet.  Had to have one right away for the Stirtons.  He is Chief Engineer of Aramco and is Ken’s superior.  They were here three weeks, so we got them the last night before they left.  Had 12 that night – [then] had 20 to buffet dinner, formal, this Thursday night as farewell to our pets, the Weathers – Paul and Stormy.  They moved to Abqaiq today and I surely hated to see them go.  Won’t seem right not having Paula next door.

The Underwoods are down now and we have been with them quite a bit, out to dinner, etc.  I must have something for her.  I’ll get there eventually, but seem to have my tongue hanging out most of the time these last three weeks.

Nativity Program Cover of the Nativity program, 1948
Courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

School is out for the month and so they are now rehearsing for the Nativity.

The weather has been grand . . . I am delighted with my French class – we are taking from one of the wives who is Parisian and she is giving us a conversational course.  She is marvelous and if I can just keep up with them, should be able to do something with it.  I don’t remember much of my school French – after all, it is QUITE some time since I took it.

I can’t believe that Christmas is almost upon us . . . We will have to have a Department party, but Gladys will help me with that.

Ken is still very busy, but while Stirton was here, it was awful.  They had meetings every day from 9 till 5, then he had his own work to do at night.

December 30, 1948

Dear Folks:

Well, it won’t be long now and we can start off on a brand new year.  Believe you me, I, for one, will be glad to settle down to a calm, everyday, even DULL existence for a few weeks.  It has been fun and a very full time, but I’ve had enough!

Someone asked me the other day, “Is it always so hectic out here during the holidays?”  It seems to get more so every year.

We had a very nice, quite Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve – not too many guests – and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The turkey was wonderful and we had all the usual trimmings.  Afterwards, when they had left, Ken and I finished the presents under the tree and got to bed about one.  Susan started getting up at 5, but I convinced her to go back to bed for a while.

The girls had a wonderful time.  Your boxes were grand and you certainly did get things packed in for us.  I know it was a job and packing regulations were so involved – but it all made for a good Christmas for all of us.  Thanks ever so much.  I even held out a few things for the girls’ birthdays.

I love my blouse and the snazzy hose – and all the rest – thanks heaps.  Ken got me a grand Waring Blender and do I love it.  Also, a friend came in from Paris the week before and Ken had him get me a beautiful silk scarf – it is lovely.

Right on top of Christmas came this plane with all the Admirals – rear and vice plus others – to visit the Camp.  They were here over Christmas Day, so it called for dinners among the top Management.  We were included in the group at Coopers’.

Tuesday night we had a cocktail party for Ken’s Engineering Management Group – about 100.  They consumed a 30-pound turkey and 10-pound ham, plus 12 dozen rolls and fixins.  I don’t know how much liquor – Ken kept track of that.  It was a huge success and everyone seemed to have a grand time.

Tonight we go to an Open House and a formal dance after . . . another Open House tomorrow night and three New Year’s Day.

The Nativity was two nights, but had to be after Christmas.  The first night was very cold and the kids almost froze.  Then the second night was perfect.  It was just as beautiful this year and such an impressive sight.  They have the camels and donkeys and sheep and all just like in the old times.  Judy and Susan were in the choir . . . Judy had a solo, “The Coventry Carol,” which went off just fine.  She doesn’t get the least bit fussed, for which I am grateful.  I never could do anything!


No smoke rising from snow covered farmhouses, no holly wreaths on our doors, no sleigh bells jingling in the night - still there’s more than the calendar to tell us that Christmas is here.  For this year, as every year, the miracle repeats itself.  Be it in a winter-bound American metropolis or a sunny oil town in Saudi Arabia, the memory of the oldest and best-loved story in the Christian tradition rekindles, as always, hope and joy and good will to men.

Yes, the season of good will is upon us, reflected in all the old familiar ways - in the giving of gifts, in letters to old friends, in the open door of hospitality, flung especially wide for those among us here who are separated from their families.

Though we may lack many of the embellishments that were a part of our Christmases in the past, we have here surely one of the most important ingredients for the distillation of a true Christmas spirit - small, neighborly, closely-knit working communities of friends and associates who can say to each other with sincerity and good cheer, “Merry Christmas”.

James MacPherson
This message appeared inside the Aramco Nativity program for 1948.  James MacPherson was the senior Aramco official in Saudi Arabia at the time
Courtesy Patricia Dale Watkins

School starts again the 9th or 11th, I guess, and they go into their new building, which is triple the size of the other one.  They just completed it.  Judy has shot up inches and is getting quite grownup.  Susan is still a “harem scarum,” but happy as the day is long – most of the time.

It is very cold today and the wind is blowing.  [We will] probably have a shamaal before it is over.  We have the AC on with the heat in it – feels darned good.

Bye now.  Let us hear from all of you about your holidays.

Mimi, Ken and Girls

Christmas Card Christmas card (photo postcard) from The Websters, 1948
Courtesy Ken Slavin’s personal collection

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Chapter 6
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Chapter 8

1950′s Aramco Brats

1 June 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Sun and Flare – August 31, 1955

Aramco Brats

The Refinery Town's high school and college crowd recently entertained their elders with a variety show that contained a polished assortment of skits and ensembles. A part of the cast is shown in the review's finale, a parody on "Goodnight Sweetheart."

