Artorius Castus

The Magic Kingdom

Posted in Uncategorized by Patrick Truax on October 6, 2007

IN 1979 I WAS AT A TRATTORIA IN ROME, FAR REMOVED FROM THE THRONGS OF TOURISTS. ONLY ROMANS, AND AMERICANS LIVING THERE KNEW ABOUT THE PLACE. THE SUBJECT OF MY ONWARD ASSGIGNMENT CAME UP. MY GANG KNEW I’D APPLIED FOR POSITIONS IN BRASILIA OR DJAKARTA AND I COULD’VE GONE HAPPILY TO EITHER POST. THE FOLLOWING DAY, MY BOSS-BEST FRIEND-MENTOR CALLED ME INTO HIS CUBBYHOLE OF AN OFFICE IN THE EMBASSY. HE HAD A CABLE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN ON HIS DESK. HE POINTED TO IT AND BADE ME SIT DOWN BEFORE I PICKED IT UP AND READ IT. I WAS STUNNED. IT WAS A TWO-YEAR ASSIGNMENT TO THE MILITARY ATTACHE’S OFFICE IN JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA! I PORED OVER THE TEXT, LOOKING FOR SOME INDICATION THAT IT WAS SOMEONE’S IDEA OF A BAD JOKE, BUT IT LOOKED AUTHENTIC. I’D BEEN TO THE MIDDLE EAST BEFORE, WORKING IN THE ATTACHE’S OFFICE IN TEHERAN. HEADQUARTERS HAD OFFERED ME A POSITION THERE, BUT AFTER THE “STUDENTS” TOOK OVER THE EMBASSY THE FIRST TIME EARLIER THAT YEAR, OUR OFFICE HAD BEEN PULLED OUT.

UPON RETURNING TO THE U.S. FOR HOME LEAVE, I WAS GIVEN A PACKET OF INFORMATION, PUT OUT BY THE STATE DEPARTMENT, WITH THINGS TO DO AND MORE ESPECIALLY NOT TO DO. MY WIFE WAS AGHAST WHEN SHE READ THAT WOMEN COULDN’T DRIVE. WOMEN COULDN’T GO OUT IN PUBLIC DRESSED NORMALLY. SCHOOL KIDS WERE SEPARATED BY SEX AFTER AGE 16. ALCOHOL WAS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. ANY DISPLAY OF RELIGIOUS ITEMS OTHER THAN ISLAM WAS FORBIDDEN. THEY EVEN HAD A BOYCOTT LIST, WHICH INCLUDED WHAT MAKES OF AUTOMOBILES YOU COULD TAKE INTO “THE MAGIC KINGDOM”; THERE WAS NO COCA COLA PERMITTED THERE. WHAT KIND OF PLACE WAS THIS?Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

IN MAY OF 1980, WE FLEW TO ROME, AFTER HAVING DROPPED OFF OUR CHEVY BLAZER AT THE U.S. ARMY MILITARY OCEAN TERMINAL AT BAYONNE, N.J. HAVING SHIPPED MY POV OUT OF THERE TWICE ALREADY, I KNEW ENOUGH NOT TO LEAVE ANYTHING IN THE CAR THAT I DIDN’T WANT STOLEN. I THINK TONY SOPRANO’S POSSE RUNS THAT PLACE. WE THEN SPENT A WEEK IN ROME, SUCKING UP THE LAST OF CIVILIZATION THAT WOULD HAVE TO HOLD US OVER UNTIL WE GOT TO LEAVE ON R&R.

