Adventures, Risks, Bedouins, Souqs, Camel Market, an Accident, and Much More

Today, I have the honor of sharing one of the most thrilling and heartwarming stories I’ve heard in a very long time, one that made me feel nostalgic, curious, and hopeful all at the same time.

This is the story of Mark Lowey, an engineer, photographer, and storyteller whose journey began in suburban northern California and took him into the depths of the desert in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s. Mark went to Saudi Arabia for professional reasons, as a subcontractor for Saudi Aramco, through his employment at Santa Fe International. But it is his exploration of the Kingdom's land, culture, and its hidden communities that make this story as memorable as it is.

In this article, you will read about Mark’s adventures and risks in the Kingdom, his photography, and his connections with Bedouins. You will learn how Mark’s photographs, coupled with his friend Quriyan’s aid, helped him discover the identities of the people in his photographs decades later. More so, his photography reconnected the children of Bedouin tribes he had met in the late 70s to their simplistic past. Mark’s story highlights the importance of looking over the fractured ridges of politics, into the hidden stories and emblems of a community, and of its people and hearts.

Follow me as I share parts of his journey that are full of wonder and curiosity.

About Mark Lowey

Mark is currently retired and resides in Southern California with his wife. He is a regular contributor for Aramco Expats, where he shares stories and photographs about Bedouin culture, his adventures, risks, friendships, and much more. Links to some of Mark’s articles and his Twitter handle can be found at the end of this article.

Disclaimer - All photos included in this article are photos that Mark Lowey took during his tenure in Saudi Arabia.

1978—Leaving California

How did your journey begin, Mark? How did you end up in Saudi Arabia?

In 1976-77, I was a university senior at Cal Poly, in San Luis Obispo, California. My major was Construction Engineering. Graduates with a “ConE” BS degree were highly marketable to the large construction and engineering corporations, and California-based Flour, Bechtel, and Parsons visited our classroom to recruit future hires. After one such presentation made by Bechtel Corp, I accepted an offer of employment at their San Francisco headquarters. Subsequently, I spoke to a classmate who had accepted a job with Santa Fe International for a posting in Saudi Arabia, and I was intrigued.

I had learned that Fluor, Bechtel, and Aramco would not send employees overseas until they had five years' experience, but Santa Fe would send me straight away. I rescinded the Bechtel job and agreed to a Saudi posting with Santa Fe to start in Orange, California in January 1978. I was sent to Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, the following April.

Did you know anything about Saudi Arabia before leaving? How did your family react to this?

I didn’t know much about Saudi or the region, but I did know I wanted to go abroad; to do something out of the ordinary. I wanted something new, exotic, exciting. And yes, my family was very concerned — “you are going where?! why?” But ultimately, it was my choice, and I came to the KSA in 1978. I had been to Europe and Mexico, but apart from what I gleaned from a couple of reference books, I now had very little idea of what to expect in the Middle East. I said goodbye to family and friends and embarked on a journey that would define my life.

Bedouin Connection Chapter I – My First Days in Saudi Arabia
Tying up loose ends before departing for Saudi Arabia in 1978. © Mark Lowey

Arrival in Saudi Arabia

What was your first impression after landing in Saudi Arabia?

The British Airways Lockheed L1011 Tristar jet touched down, taxied briefly, and we deplaned into a chaotic scene. After a 24-hour journey with connections in Atlanta, JFK and London, I finally arrived at Dhahran International Airport. Darkness had fallen as our plane passed over the Saudi Kingdom’s Ghawar (oil field), and all I could see below were the gas flares of the many Aramco oil and gas facilities burning brightly. In the terminal building, disorganized groups of passengers from several arriving flights swarmed around the beleaguered Saudi officials manning the three stations required to enter the Kingdom: passport control, health inspection, and customs.

Bedouin Connection Chapter I – My First Days in Saudi Arabia
Dhahran International Airport in 1978. After the gulf war, it was converted to an Air Force base and the international airport was shifted to its present location in Dammam. © Mark Lowey

After clearing customs and inside the arrival hall, I saw, for the first time, women wearing all kinds of clothes, both modern and traditional. Many wore the hijab to cover their hair. Some also had niqabs (a piece of cloth that covered half the face, revealing only the eyes). I think this was a time before wearing the niqab had become a common trend.

