You've spent the day trekking across the sand dunes, dodging Bedouin shepherds and their camels under a searing desert sun.
You would give anything for a cold beer and, maybe, a bagel and lox.In Saudi Arabia, you can forget about the beer, at least the alcoholic variety. But the bagel and lox are a cinch at the Tamimi Plaza, just across the buzzing traffic on the corniche from the Persian Gulf.
You can get anything you want in the dozen or so shops that make up this desert oasis of American culture, whether it's gourmet goat cheese, Kentucky Fried Chicken, L.A. Gear tennis sneakers or a German-made Bundeswehr gas mask - this month's hot item.
Cruise the aisles at the Safeway supermarket and it's as if you were shopping in Tampa, Fla., or Watsonville, Calif., or Schenectady, N.Y.: Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Pringle's Potato Chips, Skippy peanut butter, Stouffer's Lean Cuisine, Progresso soups, Land o' Lakes cheddar cheese, Ragu spaghetti sauce, Uncle Ben's rice, Kellogg's Fruit Loops.
To the smorgasbord of U.S. and foreign workers, and thousands of troops deployed in Operation Desert Shield who have wandered through the Dhahran suburb of Khobar, the Tamimi plaza can make you think you never left home.
Except that the aisles are also speckled with Arab men in robes and flowing red headdresses and their wives, swaddled head to toe in Islamic fashion with black gowns and full-face veils. And the all-day, all-night supermarket closes every couple of hours for prayer.
"Attention, Safeway shoppers. Please bring all purchases to the checkout counter now," a voice over the speaker system commands five times a day as the lights gently flicker.
Other than that the supermarket is identical to its U.S. cousins and assistant store manager Mohammed Shabir Khan, a Pakistani and Safeway employee for nine years, boasts there is virtually nothing he cannot obtain through the corporate purchasing system.
That is, except for pork products and liquor - both proscribed by Moslem law and both popular with U.S. soldiers.
"They come in and ask for the beer. I point them to the Moussy over in Aisle 11 where it's cold," said Shabir, referring to the non-alcoholic malt beverage that's become a second-best staple with the troops.
Army food managers have also found the Safeway management helpful in getting supplies like franks and beans or potato chips when they don't appear immediately through the military procurement process.
The supermarket management has balked, however, at stocking gas masks, despite the Dhahran port's reputation as a prime Iraqi target for chemical weapons. But the drugstore around the corner has picked up the slack, ordering thousands of the devices after the first 250 sold out at $160 apiece.
"It's not something we want our customers to worry about while they're shopping." said Safeway's Shabir. "We want them to enjoy."