THE ALITALIA DC-8 LIFTED OFF FROM ROME’S FIUMICINO AIRPORT AND TURNED SOUTHEAST. FOUR HOURS LATER WE WERE PREPARING FOR LANDING AT JEDDAH. THE CURTAINS SEPARATING TOURIST FROM FIRST CLASS WAS OPEN, AND THE DOOR TO THE COCKPIT WAS OPEN AS WELL. I LOOKED DOWN THE AISLE AND OUT THE COCKPIT’S WINDOW AND SAW THE SPARKLING LIGHTS OF THE RUNWAY AND SURROUNDING CITY. FIRST SIGHT: LOOKS NORMAL. THAT ILLUSION WAS SHATTERED AS WE WENT THROUGH CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION. EVEN THOUGH WE WERE TRAVELING ON OFFICIAL PASSPORTS, THE HAWK-EYED SAUDI CUSTOM AGENTS TORE OUR BAGS APART. EXITING THE ARRIVALS AREA, WE WERE GREETED BY A SIGHT WHICH I CAME TO CALL “THE AIRPORT HILTON.” HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE, MOSTLY FROM SUBSAHARAN AFRICA, WERE SLEEPING ON THE FLOORS INSIDE AND OUT OF THE AIRPORT. THEY WERE, IT TURNS OUT, “HAJJIS,” HAVING JUST MADE THEIR KORAN-ORDERED ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME VISIT TO MECCA FOR THEIR PILGRAMAGE. THEY WERE WAITING FOR AIR TRANSPORT BACK TO NIGERIA OR CAMEROUN OR WHEREVER.

THE GUY WHOM I WAS RELIEVING PICKED US UP IN THE OFFICE SCOTTSDALE AND TOOK US TO OUR NEW DIGS. IT WAS A THREE-STORY, WALKUP APARTMENT BUILDING ABOUT A MILE FROM THE EMBASSY, ON A DIRT ROAD. WE HUMPED ALL OF OUR BAGS UP THREE FLIGHTS AND WERE SHOCKED AT THE SIZE OF THE PLACE. A THREE BEDROOM TWO BATH, APARTMENT WITH NO STORAGE SPACE, NOT EVEN A BROOM CLOSET, ALL OF THIS FOR FIVE OF US. THERE WAS A SMALL BALCONY OFF THE VERY SMALL DINING ROOM. A FAIRLY SMALL KITCHEN, WITH NOT TOO MUCH BY WAY OF MODERN CONVENIENCES. AFTER THE BAGS WERE DEPOSITED IN THE CORRECT BEDROOMS, THE DEPARTING OFFICER-IN-CHARGE INVITED ME ACROSS THE HALL TO HIS APARTMENT AND WE SHARED A COUPLE OF HIS CAREFULLY HUSBANDED BOTTLES OF TUBORG. TO THIS DAY, I’D DIE OF THIRST BEFORE I’D DRINK ANOTHER TUBORG. MORE ON THIS LATER.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

WE AWOKE THE NEXT MORNING AND WHEN WE LOOKED OUT ONTO THE ROAD, THERE WAS A DECOMPOSING GOAT.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket WE HADN’T NOTICED IT THE NIGHT BEFORE. OVERFLOWING GARBAGE BINS WERE ALL OVER THE PLACE. MY WIFE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID, “I’M NOT GOING TO LAST TOO LONG HERE.”Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket MY MAN DROVE ME OVER TO THE EMBASSY AND AS WE TURNED INTO THE GATE (NOT MAIN, ONLY GATE), A SAUDI NATIONAL GUARDSMAN SEEMED TO BE SLEEPING, WITH THE BAYONET OF HIS FN DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO SLIPPING INTO HIS ARMPIT.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket THE EMBASSY WAS A SINGLE STORY AFFAIR ON A 43-ACRE COMPOUND. THERE WERE SEVERAL BUNGALOWS THERE, OCCUPIED BY LOWER RANKING FAMILIES, THE MARINE SECURITY GUARDS’ HOUSE, AND BIGGER HOUSES, OCCUPIED BY THE AMBASSADOR AND THE DEPUTY CHIEF OF MISSION. FULLY HALF OF THE 43-ACRE COMPOUND WAS THE “GOLF COURSE” AT THE DUNES CLUB. THE DUNES CLUB WAS A SEMI-OFFICIAL TENNIS/SWIMMING/GOLF CLUB. IT WAS A SAND COURSE, AND GOLFERS HAD TO CARRY AROUND A CARPET TILE TO DRIVE FROM. THE “GREENS” WERE OILED BY A YEMENI. AND THEN THERE WAS THE CHANCERY, WHERE ALL DIPLOMATIC BUSINESS IS CONDUCTED, AND THE CONSULAR SECTION, WHERE THE SAUDI PRINCES CAME IN TO DEMAND THEIR VISAS TO GET INTO THE U.S., THERE TO DEBAUCH AWAY FROM ALLAH’S PRYING EYES.