So interesting. Also, at this time, you weren’t working for Aramco, right?

I was a subcontractor, so I didn’t get Aramco housing. Instead, I lived in a bachelor camp. I didn’t start working for Aramco until 2010, when I came back.

Mark Lowey, Known by His Saudi Friends as Abu Jack, Offers Rare Images of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province During the 1970s
Mark in what he calls an “early selfie” in the mirror of his room in the Abqaiq contractors camp, with his Olympus OM-2. © Mark Lowey

*You can read more about Mark’s arrival to the Kingdom here.

So, would you say the culture was more liberal in 1978?

Somewhat. After the Shah of Iran fell in 1979, a wave of conservatism had a massive impact on the whole region.

Share a little bit about the political climate during your stay. Did the Iranian revolution have any impact on your sense of security?

Politics weren’t really a factor for me. During our time off, we explored the desert, visited Bedouins, shopped in Al Khobar, camped overnight on Abu Ali, went on dhow trips from Jubail, and played in basketball and softball leagues.

I remember when the Shah fell and the revolution in Iran began in 1979. An American colleague named Denver had a Persian wife whom he had met while working in Tehran. Now he was in Abqaiq, single status, and working on my project. He would regularly visit his wife in Tehran and found himself there when the revolution began, and Iran locked down. Denver told us that he had to literally run over rooftops to escape the Guard who were looking for foreigners, especially Americans. Somehow, he made it back to Abqaiq. Years later he turned up, with his Persian wife, in Kuwait where I worked from 1985-88.

I never felt insecure in Saudi. One time, however, I had an annoying encounter that turned out to be a close call.

The Case of the Hidden Camel Saddle

I had a large wooden box made up for shipping belongings home before my annual leave. A friend and I, each of us holding one end, walked it from my room and through the gate and headed to the Sant Fe admin office nearby. The gate guards wanted me to stop. They probably wondered, what was the deal with this huge box addressed to California? They said I needed authorization paperwork. I had a flight to catch and we ignored the guards, I might have physically bumped them on the way out. We dropped off the box in the office and somehow slipped back into the camp. The guards were searching but never found us. I was packed and ready to go to the airport.

My ride was in a sedan and I sat in the back. The guards must have been looking for me in the pickup truck we always drove. In the sedan, we passed through the gate undetected and I departed for my well-earned vacay. All hell broke loose after I was gone, and our HR manager, covered for me and diffused the situation. The box was opened in my absence. Inside was a hand-carved, wooden Bedouin camel saddle frame that we had found abandoned in the desert.

Was such an item permitted to be shipped out of the Kingdom?

Apparently so – the saddle has resided happily in California ever since.

Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Abandoned Bedouin camel saddle fastened with leather straps and decorated with steel sequins. Straw-filled and burlap-covered padding is visible underneath. © Mark Lowey

Wow. I know that being an expat in Saudi warrants constant “proofs” and “authorizations” for every little thing. But that is a really cool story.

Connections with Bedouins

Okay, so I really want to get into your photography and your exploration of Bedouin culture. When did your passion for photography begin?

When I was at University, I studied architecture that included classes in composition and graphic design. I took a photography class where we developed black and white images in a dark room. I was hooked. I enjoy applying design, graphics and compositional concepts to my photography.

When I was in Saudi, I was young, and my friends and I wanted to explore. We would use our weekends to discover the region. Around this time, I also began to keep a journal and write down daily entries. These entries have helped me piece back stories and connect photos to people. My friend, Rob, who lived in Khobar, and I bought cameras. On weekends he would come to Abqaiq, we would have breakfast in the dining hall and then drive around to Hofuf, to the desert, to the beach. We always brought our cameras and practiced photography as much as possible.

How did you manage to connect with local Bedouins there, with language and cultural barriers?

I first met Bedouins when they encamped near my remote construction site in 1978. One man, Faleh Al Hajri would pass by often and eventually started hanging out in my small office. We would drink coffee and tea and he would enjoy the air conditioner (summer) or the heater (winter). We could not communicate verbally except for the few Arabic pleasantries and greetings I had picked up.

