From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 3, Number 22 - August 28, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

4,380 Arabian Nights

by Casey Dean

Ronald Worl discovered gold in the Saudi Arabian deserts. Saudi is where he found a home he loved and a job he truly enjoyed; he found the woman he would marry in this country. He also discovered the precious metal, gold, near an ancient gold mine in Saudi Arabia.

Ron, a 1956 graduate of Pinedale High School, first headed for college with plans of becoming a veterinarian. His freshman year at Utah State, he changed his focus to geology because "I decided that rocks didn't talk back," Ron said. Gold doesn't bite, either. After completing his undergraduate studies at Utah State, he continued his education at the University of Wyoming.

Ron began his life in Saudi Arabia in 1973, working for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on a mineral exploration looking for gold. It was while in Saudi the first time that Ron found a gold mine very close to an ancient mine that King Solomon used, in approximately 3000 BC, as his main source of gold, and it was opened once again in about 700 AD while Islam was rising. Now the same area is the largest producing gold mine in Saudi Arabia.

In 1979, Ron returned to Wyoming on an assignment in the Bridger Wilderness area before going back, in 1996, to Jedda, the closest city to Mecah. This time Ron was in charge of a scientific organization under contract with the Saudi government. This contract, which started in 1963, provided geological scientific support for the Saudi government and just ended in 2001.

The organization Ron was heading was made up of about 10 Americans, 400 Saudis and 50 non-Americans and non-Saudis. While living there the second time, Ron realized this was where he truly loved to live and found his second and third gold discoveries.

Ron met Alison Huff in Saudi and the two fell in love. Alison worked as a nurse at the King's Hospital since November of 2000. She had spoken with friends who worked in Saudi while she lived in America, and they gave glowing reports.

"I thought about it for about 20 years," Alison said, before she took the plunge. The King's Hospital is an excellent place to work, as employees are given housing and she made many friends in the area. They do not pay taxes on their earnings, either, so Allison had virtually no bills while working in Saudi.

"The King's Hospital is like walking into a five-star hotel," said Ron. This hospital is used by the king and royal family, and the royal section is even more extraordinary than the rest.

Ron and Alison, both avid divers, often traveled to the Red Sea for weekend stays; Ron said that the Red Sea is one of the best places for deep-sea diving in the world.

Because visitors are not allowed to dive in the Red Sea, they found that they rarely had to share a dive site.

Ron and Alison were also members of the Jeddah 'Hash House Harriers,' an international running group. This group would put together hound and hare walk/runs weekly. After trailing an individual who left misleading tracks, the group would enjoy water and oranges in the desert before heading back for a potluck.

The two frequently camped in the desert as well, to escape the city, running into nomads and isolated families fairly regularly.

"The people live everywhere," Ron said.

They traveled the area regularly, taking in as much as they could, and agree that they had a wonderful time in Saudi Arabia, and thoroughly enjoyed their way of life.

Their relationships with the people of Jeddah were very comfortable, but "it is so different, I can't even explain it," Ron said. "There were people I knew from the early 70s who still do not precede me through a door," he said of several friends from the area.

The Saudis always treat you like their guest. One man would say outright that he would lay down his life for Ron and Alison. Both Ron and Alison speak a little Arabic. Though English has been taught in schools since the early 60s, both encounter those who speak only Arabic in work and social situations.

"I just speak a little, Ron can carry on conversations with people," Alison said, but she only needs to know a bit for situations in the hospital.

Ron remembered attending formal dinners "probably every other night," to honor individuals with plaques, even for minor accomplishments. "Some guy might get a plaque for showing up to work three days in a row," Ron joked. Because Saudi is a mixing pot for people from around the world, Ron and Alison now have friends from just about everywhere.

The Saudis lead a very different lifestyle than that of Americans, and unless met with an open mind, "they can drive you nuts," Ron said.

For example, the Saudis Ron worked will "never tell you bad news ... they just tell you what you want to hear," because they hate to disappoint anyone.

In the Saudi culture "Words have meaning. Words have power," Ron said, as was demonstrated by the information minister telling the press what the people want to hear. This may be "total B.S. ... and everyone knows it, but they believe it," Ron said. One simply has to "read between the lines," of what is being said to understand the truth.

Religion is also very different from that in America, as the government is run by religion. Because of this, there are many rules and restrictions placed on non-Muslims. Christians may practice their religion, but only in the privacy of their own home, not in a group, and they must not attempt to convert anyone to a Christian religion.

Alison spoke of Bibles and other religious literature being confiscated at customs in airports, and Christian services were raided and deported. Some religions, such as Hinduism, are not tolerated whatsoever. The only thing about Saudi Arabia Ron says he will not miss is the prayer call, beginning each morning an hour before sunrise, and continuing through-out the day.