THERE WERE ALSO WAREHOUSES, MOTOR POOL, AND OTHER BUILDING OCCUPIED BY SERVICE PERSONNEL. THERE WEREN’T THAT MANY AMERICANS WORKING IN THESE AREAS; MOST WORKERS WERE “TCNS” (THIRD COUNTRY NATIONALS) USUALLY PAKISTANIS, INDIANS, PALESTINIANS, YEMENIS (THESE LITTLE GUYS DO MOST OF THE HEAVY LIFTING IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM). THE AMERICAN STAFF SUBMITTED A “TEA LIST” ONCE A QUARTER TO THE GENERAL SERVICES OFFICER (GSO). U.S. STAFF WERE PERMITTED A “TEA SHIPMENT” LIMITED TO TEN CASES OF LOUSY DANISH BEER, A MIX-AND-MATCH ORDER OF TYPES OF BOOZE, AND TWO CASES OF WINE. THAT MAY SOUND LIKE A LOT, BUT IF ONE’S OFFICE HAD A CONSTANT FLOW OF TEMPORARY DUTY TYPES, IT DIDN’T GO VERY FAR. THE MARINE HOUSE HAD THEIR OWN ALLOWANCE, AND THEY SOLD THE BEER, ETC., TO AMERICAN EXPATS AND EMBASSY STAFF IN ADDITION TO VARIOUS MILITARY PERSONNEL IN/AROUND JEDDAH.

WHEN THE GSO WAS ALERTED THAT THE “TEA SHIPMENT” HAD ARRIVED AT THE ISLAMIC PORT, HE DISPATCHED A FLATBED TRUCK TO TAKE ON THE LOAD. THE CRATES, STENCILLED “DIPLOMATIC SHIPMENT FOR THE AMBASSADOR,” WERE UNLOADED AT A GSO WAREHOUSE. THE GSO THEN CONTACTED THE OFFICERS ONE BY ONE WHO PULLED UP IN THEIR OWN VEHICLES AND LOADED THEIR ORDER, THEN SPED BACK TO THEIR QUARTERS OFF THE COMPOUND, LIKE A SCENE OUT OF “THUNDER ROAD.” ONE SHIPMENT CAME IN FOR THE BRITISH EMBASSY JUST AROUND CHRISTMAS ONE YEAR. ONE OF THEIR CRATES, LABELED “ON HER MAJESTY’S SERVICE: PIANO FOR H.M. AMBASSADOR,” FELL OFF THE BRITISH FLATBED AND CRASHED. ONE OF THE VERY FEW SAUDI CUSTOMS OFFICIALS WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR CALLED THE BRITISH GSO AND INFORMED HIM THAT THE “AMBASSADOR’S PIANO IS LEAKING. SMELLS A BIT LIKE SCOTCH.” FROM THAT POINT ON, ALL “TEA” CRATES LEAVING TRIESTE HAD TO HAVE A ZINC LINER INSIDE.

SO, WHAT ELSE WENT ON IN JEDDAH A QUARTER CENTURY AGO? THE POOL ON THE EMBASSY COMPOUND WAS THE WEEKEND (THU/FRI) SOCIAL CENTER.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket ABOUT ONCE A MONTH, ON A FRIDAY MORNING, A CONVOY WOULD FORM UP IN FRONT OF THE CHANCERY AND HEAD FOR THE BEACH. LET’S FACE IT: MOST OF THAT COUNTRY IS BEACH.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket WE COULDN’T GO TO ANY BEACHES CLOSE TO THE CITY BECAUSE THE SAUDIS PULLED UP IN THEIR LUXURY VEHICLES AND OGLED THE WESTERN LADIES IN THEIR BATHING SUITS. SO WE WOULD GO TWO HOURS NORTH OR SOUTH. WE SET UP OUR TENTS AND UNLOADED OUR “TEA” AND FOOD AND MANAGED TO HAVE A PRETTY GOOD TIME IN SPITE OF THE LOCATION.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket THE REEF, SOME OF THE WORLD’S BEST SNORKELING AND SCUBA DIVING, WAS ABOUT 3/4 OF A MILE OFFSHORE. TO REACH THE REEF, ONE HAD TO WEAR RUNNING SHOES OR FLIPFLOPS TO WALK OUT TO WHERE THE WATER WAS DEEP ENOUGH ACTUALLY TO SWIM. WE WERE ALL SORE AMAZED THAT THE RED SEA WAS SO INCREDIBLY CLEAR GIVEN THE FLEETS OF OILERS THAT PASSED BY DAILY, JUST OUT OF SIGHT, HEADED NORTH TO THE SUEZ CANAL.