Other Bedouins frequented the Aramco-built concrete camel trough nearby. Women with their goats, men and boys watering their camels. It was a colorful and fascinating scene, I was enthralled. I would go there and say, Marhaba or Salaam Aleikum. They always responded cheerfully. They are naturally kind and have a joyful demeanor. Sometimes they would offer me fresh camel’s milk or dates.

Right, even if we don’t speak the same language to the fullest degrees, the power of body language is quite underrated, and I suspect that is how a lot of communication took place for you.

Yes, exactly.

But what inspired you to take photos of Bedouins and Arabian life?

Bedouins and Arabian scenes are beautiful and picturesque. Wonderful colors and patterns. The culture is unique. Also, I recognized the distinctive, exotic nature of Arabia and wanted to be able to share my experiences with family and friends back home.

The Story of the Mystery Man in Blue

Can you share the story behind the Mystery Man in Blue that you photographed? I absolutely love this photo. Why did you choose to approach him? What was the interaction like?

It was a surreal experience. He was unlike anyone I had ever met. He was strangely attractive. It was one part wanting to meet him, another part wanting to photograph him.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part III: Bathan the Well Digger and His Son, Bakhait
The Mystery Man in Blue. © Mark Lowey

Did he think it was a strange request, that you wanted to photograph him?

It was difficult to tell what he thought of us. He was quiet and watchful. He seemed like a pleasant guy. After minimal Arabic pleasantries and a sort of sign language, he happily let me take his photo. Now I regret not taking more photos of him – in that special moment, I only took one!

Unlocking the Mystery Behind the Man

Can you share how you eventually found out who he was?

Right. I wondered about him for years after, the Mystery Man in Blue.

On April 27, 2019, I received an urgent WhatsApp voice message from my friend, Quriyan Al-Hajri, the legendary Saudi Aramco explorer and road surveyor.

Quriyan and I had first met in October 2013, shortly after I joined Saudi Aramco, at an informal art exhibition in Abqaiq Mall, organized by the Abqaiq Art, Craft and Hobby Group. Quriyan and I struck up a conversation about some of my photos of the Eastern Province taken in 1978-79, when I first worked in Saudi Arabia as a young contractor. To my surprise, he told me that he recognized, and was related to, some of the Bedouins in the photos. We have been friends ever since. After retiring from Saudi Aramco in 2016, I returned to the USA and still keep in touch with Quriyan by video calls and social media.

With Quriyan, I have reminisced and pored over the images I took, and one day, over a voice message, Quriyan said, “Abu Jack, how are you? Kef ‘Halek? How is your family? Good?”

“You know the guy you met at the Khor (water well) in 1979? That guy, you met him there, he was wearing the blue jacket. That guy, I asked all the people here, I showed them the photo, they didn’t know him.” Over the years, Quriyan, using his networks and connections, tried to identify the man.

“Today I sent the picture to one of my friends, and he forwarded it to some people, and one guy called me here and said, ‘This is my father!”

Elated, I listened as, much to his delight and mine, Quriyan recounted his conversation, revealing the first strands of the story of the man behind the photo.

Wow. It almost sounds like fate wanted you to unchain the mystery. So—who was he?!

A week after the first voice message, Quriyan told me that he met the Mystery Man’s son, named Bakhait, and he shared many details about his father, who was named Bathan. Bathan was born in 1902, and he passed away in 2005, so he lived 103 years, and was around 77 years old when I crossed paths with him in 1979.

What is Bathan’s story?

Quriyan told me that Bathan spent most of his life walking, always carrying a water bag with a leather strap on his shoulder. I also learned that he did not like to ride in vehicles, in fact, he first rode a car in 1980, when he was 78.

What was his role in the community?

He was a famous water-weller in the region. He completed, maybe, fifty water wells in total, according to Quriyan. People depended on his wells to survive. In fact, I also learned that when he married his wife, the honeymoon was to go to Headbih to drill a water well. Headbih is around 190 kilometers from Haradh, south, in the Rub Al Khali. The well’s depth was 40 meters. The two, husband and wife, proved to be an excellent team. Quriyan told me, “His wife helped all the time to remove the digging materials out.

