The Aramco flight from New York bounced to a halt on the Dhahran airstrip. Nancy Gray joined the press of bleary-eyed passengers struggling down the ramp toward the arrivals hall. Gasping for breath in the 122-degree heat and blinded by the glare of the sun on the desert sands, she wondered why she'd accepted employment in Saudi Arabia in the first place.
The chance to explore the "storied" Middle East and the promise of a fat paychecck to finance her ambitious travel agenda had won her over. Her contract guaranteed her salary, but her rosy vision of a Middle East decorated with well-mannered camels, Moorish palaces, and swaying palm trees required a reset even before she cleared Immigration and Customs.
Meanwhile, beneath a paper-thin layer of surface calm, Saudi Arabia and it neighbors were navigating through turning points in their own history. Traditional versus modern lifestyles, religious/ethnic tensions, unresolved refugee problems, the role of foreign business interests in the Middle East, and post-colonial issues in the region were becoming as divisive then as they are now.
Intent on absorbing as much as she could about current issues in the region and their historical roots, and armed only with a smattering of mostly self-taught Arabic, Nancy Gray took advantage of every spare moment for travel, while keeping up with her Aramco job, teaching piano, and operating a catering business. Follow her as she visits sites of historical interest, learns the unique features of oil-camp-expat life, teaches Arab women to operate treadle sewing machines, makes Arab friends, interviews and learns from refugees, bargains in the suqs, and even figures out how to make flambe dishes in bone-dry Saudi Arabia.
About the Author
When Nancy Gray arrived in France as a Fulbright Scholar in 1954, the pros and cons of independence for the predominantly Muslim French dependencies in North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) dominated virtually every front page and café conversation.
Without the slightest hesitation, she scrapped her existing Christ-mas-travel plans in favor of a fact-finding tour of French North Africa. When she returned to Paris, she haunted bookseller's shops in search of literary and political works by North African writers available in French. Little did she imagine then that within a short six years, she would be living and working in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islamic culture.
A five-year participant in the Yale Writers' Conference memoir group, Nancy Gray is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (London) in recognition of her many exploratory journeys in the Mid-dle East and other parts of the developing world.