Letters Home 3

LETTERS HOME 3 – 1960-1961 – from Keith Wheeler


Not great works of literature – Devoid of refined or eloquent writing style – These letters home are presented with only minor editing for general interest and basic clarity.  They represent the observations and impressions of a 24 year old drafted GI as he wrote to parents and friends in the States.

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

6 January 1961


Dear Mom & Dad . . .

            Tis a beautiful, clear Friday in Riyadh - - - It’s cold, but I feel wonderful – I have some time Off!!  I hardly know what to do with myself.  I brought my little office home with me this weekend (as before) with expectations of working, but as my boss, Colonel Croonquist, returned from Dhahran this morning, he brought tidings of great joy – “We can take a little time off!”  By the way, he’s a great fellow – fairly young for his rank – a very tall, energetic type of a man – a graduate of the Arabic language course of the Army Language School (Monterey) – and one of the few officers here who is really interested in the country, etc. and has a great, sincere concern for the people and their life - - his only problem is similar to that of mine, although greatly magnified because of his higher responsibility, and that is being in the G-3 Section which brings our small group (3 ranking officers, a Master Sergeant & myself) a heavy work load, high priority project, plus many related activities and programs.

            And now, to have the time to write you, I don’t know where to start.   Quite a bit of time has passed since last I had time to really sit down to write you, and as the few notes I did send were written in such haste, I can’t remember what I said.

            I shall dispense with any further mention of the holiday season.  Now that it is over and past, it doesn’t seem so bad – It just wasn’t Christmas here (in most respects,) which objectively is understandable and should have been expected.  I just want to thank you both for all you did for me this year – and also, would you thank Janice, Jim and their wonderful family for their consideration, and also, the rest of our family (Claire’s and Andrew’s) and friends who sent their thoughts this was - - All of this was, indeed, a great help and a lift to morale and spirit of this “G-I” – I consider myself very lucky to have such a wonderful family and so many friends!

            To bring you abreast with my activities here in this part of the world, I think I should start with my recent sojourn to the highlands of Africa. [See Winter Asmara Trip Photo Album.]

            A small group of us climbed aboard a large C-54 early the morning of the 28th  (this was a special aircraft out of Dhahran) – roared across the desolate wastelands for two and a half hours, to put down briefly at the Taif landing strip to pickup a few of the men from our detachment there – then airborne again, this time heading south-west, out over the Red Sea, across the coastal flatlands of Eritrea, and then, after another 2 ½ hours in the air, the earth started to rise to meet us, indicating that Asmara was just another few minutes away.  What a welcome sight after flying over the blankness of Arabia, then over the inactive stillness of the Red Sea and then the African coastal lands (which look, from the air anyway, much the same as the Arabian side) – then, all of a sudden, the sharp rise of the mountains appear before us – sloping from near sea level to 7-8,000 feet above in a very short distance.  Flying at 8 to 9,000 feet, the ground seemed almost to jump from so far below us to all around us in just a few short seconds.  At the same time, as we skimmed over the start of the plateau area, the landscape changed quickly from the drab, brown sand color to the soothing green of a “living” land.

            As we neared and circled Asmara, we had only a short distance to drop to the relatively small Ethiopian Airfield.  To step out of the plane here – to breathe the fresh, clean air – to look about and see trees, grass and little farms – it seemed like another world completely from the desert place we had left only a little over 5 hours before.

            Clearing customs and leaving the airport, we all went in to “Kagnew Station.”  This is a small, but important, U.S. Security Base (Army Security Agency) located just on the edge of Asmara itself.  Here we spent the afternoon, tending to several “odds and ends,” shopping in their PX (a heck of a long way to come to shop!) and visiting with some of our military friends there.