Sun and Flare – Sept 14, 1955

Students Prefer California for College

Every state in the Union is represented by Aramco's American employees in Saudi Arabia, but a recent Sun and Flare look-see at personnel in the three districts indicates that the teenagers in the families have decided geographical preferences on the colleges they attend or plan to attend.

Of the nearly 100 college students who summered in Saudi Arabia this year, California sunshine seems to attract the largest number. If any of these young men and women return to work for Aramco there is every likelihood that the friendly Standford-U.C. big-game rivalry will be continued within the three districts far into the future.

All the same, the east coast is holding its own. While this feature is not intended to promote the battle of the states, nonetheless , it must be pointed out that New York is second, among the students. College and universities in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Texas (of course!) and New Jersey rank high on the list. Massachusetts – most M.I.T. – North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Virginia, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut and Louisiana are the other states selected by the college students. The schools themselves split fairly evenly in general academic colleges and those offering specialized training such as engineering. Not all students are attending American-based schools, however. There are college students from Aramco families studying at the American University of Beirut and it Switzerland.

Aramco Brat McCann Photograph by Aramco Photographer, Seal

Badminton, Swimming, Anyone?

One of the college students who have now made their annual exchange of parental homes for ivy-clad campi, Marilyn McCann spent her Saudi Arabia summer supervising a busy schedule of youth recreation activities and introducing small-fry to sports rule books. The McCann family are known to be top swimmers, but Marilyn is also a frequent visitor to the tennis court and quite a baseball player and fan. All of this is in the nature of a busman's holiday for Marilyn, however, for at Skidmore College she is majoring in physical education work. She first arrived in Saudi Arabia in December, 1947 and like many other old-timer teenagers in Dhahran, she is an alumnus of the American Community School in Beirut where she completed the regular four years course in three years.

Sun and Flare – September 21, 1955

Student Flights Next Week

Two flights have been arranged to transport 54 students from Aramco families in the three districts who are returning to the American Community School in Beirut for the fall new school year. Both flights will leave Dhahran Airport at 8:30 a.m., the first on Sept. 29 and the second on Oct. 1. Students traveling on each flight are listed below. For further information concerning arrangements for either of the flights, the students may call the Dhahran travel office, phone 6252.

The students scheduled for the flight leaving Dhahran Airport at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 29 are: John Babbit, Abqaiq; Doris E. Britton, Dhahran; Georgia Clark, Dhahran; Jennie S. Crays, Dhahran; Maryl A. Erlenmeyer, Dhahran; John S. Ference, Ras Tanura; Donald L. Fitzhugh, Dhahran; Zelma J. Forbes, Dhahran; Louise Hall, Dhahran; Gary Y. Hendrix, Dhahran; James W. Hill, Dhahran; Raymond J. Huber, Dhahran; Susan C. Kellenberg, Dhahran; Judith A. Kibler, Abqaiq; Bruce I. Landis, Dhahran; Judith A. Lorentzen, Ras Tanura; John McMullen, Dhahran; Sharon N. McMullen, Dhahran; Diane G. McWood, Dhahran; Craig L. Miller, Dhahran; Elizabeth A.R. Nelson, Ras Tanura; Diane Renfer, Dhahran; Richard M. Romano, Dhahran; Robert T. Sample, Abqaiq; John W. Sommer, Abqaiq; Terry W. Sutherlin, Dhahran.

The students scheduled to leave on the Oct. 1 flight are Elizabeth J. Beebe, Abqaiq; William H. Brown, Dhahran; Elizabeth A. Calloway, Dhahran; Thomas W. Carradine, Abqaiq, Sherwood P. Case, Dhahran; Mary P. Covell, Dhahran; Russell H. Matthews, Dhahran; Wyman L. Crane, Abqaiq; Stanley R. Crane, Abqaiq; William D. Crays, Dhahran; Elizabeth D. Ford, Dhahran; Norman J. Gray, Dhahran; Caroline J. Hennig, Dhahran; Michael R. Henry, Dhahran; Carol J. Hopkins, Abqaiq; Barbara R. Lucher, Dhahran; Linda J. McCarthy, Dhahran; Malcolm A. MacKenzie, Dhahran; Charles W. Murphy, Dhahran; Mary C. Overton, Dhahran; Richard F. Palmer, Dhahran; Edward S. Passmore, Abqaiq; Carl B. Peterson, Abqaiq; Judith A. Rapp, Abqaiq; Robert J. Wiersberg, Dhahran; Patrick Hids, Dhahran.

Sun and Flare published every Wednesday by the Public Relations Department, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Evolution of Saudi Aramco Schools

27 May 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

If you or your children attended any of the Saudi Aramco schools operated for the children of eligible expatriates, you have experienced a constantly evolving, quality education system that strives to meet and even surpass the education system on which it is based. 

Saudi Aramco schools follow an American-style curriculum designed to develop children intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially and physically, and when compared to their state-side counterparts, Saudi Aramco educated children generally rank in the top 10 percent.