2018 Austin Hafla Sneak Peek
A traditional water well near where Mark met Bathan in 1978. © Mark Lowey

That is so fascinating. What sort of compensation did he get for these wells?

He never received nor requested any form of payment for these wells. Instead, he saw a need, and, working alone or with his wife and children, it became his mission and his personal contribution to his fellow desert dwellers to find and provide water where there was none.

Government stipends, Al-Hofuf, and the Qaisariah Souq

But did the government pay Bedouins anything? How did they get by?

Yes, the government did pay them, in the form of a cash stipend in return for their hard work and expertise and, in some cases, military service. In those days, Saudi citizens, including Bedouins, received a government stipend that they collected at a government office in Al Hofuf. They used the cash to purchase provisions at the souq.

Really? But how could the government verify the Bedouins’ identity, in order to give them the stipend?

Word of mouth, you know, you say you are this man’s son, or that person’s brother, and they can verify one’s identity easily enough. If necessary, tribal leaders could be consulted and vouch for their members.

You said provisions, what kind of provisions did they buy?

A few times per year, Bedouins would travel to the main market in Al Hofuf, the Qaisariah Souq, to purchase provisions. Typical staples included dates, flour for bread, rice, onions, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, and cardamom. Combined with camel milk and goat and camel meat from their herds, these staples from the market would sustain Bathan and his family for months at a time.

Historic Al Hofuf
A man carrying his purchases from Al Hofuf’s Qaisariah Souq. © Mark Lowey

Wow. Okay, so apart from coming into Al Hofuf for their stipend and provisions, Bedouins were normally not present in cities.

Exactly. Bedouins disliked the city. They would often catch a cold during their visits that were kept as brief as possible. Sometimes they would conduct business at the camel souq in Al Hasa. They could sell a camel if they needed cash or negotiate a bride-price if their son was going to get married. Often, the settlement would be to give one or two camels to the bride’s family.

Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Mark at the camel souq in Al Hasa in 1978. © Mark Lowey
Historic Al Hofuf
Mark browsing the market stalls in Hofuf. © Mark Lowey
Historic Al Hofuf
Hofuf’s famous Qaisariah Souq in 1978. © Mark Lowey

*You can read about the historic Al-Hofuf in Mark’s article here.

So, back to the Mystery Man in Blue (Bathan).

I also read that he walked all the way to Emirates to see his cousin, and his family thought he had died.

Yes, in November 1950, Bathan went to Rub Al Khali, walking near the border with the Emirates. He had not seen his cousin in years. He wanted to visit him, so he departed, but didn’t tell his family where he was going. His family looked for him for one month, two months--they thought he died.” But then in February or March 1951, his father came back.

How did they navigate these distances, you think? How did they not get lost?!

They used lots of reference points, you know, things like a tree that is shaped like x or y, or that hill, or the shape of the road.

So, it seems like as outsiders we often tend to romanticize other cultures. Do you think that is true?

Sure, to some extent we do romanticize them, but, when it comes to the Arab Bedouins, we should never overlook their hardships, nor their skills.

The Bedouins are actually very skilled in a number of ways that would be shocking to the developed world. For example, they became skilled at recognizing the footprints of their camels and the people around them.

The Al Murrah tribe traditionally provided services to the police upon request, as trackers. When a crime took place, the tracker went to the scene and observed footprints in the area. Then he went to the town’s souq (marketplace) and observed the feet of the people there. Trackers were credited with solving many crimes in this fashion and their testimony in court was as an expert witness. This skill led to the Murrah being feared as having extraordinary powers. Nowadays this practice has disappeared since most Saudis now wear shoes or sandals.

Accident in Fazran

What?! That is blowing my mind. Also, didn’t Bedouins save you when you had the car accident in Fazran?

Yes. As I’ve noted in my article* on this, when I finally got out of the wrecked truck, I scrambled back to the empty road – there was no one in sight on this desolate stretch of desert. At that point, I was suffering from shock, and I don’t remember anything except getting into a red pickup truck that stopped for me. Three helpful Bedouins dropped me back at Mickey’s office, where he and his colleagues were happy that I was all right…

*You can read more about Mark’s near-fatal crash in Fazran here.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part X: Flashback: My Near-Fatal Flip on Fazran Road
The wrecked truck on Fazran road in 1978. © Mark Lowey

You also mentioned that Bedouin culture has disappeared. Why do you think that is?