            Towards evening, five of us went into the center of town to the “Pensione Centrale” boarding house (where we had previously made reservations.)  This is about as close to a hotel as one can find in Asmara – a very plain, narrow four story building just one block off the one “main street” of the city.  It has no courtyard, lobby or office – only a sign over its one entrance indicating that there are rooms for let.  It has three or four bedrooms along a short hallway on each floor of the first three floors, with a community living room, kitchen and bathroom (which sometimes had hot water.)  At the top of the narrow stairway, on the fourth floor, is the owner’s home.  As it caters to just American and Italian clientele, it is very clean and the bedrooms are comfortably furnished with large, soft, double beds.  Of course, none of the rooms were heated.  This all might not seem like the “Ritz Carlton,” but considering from whence we came and the country we were then in, it was pleasant and enjoyable to say the least. 

            The greatest aspect of staying at this place was making the acquaintance of and enjoying the company of the owners and managers of this little hotel.  They are an attractive Italian couple in their early 50’s (but looking years younger).  They have lived in Asmara for several years now, and have just acquired this establishment.   De Col, the husband, also manages the Snack Bar at Kagnew Station.  (Incidentally, they have a daughter who married an Air Force fellow and is now living in Vallejo.)  These people were really wonderful to us.  They insisted that we all not call their place a hotel, but “our home,” and I can truthfully say that they did make us feel at home.  We spent many hours just talking and getting acquainted and partaking in good, old-fashioned relaxing.  De Col speaks very good English, along with French, German, Arabic, Ethiopian, and of course Italian – “Mamacita,” as his wife affectionately became known to us, however spoke only Italian, but even in the absence of her husband as translator, we could carry on some conversation through a little sign language and the similarity of Italian to Spanish (one of the other fellows knew Spanish too – fortunately more than myself).  Visiting with them and meeting their friends was indeed the highlight of this trip.  I could go on and on about them but saying that they are a terrific couple and truly good friends shall suffice for now.

            Getting back to our activities – That night we all went out to eat at an Italian restaurant nearby.  The Capri, as it is called, is considered to be one of the best restaurants in town, but walking into it we were greeted with only one large, high ceiling room, filled with several scattered tables.  The walls were bare and the only decoration was a small, pitiful looking Christmas tree in one corner.  It was I must admit, devoid of the atmosphere which we American associate with a good eating place.  Then the very cordial Italian owner met us, showed us to our table and then personally oversaw the preparation of the most fabulous Italian meal I have ever eaten, or for that matter, one of the tastiest meals I have ever eaten . . .  Minestrone soup, tossed salad, Lasagna (main course), cheeses, plus many delectable extras, all topped off with true Italian spumoni (ice cream).  My limited vocabulary cannot begin to describe just how delicious this meal was.  This all went to prove the rather obvious fact that the décor of a restaurant is not necessarily an indication of the grade of its true function  -  that of preparing food!  Also, the friendliness, personal service and attention rendered by the Italian owner and cooks and the Ethi waiters far out shown that of most of the State-side restaurants I’ve been in.  By the way, the complete meal cost each of us only a few cents over a dollar!

            Having spent nearly two hours there in the Capri, filling and enjoying ourselves, we returned quite satisfied to the hotel for some much needed sleep. 

            The next morning, after Mamacita had “motherly” prepared us all breakfast, the five of us took a walk around the city, slowly working our way out toward the Station.  It was a beautiful morning - clear and comfortably shirt-sleeve weather.  It would take too many pages to describe all the sights and impressions I encountered as we walked along these unusual streets.  In this year of traveling I believe I often have spoken of contrasts, well, here again I was impressed with this concept - not only the striking sharp contrast between this country and the U.S., but the contrasts between the various peoples, lives, nationalities and cultures that are represented here.  Of course the many years the Italians have been in this land of the “blacks” have left its profound marks.  The modern civilization, as it is, seems to be a “hodge-podge” of Italian (and other various European Cultures, plus the more recent influence of the U.S. (mostly via the military,) set with a background of an ancient and primitive civilization.  Therefore, in many ways, this city gives one the impression of a southern European town – yet one is still genuinely aware that he is in Africa.

