We arrived at the SCTA headquarters a bit nauseous. We were brought into a meeting room, asked to sit around a U-shaped conference table, and were soon introduced to Prince Sultan. The prince, who was very articulate, greeted us individually, and we thanked him for his help and for bringing us to his country. He briefly addressed us all and thanked us profusely for graciously returning so many artifacts to his country.
Following this meeting, a few of us stole away from the group to have lunch with Dr. Zahir Othman, the SCTA official who had originally contacted my grandmother and essentially formed this entire trip. A gracious host, Dr. Othman provided us with a delicious lunch at Farase Garden, a Lebanese restaurant near our hotel. During lunch, Elinor Nichols, one of the Aramco expats in our group, told a story about being stalked by a Bengal tiger while living in India. At this moment I realized that I was among truly interesting people.
Later that evening we went to the National Museum for the grand opening of the exhibit and were able to explore the massive space in its entirety. It was touching to see the section dedicated to the donations made by our group and especially moving to see my grandmother’s name on the wall next to one of her prize pieces – a nearly complete clay pot dating to 300 B.C.
After our tour of the museum, we joined a large group of Saudi nationals on a stage with Prince Sultan for a media-covered grand opening ceremony. It was quite an experience to be on the receiving end of hundreds of flashbulbs and television cameras. In the following days we'd see front-page articles about our group in all of the Saudi papers.
A Brief Reprieve
One evening following a conference we visited the al-Masmak Castle, captured by King Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
Following a quick tour with the group, I ducked out of the castle and roamed the surrounding streets, hoping to take in the culture in less of a royal environment. In wandering around I found a souq (local market) lined with shops selling clothing, spices and rugs.
A few blocks from the souq, I joined in a soccer game with some children playing nearby and then found myself outside the entrance of a mosque during evening prayer. The silence and serenity of the mosque calmed me, and I began to understand how my family had grown so fond of this land.
(continued in Part 2)