Dhahran School Dhahran Fair (November 1981)

Originally an American owned company, Saudi Aramco mostly employed individuals on foreign assignment from North America.  When family housing became available, the spouses and children of expatriates began arriving and setting up home, turning work camps into small communities.  Small schools were organized, and often teachers were recruited from among the spouses with training in education.  As the communities grew, and the number of children in need of education grew, a formal school system was developed.  Now Saudi Aramco offers state-of-the-art schools in the four main expatriate communities, Abqaiq School , Dhahran Hills School, Dhahran School, Ras Tanura School, and Udhailiyah School, and recruits outstanding teachers and administrators from among the expatriate community and abroad.

The schools operate on a trimester system. Each three-month school session is followed by a four-to six-week break, during which a wide variety of enrichment programs and special tutoring sessions are offered.  School is offered to children up through grade nine.  After students complete the ninth grade, they may attend one of many excellent accredited schools throughout the world. Since the company pays a substantial portion of high school costs, families may be able to send their children to a much finer school than they might ordinarily attend. And, for children attending college, Saudi Aramco will pay for some visits to Saudi Arabia.

Extracurricular activities include all kinds of sports, as well as music and drama productions. Many people are surprised at the extensive athletic facilities available for the kids — often more than you would find in the schools back home. Every school has a well-equipped, air-conditioned gymnasium. Outside, there are full-size athletic fields, and students can use community swimming pools and tennis courts.

In the following excerpts from letters written to family beginning in 1958, Dick and Ruth Maise provide an interesting and often entertaining look back on the evolution of schools and the education system in Aramco camps. Both their children, Charlene and Eddie, attended Saudi Aramco schools.

June 23, 1959 School Kids are Back – Dick: “The college and high school kids are back here for the summer now. The company flies all the kids back and forth once a year on the company planes, so they can spend their vacations here. They can work for the company, too, if they want to, while they are here.”


December 2, 1959 Life in Dhahran – Ruth: “The population of Dhahran is about 3,000, I think. That’s just the Senior Staff camp; does not include the Intermediate and General camps.  Each Aramco town–Dhahran, Abqaiq, and Ras Tanura–has a school which has grades 1- 9. I don’t know the enrollment but believe there are three classes each through the 4th grade and two each of the 5th and 6th grades. (That’s Dhahran; the other districts are much smaller.) Grades 7, 8 and 9 are set up like any junior high–a different teacher for each subject.”

May 8, 1968 Shortage of Teachers – Ruth: “The Principal of the Dhahran School wants me to teach Jr. High English for 12 days in July. I finally told him I would accept if I am absolutely the last resort. He said he would try further to get someone else. But I have the feeling that I was already the last resort. A friend has said she would take Charlene in the mornings. The school is really desperate for teachers. Every year they hire 2 more teachers than classes to be ‘floating’ teachers but something always happens; someone leaves or gets sick. Every year there is a teacher shortage about this time.”

September 27, 1968 School – Ruth: “Last year the school experimented with the first grades by dividing each class into two sections; one section went to school at 8:40 a.m.; the second went one hour later. Then the first section left an hour early in the afternoon. That way the teacher had a whole hour with each section for reading. They are continuing that schedule this year. Charlene is in the later class which means she goes to school at 9:40 a.m. Since she gets up by 6:00 a.m., she’s almost worn out by the time she gets there. And the first thing she has is gym! Her reading is the last period of the day.”

December 21, 1968 Note to a Young Student – Dick: “If you and your sister were going to school here with Charlene, your schedule would be different than it is there in New York. Charlene goes to school for September, October, and November, then has all of December off, goes back to school for January, February and March, then has April off, and goes to school again in May, June and July with August off. How would you like a schedule like that? It’s what we call the ‘trimester’ system.”

November 5, 1969 Music and Art – Ruth: “Charlene has music (mostly singing) twice a week and art once a week at school. The music teacher is excellent.”

September 28, 1970 New School Methods – Dick : “The school is in turmoil due to the new superintendent splitting the school up into three sections, and a raft of new teachers as well as experimenting with new methods.  The town is also full of controversy over the new set-up. Anyway, it makes for lively discussions at parties.”


August 3, 1971 School Out – Dick: “School is out now for the month of August. Charlene is taking some tutoring in the mornings this month to catch up on some things she didn’t get done before school let out because of having missed some while we were on vacation. This is a regular thing here, what with people coming and going all the time, so a good percentage of the kids take some tutoring during the off months.”

August 30, 1971 School to be Radically Different – Dick: “The school is going to be radically different this year than before. They have adopted a system of planned, individualized instruction using all sorts of visual aids and computer-programmed schedules and learning units, and in addition, have started a system of team teaching. Instead of individual classrooms of 20 to 30 students, they have knocked out a lot of the room walls and made large learning areas with about 80 or so students and 4 or 5 teachers all working together with the kids. And these are also ‘non-graded’ in that there are kids from at least three traditional grade levels in each group. This is the latest and most modern concept in teaching and learning, and we have high hopes that it will work out here. It is taking college level learning concepts and methods and applying them to the grade school level, with the help of computers to keep track of where each child is in the program, how much work he has completed, and so forth. It has been a real innovation in this basically conservative community, as you can well imagine.”

