Drilling Rigin Saudi Arabia
Photograph Contributed by Betty Felice
It was the desire to earn and save enough money to buy a car that convinced me I should answer an ad in the Phoenix Arizona Gazette for secretaries wanted in Saudi Arabia with The Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO).
It was August 1949, and I was employed as Secretary to the Principal at the new West Phoenix High School. I had been tasked with cutting out articles from the local paper having anything to do with the school and its activities. While scanning the Phoenix Arizona Gazette my eye caught a notice for secretaries wanted in Saudi Arabia. I paused for a moment considering the position and pondering the whereabouts of this far away place. I knew it was in the Middle East and past Africa, but just where was Saudi Arabia?
I called my mother who resided in Tampa, Florida at the time. “Mother, would it be okay if I took a job in Saudi Arabia?” She fell silent and I thought perhaps she fainted, but she was figuring out where Saudi Arabia was and she replied, “Do you have to go that far away?” I said, “Yes, I have to find a job to save enough money to buy a car. This position may be the answer.” That decided it. My application was posted and I anxiously awaited a reply.
Waiting was difficult. I had a planned vacation to visit friends in San Francisco and decided to go forward with the plans. Anticipating some news while I was away, I asked my landlord to forward any large envelopes to me in California. Wouldn’t you know, the reply came shortly after I left Phoenix. The reply gave me the date and time of my interview in Phoenix that very next weekend, and there I was on vacation in California! I contacted Aramco to request that my interview date be changed. After some discussion, it was suggested that I go to Los Angeles where they were also conducting interviews. A date and time for the interview were arranged, and I was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation.
The interview was a success. The secretarial position would require a two-year commitment. I felt confident I could do it. The interviewers prepared me for all the hardships I would encounter living in a foreign country such as Saudi Arabia. There were no corner drug stores or ice cream shops. I thought they might be trying to discourage me, but I figured I would be able to adjust to a different kind of living. I was offered the job and I jumped at the chance. I was told to expect materials in the mail with transportation instructions, necessary documents, and a list of what to pack. When the list arrived it included clothing, shoes, cosmetics, sunscreen and even some nice evening wear. I was happy just thinking about going halfway around the world on this adventure for two years.
Before leaving the school job in Phoenix, a young lady named Roseanne came to the office wanting to speak with me as she learned I was going to the Middle East. She was Egyptian and had married an Air Force man, but was homesick. She was in tears. She gave me her family’s address in Cairo and asked if I might perhaps visit them if the occasion arose. I felt sorry for her as she was so sad to be away from her family. I took the information with me and hoped I could help her out somehow in the future.
I flew off to Florida where I would say goodbye to my mother and wait for my final instructions, flight information, and ticket. It seemed to be forever before I heard from ARAMCO, but the information finally came. I was to fly out of New York on the Dutch Airline, September 1951. I had my possessions in two bags that were so full I could hardly carry them.
At the airport, I saw a young boy with a travel case that had the “ARAMCO” logo on the side and I asked him if he was going to Dhahran. He was going back to his family and to school. He said, “just stick with me and I’ll see you get there.” What a great kid! He knew the location of every bathroom in every airport, and where and how to get to refreshments. I felt very secure that I would get there safely with him as my tour guide. Unfortunately, I, to this day, cannot remember his name.
We landed in Ireland at night and were herded like sheep into a room at the terminal. We were asked to leave our passports at the door. I had been told, "Do not lose your passport!", and the thought of leaving it behind really worried me. Our stop was very brief and we soon loaded for Rome, then on to Dhahran.
The food on the Dutch Airline was fabulous. I tried to eat whenever it was served, thinking I would get my body on a new time schedule, which was not very wise. By the time I got to Arabia I wasn't hungry at all, so I headed for the swimming pool as a swim just sounded perfect.
At the swimming pool, I met up with two girls who were practicing for a swim meet. They asked me if I had ever swum on a team in a meet. I hadn't, but I had always wanted to. Apparently, they checked me out to see if I could swim and asked me to be the number three person on their team. As an aside, I did okay and started to train as though I was going to the Olympics. I watched my diet, didn’t smoke or drink, went to bed early, and practiced daily.
The big Swim Meet was scheduled with Ras Tanura. Since this was my first time in this type of an activity, I was a little nervous. We were all set to go, then I received a notice that one of the teammates was ill. That was the end of my swimming career.
Anyway, it was just that simple to meet people and get involved in new activities. It didn't take me long at all to meet new friends and grow accustomed to my new surroundings.