            My fascination dealt mainly with the many small contrasts of their everyday life – How the primitive blended in with the modern and visa versa and where the conflict and maladjustment of this “blending” was apparent.  Also the integration of several ethnic groups into one society, each retaining their distinct identity.  The visual indication of some of this was on the streets as we met smartly dressed Europeans and equally well dressed Ethiopians – next would be a group of robed and turbaned men (resembling those in pictures of the Kasbah) – then there would be the striking view of several “bush men” natives clothed only in a large tan cloth (which is wrapped around their body over one shoulder,) no shoes and always carrying a large staff - then on almost every street corner would be a tall Ethi policeman, standing there alert, dressed in an abbreviated khaki uniform with a “safari” hat, and commanding respect by his very looks – or then there would be an Ethi, very dark skinned and marked with the facial scars of a primitive tribe, dressed in a smart business suit and carrying a briefcase – or another native, dressed in rather tattered rags but wearing a tailored sport coat, would be pedaling down the street barefooted.  Interspersed among all this would be the many Ethiopians dressed in all types and grades of clothing and the flocks of native women, some shrouded in pure white, flowing robes, exposing only their face (in sharp contrast).  These were the people we saw as we walked the streets, not to mention the beautiful girls (in all shades of tan) and the many undernourished (and often mal-formed) beggar children that constantly approached us.

            Moving from the bustling sidewalks to the busy streets, contrast was again found – this time in the varied modes of transportation.  Little foreign cars swarmed around the few large American autos (from the very latest model to the ones of ancient vintage).  Horse drawn “Gerry Carts” (which I think described before) jogged along.  All types of motor scooters and bikes sputtering and popping – and hundreds of bicycles being pedaled in all directions by all types and kinds of people - - And then to add a touch of true primitive locomotion to this seemingly wheeled mayhem, a couple of rugged looking individuals would come down the edge of the street pushing a heavy load atop a crude, wheel-barrow type of affair. 

            While still walking down one of the streets, I became aware of the different religions that play their significant role in this area - - - Not too far from our hotel and occupying a central and prominent spot in the city is the very large (and beautiful) brick and stone Catholic Cathedral.  This is an obvious sign of the Italian influence, however many Ethiopians have taken this faith.  Then in plain view, on top of a hill on the edge of town, stood the ornamental edifice of the Coptic faith.  This as you might already know, is a very prominent and influential body in this country (not only religiously, but economically and politically as well).  The Coptic ceremonies I am told are not only centered in the big towns, but are wide spread throughout the small villages, the plains and the not-too-civilized bush country.  Not to be forgotten, the powerful Islamic faith is well represented by a huge Mosque only three blocks from the Cathedral.  It marks the beginning of the Moslem Sector of the town, which we shied away from as it is not a very healthy place for Americans (especially at night.)

            These were just a few of the sights and impressions I got on this long walk.  I just hope that this might serve to give you some small idea of this city – as I saw it.  (To be even halfway complete, it would take many pages and much more talent.)

            Arriving at the Station, a few hours and a couple of miles later, we began tending to some of our other business there.  The time flew swiftly and after a good lunch at DeCol’s Snack Bar, we returned to town, this time via a pleasant “Gerry Cart” ride.

            With only a little over half of the day gone, we were all tired.  I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but it is hard for us “flatlanders” to do anything exerting at this high elevation.  Even after walking up one flight of stairs I would find myself panting and gasping for air – my legs and body just too weak to go the pace I wanted.  This low level of oxygen in the air, plus the strenuous grind of the flight, left us all too bushed to do anything more – So back to the hotel and the rest of the afternoon was spent lounging, and occasionally a cat-nap.

            The evening found us going again to the Capri for dinner – This time Raviolis – true Italian style! - - fabulous! 

            The remainder of the evening was spent walking the streets in the center of town – doing some shopping, but mostly window shopping and watching the people.  The businesses here observe something like “Siesta” hours – closing around noon and reopening from 4 to 8:00 in the evening.  This is the big shopping time, as the people are off work or in from the fields.  Even with nothing in particular to do in town, it is customary to take a stroll down the streets at night.  There seemed to be a holiday spirit in the air as people walked casually along in groups – stopping often to greet friends and talk – or to occasionally stop in one of the shops to browse.  Actually, it was a holiday time for some of the local people, but regardless of whether it is Christmas, New Years, Ramadan, or any time in between – this is one healthy form of entertainment that is universally enjoyed by these folks.  I might mention that there are some very nice (& expensive to Americans) stores along the one, well-lighted main street.  The darker, intriguing side streets offer all types of little shops, many not very clean and some no more than holes in the wall – interesting, none-the-less. 

