The next morning, Saturday, March 29, 1975, Oran flew back to 'Udhailiyah, and I started calling airlines and travel agents, when I could get a line through. Billie Tanner, the District Manager's wife, called me to play duplicate bridge with her that afternoon, but, as bad luck would have it, I had to turn her down because of my appointment.
The Public Relations Director for the Women’s Club, Ruth Cumings, also came to visit and invited me to play bridge, which I had to decline, as well. She also asked me to go to a sewing group on Monday afternoon, so I said I would do that, if I had Vicky's ticket arrangements finalized. That afternoon I talked to the ITA travel agent again, decided I liked his schedule for Vicky's flight, but he had to figure the price, then let me know.
That evening, my first alone back in Saudi Arabia, wasn't bad. I wrote to all the Richardson friends back home, ate, then went to bed early. We had no TV yet, and I couldn't even find an English speaking broadcast on the radio.
Easter Sunday was the next day, March 30, 1975. A Sunrise Service was held on the patio of the Recreation Building, so I attended that with Marge. Non-denominational Protestant and Catholic services were still allowed in camps. A minister was even allowed to live there now, but still had to have "teacher" listed on his passport as his occupation.
There was a breakfast in the East-West lounge afterward. Just as I returned to the apartment, my back door bell rang. When I opened the door, it was a pleasant surprise to find a small, decorated Easter basket with chocolate and assorted "goodies" in it. Peeking around the gate were Jan and Jim King, "my Easter Bunnies". That was so sweet and thoughtful, and helped me get through my first holiday back in the Kingdom.
Everything seemed to be going great. But, that was before I started more calls to travel agents, which began a period of utter frustration, and for 2 cents, I would have gone back to the States right then and there. When I called the ITA agent, he quoted a price that was too high, according to what other parents said a student ticket should cost. When I complained he told me he would see what else he could come up with. I talked to one or two other agents, but wasn't satisfied with one thing or another, or couldn't get a line through to some I tried to call. Then I stopped for awhile, went to the post office, commissary, and the clinic, but that didn't help much. I was still so upset, I went back home, cleaned the apartment and re-arranged the furniture.
The next morning I thought I'd give it one more try, so tried to call ITA, but couldn't get through. Then I decided to go with TWA, but they had revised the original schedule quoted and gone up on the price. At that point, I just broke down and had a good cry, during which Ruth Cumings called again. She could tell something was wrong, so I told her the truth, and she insisted I go with her to the sewing session. It would do me good to get out and stop worrying about the tickets for awhile. So she picked me up at 12:30, and we went to Rosemary Creigh's house, where I pasted and wrote some invitations to some Women's Club functions. I met some other women and did enjoy myself, and will always feel gratitude to Ruth, who was so perceptive and insistent.
When I got back home I called ITA once more, and they had the schedule I wanted, plus a better price, so I told them to write up the tickets. That was such a relief, and the beginning of a long, pleasant relationship with ITA and Kevin, their agent, who was intelligent, courteous, and concerned about our welfare while making most all our travel arrangements while we lived in Abqaiq.
Oran was relieved, as well, when he came home that evening, and was delighted to see a familiar face again after three days in the desert. We called the Kings over for a drink, and Marge dropped by, so he was able to have a bit of social life, as well.
The next morning, Tuesday, April 1, 1975, after Oran flew back to 'Udhailiyah, I met Jeanine at the bus stop behind the Theater on 13th Street. We caught an old, green and beige, un-air conditioned Tasco bus, and left for Dhahran and Al-Khobar. It was decorated inside with colorful fringe across the top of the front window and driven by a Somali.
Khobar is the largest Arabian City nearest our Aramco camps, located right on the Persian Gulf. That was the first time I had been out of our camp since our return, so I was excited. Sure enough, it all looked like I remembered – various sizes of large, light brown sand dunes, a few straggly salt bushes, and bare, brown, rock-strewn earth as far as the eye could see. One change was the number of cars on the road, and all the drivers were taking such chances. Pat and Guy had been right, the roads really were death traps now. The drivers couldn't stand to go slow, so they would tailgate the trucks and other cars, pass on hills and curves, and honk their horns constantly. They were like kids with new toys. It would have been funny if it hadn't been so dangerous. At one point we got behind a portable drilling rig that took up both sides of the road. You should have seen the drivers jockeying to get around it, some even got stuck in the sand. Traffic really piled up.