They don’t need to live the way they did anymore. Modernization has made life easier. Their culture is disappearing yet there is something nostalgic about it. 

Right. The battle with modernity existed already, and the technological revolution changed everything.

Yes. Instead of searching for a water well, they can now get water delivered by tanker truck. And, instead of camels, they use trucks for their own means of transportation.

Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Aerial photos of Bedouin encampments, 1979. Mark noted that he took these images during a helicopter ride. These images show a family coming out to see the helicopter, and that with the help of his new friends in 2013 and onwards, they were able to name the owners of many of the tents Mark had photographed. His dear friend, Bdah Al Hajri, was born in one! © Mark Lowey

Return to the Kingdom

Fascinating. Okay, so I want to touch on your comparative experience when you returned to Saudi in 2007. What project took you back?

Absent since 1979, I returned to Saudi in 2007. I was working for Bechtel Corp and, after nine years in London, England, was sent to the Jubail Industrial City infrastructure project. Ann joined me there and we stayed for three years. During the Jubail posting, we decided that if we were to remain in Saudi until retirement, we should transfer to Aramco. This was achieved in 2010. We were with Aramco for six years.

Did you feel like the political climate had changed?

A lot had changed since 1979. In the 70’s things were pretty free and easy. At least for a 23-year-old like me. We took lots of risks and enjoyed many adventures. We didn’t sleep much.

In 2007, however, lots had changed. The Kingdom was still reeling from bombings and attacks that had taken place in Yanbu, Riyadh, Khobar and Abqaiq in 2003-2006. The USA’s attack on Iraq in 2003 also had a profound impact on the region.

Political Tensions

When my wife, Ann, and I arrived in 2007 dependents who had been sent away during the recent years had recently returned to join their husbands and fathers who had remained on the job. New arrivals like Ann and I were given lengthy security briefings by corporate officers. Corporate security staff accompanied the women on their shopping trips, following their minibus in a security vehicle. Families were issued transponders, to remotely track their whereabouts, to take with them when they ventured outside the compound. We were given instructions not to gather in groups nor advertise ourselves as Americans or foreigners. We were especially warned to avoid and not provoke the mutawa (Religious police).

“I’m Canadian.”

So, we were pretty spooked arriving in Jubail in 2007. Since our compound had no shops, I would go out alone to shop for groceries and supplies. I could sense anti-American sentiment and I would tell shop keepers, and the friendly Afghan bakers in the souq, that I was Canadian. One of the Afghans spoke English well and we would chat while his delicious flatbread was cooking in the giant oven. I had told him I was Canadian.

Months later, after Obama was elected in 2008, it appeared to me the anti-American tensions had subsided. It felt like a weight on my shoulders had been lifted.

On another visit to the Jubail bakery, my Afghan friend asked me, “how are you?” I told him I had recently vacationed in California to see my family there. He was surprised and said, “I thought you were Canadian.” I was caught out.

Fortunately, the overall situation gradually relaxed, and we felt more and more secure and comfortable in the Kingdom.

Yeah, I remember that time. My dad actually had just started working in Abqaiq prior to the attempted Al-Qaeda attack. We lived in Dhahran, but he would commute to Abqaiq for work for a few years. I remember the political climate being very tense.

Clarifying Misconceptions

You know, I’m wondering, now that you are back in California, what do you wish people knew about Saudi Arabia? Which misconceptions do you wish were clarified?

I wish Americans recognized the amazing qualities of Bedouins: loyalty, hospitality, generosity, charity, desert knowledge, looking out for one another.

Politics interests me but I try not to let it influence relationships with people. For example, I now live in a relatively conservative enclave to be near my age-90 mother. I have many friends here, but we try to avoid political discussions that might result in a disagreement.

I lived in Saudi for 11 years in total. I have many dear Saudi friends who treat me like an uncle and a brother and open their homes and their hearts to me and my family.

