The Muslim holidays are over and the Christian holidays have officially begun. I have become so busy with work that writing this blog has become a complete after thought. I have thought since I arrived that the time here is different than in other places in the world. Perhaps it is because I live this sort of dual life – weekends for me are Thursday and Friday, weekends at home are Saturday and Sunday so I only really think of the work week as Monday to Wednesday. Or perhaps it is because I work from 7-4 and usually only drive about 8 minutes to work every day. Somehow, the time has flown by and I am rapidly approaching being in the Kingdom one full year!
The holiday season came quickly. It seems like only yesterday it was 120 degrees outside and summer was in full swing. Now it has turned cold, I mean about 60 degrees cold and the drop in the temperature happened literally over night! The skies are clear cobalt blue right now without a cloud to be seen. The sun is always hanging like a big orange ball and there is a subtle breeze that just reminds me of the tropics almost every day now. If I only had an umbrella drink I would swear I was in paradise!
I went to Shaybah for Thanksgiving. Shaybay is located in the Rub al Kahli (the Empty Quarter) in the southeast part of the Arabian Peninsula. They found a very special kind of oil there and built a camp and a road and 600 KM of pipeline to get the oil to the gulf for transport. The Rub is about 40 KM west of the United Arab Emirates and other than that there is nothing but desert on all sides.
We flew on a chartered Aramco flight. I love flying on Aramco airlines! It is really funny to take a 737 when there is almost no security and the flight attendants are just interested in passing their muffins and juice. The whole 60 minute flight the cockpit door was wide open and a steady stream of passengers queued up to take pictures and see what the instrument panel looked like. I couldn’t remember if I was actually on a plane or maybe just a party bus. Thank goodness we didn’t have any alcohol! Of course the first Aramco flight I ever took, I was a little unnerved by the Traveler's Prayer that is said in Arabic as we taxi down the runway. It probably is a good idea; maybe all flights should start with a prayer. In either case, we had a completely uneventful flight and it was great to catch a glimpse of Bahrain, Qatar and the Gulf Coast from thirty thousand feet.
Shaybah is the world’s largest sand desert. It is a coppery color of red sand piled into dunes that look similar to the Smoky Mountains in size. The Aramco camp at Shaybah could be mistaken for a 5 star resort anywhere in the world. The engineering that went into clearing the sand to build the run way is nothing short of amazing and I am blown away by the actual camp. We land right outside the gate to the camp and stand in awe of the red sand dunes that surround us. Entering the camp I blink a few times to be sure I am seeing things correctly. There are tree lined boulevards; flowing, tiled fountains; and flowers and bushes everywhere!
After a brief tour of the residential camp and the gas and oil separating plants and some of the 600 KM of pipe that gets the oil to the refinery we had free time to play on the dunes. Climbing the huge dunes only to slide down them on snow boards was exhilarating fun! The sand was fine and smooth like powdered sugar and felt warm and soft on your feet. The view of the camp from the dunes was breath taking and when the sun set the lights below twinkled like a small town.
We enjoyed a meal of all the usual Middle Eastern dishes: hummus, mutahbal, tabhouli, biryani, Arabic rice, lamb, chicken, sweets and mint tea. Sitting on the ground, enjoying the company of a lovely Saudi couple, a Saudi man and his Austrian wife, another Saudi man and his American wife; it was interesting to the discussion of how they met their spouses and what they think about living and raising children in Saudi. It is obvious that they share many of the same struggles we Americans do with additional burdens of the restrictions placed on women and non-Muslims. The evening ended with a quiet flight back to Dammam and a bus ride back to the camp. Everyone tired and satisfied with the day and thankful for the blessings of our new found friendships, the luxury of travel “Aramco style” and another day in the Magic Kingdom!
I started this almost 2 months ago. I have been very lax lately about posting to my blog. It has been a very busy year end and I have had several distractions! I am going to do my best to post more regularly in the next several months. I have quite a lot to write about now and will begin the next of several segments on my recent travels to Jordan and around KSA. Look forward to hearing from you and sharing with you in 2012! Cheers!