Kuwait still seeks his computer tips SOUTHWEST Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

October 16, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The quiet woodland surrounding George M. Frank's home is far away from the warm desert sands of the Persian Gulf.

But for the 44-year-old Berrett resident, who recently received an award from the U.S. Department of Commerce for work done in Kuwait, the Middle East is as close as his vivid memory.

"I have a lot of neat memories," he said. "I really enjoyed experiencing another culture."

Mr. Frank, an employee of the National Geodetic Survey in Rockville, was sent to the Middle East in September 1991 to install a computer that would measure the air pollution caused by the Kuwaiti oil well fires.

The National Geodetic Survey, part of the Department of Commerce, makes measurements of Earth that eventually are used to determine placement of bridges, roads, homes and other structures.

"I maintain that data in our data base system," Mr. Frank said. "They needed someone to set it up, and I happened to have the necessary skills."

Two weeks after being asked, and mountains of paperwork later, Mr. Frank found himself on a plane leaving Baltimore-Washington International Airport bound for New York, London, Saudi Arabia and finally Kuwait.

But the trip wasn't that simple. During the refueling stop in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, his flight to Kuwait was canceled. Six "military types" approached him and escorted him to a waiting room.

"They told me I didn't have a visa for Saudi Arabia, so I'd have to leave the country," Mr. Frank said. "Most of them didn't speak English, and I was concerned about the six crates of equipment I had to make sure I didn't lose."

The soldiers booked him on a flight to Bahrain, a small island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, where he spent the night. He finally got to Kuwait a day later than scheduled.

"The people meeting me didn't know my plane got diverted," Mr. Frank said. "They were really wondering where I was."

The visit was more pleasant once he reached his destination, he said.

"The people were real friendly, and I was invited to some of their homes for dinner and some of the various parties they had," he said. "I became really close to some of them."

For example, a Kuwaiti invited him to one of the nightly male social gatherings in his neighborhood. Later, when speaking to an American who had lived in Kuwait for 10 years, he learned that outsiders rarely attend these sessions.

"He said, 'They must have really liked you. I've known Westerners who have lived there for years that were never invited. It's a real privilege,' " Mr. Frank said.

"Once you really started talking with them, you realize they're just like one of the guys," he said. "One of them invited me to have lunch with him on a Friday, and when I got there he had a satellite dish and was watching the football game."

In fact, the Kuwaiti people asked him to stay for two years to help them learn the computer system.

"They said to me, 'How did you know so much? We'll never learn all of this,' " Mr. Frank said. "I told them they'd learn it by working with it."

After a bit of negotiation, he finally agreed to stay an extra week. The father of three -- Jeremy, 15; Melissa, 14; and Jennifer, 13 -- didn't think his wife Barbara, 44, would want to move their family to the Middle East.

So, Mr. Frank settles for staying in touch with his new-found Kuwaiti friends by phone and waiting for a chance to visit.

"They just called me up with a computer problem, and it took me four hours over the phone to get them up and running," he said. "But, they said they may come to the States and visit me while they're here.

"I'm hoping that they will."

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