Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Khobar and Farewell dinner - Tues. March 17th
Today is Tuesday, March 17th. I had to take out my cell phone and look at a calendar to figure that out. I am completely turned around here. This morning I got up (I usually wake up at 6 or 6:30am everyday) and went on a walk/run down Memory Lane. I left Debbie's house at Abu Ali and went around the corner on Safaniya. I think that Barbara Schoenholtz lived around there. Then I came to Arabian Gulf Rd. I followed that down to Al Hasa and crossing Al Hasa, I entered Hofuf Drive by the Morrison's house. Going right, I continued down Hofuf, passing the Daveline's house, passing by Al Qara where the Ashton's lived, passing by Ain Dar and the Burnell's house, and came to Ghawar. I turned left and stood and looked at my old home. The tree in the front yard has grown tremendously and is way higher than the 2 story roof. They have grass in front, whereas we had rocks. I turned and looked at the homes where Peter and Liz Naber lived, and where Ralph and Barbara Bush lived. I thought about if those trees or houses could talk and all the stories they could tell. They would recount all the days that Ryan and Jeff and Trevor rode their Hot Cycles down the street, cruising at high speeds from one driveway to another. They would tell about the times that I would lay down with Ryan to take a nap, and while reading him a story I would be the one to fall asleep. Then he would quietly climb over me, sneak out of the house, and run over to Trevor's house to play. One day they played with matches, and Ryan got burned. I can't remember the lie he told me when I questioned him about how he got burned. They would tell about me holding on to the back of Allison's bicycle to help with balance as I ran along behind her when she was learning to ride a 2-wheel bicycle. They would tell about Lindsay running across the street to play with Adria and maybe we would finally discover the mystery of who stole Lindsay's brand new battery-operated, pink Barbie car that she got for Christmas. Those homes saw the snowball fight we had in Arabia one time (maybe the only snowball fight in the history of Saudi Arabia!) when we rented a snowcone machine and all the kids from miles around came over to eat snowcones and have a snowball fight. After standing there, noticing the changes and realizing how much things had changed, I moved on. As I came to the end of Ghawar I saw an empty house and thought, "Hey, there's an empty house our family could move into!", and then I thought of how our family had changed over the years, and I realized I had temporarily, for a split second, been stuck in 1994. Then I thought, "Our family couldn't move into that house. It has changed too much. Mark is gone, and I can't live here without him having work here. Allison can't live here because she has Kory and four kids. Ryan can't live here because he is married to Jessica and lives in Oregon. Jeff can't live here because he is in college and all over the world. Lindsay can't live here because she is married to Brady and they have their own life." And suddenly I realized that none of us could live here anymore. So I turned left onto Mubarraz where the McCurry's used to live. I walked down passing by the home that Clark and Charlene Price lived in, and where Terry and Sheila Ray lived. I can remember so plainly saying to Jeff, "C'mon, it's time to go to preschool", and off we would go, walking down Mubarraz, holding hands, heading off to Ms. Gabby's preschool. As I came to the end of Mubarraz and approached Hofuf, I realized that if I turned right I would be going to Shedgum where I could visit the Dobson's, the Olsen's, and at the end of the street I could definitely be guaranteed some laughs at the Wellington's. I thought of the time that Sandy Olsen and I dressed up in abayas and went out at night and teepeed the Wellington's home for Guy Fawlkes Day (a British holiday). I still have pictures of Roger Olsen putting the stuffing in our Guy Fawlkes dummy that we hung from a tree in front of the Wellington's house. I'm laughing right now as I'm recalling this. Mark was disgusted with me for being a Relief Society President who would go teepee someone's house dressed in an Arab ababya. (Hey, I had to have a disguise, and how better to sneak around in the dark to avoid Security than to dress in an abaya!!) He told me that if we got caught by Security that he would deny he knew me. I told him that wouldn't fly too well when the Security officers questioned him about all the family photos that I was in. So I turned left and went down Hofuf to Al Hasa. As I walked down Al Hasa I passed the back of Sharon Fenn's home and knew if I turned left I could go visit Barbara Kenworthy. But I continued on to Debbie's house on Abu Ali. It was actually a wonderful walk down Memory Lane, but I realize that life has moved on for all of us families that were here, and we truly formed wonderful memories and friendships while we were all here. I arrived back at Debbie's, and Lucy, Debbie, and I were sitting in her family room talking when we spontaneously decided to go to Khobar. We called a taxi, grabbed our abayas, and took off for Khobar. I loved the spontaniety of it all. We told the taxi driver to take us to Prince Bandar street, which is in the center of the women's section. He took a different security gate out of the Aramco compound, but that allowed us to pass by the Golden Ghetto, the section where the wealthy Saudis live. Lucy said that her husband, Bud, always said that a prerequesite for living here in Arabia was taking a course