            As the shops started to close and the crowds thinned, we made our way back to the Centrale.  There we sat and talked with DeCol and his wife for a few hours, and then retired to be to crawl wearily under the heavy blankets (it was very cold there at nights.)

            Mamacita was up early the next morning preparing breakfast and making sure that we all were up and ready to leave.  With regret we all said our good byes to her and DeCol (with promises to return there on our next trip) – Then a quick ride to the Station in a couple of tiny, European taxis.  Within an hour we had cleared there and were on our way out to the airfield (about a six mile drive.)  Customs waived us through (conveniently) with just the usual signing of papers.  As we boarded the “Desert Rat” (as our plane is named,) we were all hating to leave, and dreading the long flight back to the desert – none the less, happy that we had come. 

            Our return flight was the same, except that we also stopped in Jeddah (to refuel.)  Here we had a little trouble with the Saudi Authorities, who had all of a sudden decided not to honor our exit-entry visas – but this was circumvented by sticking close to the plane during quick refueling and taking off before they could decide what to do with all of us.

                        In final summation of this little jaunt – I can again say that it was a success, interesting, and most of all, enjoyable.  As usual there was not enough time to see or do all the things that I wanted to.  Aside from being a release from the social confines of Arabia, this place offers many interesting and picturesque places to visit – so, if I am lucky, I do hope to return again.  Next time I hope to be able to afford some of the many souvenirs that are available there.

            You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned anything on the recently publicized political situation there - - Well, I’m no political analyst by any means, nor did I have the time to delve very deeply into this matter – also you have probably read a good deal about all this in the news.  When I was there last summer the underlying rumbling of unrest was apparent (with small riots, fights and arrest going on in Asmara itself,) but still nothing anti-Selassie was said in the open.  On this trip, however, I often encountered people making derogatory statements about the current regime (and quite emotionally too.)  Although the major part of the “revolt” took place in Addis Ababa, Asmara also was in a high state of conflict.  The Americans there were quite upset, pulled in their horns, and armed themselves to make ready a protective stand if need be.  Now it seems fairly peaceful, but still the rumbling and dissatisfaction continues.  Yes, Eritrea and Ethiopia proper have joined with the rest of the explosive African countries in violently expressing their desire for changes (good or bad).  With this I shall stop on this subject as it seems there is nothing but unpleasantness in the foreign political scene these days and you probably hear your fill over the news. 

            I might say that we are still waiting and watching here in Arabia to see if our “big change” will result in a better government.  We had been aware of the strife and hidden friction going on between Saud and his brother Faisal for quite some time now.  It has been a very ticklish political situation causing many diplomatic problems.  If nothing more, we now know who to deal with.  One seemingly favorable aspect of this “change” is that the Ministers appointed by the King (to fill all the “forced vacancies” in the government) are reported to be pro-Western.

            Now getting back to the more personal . . .

            Since my trip, life here has been busy and hectic for me, but anyway the time is passing swiftly.  It’s still cold and to go along with all our other local “conveniences” – We’ve had no heat in our rooms for several weeks now.  The heaters we did have burned out the wiring and fuses in our building.  Now we just try to tape up all the windows, doors and cracks, bundle up with extra layers of clothing – and bear the cold.  As for myself, I have a helluva cold and have had it for several weeks now, but I’m not alone – everyone else seems to have one too.