January 26, 1973 Life in Aramco – Dick: “The school system here is presently controversial. It is, of course, a company-run school; all the teachers and administrators are Aramco employees, like the rest of us. It is good, but somewhat different than your children are probably used to. They presently have team teaching and open space concepts, without much in the way of ‘traditional’ classrooms. We personally feel it is a good system and the children are getting educated with a considerable amount of personal choice in what they study, within a larger framework of possible assignments. The feeling is divided within the community, with avid supporters on both sides. It has been controversial for about three years. Some people have been so strongly against the present set-up that they have taken their kids out of the system and sent them elsewhere outside the country to school. But these are a very few of the most conservative people in camp; most of the kids themselves seem to like the system, probably because of the degree of freedom it allows them. They make use of audio-visual aids, movies, tapes, film strips, and other devices. There are around 1,000 kids in the school, I think, with about a 12 or 15 to-one ratio to teachers. About 15 to 25 percent of the kids are non-American, including some Saudi kids, some Indian and Pakistani, and numerous other Arab nationalities such as Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian, reflecting the general makeup of the Aramco work force. I have a girl 10, in the fifth grade, and a boy 3, not in the system yet. By the way, the school goes only through the 9th grade; after that, the kids go outside the country somewhere to boarding school and the company has an educational assistance plan that pays most of the cost for the next three grades to complete the kids education.”


June 15, 1973 Swimming Program – Ruth: “The last six weeks the school has been running a swimming program for all the students. One of the first grade teachers told me that every child has improved markedly in classroom work since the swimming program. Studies have shown recently that swimming has a direct relationship to improved reading. Isn’t that interesting? The regular swimming program is finished now but the school is starting another class next week for those students who have learning problems. The swimming program was not set up to help with learning; they’ve just discovered that that’s a happy co-incidence!”

July 22, 1973 School Politics – Ruth: “I got behind on my schedule because of school politics. Some candidates wanted to completely do away with team teaching. Just before the vote for school board of education member, the ‘opposition candidate’ sent out a letter just to the Dhahran Arabs, promising them a very strong Arabic program which would prepare their children to go to Middle Eastern schools. This would have been okay if aimed at Arab Christians, but government policy (at least in theory) is that this school is only for Americans and no Muslim children shall go to a school which does not teach the Koran. Company policy follows this; management told the candidates last year not to promise the Arabs something the company cannot fulfill.”

“The outcome of it all is that next year’s plan is a compromise one with about 50 percent of the children in team teaching and the rest in self contained classrooms with 1 teacher. All we were asking for was some options for teachers and parents and we got that. But it took time!”

December 15, 1973 Tennis Pro – Ruth: “The school has hired a tennis pro to give group lessons. He’s in town anyway for the tennis association.”

September 25, 1974 New Teacher for Gifted Children – Ruth: “They have a new teacher who is going to have a special class for gifted children and Charlene will be in it. The teacher had a meeting the other night to explain the program to parents. It sounds like it will be very exciting and I know Charlene will love the teacher. Also the new gym teacher for young children specializes in creative movement (which includes dance) and she will be teaching a class after school for 5 year olds. I’m going to enroll Eddie for I’m convinced he has special talent in rhythm and music.”

December 10, 1974 AA – Ruth: “Charlene has loved her special class. It’s called the AA’s (for Academically Able which is what the school calls it.) The kids call it AA for Alcoholics Anonymous! They wrote, produced and directed an original play which they presented the last day of school. It was very cute. Today and tomorrow the class is touring the oil facilities in Abqaiq and Ras Tanura.”

February 20, 1976 Boarding School Reps – Dick: “These boarding schools send representatives over here to talk with parents and kids and show and tell what their schools are like. I guess there are about 20 or 25 schools that send representatives out here during the course of the year.”

Dhahran Jebels

December 4, 1976 Camp Out – Dick: “About 2 weeks ago the 7th graders from the Dhahran school spent a couple nights camping out just south of town. It was sort of an ‘outward bound’ type thing, to study the surroundings as well as have the camping-out experience. The teachers who ran it asked several people to come out and lecture to the kids about various things, and they asked me to talk about the local geology. I put together a little talk and rock display about the Dammam Dome and the oil field, and gave it one afternoon as part of their lecture programs. The kids were really attentive and asked lots of questions afterward. I got a kick out of doing it.”

December 14, 1976 Notes about Eddie in School – Ruth: “This month I only worked half a day as Eddie was out of school. But as it turned out, he was at school most of the afternoon, anyway, with enrichment activities. And he loves to hang around school to play with all the other kids hanging around! It’s amazing how the kids don’t want to go home. That must say something about our school.”

November 11, 1977 School – Ruth: By this time next year the 4 Aramco school districts (Dhahran, Ras Tanura, Abqaiq, and a new one–’Udhailiyah) will have a total of 2,500 kids!”