Alison was not very comfortable with the restrictions placed upon her because she is a woman. In Saudi, women do not drive, and there is no mixed company permitted unless the two are married.

But Ron and Alison said that the living experience was "really unique and quite fun."

The pair are both in love with the country, and truly enjoyed living there. The recent war in Iraq, though, posed a difficult situation for all Americans in the area. Of the 12 years he lived in Saudi, "I enjoyed 11 1/2," Ron said. Tensions between the people became very extreme in the last six months, and Ron and Alison told of how they exploded in light of the recent conflicts.

Alison was told not to go out at all, and never went out alone.

"You didn't want to be on the streets" Alison said. She wore an abaya, which is a black covering Muslim women wear over their shoulders, and carried a scarf, in case she was asked to wear more of the traditional Muslim women's clothing. She did not have to wear a scarf or veil under normal circumstances, but when the tensions were high during the war, she always wore a covering while traveling. "You didn't want them to know you were American," she said. Fortunately, Ron and Alison never had any problems with the people. Americans were constantly warned to remain vigilant and aware; the government kept them well informed. Politics, of course, were never discussed in the hospital, but Alison came across a wide range of beliefs and views. There were those patients who declared their support for Osama bin Laden, "talking about how he was such a great guy," Ron explained that the sentiments of many of the people is that although Hussein was terrible, he was theirs, and they would have solved the problem themselves. Many of the people there feel it was not America's place to intercede. Saudis' sentiments concerning Palestine led to ideas that America chose to force its way into the area, not only because of the oil, but also because Palestine wanted the U.S. there.

Saudi Arabia is much like America, in that people come from everywhere and the population is very mixed. Saudi hosted a great deal of guest workers from countries all over the world, including the Philippines, Pakistan, India, Palestine and America.

"There are good people and bad people, just like anywhere else," Ron said.

In February, Ron was locked down, told not to travel unless going directly to work or the console. Ron and Alison found that the anti-Americanism became very strong, but it was "mostly all right with people we knew," as friendships remained strong throughout.

In the last six months, they were in Jeddah, where the two witnessed a great deal, and truly experienced the attitude of many of the people. No one really knew what may happen from day-to-day, or how the conflict would affect them. Upon entering the embassy, cars were searched thoroughly, with bomb-sniffing dogs and detectives abound. There were truck-mounted machine guns guarding the compound where Ron lived, as the compound was a prime target of terrorism and attacks.

"The scary thing was, that we needed the protection," Ron said. The guards providing protection gave a sense of security, but were also a frightening sight. After awhile, "the tension gets to you," Alison said of the last few months in Saudi.

Ron is sure that the atmosphere will return to the way it was when he enjoyed living in Saudi Arabia, simply that "it was a major clash of cultures and we were in the middle." They hope to return someday on vacation, perhaps with a group when everything has quieted down a bit. As far as living in Saudi again, though, "No," Ron said, "we're done."

They agree they could have stayed longer, though, had the circumstances been different.

All American non-essentials and dependents were ordered to leave the country when relations became too risky. As Ron had planned to retire and return to America at the end of June, he and Alison simply took a six-week vacation before returning to Pinedale. On their last day in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, they took part in a Fourth of July celebration on June 5.

The Hash House Harriers running group is made up of people from all over the world, so each nationality takes a day out of the year to honor their country. On June 5 before Ron and Alison left, the Americans hosted a hot dog and hamburger July Fourth celebration.

During their tour of Europe, the two spent several days in Germany, where the two noted the "Pace" signs hanging from windows and shop signs. After asking around a bit, they found that the German word for peace is "pace," and this was their way of protesting the war Ron and Alison had just left.

After Europe, Ron and Alison departed for South Africa, for their safari and wedding. They met family members in Zimbabwe for a reunion of sorts, and a grand total of 11 family members were present for Ron and Alison's traditional bush wedding in the African desert.

As part of the June 26 ceremony, the two exchanged impala skins, symbolic of giving one another warmth for the rest of their lives, and drank from ostrich eggs, which represented a cleansing of their pasts.

After a safari in South Africa, the two settled in Pinedale in Ron's mother's old house about a month ago.

Since their return, Ron and Alison have seen two people they met in Saudi. Ron has remained in touch with friends he first met on his original trip to Saudi as well. Now that they have settled, Ron and Alison plan to simply relax, and travel leisurely. Alison has not yet retired, and recently began working in Salt Lake City three days each week nursing in a Primary Children's Hospital. The two hope she may be able to take traveling assignments, heading to the mountains during ski season and south during March, April and May.

Ron keeps his gold with him still, memories of Saudi Arabia and hopes to return, with Alison by his side.

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