called "Creative Reality 101". You have to be create your own reality here. (Debbie says the local expatriates now refer to this as the "Magic Kingdom." On the way into Khobar I noticed that the sky has had so much sand in it since we've been here. It's not as blue as it is in Saint George or Vegas. But I remember when we lived here the sky was so blue with not one cloud. We arrived at Bandar Street and stopped at a fabric store. This was not like Joanne's Fabrics or any other fabric store you have ever seen in your life. This truly was "The Mother of All Fabric Stores!!!!" (I use that expression because I remember how during the Gulf War (1990-91) Saddam said this was going to be the "mother of all wars"...just an expression I've always referred to.) Lucy and I took photos of the fabrics because a picture is worth a thousand words, and no words can describe this. These fabrics were from Italy and Switzerland. For a woman who loves fashion designing, it was heaven to me. I swooned over all the details in the fabrics, the beads, appliques, and handwork and dreamed of all the fabulous skirts, dresses, and jackets I could design using these fabrics. It was the ultimate in bling! We looked at fabrics that were 4000 riyals a meter! Do you understand that is basically $1,066.00 a yard!! So the Saudi shopkeeper told us that is was 4000SR a meter, but with the discount we could get it for only 3000 riyals. ($800 a yard) Wow, what a discount! Over here the shopkeepers always say, "But for you, a special discount." I told Lucy there must have been a high markup for them to discount 1000 riyals. But honestly, I have never seen fabrics like this before in my life! For anyone who likes to sew, it was the ultimate! In the store windows, they don't sew clothes out of these fabrics, but instead they drape it around the mannequin in ways that give ideas for creative uses. It actually looks like dresses, but really it is draped and pinned to look like they are sewed. I just can't express in words how overwhelmed I am with the fabric stores here. I would LOVE to have access to such a place in the States. Then we went to another fabric store (a simplified version from the previous one) for Debbie to get some fabric. Then we had 30 mintues till prayer call and so we grabbed another taxi and headed over to some other shops closer to the Corniche Road. After going into those shops, we had 10 minutes till prayer time. So we grabbed another taxi and went to Chili's for lunch. Yes, this is the same Chili's restaurant that exists in the states. At all these restaurants there are two entrances. One is labeled "Family Section" where families and couples and women eat. The other entrance is labeled "Singles Section" where single men eat. Everytime I almost go into the "Singles Section" because I keep thinking it refers to my marital status, and since I am single, I should be eating in the Singles Section, right? Actually, I have to eat in the "Family Section" because of being a woman. So we ordered lunch and shortly after, a Saudi couple came in. They sat at a table next to us, and the waiter grabbed a large folding screen (wooden folding screens with fabric on them) and set it up between us and the Saudi couple. Later another couple came in, and they did the same thing. I asked Debbie, "Why don't they let all the Saudi couples eat together and see each other and put up a screen and isolate us?" She said, "Because we don't care if anyone sees us!" That makes sense. The food was great, although the buffalo wings were so spicy, that when we took them home to Mike (Debbie's husband) even he couldn't hardly eat them. We left Chili's and crossed the wide, busy highway that separated us from Safeway (Tammimi Market). Debbie and I found a break in the traffic, and I lifted my abaya so I wouldn't trip and ran across the highway. We looked back and Lucy was still standing there taking pictures. We yelled at her to hurry and run or she would be a grease spot with a camera sitting on it in the middle of the road. We knew that the cars would not slow down for us, and if we did get run over by a car, once again, Enshallah, it was God's will for us to be killed if we didn't get out of the way. Lucy and I went inside Safeway while Debbie grabbed us a taxi. Things were looking pretty spiffy in there. They even had a garden dept. Lucy tooks some pics and then we went out to get the taxi. We had a wonderful taxi driver, an older man from Pakistan who spoke wonderful English. He told us that he had spent 20 years in Pakistan driving a bus, and then he had spent 25 years in Saudi Arabia driving a taxi. For all American men who have driven here, I think they would all agree that driving a taxi in Saudi for 25 years would seem like a death sentence. He said he had a wife and 2 children in Pakistan, and he got to go home and see them every two years and would spend 3 months there. So think of that...he sees his wife and children for 3 months every 2 years! We asked him if the driving was worse here or in Pakistan, and he said it was much more dangerous here. He was telling us that the street cleaners here make 400-450 riyals a month. ($106 a month!) The street cleaners are men from Pakistan or India who wear orange jumpsuits and sweep the streets. Some of them may be gardners also. Their rent is 600 riyals for one room for 2 people. It was heart-breaking hearing the circumstances of their lives, and when we arrived home we gave him much more money than the ride cost. That night we had a Reunion Farewell dinner. It was held at a large building on the Corniche road in Khobar. I will have to say that I have