December 10, 1977 Activities for Eddie – Ruth: “Eddie is having a great time at school during the intersession which started December 3. He’s taking an art class and a special science class called ‘Operation Egg Drop,’ in that they are learning about gravity, etc. They are designing egg containers and when they get them built, they will drop them from the roof of the school building. Then they will redesign any which didn’t keep the egg from breaking. The second ‘egg drop’ will be from a helicopter a mile high!”

February 10, 1978 Home Visits – Ruth: “The company decided recently it will pay for 3 trips a year for our children who are away in high school.”

June 9, 1978 No Jobs for Students – Dick: “There aren’t very many jobs for the high school students this year and not too many for the college kids either. The Company is having to hire quite a large proportion of the Saudi University students, so this cuts down on the numbers of the returning students they can hire. The kids are coming in pretty regularly now and I think that about half are here.”

March 25, 1980 Pan Am Flights – Dick: “I think that we wrote that Charlene got here okay on the 16th. The spring vacations for the schools all seem to be different this year, so there have been kids coming and going for about a month already. It’s nice to have Pan Am coming in every day now direct from New York and going back the same night. It never seems to be full so there is room to stretch out. When she came in this time there were about 108 people on board, which is less than half full.”

July 25, 1980 Last Day of School for Eddie – Ruth: “This has been an exciting week for Eddie. Wednesday was the last day of school. Starting the Wednesday before, the junior high kids ‘initiated’ all the sixth graders whenever they could catch them. This meant anything from dousing them with shaving cream to raw eggs. Eddie got both at least twice. He was pretty upset, but would have been tremendously disappointed if he hadn’t been caught!”

“Sunday night there was an open house at Jr. High for all sixth graders and parents. We visited each teacher and classroom which he will have in September….Besides the usual basics (math, social studies, science, and language arts), he’s taking home economics the first trimester, industrial arts the second trimester, and children’s theater the third trimester. He also has chorus alternating with P.E. He’ll be in the 8th grade math class and 7th grade for everything else. I don’t know what the language arts teacher will do about his reading; his group has already finished the 7th grade book. She did say she gives extra credit for each book read and reported. He should pile up lots of credit. Which he will probably need to make up for homework not done!

December 7, 1980 Christmas – Ruth: “School ended on November 26 until January 4. Eddie signed up for a few intersession activities–a computer class, independent recreation (that just means going to the gym and doing whatever you feel like with the sports and gym equipment there), and once a week a class in disco dancing. Can you believe it?!”

January 16, 1981 New Youth Center – Ruth: ”Eddie is enjoying the new, beautiful youth center. It’s very nice living ‘downtown’ which is within 4 blocks of the school and youth center and 1.5 blocks from the snack bar and meeting hall where we square dance and attend assorted slide shows. I don’t worry at all about Eddie coming home at 11:00 p.m. by himself.”

World Fare

20 May 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Aramco World – November, 1956

There are those occasions in stores everywhere when some item happens to be out of stock. Aramco's family issue stores and canteens in Saudi Arabia are no exception.

So far, by good fortune, there's no recorded instance of one of the old-time employees being within earshot when a housewife has expressed her anguish over such a development, and well it is, too: The loudness of his reaction would unquestionably reach into the upper decibels. He remembers when.

As a matter of fact, there's very little running out any more, although it calls for some fast and fancy maneuvering now and then by those who must try to satisfy the shopping desires of some 21,000 employees, plus some 3,700 members of their families, with the varied preferences of many nationalities: Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and Western.

Produce This produce from the gardens of Lebanon is destined for air shipment to Aramco's supermarkets a thousand miles away in eastern Saudi Arabia, where it will be made available to shoppers within a matter of hours.

The supplies must come from all over the world, so that Aramco may utilize the diverse assortment of currencies it receives for the oil it sells. And, all of these hundreds of items – from the fresh fish of the Persian Gulf to the rice of Thailand – must be scheduled for arrival so that housewives will find them on the shelves and in the chill cases, whether their whim be for Australian lobster tail, or English sole, or American canned peas.

It all adds up to a million-dollar non-profit business for the food stores and canteens in the three districts: Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq; and it involves not only food, but such heterogenous canteen articles as cosmetics and work shoes, and toilet articles, newspapers, magazines, cigars, cigarettes… The list could go on and on. The more you learn about the  operation, and all of the factors involved, the more it strikes you as something of a minor miracle.

Fruit Aramco housewives can buy fresh fruit from Syria and Jordan as well as Lebanon at the markets in the oil towns on the Persian Gulf.

Dhahran, being the largest district, does the biggest business; so it's a good place to see how the wheels turn. It's a good place, also, to learn how things have changed, because some of the store's operators have been around since the war days. They can remember, for example, when a head of lettuce was one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

"I'll never forget," one of them recalls, "that first shipment of fresh lettuce that came in from New York in November 1945. We hadn't seen a head of lettuce in years – all during the war, and up until we were able to get that first supply. It may sound hard to believe, but we actually ate lettuce three times a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – until every bit was gone."