Camels grazed along the roads, as well, much like cows do in the States, except without fences, and they had the right of way. But it wasn't unusual to see dead ones that had been hit by cars or trucks, just left beside the road to decay naturally because they hadn't been killed according to Islamic law.
We felt relatively safe on the bus, and ours finally made it around the drilling rig, as well, so we weren't too late getting into Dhahran, our main camp, to make our connecting bus to Al-Khobar. Once inside the main gate of Dhahran, we got off the bus at the Dining Hall. It was a large, beige colored, rock building that had been there for years, and had a huge tree in front of it, plus a lot of beautiful shrubs and flowers. It was also the favorite waiting and bus catching place for the employees and families from all other Aramco camps, as well as a place to eat between trips.
There was another waiting area by the ball park and snack bar a few blocks away, but I can truthfully say, I have spent a lot of hours of my life in Arabia, in the Dhahran Dining Hall or by that large tree in front of it waiting for one bus or another, in all sorts of weather, and for the most part, they were enjoyable.
That particular day, Jeanine and I grabbed a fast bite to eat, then caught the connecting bus to Al-Khobar, which went back out the main gate, turned right (following the Dhahran perimeter fence for a ways), then went past the Aramco Business Offices, the Hospital, and the Oil Exhibit Building on the right. Beyond that was the Arabian University of Petroleum and Minerals, an impressive campus built into and on some large rocks, or jebals, in that area. We drove on past that, then the American Embassy Compound, the air-port turnoff, and we were on our way.
It was evident from that point on how much everything had changed. A six lane divided highway had been constructed connecting to Turki Avenue along the Persian Gulf, but our bus stopped 8 blocks short of that at a traffic circle and fountain area at the entrance to King Khalid, the main shopping street. That street was being constructed before I left Arabia in 1956, and already had Baluchi’s, The Green Flag Store, a hotel, and other shops with apartments above them. Now numerous paved streets, with shops and buildings lining them, extended on both sides of it, toward the Gulf on one side and back toward the airport on the other. It almost seemed like a large, modern city now, but the construction was still rather crude, in comparison, and its continuations made everything look incomplete, as if you couldn't decide whether buildings were being put up or torn down. Litter, dust and dirt were everywhere.
The original main shopping street of Al-Khobar when I first went to Saudi Arabia in 1951 was Prince Sa'ud, 3 blocks closer to the Gulf. It was just dirt, with small, open suqs lined up for several blocks leading to a large market square, where vendors were scattered around everywhere with their wares spread out on the ground.
Jeanine and I were so excited as we got off the bus at the Pepsi stand on the circle. We slowly started walking up one side of the street, looking in most shops at all the jewelry, the Indian souvenirs, materials, cameras, and other things along the way. We marveled at all the things that could now be purchased over there. After covering 4 blocks like this, we decided it was time to head back, so we made our way down the other side of the street to the circle and the bus.
During that time, we had seen a lot of Arab women, all wearing the black robes, called Abayas, and black gauze-like veils, which were quite thin. We also saw women of a number of different nationalities; English, Dutch, French, Pakistani, Palestinian, and Indian, who lived in compounds in Al-Khobar and surrounding communities while their husbands worked for the many contracting companies in Saudi Arabia. Aramco hired these nationalities now as well, so the men were seen living or working in our camps. When we lived in Arabia before, only Americans were living in the Aramco Senior Staff Camps.
When Jeanine and I got back to the Pepsi stand on the circle, she got on the bus to Dhahran, but I went by taxi to the airport to pick up Vicky's ticket at the ITA office there. But when I arrived, Kevin had already given it to the TWA agent who was going to be in Abqaiq that afternoon. There was another worry, and 15 Riyals down the drain (Riyals are the Saudi Arabian currency and there were, at that time, 3.45 Riyals in each $1.00).
I met Jeanine back in Dhahran, where we ate lunch in the Dining Hall before catching the 1:30 bus back to Abqaiq. But all’s well that ends well as I got Vicky's ticket from the TWA agent without any trouble that afternoon. I immediately took it to the Yorks, who were leaving the next day for the States. It was a great relief to have all that taken care of at last.
All the next day was spent getting ready for our first trip back to Ras Tanura to visit Pat and Guy Smyth for the weekend. It was something I had dreamed about and hoped for all those years, but never really thought would happen. Oran came home from his first full week of work in 'Udhailiyah, and we could hardly contain our excitement as we played bridge with Marge and Chris that evening. They were excited for us as well, as we had all lived in Ras Tanura together in the early 1950's.
