Much of the world’s oil comes from Saudi Arabia, and it now accounts for 92% of the country’s budget.
It began in the 1930s, when Standard Oil of California began breaking ground for oil in the country. Working with the Saudi government, SOCAL agreed to employ Saudi nationals within the country, “as far as practicable,” as the contract stated.
As American geologists began to also work on the site, they found their new life in Saudi Arabia was foreign to them in many ways. In response, the company, whose name was changed in the 1980s to Saudi Arabian Oil Company — or Saudi ARAMCO — built a compound that imitated the look and feel of an American suburb.
There, Americans working for Saudi ARAMCO could raise their families in a more familiar setting. Photographer Ayesha Malik was born and raised inside the Saudi ARAMCO community in the 1990s, and her new book, “ARAMCO: Above the Oil Fields,” explores her experience there.
Those who live there often refer to themselves as “Aramcons.”
In an interview featured inside the book, Malik reflects on the positive experience she had growing up inside Dhahran.
“The Americans did not come to colonize,” she said. “They came to work, on Saudi Arabia’s terms, and they stayed because the company provided them with the comforts of home, and along the way, they also developed this warmth and love toward the comforts of Saudi Arabia.”
“It isn’t just the American thing that makes this place so memorable. It is the Saudi thing and so much more, this graceful meeting place of the familiar and something you can’t quite explain,” she said.
Archival photos from Malik’s childhood are also included in the book. Here, she poses after her dance recital.
Malik also noted that life was different for women inside the community when compared to women outside. Saudi Arabia is notorious for its restrictions on women’s freedoms. “The fact that in Saudi Arabia, in this place, we can wear what we want in public, and drive — it is a different world,” she said.