First Trip to the K.S.A.: Chapter IX - Happy New Year 1953
The weather continued to be mild and pleasant, as well, in January 1953, so we took Keith outside more. The first time, we went into the front yard of the apartment, which was bigger and had small trees and plants. He was put on a blanket on the grass, but sat there only a few minutes, then crawled onto the grass. He sat there, picked up a handful and tried to eat it. We stopped that, but he crawled around more, picking up and examining leaves, twigs or anything he found in the yard. He was having a ball.
The next time we went outside, I set on the blanket with him. We were in front of the small tree in the middle of the yard, a solid green jasmine hedge separated us from the sidewalk and the street, but there was very little traffic. He was wearing some new jeans, still a bit big for him, so the legs were too long. When he crawled they covered his feet so he drug them along behind him. We called them his sweet pea jeans. He had learned the words No, No. So, when we said that, he would shake his head from side to side. He would do that whether he was sitting or crawling, or being held and carried. It was so funny.
During this month we had been making our final plans for our home leave, Keith and my first. Oran had been there exactly 2 years, so his contract was up. By January 25th, our schedule was pretty much set in concrete. We wanted to travel in good weather, so we would leave by TWA on March 21, 1953, and arrive in Rome, Italy, 12 hrs later on the same day. We would leave Rome on March 24th and arrive in Geneva, Switzerland, 4 hrs. later the same day. We would leave Geneva on March 27th and arrive in Paris 4 hrs. later on the same day. We would leave Paris on March 28th at 7 p .m. and arrive in New York City on the 29th at 8 a.m., where we would pick up our car, a 1953 Super Oldsmobile “88”, already purchased. After staying a day or two there, we would drive down through the States to Texas. So we should be there shortly after April 1st.
We made another major decision then in connection with this. We had planned to resign and stay in the States, but decided we would return to Arabia for another 2 year contract after our vacation. My parents would be disappointed about this, but I hoped they would understand. Oran was just too young to pass up that opportunity to get such a good start in life. But it would be very hard to stay away from my family for another two years.
I was already packing a trunk to send home, hopefully to arrive before or during our vacation. It would contain outgrown clothes, and all souvenirs and gifts I had bought for everybody. All of our space and weight on the planes would be needed for our clothes, Keith’s food, and things we planned to pick up going through Europe. All of the items sold in the stores in the Arab towns were imports, even the clothes you would call typically Arabic. But I managed to get together the entire outfit worn by the Arab man and woman.
I had started keeping Keith in the living room because there were no rugs on the other floors, and I blocked off everything that was breakable. But if there was the tiniest hole leading somewhere he was not supposed to go, he would find it and get through. I put a gate at the kitchen door, and he would be on his stomach and reach just as far in as he could to pick up any little thing he could see on the floor. He was a good baby, though, and would entertain himself for hours just crawling around or playing with the toys that fascinated him at the moment. I just had to keep an eye on him because he was so rambunctious.
By February 14, we had already shipped the trunk as we wanted it to get there while we were home, and sometimes it took several months. We had received the airmail package from my parents that I had asked her to send with a few things we would need for our trip. It would still be cold in Europe in March, so we ask for a snowsuit for Keith and were very pleased with their selection. We put it on him as soon as we unwrapped it and it fit just wonderfully. We took a picture of him in it sitting in the back yard and he looked like he was wondering what in the world was going on.
I had asked for a few things for myself, as well, because I had gained weight while pregnant, and had not gradually gone back to my original weight as I had hoped afterward. But I didn’t exercise or diet. What I didn’t receive from my parents I would try to pick up on the way home as needed. There was so much to get done for a trip like that. Besides packing, we had to get the apartment prepared and in good shape for the caretakers. We had to take physicals and straighten up our company business just as if we weren’t coming back, even though we planned to.
We also tried to get in a bit of recreational activity. So, on March 6, we decided to make one more little excursion outside camp. We checked out a car, hired a babysitter for Keith, and with two other couples, drove down toward Dhahran to the oasis town of Qatif. First, we parked by the road at the edge of the oasis where there were two extremely large sand dunes, and decided to climb them. It didn’t take long to reach them, and soon we were starting up one of the small ends that gradually gets taller and taller as it curves in a U shape toward the top, and then gradually goes down on the other side of the U. You are always on the very edge of the steep drop off on the inner curve to the bare ground below. It wasn’t dangerous, but took some effort.
We soon discovered that it wasn’t best done in shoes, so we took those off and carried them as we trudged on upward. Surprisingly, it was actually cold for that time of year in Arabia, so we had worn coats and scarves (the women). It was also windy, so the loose ends of the scarves usually blew right straight out in front of us, and the sand stung the exposed parts of our skin. It was a beautifully clear day, though, and fluffy, white buttermilk clouds floated in the sky. It did cross my mind to ask if we were having fun yet. But how many people get to climb a huge sand dune in the country of Saudi Arabia.
Donkeys hauling loads of date palm fronds.
We took lots of pictures, both close-up and from a distance. At times we looked like tiny ants, all in a row, climbing to the entrance of a giant ant hill. I lagged behind at times, and it was a struggle, but we made it to the top and down the other slopped side back to the flat ground below, so were proud of ourselves.
Back in the car, we headed into the date palm oasis on a small dirt road no more than tracks, really. We drove past small ditches of water, coming from the irrigation system of artesian wells, where the local Arabs were washing their clothes on some rocks. A little further on a couple of barely visible donkeys loaded with palm fronds were driven by their Arab owner down the road. The oasis was sort of fenced in with a barrier of their palm fronds, but a narrow, bare road led into the oasis to the local Arab villages of Qatif and Sufwa centers. Although the palm trees were green, everything else was brown, covered with dust and dirt.
An Aramco sedan draws a crowd.
Wherever we went the local Arabs crowded around our bright red Aramco sedan, especially children, old men & women. They were as curious about us as we were about them, came right up to the car to look in at us. One old man straddling his donkey, waving his arms around showing off, we think. The old women, totally covered in black cloaks, veiled face scarves or masks carried huge woven straw baskets. The young boys had head scarves or skull caps, the young girls all had black, gold trimmed for the most part, cape-like garments covering their heads and shoulders, but not their faces. Long dresses of black or red were worn under these. Most had medal decorations piercing one side of their noses. They looked ragged and dirty.
Colleen poses in front of the fort while a
villager mugs for the camera.
On the opposite outskirts of the town was the old, deserted, crumbling, stone structure, the Turkish Fort, I had visited before, sitting close to Tarut Bay. It was just a reminder of the Turkish rule of Arabia before Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud conquered and united it into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Back in Ras Tanura Camp, that trip ended our activities before we left on our home leave. I didn’t even go to another movie after that because Oran was working from three p.m. to eleven p.m. until time to go. Keith was our entertainment then. Naturally, we thought he was getting cuter every day, and he was beginning to know that. He still had no teeth and wasn’t walking, but he tried to make every sound we did. He could wave and say by-by, and he said Da-Da once to Oran’s delight. He would probably be the biggest show off when we got home, and we were anxious for our family to see that for themselves. Keith would be 10 months old then, and I would be about 2 and 1/2 or 3 months pregnant with Vicky, another surprise for my parents.
We would do one more thing before leaving, though. We had decided to order our very own houseboy through the company procedure. So we went through the necessary steps and filled out all the papers, so they could be processing while we were home and hopefully, he would arrive there before the new baby came.