But, let's look at the present, as you'll see it at the family issue store at Dhahran…

The housewife from the United States, walking into it for the first time, can readily imagine herself in a supermarket in Bronxville, or Sarasota, or Peoria, or almost any other American community. Just like back home, she'll find other women waiting outside for the doors to open at nine a.m., and it won't be long before the scene within is the same old milling, grabbing and cart-dodging that she knew back home. Also happy buzzing and chirruping: This is the camp gossip center.

Checkout Every supermarket has its check-out line. The only difference in Dhahran is that customers pay their food bills in riyals, the currency of Saudi Arabia.

The main differences that she'll note are that the packages will be marked, not only "U.S.A," but also "Lebanon," "Holland," "Denmark," and many another land all over the globe; that the servants among the shoppers will be, not housemaids, but houseboys, many of them from India; and that many of the prices, to her astonishment and delight, will be lower that she's ever seen, although some will be about the same, and a few higher. Aramco tries to set prices at cost, but with long distances and customs duties involved, these factors must be taken into account in the prices.

The items on the shelves are the same as in the States, along with certain other – such as spices, cheese and flavorings – that are found only in the largest American stores, or at premium-price dealers in imported delicacies. All essential items are carried. Besides foods, including baby foods, the shopper will find the usual household articles: paper napkins, waxed paper and aluminum foil, glasses and dishes, mops, dish cloths and pot holders, light bulbs, soaps, detergents, soap pads and steel wool – just about everything.

Magazines Americans in Dhahran snap up the latest magazines which have been flown in from the United States.

What strikes the first-time shopper in these markets in eastern Saudi Arabia are the price tags themselves. They are marked in Saudi riyals (SR). One riyal is worth about twenty-seven United States cents.

Whatever the currency, every shopper is interested in prices. Here are some of the dollar equivalents of some of the tags on a typical mid-summer day in 1956:

Take meats: spareribs are $.76 a pound; pork loin roast, $.84; top round, $.76; leg of lamb, $.66; loin lamb chops, $.84; rib lamb chops, $.68; top sirloin, $.84; and filet mignon, $1.36 a pound. Most of the meat is from Australia, and no honest reporter would pretend that the flavor or texture can compare with that of prime or choice cuts in the United States, but the housewife or her cook will soon learn to prepare it so that it's quite enjoyable. Some very good beef is obtained occasionally from Holland, but the available supply is limited. Pre-packing of meats for self-service will be initiated in the near future.

Much of the fresh fruits and produce, in great variety, come from Lebanon, and you'll see such price tags as lettuce and artichokes, $.26 a pound; celery, $.25; green bell peppers, $.26; carrots, $.22; tomatoes, $.29; lemons, $.28 and fresh eggs from Beirut $.64 to $.97 a dozen.

Young Readers Dhahran youngsters are as avid readers of picture books as their contemporaries back in the States.

"We're sort of proud of the fresh produce operation," one of the managers says. "The airplane will arrive from Beirut in the morning; the refrigerated truck is there to offload it; and we have it on the shelves, ready for the customers, within two hours."

In the field of conventional canned goods, prices will run around $.19 for soups; $.27 for vegetables, and $.17 to $.20 for frozen juices. The tag on Alaska salmon says $.78 and on corned beef, $.43.

Most of the frozen foods come from the United States, and the boats arrive monthly; but some of them are from Europe, and efforts are being made to get more of them from there. Some typical prices are: roasting chickens. $.71 a pound; chicken legs, $1.00; chicken breasts, $1.11; frankfurters, $.57; hamburger, $.39; waffles, $.26; milk, $.24 and various frozen vegetables from $.22 to $.36.

Standard pantry shelf products include coffee at $1.18 a pound; tea bags (100's), $.96; sugar, $.14; corn flakes, $.32 and a large jar of mayonnaise for $.84. Bread (white, whole wheat and French) is made daily at the company bakery in Dhahran, and sells at $.19 for a half-pound loaf. Excellent ice cream is also made daily in Dhahran, from Danish mix, for $.32 a quart.

Corn The corn offered at the Dhahran supermarket does not come all the way from America's Middle West. It is grown in the nearby fertile regions of the Middle East.

All in all, today's family issue store at Dhahran is quite a contrast to the facilities that existed when the first families returned in the spring of 1945. As a matter of fact, it wasn't really a "store," at all, but a 16-by-20-foot sample room, where people could see what was available, and place their orders to be delivered from the commissary. Monthly sales figures for the period are not available, but, with only eight or nine families in camp at the time, it is easy to see that was comparatively insignificant compared to today's volume.

Another idea of the difference can be had at the commissary, which receives and issues all of the food and non-food items for dining facilities, food stores and canteens in all three districts, plus those for the field parties of geologists and others. The commissary handles millions of dollars' worth of shipments annually, turning over its stock five times a year.

The present 468-by-133-foot building, with its dry storage rooms and its 26,000 cubic feet of chill and freeze rooms, has already been outgrown, and a new building 270-by-120 feet has been constructed.

Soda Locally bottled soft drinks sell fast during the long Arabian summers. This inventory clerk at Dhahran makes sure that the supply is ahead of the demand.

