Jeff DeKonty woke up Thursday at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of a B-52 flying over his new apartment in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. It was his introduction to life at the end of a military runway.
Now the Price Waterhouse employee, who worked in Columbia and Baltimore before leaving for Saudi Arabia in November, is tap-dancing on the edge of a decision about whether to come home.
He doesn't fear an Iraqi attack on Jidda, a city on the Red Sea, about 600 miles from the Kuwaiti border, Mr. DeKonty said, but he's a little worried about the reaction of the Arab world to any Israeli involvement in the war.
"I quit taking it day by day, I'm now taking it hour by hour," he said by telephone from Saudi Arabia yesterday.
Mr. DeKonty, 28, said he went to work the morning after the war started. He and his colleagues watched a CNN broadcast, which was interrupted by Saudi censors when the word Israel was mentioned. "They would chop it off in mid-word and start showing awful patriotic films," he said.
Since then, Mr. DeKonty said, he has been going to the office as usual, working as a manager in the consulting department. "I've even managed to put in a little overtime."
At night, he said, a bunker mentality takes over. His one act of defiance has been to leave his apartment compound and go to a nearby Wendy's. "They told us to stay in the compound, but I had to get out of there," he said.
Planes take off regularly from the Jidda airport, which has been converted to a military air base, and pass regularly over his apartment "right on the end of the flight path," Mr. DeKonty said. "They get your attention no matter how soundly you're sleeping."
Most American civilians in Jidda don't fear a Scud missile from Iraq, he said, but they do fear the possibility of Iraqi terrorism and worry that some Saudis will react violently to an Israeli involvement in the war.
"I had an opportunity to talk to several Saudis today," he said. "One of them said, 'I'm on your side, but 70 percent [of Saudis] would say that if America defends Israel, we would fight the Americans.'
"Another one said, 'We are bound by Muslim law. We have accepted Americans as guests in our country so we could never turn on you now.' Taken together, they underscore the unpredictability."
Yesterday, Mr. DeKonty learned that one airline has resumed service to the West.
Knowing that he can leave makes it easier to stay along with the 25 other Price Waterhouse employees, he said.