            You mentioned in one of your letters that you were afraid some of your mail might have been lost in the big airplane collision - - Well I guess I was lucky – Some of the fellows here received letters that were pretty badly scorched or soaked in water – others are still looking for packages that were supposed to have been sent.

 my_corner.jpg (44232 bytes)           Also, I’ll send another picture of “my corner” along.  I took this one to show all my Christmas decorations and cards (the cards didn’t come out too plain though.)  The tapestry on the wall is a Moslem Prayer Rug, not made in Persia, but in Italy as many of the inexpensive local tapestries are.  The small tapestry on the headboard of the bed is a picture of the “Ka’aba,” the sacred center of the Islam religion in Mecca.  Both are mine.  Also of possible religious interest is the Moslem “Rosary” or “worry beads” hanging on my bed lamp – it was given to me by one of my good Moslem friends and one of my most cherished souvenirs.  To the right on the bookcase is the Christmas tree the Craig family sent.  Around the air conditioner is my bulletin board on which are all the contemporary cards received.  And in the right hand corner is the changer to my stereo set.

            Well, it seems as though I have rambled on for quite some time now - - maybe this loquacious and lengthy letter will compensate in some way for the frequent long intervals between my letters (both past and present).  It isn’t very often that I have more that just a few minutes to write you.


            In closing – I hope you are all well.  Give everyone my regards.

                                                                        Love, Keith


P.S.  If this takes several days to get post marked it’s because of the delay in getting to the Dhahran Post Office – Our planes haven’t been too dependable lately.

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

27 January 1961


Dear Mom & Dad,

            In your last letter you asked about my work – Well, this question prompted me to use this stationery.  Although my job entails too many varied aspects to elaborate on completely and I cannot explain certain areas of my work, this Arabic order is just an extract from one part of my efforts.  This is the translated copy of an order we cut, sending six important (VIP) high ranking Saudi officers to the States on an Orientation Visit.  They will visit several large U.S. Army posts plus Washington, D.C.  In our office we are responsible for sending such officers on these trips and also similar trips to our Army installations in Europe.  Also, we send several Saudi officers to U.S. Army schools each quarter.  All this involves an unlimited amount of work – elaborate preparation months in advance to their departure – clearing them through diplomatic channels – processing and obtaining visa and passport documents – notifying all concerned about travel, itinerary, etc. – briefing them on all aspects of their sojourn – cutting their orders and getting them translated – booking their flights – and on and on.  And every bit of all this administrative work is endlessly complicated by the very thing that complicates all our other efforts – namely – our remote location.   It would be impossible to imagine the enumerable problems we run up against here.  For instance – the language problem - - due to this we often run in to the problem of an officer spelling his name in phonetic English in three to ten different ways.  Often it is not easy to determine when he was born, his wife’s or mother’s “official” names or their exact ages.  Seldom can he furnish all the names and ages of his children or to which wife they belong.  I could go on and on with the different problems which might seem unbelievable or exaggerated, but suffice it to say that it is common for such little things to become extremely complicating and frustrating.  As I said in the beginning, this is just one area of our responsibilities - - from time to time I will try to let you know some more of my official activities.

            In other realms, I have been able to get out a little lately.  I think I mentioned our trip to Al Kharj and my visit to the Saudi University.  Did I mention having dinner with the American geologist and his wife? He works for the Saudi government trying to develop this country, mainly related to water resources.  I had met them several months ago and we have become fairly good friends (fellow Californians) so the other night they invited me to dinner at their place.  We had a wonderful evening, a fabulous meal and just being in their home, with it Western décor, was a great treat.  Incidentally, they are the only man and wife from America in the Riyadh area.  Also my room mate and I had dinner with a couple of our Arab friends the other night.  Although quite a switch from the meal I had at the Davis home, it was good and mainly interesting.   We dined at the home a quite prominent doctor in the Ministry of Health. His son is one of our new friends.  Their home was mainly Western in décor, with a definite European touch.  The food, however, was modern Arabic. – sheep’s liver, cheese paddies deep fried in ram’s fat, Egyptian beans (very oily and not very tasty by my standards,) potatoes similar to thick potato chips, and the usual Arabic round of bread and sauces.  This all topped off with Syrian style pastries and customary “gawwah” (coffee) which both were very good.

            Well, now I must close for this time.  Let me know the latest Corning gossip and how everyone is doing. - - when you have time that is.

                                                                                    Love, Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

3 February 1961


Dear Mom & Dad . . .

