I and my wife, margaret, were stationed in Saudi Arabia, working for the Saudi Aramco Company. The Company has several compounds dedicated to housing expatriate workers. We lived in the Ras Tanura Camp, which is located about 60 kilometers north of the main camp “Dhahran”.
About once a week I would take my wife into Al-Khobar to the Shops and the Tamimi Grocery store (the only modern grocery store in Eastern Saudi Arabia). For us it was evening as compared to being morning in New York.
Our routine was usual, shop, have a dinner, walk the streets for fun, then drive back home to Ras Tanura. To get started and save time in our shopping I generally would drop Margaret off first at the store then proceded on to the local aquarium supply store, where I could buy special food for my Marine fish. As scheduled, I dropped Margaret off at the Tamimi and proceeded to the pet store. Just at that time the radio (Armed Forces Network) announced the news about the first tower being hit. “Probably an accident”, I figured and went on into the store. A few minutes later the shops turned into a state of panic. All Expatriates in the area were exiting to their cars. One guy stated, “Did you hear about the WTC being hit”? “Yea,,,,,,,,”. “Well the other jut got HIT”. I got to my car and headed to the Tamimi to get my wife. It was well after dark by then. I could hear celebration gun shots in the area and see bullet tracers zipping up into the sky. The first thought, we are in the lion’s den and need to get to the closest safe house possible, Dharan Camp, asap. As I pulled into the parking lot I saw Margaret standing by the curb with a cart of groceries. She had a panic look on her face. As I pulled up close to her, she quickly yanked open the back door and threw the sacks into the back seat, screeming,,,,,,,”Let’s get out of here”. While in the store several Saudi men, who recognized her as being an Aramco expatriate circled her and told her she was safe there. , which only added to her feeling of panic. Due to all the rush of exiting cars, getting to the main street was slow. Traffic heading towards Dhahran camp seemed slow. We rolled up the windows and got into the middle traffic lanes for security. Again we heard celebration gun fire. The line of traffic getting through the gate into Aramco camp was long and seemed slow. At the entrance there were two Armored Personell Carriers with heavy machine guns parked in proximity of the gate. Aramco and the King of Saudi Arabia were determined to insure the safety of its expatriate workers. After we got in, we went to the camp cafeteria to get some coffee/soda and wait for a couple hours before deciding if we could make trip to Home, “Aramco Ras Tanura Camp”, which was a long 60 kilomieters trip across hostile territory. It was about 11pm Saudi Time, when things seemed to slow down. I decided to make the attempt to get us back to Ras Tanura Camp. As we exited out the North gate we were stopped by the security guards. We must wait for a while for the next convoy to go out. This meant we were going under armed escort from Dhahran to Ras Tanura. There were two security cars and a military vehicle leading about 5 cars with about the same number of vehicles bringing up the rear. We were escorted the entire distance into Ras Tanura. During the trip we could see off into the distance tracer bullets flying up into the air. I figured we were a safe distance from the party people.
After getting through the security check points and through the Ras Tanura gates we were safe, for sure………..I poured myself a strong (illegale and home made alcoholic drink) and relaxed and watched the news unfold on the Satalite TV until sun up.
When the sun came up, I put in my usual 10 hour day of work with out being even slightly tired……..
The official company communications announced the news, with a followup statement, “anyone celebrating or making derogatory remarks will be arrested, and will be great disgrace to their families”. Greek meaning, “Any Saudi’s out of line will be arrested”.
Over the next few months there were a few car bombings that went off in Khobar and Dammam. One Expat compound was invaded where several were killed and injured. Remember that a couple years before the Dhahran Towers were blown up (next door to Dhahran camp) killing a number of civilian and military personnel….
A few weeks later, I lost a friend in Yanbu Saudi Arabia to a wild crowd of disgruntled Saudis. The country went into a type of police state exceeded only by Afganistan.
After 10 years things have calmed down considerably. But there is still some stress between Saudis and Expatriate workers living in the country.
It feels good living on he edge……..
TRUE EVENT FOR ME