not ever shaken hands with so many Arab men in my life. They were lined up to shake our hands and welcome us as we got off the bus. We rode on the bus with Carol Hudson, a lady that used to be a first grade teacher here. At the event, I saw Lorraine Callom, who was a 3rd or 4th grade teacher, and I know that one of my kids had her for a teacher. I mentioned my kids to her and she said she remembered me. (I think it was Jeff who had her for a teacher.) Lucy met up with Bud's old boss, an Arab man who was so nice and kind and visited with us a lot. I had my picture taken with several Arab men and they gave me their business cards, saying to contact them if there was ever anything we needed. The meal (rather, the BANQUET!) consisted of lamb, rice, hummus, Arab bread, potatoes, many types of fruit, desserts, salads of all types, and vegetables. The banquet tables were stretched out across the room and laden with foods of all types. Lucy sat at a table with some friends, and I decided to be bold, add some excitement to life, and and so I ventured off and sat right next to a Saudi man I had met. There was only one other American at our table. I figured that would be an interesting group to have dinner with. It didn't really pan out as I had planned. The man who I sat next to was one of the local Saudi business men who hosted the dinner, but he visited with me a little, then when I got up to go to the buffet line, he got up and left and never came back. I didn't know if it was that he wanted to sit elsewhere or if he didn't want to be seen sitting next to a single, blonde American woman. So during the meal, I turned to the Saudi to my right and asked him if he still worked for Aramco, to which he replied, "I don't speak English." I wondered if he was lying to me because I found it very odd that a Saudi man his age (young) did not speak English. Anyway, it turned out that my dinner companions were very boring, and so I looked over a few tables away to see what was going on at Lucy's table. I figured it had to be better than my table, so I picked up my purse and changed tables. Then we had a presention where Ali Baluchi was speaking and several people spoke about the reunion, the history of Aramco, and the advances being made in the industry. In true "Smith fashion", I pulled out my mirror to check my teeth. In our family, I think Allison, Lindsay and I all have issues about whether we have food in our teeth after a meal, and we always check for that. Oh my gosh, I looked in my hand mirror and saw that I had a small piece of sheep stuck in my teeth. Yikes! I thought, "Oh my gosh, I have got to do something. I can't have anymore pictures taken if I have sheep in my front teeth, and I can't talk to anyone." So very discreetly, I fished around in my purse (all the while the Arabs are up front speaking) and found my dental floss. I thought how wonderful it is to be a woman and be able to carry dental floss in a purse. I don't know any men who carry dental floss in their pockets. Most men would just look for some nearby toothpicks. So very discreetly, and I do mean very discreetly, I managed to floss my teeth without anyone seeing me. I thought of my son Ryan and could hear how he would feel about me doing that. But my gosh, what's a woman to do at a public Arab feast when she's got sheep stuck in her teeth? There's a first time for everything, right? But I have to say that I have decided that I like sheep better than beef. After the program, before boarding the Aramco buses back to Dhahran, Lucy and I went into the bathroom. It was the nicest public bathroom in the Middle East that I have ever seen. (Yes, we took pics!) I opened one stall and saw a hammam, an Eastern toilet. It's basically a hole in the ground with a nearby waterhose. It shocked me for a second because I haven't seen one in a long time, and when I opened the stall door I was totally expecting to see a Western toilet. But a few stalls down I found a Western toilet, which of course, is the one I chose. Another thing...today was St. Patrick's Day. Here they call it Leprechan Day - no way would you want a holiday with the word "Saint" in it! Also, I forgot to include something I found funny. On Friday when we were attending Relief Society, the person conducting asked if anyone had anything to offer for a "Good News Moment". In the States, they usually have a "good news moment" where women will say things like, "I have a new grandbaby", or "My daughter just got married". So, here in Arabia (you've already figured out things are a bit different here) a lady said, "I am so excited. I just found Crisco the other day", and then she proceeded to tell everyone where they could get Crisco. Ah, the simple things of life that we take so for granted in America!! and back to my story...So we came back to Dhahran, exhausted from another day in Arabia. Lucy: The Al Seef Center where this Farewell Dinner was held is located on Corniche Road very near LeMeridien Hotel. What a grand place! Huge rooms, huge doors, huge chandeliers. I got to visit with some Loss Prevention people, including Younis, who is now retired and lives in Saihat, but was Bud's Loss Prevention Manager when we lived here. He is very friendly and so gracious. He has three daughters who are all MD's and two grand daughters who are becoming doctors. We got photos with him and Dick and Jean Ebner, Tina Light and her family. We had run into Jean earlier, but hadn't seen Dick because he had taken his grandsons camping in the desert the first few days. Later, talking to Jim Anderson on the phone I learned that he was their camping guide. Again, small world!