            Well, it’s Friday evening – and I’m bushed – but will try to get some sort of a letter off to you.

            First of all – I received your nice letter of Jan 23 - and now to try to answer it.  I didn’t mean to worry you when I told you about the plane – I was just afraid that there would be some mention of it in the news and as it was not too serious, it would most likely be not very informative – this is why I wanted to let you know just what did happen.  I might mention that several articles appeared in the Service papers and international ones which we get.  The whole thing is still undergoing extensive investigation and all the planes are being checked, rechecked and checked again - - as a matter of fact, we have not had our support flight (Desert Run) for several days now, as they are holding the planes in Dhahran that do not pass the more rigid specifications.

             Say, I did receive the farm magazines and have given them to Jamal.  He, his family and his friends were very interested in them and really seemed happy to get them.  Thanks a lot. 

            Also, I’m enclosing a couple of snap shots of yours truly.  They were taken with my new camera – I have been doing some work with some Air Force high speed film – and as this project was on my own time, I snuck in a few personal shots.  It’s really terrific film – but – when I developed the roll these shots were on, the developing tank broke – ripping and blotching up most of the role.  Anyway, one is taken in front of the Mission House (next to where we live) beside my Volkswagen Transporter.  This is, supposedly, my vehicle – it is assigned to me and I am responsible for its maintenance.  We in the G-3 Section use it to go to and from work everyday (by the way, I usually drive it too).  The other shot is in my office at the Ministry – no, it’s not a plush or lavish place (none of our offices there are).  It is at this desk that I tend to the administrative details of the G-3 Section relating to the operations of the U.S. Army Element and thebw2_03pe.jpg (26219 bytes) Operational and Training aspects as related to our advisory effort to the Saudi Army and its headquarters.  The bookcase in the background contains U.S. military manuals and reference material which we use for our own reference but mainly for the use of the Saudi staff officers.  Here I help them find what they might need and try to help with understanding the material, usually with the aid of the various specialists we have throughout our offices.  Also, we have quite a program whereby Saudi Government is translating many of these manuals into Arabic.   In this realm, I help the translators – trying to interpret the many phrases, terminology and expressions they are unable to understand.  Also, you might notice the film cans on top of the bookcase.  This is still another of my responsibilities – that is of requisitioning, handling, and forwarding Army training films which are needed throughout our element in our training functions.  Incidentally, I am now a qualified projectionist – although I seldom actually show the films.  Again, these are just some of my activities here – but maybe it will help you to understand some of my job.

            In closing, I might mention that the weather here has changed at least a dozen times in the last couple of weeks – one day it’s hot; the next it’s cold; then it rains, only to clear up and be beautiful a few hours later.  But all this only fits in with the rest – in this fascinating, mixed-up, and unusual country!

            Here’s hoping you are all well - - I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you again - - -Thinking of you always . . .

                                                                        Love, Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

10 February 1961


Dear Mom and Dad

            Another one of those Friday “Fast Notes” - - - Yes, another week has passed in Saudi Arabia and the month of February is swiftly passing.

            Of interesting news, this week has been rather uneventful.  The big thing related to my work is that the Master Sergeant with whom I work left for the States and his replacement has not arrived, leaving me with all the enlisted men’s work to do in our shop - - Needless to say, I’ve been busy.

            I received your letter of 30 January and was glad to hear from you - - - we went close to two weeks without getting any mail in.

            Say, could you check with the Millions and see if, by chance, Marla Ann in Lebanon might have mentioned ever receiving any mail from me?  When I first went to Beirut I wrote the Khayats first, but when I was there they hadn’t yet received it - - - since then I have written them a couple of times with no answer.  I know that they are both busy with many other things to do, but I’m afraid that my letters might not have made it through to them.  I do understand that the mail service between here and there can be very dependable.   It’s getting time now to start making my plans for a leave there and I would like to let them know that I am coming this time.

            As of yet, I am not sure if and when I will take this leave, but I hope possibly sometime in March.  I would like to take about 10 days there and would like to include in this a trip to Cairo and Damascus, but I’m afraid my finances will limit my aspirations there.