There are problems in using non-dollar food sources. Although steady improvement is being made, these foreign sources don't always have the fixed standards of grading and packing which exist in the United states. Also, in spite of constant effort, a shipment is sometimes delayed, or a clerk makes an error, and something is omitted. But… somehow, things get on the shelves.

The food and retail store people like to have you know that they operate with what they believe to be the largest percentage of non-American employees of any Aramco unit: and that these men, mostly Saudis, have advanced from complete inexperience to a high degree of competence. One of the yardsticks is "accountability," the storekeeper's word for what-happens-to-what. Here the monthly inventories show that accountability is quite able to face comparison with that of United States stores.

Rolls Twelve thousand rolls, an equal number of buns, and three thousand loaves of bread are baked every day at Dhahran.

So, the small group of housewives, who in 1945 formed the vanguard of returnees to Saudi Arabia after four years of war-enforced absence, can assure the later arrivals that "things have come a long way." One old-timer recalls the earlier days:

"As everybody here remembers, purchases were difficult to make for a long time after the war ended, and, even when you could buy things, the deliveries were slow and uncertain. Everybody had to be satisfied with limited choices, and we'd run out of things quite frequently. Now, our supplies come in with regularity most of the time.

"Of course, even if we could carry every brand and variety of food in the world, and never run out of anything, and could let the customers carry away their supplies free, people would get tired of coming into the same store all of the time. That's just normal human nature."

Housewife American housewives in Saudi Arabia can prepare the most exacting recipes because the ingredients are stocked at the Aramco markets. These stores, of course, carry a complete assortment of baby foods.

There's another angle of normal human nature that's no different in Saudi Arabia from anywhere else: When is the biggest business done?

"The day after payday."

The Right Home For Everyone

13 May 2007 | comments (0) | In Search Of Oil | by

Aramco World – November 1955

Any difference between Dhahran, Ras Tanura, Abqaiq and three communities of like size in the United States lies in the towns themselves and not in the people who live there. On sites beside the Persian Gulf which only two decades ago were great stretches of desert, these communities now thrive, all built of materials and equipment brought in from the outside. Their inhabitants move in and about, fall in love, get married and have babies just like they would if they lived anywhere else. Only in Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq the problems created by such normal activities are vastly complicated because these towns are so new and so remote.

Mrs. Felix Sagan Mrs. Felix Sagan selects a color to harmonize with her own personal household accessories, which like most people, she shipped over from the States to supplement Aramco furniture.

Since the first producing well was struck in 1938, the Arabian American Oil Company has invested nearly $77,000,000 in housing and related facilities for its employees in Saudi Arabia. In the three Persian Gulf towns and in Jiddah, on the Red Sea, Aramco has erected 1,670 housing units, divided among one, two and three-bedroom houses, duplexes and seven-unit apartment. For unmarried employees there are just under 1,200 buildings containing approximately 12,000 rooms. And still there never seems to be enough housing to meet current demand.

The individuals best qualified to say why this is are members of Aramco's Residential Services staff. These men have charge of such myriad projects as community landscaping and beautification, recreation, laundry, dry cleaning, shoe repairing, moving and storage, barber and beauty shops, mail services – in short, all the facilities which go into making life smoother and more pleasant for some 25,000 Aramco people in Saudi Arabia. They are also responsible for all housing arrangements, and try to allot each employee the shelter he wants when he wants it. This is not as simple as it sounds.

R.L. Mestrezat, superintendent of residential services for the Dhahran district, cites an instance: "The Jones family is on what we call 'long leave'. The Joneses have been spending their vacation in Europe and we expect them to return by, say, October first. Perhaps they've covered their itinerary faster than they planned to, or have run out of money, so they decide to trip their travel time a bit and along about September 24th here they are.

"Now, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Jones want to get back into their house, but the Smith family is occupying it temporarily and they don't want to vacate yet. In fact, the Smiths couldn't if they wanted to because they're scheduled to move in the Browns' house, and the Browns aren't leaving for another week."

Home assignments are made in this checkerboard pattern because, in spite of constantly increasing housing facilities, Aramco still has a housing shortage. While this situation exists, every available dwelling space must be utilized at all times, and so some families have to occupy the homes of others who are on vacation.

Such improvisation now comes naturally to the district superintendents of Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq. Mr. Mestrezat and C.F. Heywood, residential services supervisor for all the districts, sit on top of an unavoidable housing monopoly, and too often they are forced into the position of saying to a housing applicant, "Take it or leave it." Some would think from talking to these two men that Aramco had no more important function than to see that everybody was happy with his quarters. At the same time it wouldn't be too difficult to find witnesses who would swear fervently that Heywood and Mestrezat have only one objective: to make everybody as miserable as possible. Both shrug off such negative thinking philosophically. "You just do the best you can," they say.

Moving Men Residential Services moving men always have plenty to do. While neighborhood children Robert Savage and Marcia and Jan Lunde look on, they ease a valued chest into the home of Mrs. Don Ray, at the door.

