The Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center (JCEC) was the site of a recent screening of the 90 minute film documentary “HOME: The Aramco Brats Story.” The movie is comprised of a series of interviews which were filmed over a period of several years. Aramco is the Arabian American Oil Company. Aramco Brats are the children of expat workers who helped develop Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. The company's personnel and their families who lived and grew up in Saudi Arabia hold a big reunion every two years, and the interviews for the documentary were conducted at these reunions during the past decade. The project was the brainchild of three Aramco Brats who were all born and raised in Saudi Arabia. After the events of 9/11 they felt it was their obligation to tell their stories about this place they call "Home," the country of Saudi Arabia and its people that they love and respect.
What struck me about the movie was what a perfectly ordinary existence these families of Aramco had living in Saudi Arabia, while at the same time they were afforded extraordinary opportunities and privileges they would not have had if they had not accepted the challenge to move to Saudi Arabia. In many ways, they got to live the best of both worlds. Those interviewed included men and women who spent their childhoods in Saudi Arabia. Some of them were sent to boarding schools in Europe during their high school years. They fondly remembered their carefree lives with the wondrous desert as their never-ending playground and the Persian Gulf as their swimming pool. Some had moved to KSA as early as the 1930s, which must have been quite an exciting adventure. They all feel that their experiences in Saudi Arabia have given them a much broader world view and an understanding of the culture, the religion, and the Saudi people that most folks don’t have. With opportunities to travel to other countries and learn about many cultures, one woman who was interviewed said she feels that she is a citizen of the world and not just one particular place.
One of my favorite stories revealed in this documentary was the hilarious tale of two young boys many decades ago who heard the King was in town. While their mothers played bridge, they found their way over to the compound where the King was staying but were turned away by guards at the gate. Not to be discouraged, they returned a short while later, dressed in full cowboy attire complete with red cowboy hats and toy guns in holsters. At the gate, they whipped out their guns and demanded an audience with the King. This time they were allowed in. The King was charmed by their presence and spent a good half an hour enjoying the company of the young boys. Before the boys left, the King gave them each a leather pouch with ten solid gold coins inside, which even back then was worth a small fortune. The boys immediately headed over to the local candy shop and emptied their coins onto the counter. The surprised shopkeeper gave them the entire contents of the store which they hauled back to the Aramco compound and shared with their friends.
The movie was shown outdoors under the stars on the rooftop of the JCEC building. The weather was absolutely lovely with a slight breeze that at times caused the screen to ripple. The sixty attendees were quite a diverse group of expats who all seemed to enjoy the chance to meet other expats and to view a movie screening in this land where there are no movie theaters. Men and women were seated on opposite sides of the aisle from each other in accordance with the gender segregation policy followed in Saudi Arabia.
I am very happy to be a part of the "Jeddah Brats," sponsors of this event, including the JCEC, Arabian Jewel, and Nomad Arabia. Plans are in the works for future joint events like this one, so stay tuned.
(Photos courtesy of JCEC)