Rotary Club hears of life in Saudi

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Tuesday, Rotarian Dale Brock shared some of his experiences and reflections on the culture of Saudi Arabia during the times he lived and worked there as a mechanical engineer in the petroleum industry.  He first lived there from December 1985 through May, 1997, then a second job took him to a different area of the country from February 1989 through September, 1993. 

He described Saudi Arabia as being 4.3 times the size of Texas, with only 2.3 inches of rain per year.

He noted that he worked for ARAMCO, a company owned by five oil companies, which in 1990 became totally Saudi owned.

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He described the country as being extremely opposed to Christians and cited several instances, including the fact that in the 1930’s when they were negotiating with the king for the oil business, the king was totally opposed to Christians being there.

No Bibles were allowed unless owned by an American, and then could only own one.  He also told of a Lutheran minister living there who would come to their private homes to give communion in secret. If it had been discovered, we would have lost our jobs and been expelled from the country.

They also did not acknowledge the existence of Israel, and went to great lengths to blacken the name from any maps. If you travelled to Israel and had a stamp on your passport, you couldn’t return to Saudi Arabia. The Israelis cleverly applied removable stamps to get around that.

Brock said he once attended a party and was told he should check out the shower curtain in the bathroom. He found a large hole that had been cut out of it where Israel was supposed to be. Apparently when it came through customs, the agents had cut it out of the curtain.

He spoke at length about the treatment of women in the country. All women must be covered from head to toe in black robes when out in public. They are not allowed to drive. You are not allowed to speak to women, nor take any photos of a woman. He showed a photo of a dinner at the home of a Saudi, with whom Brock worked. Brock’s parents were visiting him. The man had six daughters and one son. The son appears in the photo, but Brock said they never laid eyes on any of the daughters or the wife.

Speaking of wives, it is apparently easy to get rid of one in Saudi. Brock said there is a divorce procedure where all the husband has to say is, “I divorce you,” three times and it’s over. The wife has to move out and loses all rights to property. The men can have multiple wives.

They pray five times a day for 20- minutes each, and all else stops during that time. During Ramadon, the Saudis are not allowed to eat or drink water during daylight hours. All the water fountains in the building were turned off and the mess halls were closed, so that the workers like Brock had to bring their own lunches.

When you went to the home of a Saudi, all meals were served on the floor on a plastic mat. Brock showed a photo of himself at a meal, where he reached for some of the roast lamb with his left hand. Left hands are considered the bathroom hand and therefore you are not to touch anything with it. Since Brock is left-handed, he would sometimes forget and cause a sensation.

Alcohol is also banned in Saudi, and Brock told of a chemical engineer in their compound who was quite adept at making their own liquor. It was 90% pure alcohol.

Likewise, drugs are strictly forbidden. Brock cited a declaration that appeared at the head of the customs information, “Possession of drugs is punishable by death.”

One peculiar custom that Brock encountered personally was the Saudi aversion to dogs. He was pet sitting for a friend in the compound, walking the family poodle, when the dog ran up to a Saudi and his wife. The man immediately backed up to his vehicle in fear and Brock wondered why he was afraid of a little poodle.  He found that if they get licked by a dog it requires spiritual and physical cleansing, or ablutions.

He also cited the severe and expedient punishment doled out to anyone who commits a crime.

Brock noted that he has recently seen some facts in Business Week, reflecting that life for women is improving somewhat. 22 percent of women in Saudi are now in the workforce, and there are now more women than men graduates from college. They still cannot drive, and still must be fully covered in public.