Members of the 2023 KSA Expat Reunion gathered together at the central meeting point for reunion activities, called the Reunion House.
Something very special is happening in March 2023.
From March 1 – 14 hundreds of retired Aramco expatriate employees, and adults whose childhoods were spent in Aramco communities, will be coming to the 2023 KSA Expat Reunion being held in Dhahran in their honor.
“This is the fifth time Aramco has hosted its retired employees for a reunion,” says organizing committee Chairman, Ali Baluchi. “These former employees and their children are coming home.”
Reunion Word Board
Previously, Baluchi has spearheaded reunions held in 2000, 2009, 2015, and 2019. And with each gathering, he says it’s heartwarming to see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they come back to Dhahran. “Some of the people attending the reunions haven’t been back to Saudi Arabia since they were very young, and they remember playing in the streets, and while at the reunion, they are able to recall wonderful memories,” he says.
Former Aramco resident, Rhonda Taylor, photographed at a Bedouin dinner near Udhailiyah in the late 1970s.
One of those former residents is Rhonda Taylor, who was a teenager in Udhailiyah during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“When I went on summer and winter breaks, Aramco always had events and functions for the returning students at the youth centers to keep busy and out of trouble,” she recalls, adding there were recreation facilities, racquet ball courts, bowling alleys, and a swimming pool where she and her friends would gather for fun.
Taylor hopes she will be able to make it to the reunion, and says she plans to register for the event.
When returning home on school breaks, Rhonda Taylor was given English documentation to board the final flight from Dhahran to Udhailiyah.
When returning home on school breaks, Rhonda Taylor was given Arabic documentation to board the final flight from Dhahran to Udhailiyah.
She’s excited by the prospect of exploring her former hometown. Back in those days, she says, when Aramco expats returned from repat holidays, or students returned to Saudi Arabia for summer and winter breaks, they were flown from Dhahran to Udhailiyah to avoid a 5-hour drive on what was then a single lane road, known as Abqaiq Road.
Taylor’s stepfather, Willirie Beeson, held a management position with the company, and was often invited out with his family to take part in dessert meals hosted by the Bedouins. They even were able to travel into the Rub al Khali and explore the sand dunes by Jeep. Her mother, Geraldine Beeson, also worked for Aramco as a casual.
Baluchi, a retired Aramco executive, attended his first employee reunion in 1958 when he was on a business assignment with Exxon. Years later, at a 1998 reunion held in Scottsdale, Arizona, Baluchi says he realized there was a growing interest among expatriate retirees to return to Saudi Arabia to visit their home away from home. The reunion was hosted by Doug and Marjorie Rines of the Scottsdale Princess Resort.
“Doug suggested to organize a KSA Reunion,” says Baluchi. “From there, I carried on the hope of holding the first 2000 reunion.”
Fast-forward to the year 2000, and Baluchi brought 300 retired Aramco employees back to Dhahran. He was able to get the support of Aramco, local businesses, and even His Highness, Prince Saud ibn Naif, the Governor of the Eastern Province.
Attendees of the 2019 reunion photographed with committee member Matt Horton (far right) prior to board the bus for a day trip.
“The retirees and their family members are obliged to pay their own expenses during the 2023 reunion,” explains Baluchi. He says reunion participants are responsible for purchasing their flights to and from Saudi, paying for their hotel accommodations, paying for their meals, and paying for some trips offered.
And Baluchi acknowledges the vital role played by the army of volunteers who help make the reunions happen each time.
“We appreciate the role played by the volunteers who are fully engaged in supporting the events and any associated matters related to the reunions,” says Baluchi, adding each reunion depends on about 100 volunteers to make it a success.
Momentum has grown over the years for the Expat reunions, and in many ways, the reunions have showcased social changes that have happened in Saudi Arabia in recent years.
Paul Sutterlin, a retired employee who attended the 2019 reunion, noted, “if you come over here now, you see something that is totally different. They are very positive changes.”
“You don’t need the same spirit of adventure that you needed coming in the ‘60s,” he said, adding, “back then, you really were in a very different culture. Now, there are many more aspects of life familiar to outsiders.”
“I think it’s a very positive thing to open up Saudi to the outside world.”
Mushtaq and Waheeda Mahmood pictured on one of many desert trips they took while employed at Aramco.
Mushtaq Mahmood retired from Aramco in 2018. He and his wife Waheeda Mahmood are keen to join the 500 other former Aramcons at the March 2023 reunion.
“We loved the lifestyle, the environment, and we loved the people,” he says of his desire to come back. “We never sat down in the house on the weekends. We were always out doing trips.”
Mahmood and his family took full advantage of Saudi Arabia’s access to the world. The journeyed to Syria, Jordon, saw the flower people in the Asir mountains, and crossed the Rub al Khali five times.
“We travelled Saudi Arabia from East to West, and North to South,” he adds. “But we are Muslims, and it was especially meaningful to visit the holy sites.”
He says he did Hajj 4 times and stopped counting how many times they did the lesser pilgrimage, Umrah.
After working as a contract employee as an IT consultant in 1996, Mahmood became a full time Aramco employee in 2000. He was an integral part of bringing the SAP system online with the company.
“Aramco is our home, not just our work.”
Registration opens on October 1, 2022.
First-time attendee processing begins October 1, 2022
2000 reunion attendee processing begins October 10, 2022
2009 reunion attendee processing begins October 20, 2022
2015 reunion attendee processing begins October 30, 2022
2019 reunion attendee processing begins November 10, 2022