SHOPPING WAS A LOT OF FUN, TOO. JEDDAH BOASTED A SAFEWAY AND OTHER TYPES OF WESTERN STORES.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket IN ONE OF THEM, THE MANAGER HAD ARRANGED THE GRAPE JUICE, NEXT TO THE YEAST, AND WHATEVER ELSE WHAT WAS NEEDED FOR THE CONTRACTORS AND EXPATS TO MAKE THEIR WINE. IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN I NOTICED A FAMILIAR LOGO, WITH ARABIC WRITING. IT WAS A WHOLE SECTION OF “FAYGO” POP, FROM MY HOMETOWN OF DETROIT. ONE THING ONE COULDN’T BUY WAS PORK PRODUCTS. WE HAD A SMALL ARMY COMMISSARY ON THE COMPOUND THAT SUPPLIED US WITH PORK CHOPS, BACON, SAUSAGE, ETC. MOST OF THE WORKERS WERE ERITREANS, CHRISTIANS BY BIRTH, WITH A TASTE FOR PIG MEAT. THERE WAS SO MUCH SHIFTY BUSINESS GOING ON THAT THE COMMANDER HAD TO ISSUE “PIG” CARDS. ONE COULDN’T BUY PORK WITHOUT THAT PICTURE I.D.

THE SUQ. OR BAZAAR AS THE SHOPPING AREA IS COMMONLY KNOWN. ON ONE STREET IN THE MAIN JEDDAH SUQ THERE WERE ONLY GOLD SHOPS.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket THE WINDOW DISPLAYS WERE DAZZLING, WITH GOLD FROM AFRICA AND RUSSIA SENT TO ITALY TO BE TURNED INTO JEWELRY BY THE ARTISANS THERE. ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, SECURITY WOULD BE OVER THE TOP, BUT HERE, THERE WAS ONE DOZING COP SITTING IN A PLASTIC CHAIR, HIS MACHINE PISTOL IN HIS LAP. SAY WHAT WE WILL ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA, THIEVERY IS NOT A SERIOUS ISSUE IN THE GOLD SUQ. LESS THAN THEIR INNATE HONESTY, IT’S THE SAUDI’S FEAR OF HARSH ISLAMIC PUNISHMENT, THE LOSS OF THE RIGHT HAND. WE WERE TOLD THAT EVEN THAT ISN’T QUITE AS WHIMSICAL AS IT SOUNDS; THE THIEF MUST BE ON HIS THIRD OFFENSE. THE SPICE SUQ, WHERE INDIANS AND PAKISTANIS HAWKED THEIR WARES IN THE HEAT, HAD A DISTINCT AND NOT UNPLEASANT ODOR, BUT THE ATTRACTED HORDES OF FLIES. ONE EVENING, I HAD TAKEN MY SON TO A JEWELER’S TO REPLACE THE BATTERY IN HIS WATCH. HALF WAY THROUGH THE TRANSACTION, THE INDIAN SHOPKEEPER WAS FORCED TO SLAM DOWN HIS SHUTTERS DURING PRAYER CALL. THE INDIAN, A NON-MOSLEM, APOLIGIZED FOR THE INTERRUPTION.

