© Mark Lowey. All rights reserved.

For centuries, Saudi Bedouins have passed down their rich oral and poetic storytelling traditions. Their elders have recounted and embellished vivid tales of bravery, skill, and family values, often over a glowing campfire in their desert encampments. Since few written records were kept, the importance of collecting these stories has not been lost to the dwindling number of aging Bedouins who first heard these stories as children.

Recognizing their historical value, Quriyan Mohammed Al-Hajri shares his family’s stories in this series of Tales of the Bedouin, as told to his friend and fellow Aramcon, Mark Lowey.

Quriyan Stories
Quriyan, Age 10.
© Mark Lowey. All rights reserved.
Quriyan Stories
Quriyan’s father, Mohammed Quriyan.
© Mark Lowey. All rights reserved.

Quriyan Mohammed Al-Hajri

In 1957, Quriyan was born deep in the desert, in the shadow of Jebel Bateel near As Sarrar, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. The stump of a tree and an old oil can remain as the only markers of the spot where his mother gave birth, alone under the stars, a respectable distance from their family tent.

Later, his family moved to a small house in Old Ain Dar. Quriyan first became acquainted with Aramco at age 10, when his Saudi school’s third-grade class went on a field trip to a drilling rig five kilometers from Ain Dar. He and his classmates were welcomed and shown a safety video and given snacks. Impressed by the workers and their busy activity on the rig, Quriyan was inspired to join Aramco, becoming a valuable employee responsible for deep-desert surveying. Using his innate “human GPS” skills honed as a Bedouin growing up in the desert, he was instrumental in determining the best routes to access remote water and oil wells, airstrips, as well as the first heavy-haul roads for transportation of supplies and construction materials for the vast industrial complex of Shaybah in the Empty Quarter in 1995.

After a 36-year career, Quriyan retired from Aramco in 2015 and continues now as a part-time consultant. He spends much of his time at his farm in Juneiah, off the Dammam-Riyadh Highway, where he regularly hosts gatherings of Aramcons, students, foreigners, dignitaries, family, and friends. And in the best of Saudi tradition, he remains an enthusiastic ambassador and voice of Bedouin culture and folklore.

Mohammed Quriyan Al-Hajri

Quriyan’s father, Mohammed Quriyan, was born in 1927 near Naeriyah. Mohammed grew up taking care of his Bedouin family’s herd of camels. In 1939, at age 12, he traveled to the Makkah for the Haj. The caravan comprised 20 people, men and women, including his mother. Few people in those days had cars, so they traveled by camel and on foot. The pilgrimage took four months -- 45 days, one way, some 1,300 kilometers round trip. As a teenager, Mohammed worked for three years with Aramco and then took up a career as a surveyor for an exploration company that served Aramco. He spent time in remote desert areas and helped set the routes of the early railroads in the Eastern Province.

Mohammed Quriyan was an excellent storyteller, sharing the ways of the desert and many fascinating tales with his son.

Quriyan Stories
Quriyan telling stories at his farm.
© Mark Lowey. All rights reserved.

The Eyes of a Bedouin

One clear and shining night, our family was sitting together with my father’s brother out in the desert sand near our home. It was October 1969, and I was a young boy, living with my family in a stone and mud brick bungalow in old Ain Dar village. My father was telling us old stories about the desert.

It was around 8 p.m., when suddenly, my father interrupted his story. “I can see lightning far away,” he said. “It could be raining near Thaj.”

Since no one else saw what he saw, and because Thaj was about 100 kilometers away, we found it difficult to believe that my father had seen something so far away.

But the eyes of the Bedouin are very sharp. Bedouins eat the meat of the camel, they drink the milk of the camel, and they walk long distances in the desert without shoes. This is why they are healthy and sharp-eyed. This is why Bedouins can see far away.

“You can bet me, if it’s not true,” insisted my father, so sure was he of his sighting.

In the old days, the winner of a bet would get a camel, so my father’s brother gladly accepted the bet. He was equally sure that my father could not have seen such a thing so far away. He would be happy to win a camel.

Back in those days, communication and transportation were limited. A week passed. Then one day my father encountered some people traveling from Naeriyah, in the same region as Thaj.

As they chatted and exchanged information, the conversation typically turned to the recent weather, which for Bedouins was especially important, since these weather and rainfall reports dictated their herding and migratory plans. As my father listened patiently, the travelers mentioned the lightning and rain of the previous week, just as he had described on that night.

So, now my father was happy. My father won the bet and got the camel. He had the confirmation he needed about the distant lightning sighting, and his prediction of rain had been true. The eyes of the Bedouin are very sharp. He can see far away. As you can imagine, we never again doubted the sharp eyes of my Bedouin father.

This story is one of my best childhood memories, and I still remember it.

The Tale of the Wolf

Growing up, Quriyan spent a lot of time with his father, listening to many stories. This is a story told by Quriyan’s father in 1963.

Long ago in a small village near Naeriyah, one by one a sheep would go missing each night from one of the herds in the village. Night after night the villagers wondered what was happening – they suspected that a wolf was stealing their sheep. As the sheep continued to disappear, the people became more and more upset. They had no weapons, no defense against a predator like a wolf, only an old rifle that one young man had inherited from his grandfather.

The young man finally decided to take matters into his own hands. Early one morning, he collected his rifle and decided to follow the tracks of the wolf.

The tracks led to a mountain cave, where he discovered the remains of many sheep. Carefully hiding himself downwind behind a large rock to stay undetected, he waited to see who, or what, would return.

Soon he spotted a wolf returning with his kill, a sheep. He would have shot the culprit right then, but what happened next amazed him.

Instead of devouring the sheep, the wolf carefully extracted the heart and the liver, the choicest parts of the sheep, and then he stepped back. A second wolf appeared. She was very old and blind.

The young man then understood. He could not raise his gun.

This was the wolf’s mother. No longer able to hunt, she had been waiting patiently for the return of this wolf. And, as he did faithfully every day, the wolf did not fail his mother.

The young man felt his eyes fill with tears. Overwhelmed with admiration for this wolf who honored his mother with such care, he resolved to return to the herds and bring a sheep back to the cave as a gift the very next day.

Returning to the village, the man recounted what he had witnessed and said to his family and friends, “This wolf is my brother, he is my face,” meaning he is no different from me. “He deserves our respect, and if any of you harms this wolf, I will kill you.”

The villagers knew that he meant what he said, for the Bedouins and their descendants have a deep respect for their mothers, and so no harm came to this wolf. No longer a scourge, his devotion saved not only his life but his mother’s, as well.

Mark Lowey
Quriyan and Abu Jack visited the Fazran camel trough in March 2019.

Author's Bio: California-born and raised, Mark Lowey - known to many as Abu Jack - earned a degree in Construction Management and embarked on a career that started in Saudi Arabia and continued around the world. By luck or fate, his final project before retirement took him back to Saudi Arabia.

A self-taught amateur photographer, Mark documented his early days in Saudi while living in Abqaiq and working in the vast oil fields of the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.

Mark and his wife are now retired and have returned to California.

Twitter: @molowey
Facebook: @bedouinconnection
Email: moloworking1@gmail.com

Part 2