            I thought I would send along this “test strip” coming out of some of my photographic efforts - - It’s not a good picture but we are short on photo paper here and this would otherwise be thrown away.  This is one of my recent projects with the Saudi Arabian Army School of Languages (the advisory andbw2_06pe.jpg (49730 bytes) administrative responsibilities of this school fall under our office).  This group is the class currently undergoing English instruction in our Electronic English Teaching Laboratory.  These are all Saudi officers with the exception of the two in civilian clothes – the fellow with the suit and tie is Don Haddad, an American contract technician and instructor, who works and lives with us – the other with glasses is an instructor from Lebanon.  I have been taking several inside shots of the Laboratory and the school facilities (with the high speed Air Force film) and of course I had to take a group shot of the class which, in turn, necessitated making copies for all.  I might mention that I am soon to gain the official title of “Photograph NCO” of our unit here.

            Well, I guess that’s just about it for this week.  Until next time . . .

                                                                        Love, Keith

LETTER – from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

18 February 1961 - Saturday


Dear Mom & Dad . . .

            Well – I’m a day late with my usual “Friday Report from the Land of Sand” – I just didn’t have time yesterday to get anything done.

            Two occurrences during this past week marked it with significance.  First was the departure to the States of my good friend and room mate, Bill Cathcart from New Jersey (I believe I have mentioned him before).  For myself, I hated to see him go – but he has served his time here and was more than anxious to return to the States.  He has been reassigned to an Army post near Newport News, Virginia, where he will serve out the remaining 16 months of his Army career.  If things work out for him, he plans to be married during his leave time.  Seeing these fellows return to the States is one of the distressing aspects of this type tour, that is, living as close as we do here, we all get to know each other very well and make close friends – then comes the time for one to leave, and although everyone is happy for him, we all realize that the chances for ever meeting again are pretty slight.  Such is life in the Army and Arabia!  Anyway, I shall miss him, as now I am alone in my little cubical, at least until next month.  The solitude I don’t mind at all, however, as I always have more than enough with which to occupy myself.

            Secondly, and of possible interest to you, is that Thursday, the 16th marked the beginning of “RAMADAN.”  This is the Islamic religious month (& a regular month on the Arabic calendar) in which all good Muslims pray and fast during the daylight hours of every day, eating only after sundown.  The religious significance of this I am told is to test and reassure one’s faith in Allah, to purify both mind and body, and to make one know how it feels to be without food.   This latter aspect makes one more able to sympathize with those who have meager subsistence.  This is the major time for charity and giving to those less fortunate.  The end of this month is celebrated by a time of feasting and giving thanks to God.  Incidentally, my Arab friends refer to this as “their Christmas.”  Obviously, Ramadan is a sensitive time here in Saudi Arabia, where all Arabs must observe this month of self sacrifice.  It, therefore, makes it even harder than usual for us in our positions.  Because of hunger, even the most congenial Saudi can now be very touchy.  We should not smoke, eat, or even chew gum in front of them.  Although most of the businesses, including the Ministries, are still operating (on reduced hours,) less is accomplished by them.  This also means that our support falls.  Of course, being a headquarters and having much to do which is not directly related to the Saudis, we still keep busy.

            One other thing I might mention that I found interesting was the reaction of some of the Saudis to the recent eclipse, this past week.  Not knowing the scientific reason for it, some religious leaders called “matawahs” thought it a sign from Allah that He was not pleased with the lives and actions of the people and nations.  Therefore, with the usual club in hand, the Matawahs went around closing all the businesses, schools, etc., and forced everyone to pray until the full sun was “returned” to them.  If the sun did not reappear, it would be an indication that the world was doomed.

            And so, this has been the past week in the capitol of this land which is very different from ours.  The weather report is again one of variation from cold to hot, and including a couple of good, old fashioned, Arabian dust and sand storms.

            Well, it’s late and time to hit the rack - - - I’m sure there was more that I wanted to say – but – the old thinking machine is getting tired.  Goodnight and love to all . . .



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