BACK IN THE DAY, THE EMBASSY COMPOUND WAS SURROUNDED BY A 10′ FENCE OF WHITEWASHED CONCRETE BLOCKS WITH LATTICEWORK THAT COULD EASILY SERVE AS FOOTHOLDS FOR PEOPLE WHO WISHED TO ASSAULT THE COMPOUND. THE SAUDI ARABIAN NATIONAL GUARD SUPPLIED OUTER PERIMETER SECURITY, AND THE MARINES HAD THE INNER PERIMETER. NOW, A QUARTER CENTURY LATER, I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT THE SECURITY WOULD BE LIKE: RAZOR WIRE ATOP THE FENCE, SANDBAGGED AND BACKED UP BY SAUDI ARMOR.

NO MATTER WHAT WONDERFUL AND STRANGE SIGHTS WE SAW DURING OUR TWO-YEAR TOUR THERE, I DEFY ANYONE TO DESCRIBE A MORE BEAUTIFUL SIGHT THAN LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW OF THE DEPARTING ALITALIA OR BRITISH AIRWAYS OR LUFTHANSA 747 AND SEEING THE MAGIC KINGDOM FADE OUT OF YOUR VIEW, BUT NEVER OUT OF YOUR MEMORY.

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Terrence M. Truax
5 October 2007

Mom meeting Richard Nixon in Jeddah in 1981.

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The return of **** **mbert, one of the Tehran Hostages. He and his family were stationed in Jeddah, and he was TDY in Tehran when it fell. The Artorius family was there 444 some days later when **** **mbert return to Jeddah.

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Dad being introduced at the Marine Corps Ball in Jeddah, November 1980.

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10 Responses

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  1. Patrick Truax said, on October 6, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Great article written by my Dad, Ax, a Senior Contributing Editor to Artorius.

  2. Patrick Truax said, on October 6, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    The formatting problem is mine, though. How does one post an article without out having to post the whole thing? What I would like to is start the thread with the opening paragraph and have a link in the post to the rest of the article. Any help would be appreciated..

  3. John Burgess said, on October 6, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    This post reminded me quite a bit of my first assignment in Saudi, to the US Consulate in Dhahran, on the other side of the country. I made frequent visits to Jeddah, though, ‘cuz that’s where the bosses were. My second tour was in Riyadh, 2001-2003, to where the Embassy was relocated in the 1990s.

    Following my retirement from State Dept., I now blog about Saudi Arabia at Crossroads Arabia.

    Blogger doesn’t have a ‘Read More’ feature that most other blogging software has. To get this function, and many others, you might consider moving your blog to the also-free WordPress.com site. I’ve used three or four different blogging programs before moving to WordPress four years ago. It saves a lot of hassles and is easy to use.

  4. Patrick Truax said, on October 6, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the tip! It’s frustrating to have to post a whole article like that. When were you in Dharan?

  5. Elizabeth said, on October 7, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Great pictures Pat!! Wow!

  6. Patrick Truax said, on October 7, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Elizabeth, did you see the one of my Mom meeting Nixon?

  7. Patrick Truax said, on October 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    It should be pointed out that my Dad wrote the article and provided the pics..

  8. John Burgess said, on October 7, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    I was living on the Consulate compound. Didn’t have any choice in the matter. Later, in Riyadh, I was in the Diplomatic Quarter, also without any personal choice in the matter. That’s where the Saudis put all diplomats.

    Luckily, for most of my time in the KSA, I could drive around freely and see whatever I wanted to see. After the 2003 bombings in Riyadh, things got a lot tighter, though.

  9. Patrick Truax said, on October 7, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    John, we are a “Diplomatic” family from the era, I think. What other overseas postings have you had? My dad, another contributor here, has posted a few articles about Africa and Cuba and the things he did there. They are earlier posts..

  10. John Burgess said, on October 9, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Besides headquarters assignments in DC, I’ve been posted to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, London, and New Delhi. I’ve also pulled TDYs in all Arab League states excepting Mauritania. Lots of TDYs in other places, of course, for various meetings, conferences, training, etc. I’ve also taken part in programs at CENTCOM, USAFB Hurlbert, and the US Army War College in Carlisle.


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