Residential Services people would, in fact like nothing better than to be able to move every new employee right into the house he wanted the day he stepped off the plane in Saudi Arabia. It would make their own jobs so much easier. But even a casual understanding of the problems this would involve clearly shows that such an ideal is simply not economically practical. For one thing, Aramco can never be certain how long the employees it transports to Saudi Arabia are going to remain there. Some Americans have been working in the country for over fifteen years, others have left after completing a two-year tour, while a few have not stayed this long. But everybody, of course, requires housing, so in order to be fair to all comers Residential Services has devised a carefully worked out point system. Every month that an employee works he builds up a certain number of "housing points," the value of which depends to some extent on his job classification. The type of housing to which he is entitled is determined by the number of points he has accumulated.

"And then," explains Heywood, "we have a policy called 'utilization'. Every two years an employee is entitled to 'long leave,' which runs from two to three months. If he is living in a family house we require that he make it available to us while he's away so that some other family can use it. Last summer there were 114 families occupying homes on a temporary basis in the three districts, and they had to move every three months or so until we could get permanent quarters for them. They didn't like it and we didn't like it. If we make full use of every house in this way, though, a new employee can have his family with him in Saudi Arabia much sooner than if he had to wait for permanent housing to become available."

Arab-style Coffee In the cool, shadowy pattern made by the overhead trellis, Mrs. J. S. Stirton (center) serves Arab-style coffee to her guests, Mrs. Willard Drumm (left) and Mrs. Roy F. Haug, Sr.

In most towns all over the glove natural changes in the status of individuals and families take place and the people affected generally work out their own living arrangements without any outside agency coming into the picture. Not so in Dhahran, Ras Tanura and Abqaiq, where such occurrences become very much the business of the people who work in Residential Services. R.L. Mestrezat explains:

"Just like anywhere else in the world we have romance. We'll have a bachelor and a bachelorette and each has an apartment or a room, and we think they're settled for awhile. Then, what happens? That's right: they fall in love. They get married. The bachelor has enough points for a house and he wants it – but now!

"Then, just like everywhere else, people here have babies. So, instead of needing one bedroom, or two, they need three, or maybe four."

R.L. Mestrezat and C.F. Heywood R. L. Mestrezat (left), in charge of Residential services in Dhahran, studies a housing plan with C. F. Heywood, responsible for coordinating all Aramco community services.

Along with a house that Residential Services tries to match with individual requirements, every Aramco family gets basic furniture such as tables, chairs, beds and chests. Each household, however, is expected to provide such items as draperies, linens, dining and kitchenward. Family groups are allowed up to 2,500 pounds worth of personal effects and single personnel, 500 pounds. Since these things come by boat, they may take anywhere from ten weeks to three months to arrive. In the meantime, new employees may take advantage of another Residential Services faculty, the Family Loan Service, which is set up to provide china, glassware, dining and kitchen utensils and appliances.

"People are bringing over more and more of their own things," Mestrezat observes. "Every woman has her own ideas, and her fancy really takes wings when she sees some of the beautiful and unusual things that can be bought in the Middle East, or in East Africa, or India, or Pakistan.

Canteen Aramco families obtain groceries in the commissaries of the towns where they live, while such items as books, magazines, stationery and sundries can be purchased at local canteens.

"This is good. We want people to think of their dwellings as 'home.' For our part, we try to make the home attractive on the outside, as well as on the inside. The Company puts in the original lawn, trees, shrubs, and we maintain the garden plots of bachelor residences and multi-unit apartments. Any additional flowers, or things like patios and outside fireplaces are up to the occupants, although we make materials available within reasonable limits."

Like other corporations operating overseas, Aramco supplied food and housing without charge to employees during its early years. But its own studies and those of other companies showed that it would work much better all around to charge for these things, the difference being made up with a cost-of-living allowance to each individual. The employee can thus budget this allowance to suit his own needs and wishes, apportioning it as he sees fit among food, housing and other items. The Company tries to base its food and rental charges on actual costs, but generally loses some money on them.

Cutting Hair In Dhahran beauty shop, supervised by Residential services, Mrs. T.H. Herous trims hair for Mrs. L.A. Slwek while Mrs. C.A. Renfer (left) and Mrs. W.T. Johnson chat under driers.

Last year Aramco spent about $937,000 to beautify the areas where its employees live, planting around 700,000 square feet of grass roots and 40,000 trees and shrubs. In 1954 mail centers in the three Aramco communities handled 6,000,000 air mail letters, 3,000,000 letters sent and received by ship, and 54,000 pieces of registered mail – not to mention 8,000 cablegrams. During the same period a $340,000 plant in Ras Tanura handled 2,200,000 pieces of laundry and 147,000 garments sent there for dry cleaning from the three Persian Gulf towns which it serves.

Supervision of this big-volume, many-sided business is the special responsibility of the Residential Services group. It knows very well how important letters from home can be, or getting a fresh dress back from the cleaners in time for the Saturday night dance, or having greenery growing in strategic spots to relieve the sameness of the surrounding desert. But most of all Residential Services realizes that a happy worker is one who is well housed, and is constantly working on ways and means to see that this end is accomplished so that a man's house is still his castle.

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