Richard of Arabia, Richard Ellis’s Life In 15 Passports
Text & Pictures by Krissy Ellis, Kuwait
I got in touch with Krissy while she was posting a picture of twelve UK passports and this pic made me curious, so I contacted her. Krissy was so kind to write about her father’s life who was working as “Heavy Goods Vehicle Driver” in the Middle East. For sure a challenging job at such places and time. Here is his story which is at the same time also some kind of a memorial of Richard for family & friends. Dear Krissy, thank you very much for all your efforts to share this great story with us.
Richard Ellis or as we recently nicked named him “Richard Of Arabia” who’s love affair with The Middle East began in 1978 when he took his first international trip to the unknown Desert Land of Saudi Arabia. Sadly he now rests in peace in the Kuwait Christian Cemetery in an area called Sulaibikhat. This austere desert environment was where his adventures in the Middle East began and where he ended his life’s journey … He was determined to return to Kuwait one last time and I believe the flight from South Africa to Kuwait; he knew deep down was to be his last journey; but he was going home.
Since I was a little girl I have always been fascinated with my father’s passports and all the strange looking stamps, I was always very amused by the funny ‘dated’ passport photographs. Even to-date I get excited when I get a new stamp in my own passport, I am a traveler, just like he was. I am always excited to see what the next destination has to offer, different cultures to understand and languages to be learnt.
We didn’t have the ordinary family holidays to Spain or Disney Land… We would be in villages in Romania, spend Christmas’ in Czechoslovakia or take road trips back from Istanbul back to England in his truck. Before dad passed I had asked him to go through all of his passports with me and help me plot out some of the routes across Europe in the late 80’s and 90’s we had traveled as a family, unfortunately dad was made one of God’s Angels far too quickly, he passed away January 24th 2014 at the age of 63.
My father loved life and would always say that he had lived the life of two men, and that he most certainly did. He touched so many lives throughout the years, at the condolences held in Kuwait for him, there were numerous visitors from fifteen different countries. Thankfully he left a tale or two… I came across the following; my father’s own story of how it all began.
Where it all began
I thought it was the heat from the engines when I disembarked from the 747 at night, but soon found out that it was not the heat of engines but the summer heat, it was still 30°C at night. I walked to the small dirty arrivals terminal to find customs officers speaking a language I had never heard before; there was no queue discipline, he with the longest arm was getting served first, scruffy customs officers with dirty shoes with no laces. It all felt strange. Keep moving forward looking for a friendly face to eventually see, someone holding a board with my name on it. Adnan and I traveled to the villa in the dead of night, outside there was a small hut with someone sleeping inside, it was home made from wood with a corrugated tin roof which was held in place by the odd stone. I was shown to my quarters; upon entering the room, the smell of unwashed sweaty bodies hit me. Sharing a room with three others guys was strange and something I hadn’t experienced since I was a child.
The primitive AC was made from reeds where water ran down them and an external fan blew cool air into the room, I was not comfortable with the mosquitoes, and geckos on the dirty white washed walls, I had never experienced them before. I drifted in and out of sleep to be woken by loud voices, but the language was English. I was greeted by three experienced truckers who had been here for some time, I was a green horn who had only held my HGV license for less than a year and never been beyond the shores of the UK. This was where I had wanted to be, it was the place I had plagued my good mate to get me a Job. I had arrived in this strange land they called Saudi Arabia. I had thought I was a driver, but very quickly found out that I knew almost nothing. It was here that the adventures and changes to my life began.
The Early Weeks
Weeks had passed since my first arrival in Saudi Arabia, I had still not become accustomed to the dirty surroundings, the cockroaches, mosquitoes and geckos, there was no air conditioning in the trucks per say, and the one’s which had air conditioning only worked intermittently. The dust, the searing heat was at times unbearable, being woken at night by the sweat running down your face which felt like a fly crawling on your skin, and the constant diarrhea and the lack of facilities to shower, yet there was something unique about this place. I was learning more and more each day about myself and the culture of the people. I was also earning as much each month as a General Practitioner back home, which was unbelievable! I had the drive and the determination to succeed and replace all I had lost in my divorce with something better.
