The date was July of 1978. I had graduated college 6 months earlier and got offered a job in Saudi Arabia. At the time the only thing I knew of the country was that it was somewhere in the middle east and I had seen the movie of Lawrence of Arabia. Nonetheless I was excited. I had traveled fairly extensively around the USA in my life and felt pretty well experienced dealing with different people from different areas.
I spent about two weeks in Maryland at our US Project Headquarters getting oriented to what was to be expected of me. They had shown me films and gave me lectures about local customs and did their level best to scare the dickens out of me. They had me convinced that any simple faux pas could escalate into an international crisis and I had best beware.
On the day before my departure they ran me through a very thorough physical and dental exam as there were no medical facilities within hours of the site I was to be working. In the 24 hours before I left I had two wisdom teeth removed ( I hate dental work) and a bettery of injections for everything imaginable including malaria. (I hate needles too).
Boarding a Pan Am flight to London was the first leg of my journey and aside from very cramped seating it was uneventful. Landing at Heathrow Airport and boarding the company bus we sere sent to a hotel for the one night layover. I was traveling with 6 other workers, all of whom were seasoned veterans of overseas construction jobs, they were known as EXPATS. Tradesmen who worked in foreign countries all over the world and the stories they would tell were fascinating. It was an overnight flight and landing late morning London time, my companions decided to show me the city that night and the destinations they chose had little to do with culture or history. I will leave it at that. Needless to say we got back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning and had but a couple of hours before the next leg of our journey.
Boarding a non-stop flight to Dharan / Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia on the nation's flagship Saudia Air was vastly different than the Pan Am flight. Much more comfortable but to my traveling companions dismay, there was no alcohol served. I didn't mind never having been much of a drinker. We arrived in the middle of the night and walking out of the airplane cabin to the jet way felt like I had entered a sauna. July in Saudi was as hot as anything I had ever experienced,,,and this was in the middle of the night.
Clearing customs and gathering our bags we boarded a company bus to our transit accomodations to rest before continuing to our REMOTE base of operation. Exhausted I collapsed on the bed. The next thing I knew there was a pounding on the door and I was told to get my things together as there was one seat available on the small company plane leaving for the base. It was already late afternoon when I found myself back at the airport and guided to a twin engine, 8 seater plane. Aside from all the cargo and other passengers the only seat left was the co-pilot seat. I was thrilled. I had never flown in a small plane before and the opportunity to see the country was all I could think of.
The excitement soon wore off as it was a six hour flight and when I say that the terrain below was featureless, I am making a huge understatement. The whole view was of a cloudless blue sky and a dull tan / orange ground. NOTHING, not even a tree or an oasis to be seen. Finally I saw a black strip on the desert floor, an oiled stretch of sand that served as our landing strip. No facilites, just a bus waiting to carry us to the base some 15 miles away.
Arriving at the base, a 1/2 mile square of 10' fencing surrounding a collection of bolted together portable camp units. The base was called appropriately enough, the 1,200 man camp. I was part of that first contingent that would grow to more than 15,000 men from 20 different countries to build a city from scratch that would be home to 250,000 Saudi's. Arriving at the base I was shown to my accomodations, little more than a barracks with bunk beds. I didn't bother unpacking and just hit the bed and passed out.
Waking up a 3:30 AM, wide awake and famished, I ventured out to explore my new home. I took little time to find the dining hall. The building looked no different than any of the others but it was the only one that was lit and busy. Our base worked 24 hours a day as much of the construction had to be done at night due to the extreme day time heat.
Entering the building I could smell FOOD. It was only then that I had realized it had been nearly two days since I had a real meal, and boy was I hungry. Working on a construction base in this kind of remote location, food was critical to morale. I could order anything I wanted and as much as I wanted for free. To say my eyes were bigger than my stomach was for the first time in my life,,,,not true. I ordered: pancakes, eggs, beef strips that passed as bacon (no pork products in kingdom), sausages, orange juice, re-constituted milk, muffins and french toast. In my life I had never eaten so much at one time.
Finishing breaksfast, I wandered the camp to find where my work would have me. I was not a tradesman but an administrative flunky so I got to work in an air-conditioned building. My initial job title was Supervisor of Records in the Personnel Department. The Personnel Department office was large but mostly empty spare a few file cabinets, a few desks and some folding chairs.
I met my direct supervisors, two older men with years of experience,,,and me. I was their only employee at that time. We took three of the folding chairs and set them in the middle of the large room. The two of them sitting side by side with me facing them. They began telling me what my duties were to be and what I could expect in the months to come when all of a sudden one of them asked me if I was feeling OK. Then, with no warning whatsoever my breakfast exploded from me before I could even turn my head,,,,both of my bosses got the full force,,,such was my first day on the job. Incredibly, this was not to be the only adventure I would experience in the ensuing 18 months in Kingdom.
OMG!! What an induction!! Knowing you I can imagine what went through your head. Great story Den!! The lead up was well written and fascinating for anyone who has never done anything like that.
Your description was enough for me to experience in Saudi Arabia. What a way to meet your bosses--great first impression! Your descriptions were captivating. Well done!