National Geographic : 1945 Oct
Guest in Saudi Arabia BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author CIRCLING Jidda, Red Sea port for holy Mecca, our swift plane touched the soil of Saudi Arabia, where erstwhile camel drivers handle mighty machines and whose absolute ruler, His Majesty Abdul Aziz al Saud, bows to the will of Allah. Not even Ellis Island, that other gateway to Paradise, is more yearned for than this tall, walled city, between blue water and yellow sand (pages 464, 466, and 470). Here, in crowded dhows, Mohammedan pil grims come ashore robed in snowy bath towels and proceed to Mecca, toward which they have directed their prayers five times a day for a lifetime. Except to such faithful hadjis, united by the democratic brotherhood of Moslem pilgrimage, Arabia only yesterday was an isolated land.* Today it is pumping crude oil through a sub marine pipeline to the refinery on Bahrein Island and shaping high-priority equipment into a great new refinery at Ras at Tannura. With side trips totaling nearly a thousand miles, I recently crossed Saudi Arabia in less than three weeks (map, page 469). Terrors of Thirst and Sand In a land where trails are dotted with the skeletons of fallen camels, where thirst is an ever-present terror, and men are still lost in swirling sands, a camera-toting war corre spondent would not get far without friends. Thanks to His Majesty, to Col. William A. Eddy, to Karl S. Twitchell, and to others, what had seemed a formidable undertaking proved to be a delightful and revealing trip. Travel in this forbidding land is quite safe, and as sure as tired motors and worn tires can make it. Saudi Arabia is made hospitable by princely people, but one must be a guest to travel there at all. So I "hopped in" when in vited to share the joy of the open road. First-aid kit, halazone tablets, and insect powder were not necessary. The head shawl of the Arab proved better protection than my favorite sun helmet. My nose did not peel, nor did my lips crack, as on former desert trips in Sinai and the Gobi. Sunglasses protected my eyes. The emergency camera I had bought in Cairo-for heat, humidity, and wind-tossed sand are enemies of good photography-was never out of its case. But a guest of the King must take no chances. Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. Such wealth as the frugal Arab never dreamed of now wells up from the sterile sands. Wise strategist that he is, the Arabian monarch finds his kingdom, which holds the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, caught in a cross fire of importunate demands. "Oil!" pleads a mechanized world. "Water!" cries thirsty Arabia, parched by the sun. "Bread!" beg cameleers supplanted by 6 wheel trucks. A Desert Is Vanishing If Arab workmen can perform the miracle of turning oil into water (page 481), parts of the great Arabian desert may vanish as did the Great American Desert. But material progress is subject to the un written law of Islam-"If Allah wills it so." To one who has enjoyed, as I have, the fel lowship of Moslems from Afghanistan to Algiers, and from Sumatra to Samarkand, the Saudi Arab is a living reminder of the days when earlier Moslems swept into Spain and India, leaving Alhambra and the Taj Mahal as incomparable souvenirs. Before leaving Washington, I conferred with Lt. Col. Harold B. Hoskins, son of Dr. Frank lin E. Hoskins, distinguished missionary-geog rapher of Beirut (Beyrouth).t On the blinding airfield at the edge of the desert I was met by the American Minister, Col. William A. Eddy, a Distinguished Service Cross leatherneck of World War I, whose son had just led his Marines with distinction at Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima (page 472). A few weeks before, when rich Oriental rugs and an Arab tent went to sea on an American destroyer, Colonel Eddy had translated at the conference on February 14 between the first King of Saudi Arabia and the fourth-term President of the United States (page 462). I had expected blistering heat at Jidda, but Legation attaches stood bareheaded in the sun or wore brimless skullcaps as foundations for head shawls or turbans. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "An Unbeliever Joins the Hadj," by Owen Tweedy, June, 1934, and "Pilgrims' Progress to Mecca," 22 ills. in duotone, November, 1937. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Rock City of Petra," May, 1907, and "Route Over Which Moses Led the Children of Israel Out of Egypt," December, 1909, both by Franklin E. Hoskins.