The next morning, Thursday, April 3, 1975, we caught the 7:30 bus to Dhahran, changed to the Ras Tanura bus in front of the Dining Hall and at 9:15 were on our way. It was apparent from just outside Dhahran that there had been a lot of changes between there and Ras Tanura as well. All along the road, there were businesses and plants that hadn't been there before. A little further on, to the right toward the Gulf, the buildings of Dammam were visible in the distance, and businesses and construction were on the turnoff road going to it. Then, as we passed through the edge of Qatif Oasis, some of the experimental farms, including a chicken farm, could be seen. There was much activity on both sides of the road. For a little stretch after that, there were small sand dunes and bare, brown earth again before we passed two enormous sand dunes as the road curved to the right and north of them, then left again into the biggest surprise of all – Sufwa. What used to be one building, which was the inspection station at the intersection of the road that went north to Jubail, and eventually Kuwait, had turned into many buildings, open-faced suqs, mud-walled homes, tin shanties all along both sides of the road and back into the oasis, with goats everywhere. Past that, we went into the large U-shaped curve that leads down into the peninsula which Ras Tanura is on, and there was nothing but subkah (crusty, salt flats bordering the sea), and Tarut Bay.
Then, about half way down the peninsula, we were seeing it again after 19 years, the place we had lived for 5 ½ years when I first came to Saudi Arabia in June, 1951. Excitement was really mounting now. It had changed, of course. On the right side of the road was Rahima, the Arab and Intermediate camp at the time, now a large sized town. The main gate of Ras Tanura camp, to the left of the road, had moved up by Nejma (the Senior Staff Residential Area) and the refinery in the distance to the south had doubled in size. The camp itself wasn't much larger, but some homes had been torn down and replaced with other types of structures, and the 7-unit apartment building we had lived in was now the Community Offices, with a post office, beauty shop, and our old apartment, N1E-1, now the housing office. This is where we had lived when we were first married, where our children had lived the first few years of their lives, where we had first made so many life-long friends, where we first learned to play bridge, to bowl, to water ski, to make wine, It all seemed so unreal, like a dream, and we would wake up any minute and be back in Richardson, Texas.
We got off the bus in front of the school, just across from the theater and Surf House, or Recreation Building, as Pat had told us, and they were waiting for us. We immediately walked down to look over our old 7-unit, as it was right beside the school. Then we walked across the street to the Recreation Building, which we had watched being built, and went inside to check our old haunts; the snack bar, east-west lounge, dining hall, bowling alley, and library.
Out on the patio we marveled again at the beautiful, deep turquoise color of the Persian Gulf. Walking along the sidewalk bordering the beach, past the new swimming pool, we admired "King's Row" again, the 4 rows of houses nearest the beach, separated from the rest of the houses by Surf Avenue. They were some of the oldest, but still prestigious. The trees had grown so tall, and the lush, green hedges still separated each with its own private yard.
Guy then drove us down to the old part of camp, which had been our business and recreational area in the early 1950's, but it was mostly all gone, very sad. It had been bordered on one side by the refinery, and an expanse of open ground on the other separating it from Nejma. That open ground was now occupied by the golf course, which had been moved inside camp from its original location beside the road north of Rahima.
Back at the Smyths' house, we had Bloody Marys, then a delicious brunch of eggs benedict. Pat and I visited while Guy drove Oran to see his "old work stomping grounds", the refinery. Later Oran, Guy and I went to the beach, and walked up to the end of the row of houses, then back again. It was too cold to swim, but wonderful to be walking on that same beach where we had spent so many enjoyable hours before.
Later, we all got ready for the company Pat and Guy had invited over that evening to see us again. First Ann and Bob Gulovsen arrived, then Vic Reis with his new wife, Joyce, then Bill Gallivan and wife and a couple we didn't know, Noel and Dottie King. There was a lot of talk about old times, a delicious buffet, then more talk before Carmen and Ralph Echezuria came by. It was exciting to see them all again, almost as if we had never left.
After sleeping until 9 the next morning, we had a quick breakfast, went by the Gulovsen’s for a short visit, then caught the 11 o'clock bus to Dhahran. There was about an hour layover between buses there, so we ate in the snack bar and sat by their swimming pool until time to catch the 1:30 bus to Abqaiq. The rest of that day we relaxed by our Abqaiq swimming pool before eating supper in the Dining Hall, a nice ending for a perfect weekend.