The contrast in the way the Saudi’s went about their lives was unbelievable. The “Inshallah” relaxed attitude of tomorrow/ bokra will be soon enough, compared to the “no time to wait or give way” when they were on the roads, this is something that has not changed even today as I write.
The constant sounding of the horn, the impatience of the drivers made me crazy, the stupidity of the drivers with their inability to recognize danger and the constant knowledge that if I became involved in an accident it would be my fault for being here, the mentality at that time was, “if you as a foreigner had not been there, then the accident would not have happened” but my will to achieve and survive never faltered. Apart from being on the roads there was no real dangers in Saudi Arabia, we never locked the vehicles, we never even locked the doors to the villa. Away from the villa and on the road, we slept at night with the truck doors open or on top of the load, some of the guys even rigged up a hammock under the trailer and the braver ones even slept on the desert floor, but not me.
My system had now become more accustomed to the change in diet and the diarrhea was not so frequent, and my weight had reduced by more than 8kg in less than a month. I had started to learn a few words of Arabic, the numbers, the greetings and niceties etc. It was time to brave the roadside cafes, as I was confident that I could order my food in Arabic. The waiter came to the table and I ordered an omelet in what I considered was good Arabic, only to receive liver and onions. Oops here comes the diarrhea again… still got a lot to learn and many more mistakes to make.
Meeting so many experienced drivers in those early weeks in Saudi, I soon realized that I knew very little about trucking and transportation and yet, most of the drivers I met were prepared to help and teach me things I never knew about the world of transport. There would be times when they would make jokes at my expense, as it was obvious to them, that I was a novice and I never pretended to be anything but that. I would listen to their tales and experiences with awe, each trying to outdo the other with their stories, some of which, I now feel were slight exaggerations, but wow to this novice the stories sounded fantastic, they would tell me of their experiences driving overland from the UK to Saudi and I wanted that experience, I wanted to do what they had done, I was hungry to learn.
Prior to my arrival in Saudi, I had never changed a wheel on a truck and certainly never repaired a puncture on the side of the road, I didn’t know what a Trilex 3 piece wheel was and certainly would not have known how to split one and put it back together, but I was listening, watching and learning from what I considered to be “the masters”. As each day passed, I was serving my apprenticeship, I was the boy in their eyes, but I was also like a sponge, just soaking up information and knowledge.
In the early weeks I was mainly running between Riyadh and Dammam on the old road, fighting to get passed trucks loaded with 70 tons of bagged cement, always watching for the chance to overtake and remain alive. The journey was approximately 7 hours on the old road and the night drive was horrendous, I had never encountered such stupidity on the roads either day or night, at times having to partially leave the road to avoid the 20 foot container coming towards me being carried sideways on the trailer without marker lights. The accidents and deaths on that old two-way road from Riyadh to Dammam were unbelievable; the desert littered with accident damaged vehicles that served as sorry epitaphs for the unlucky drivers. It was while I was in Dammam that I first came across Rynart Transport, the drivers were mainly Turks, with the exception of an English guy who later, tragically got killed on the OGEM construction site in Dammam, named after the Dutch company that built it but now known locally as Wow City.
Like many of the other drivers I had met in Saudi, most of the Rynart drivers were overland drivers who appeared to have been everywhere that I had not been, but then, prior to Saudi I had never been anywhere; this was my first time outside of England. The Rynart Turkish drivers were true professionals who treated me with the utmost respect, their hospitality was like I had never experienced before in my life. Even though, they must have known that I didn’t have the same level of knowledge and experience as they had, it didn’t matter to them. They were always polite and willing to show me a better way to do the job. I remained good friends and stayed in contact with many of the Rynart drivers for years to come and would often meet up with them on my future overland trips.
Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try”…”
In 1982 when the Iran/ Iraq conflict began my father and one of his closest trucker friends; Tony Baker were stuck in Umm Qasar Port in Iraq, they eventually escaped out of Iraq and found safety in Kuwait. Around 1986, my father had driven, what was, at that time, one of the longest over land trips undertaken, from England to Salalah in the Oman. Our local newspaper; The Newark Advertiser picked up on his story. Parents Magazine and News of the World, interviewed my Mum and Dad in 1983 under the story headings of “Husbands That Work Away From Home”.
In the 1990’s my father undertook to transport and deliver aid to orphanages scattered all over Romania on behalf of The TV Times, along with famous British Actors from the hit TV show ‘The Bill’ Additionally he and my mother arranged and managed a convoy of 20 HGV vehicles, loaded with aid cargo for delivery to villages throughout Albania. My father also transported many aid deliveries on behalf of ‘Save the Children’ ‘The British Red Cross’ and ‘The International Red Cross’ to Eastern Europe and former Yugoslavia.
In the mid 90’s he was less frequently on the road as he and my mother formed their own transportation company, but the roads came to us. When their drivers were waiting for their return loads back to Europe, there often would be a strange language joining us around the dinner table of an evening, as my mother would take pity on the drivers being stuck in their trucks for a few days idle, so would always insist they came around for some home cooking.
In the late 90’s my father became much more focused and concerned with driver training, implementing and enforcing; Safe Driving Standards, Vehicle Safety and Load Securement. This keen interest, lead him back to the Middle East, Kuwait. He was consulting for a large transportation company and delivering Defensive Driver Training Courses, for cars, buses and HGV’s. Altamia was the very first transport company to have their own Driver Training Academy in Kuwait which my father established for them. He later established a Driver Training Academy for another large transport company; (KGL) Kuwait Gulf Link. He was a wonderful teacher, mentor and inspiration too many, standing at 6’8″ he was known as Big Rick; his pure presence was enough to fill the room with awe. A Regal Man he was.
This became a more permanent project and mum joined him in the Middle East. His Projects became bigger, the demand for his services grew and the next thing you know my father was in Ghana, Africa testing, selecting and recruiting drivers for Middle Eastern Projects. But this was no ordinary recruitment process, my father would ensure he recruited only the best of the best, once these drivers arrived to Kuwait they would be put through the most grueling training process known! In addition to finding suitable drivers, my father was also conscious of the corruption within the Manpower Agents. By ensuring the drivers got a fair deal his duty often became twofold by being not only their instructor and mentor but also their father figure when they arrived in a foreign country. He often had to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure these drivers were properly taken care of and paid the agreed rates for their services. My father felt very strongly about the rights and treatment of foreign workers in the Middle East and became well respected within the Expatriate Community. His work also took him into the depths of India, the Beauty of Nepal and the poverty of Bangladesh.
His Defensive Driving Projects also took him all over the Middle East in the early 2000’s, working with the Military, Traffic Police, Transportation Companies and Oil Companies, Chevron, Kuwait Oil Company and Kuwait Petroleum. In 2013 he also returned to Saudi Arabia “Where it all began” he couldn’t believe the change in 20 years, he said that nothing was familiar accept the Arabian Hospitality and the road side Arabic Cafes.
His travels took him as far as South Africa where eventually my parents settled and lived, in between training projects. It was their paradise, their dream and yet again he followed his heart and beliefs and was very vocal with the authorities regarding the enforcement of “Safe Driving Standards” the South African daily newspaper ‘Cape Argus’ would regularly print his articles. There wasn’t a vehicle he couldn’t drive, a language he couldn’t attempt to speak or a country he wouldn’t wander to… Richard Ellis ‘A Nomad Bedouin’ in his own right.
We have found a total of 15 Passports, some of which; are actually two passports stapled together and his last passport; is currently still with my mother. Each black passport has 94 stamp pages. The first one dated: 21st October 1977 issued at Liverpool Post Office United Kingdom. The Last Dated Passport: 2nd July 2008, Issued at FCO (Kuwait British Embassy) Expiring 2nd April 2019. Passports, Stamps and Visa’s that are of interest to me & some pictures of my father over the years.
Richard of Arabia, Richard Ellis’s Life In 15 Passports