I have been asked by Westerners, “What is Saudi like?” Aren’t you afraid to live there?” My response is, “The media paints a negative picture when bad things happen. Just like other countries. Those reports do not reflect everyday life in Saudi Arabia. Saudi people are just like us. They value their health. They love their country, their family, their culture. Most of my Saudi friends are working-class folks looking forward to their next child or grandchild being born, trying to improve their position at work, and just being a good person and doing the right thing. You see? Just like us.”

I can absolutely relate. It’s so hard to articulate that culture and politics are separate. And if you break It down even further, it comes down to humanity. Of course, there are socio-cultural differences, but when it comes down to human emotions and behaviors, we aren’t so different from one another.


Can you share about your reunion in 2013? That’s where you got the “Abu Jack” nickname, right?

Yes. In 2013, Quriyan Al Hajri facilitated my reconnection with the two boys, now men, that I had met in 35 years before in the desert near Fazran.

Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Mark with his Bedouin friends in their desert encampment in 1978. Suhaim and Saleh, ages 8 and 10, are next to Mark. Little did Mark know that he would meet them again 35 years later! © Mark Lowey

My wife and I were soon invited to a large gathering of the Al Marri tribe on a clear and warm December afternoon. There were extensive introductions, and I was given the honorific nickname, Abu Jack (father of Jack). I showed the group photos from the 1978-79 period and many photographs were taken. We celebrated our reunion by dancing in the traditional folkloric fashion where one line of dancers chants in verse and the opposite dancers repeat. Later, there was more dancing to loud Arabic music coming from the stereo of a Land Cruiser with its doors and window open.

Mark Lowey
Mark, Saleh and Suhaim at the first reunion in 2013, 35 years later. Mark is holding the frame of the picture from 1978, when they had first met. © Mark Lowey
Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Mark and his new Bedouin family at the first reunion in 2013. © Mark Lowey
Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
Mark was invited to join in the folkloric dancing at the first reunion in 2013. © Mark Lowey
Mark Lowey’s Journey from Suburban California to Saudi Arabia in 1978
The khabsa meal at the first reunion in 2013. © Mark Lowey

You can read more about Mark’s 2013 reunion here.

Storytelling and Public Speaking

So, Mark, how did your passion for journalism begin? When did you become a storyteller? Did photography lead you to writing? I suspect you wanted to narrate the context of the pictures.

I always loved photography and the ability to share experiences through my images. I wanted to be a public speaker when I retired. When I came back to California, I joined a club, similar to a Rotary club. I volunteered to speak at one of their weekly meetings. I prepared a presentation, and I told people my story, about the Bedouins, about Saudi. The presentation went well, and I made another presentation at a community center for around 50 people. When I contacted other groups and volunteered to make a presentation for them, nobody seemed very interested. Thus, my public speaking interest fizzled. I soon redirected my energy to writing.

Oh—I can absolutely relate to that, people not caring. In fact, one of my friends from Saudi who moved away to Australia, told me something that stuck with me. She said, “nobody really cares about your past unless they can selfishly relate to it.” Perhaps there is some truth to that. I can pick a handful of people who are genuinely curious about my past, but not most people.

It’s sad, but at the same time, the right people will always want to hear your story, which is what matters. I don’t think you should give up on your public speaking aspirations, at all.

Thank you so much for saying that. My sister, who lives nearby, has encouraged me to make a documentary about the Bedouins. She says I have so many fascinating stories and pictures and it is worth sharing.

I absolutely share that perspective. It is worth sharing, which is exactly why I am writing this piece.

Author’s Reflection

As I listened to Mark, I realized his story was a hidden gem, one that needed to be shared.

In academia, we call the research that takes place in other parts of the world, often in risky zones, fieldwork. Even though Mark’s official post in Saudi Arabia was for Santa Fe International, his adventures opened his heart and mind to the vastness of the Arabian desert, where he embarked on aimless trips with a camera, and a beating curiosity to learn the lay of the land. His unofficial fieldwork allowed him to make countless connections, the fruits of which he enjoys decades later.

When he bumped into Quriyan, the famous surveyor who helped Aramco, it was an encounter of fate of sorts—Quriyan not only helped him solve the mystery of the Man in Blue, but also helped him connect with the now-grown-up Bedouin children Mark had met in the late 70s. Quriyan is not only the informant that helps Mark connect his journal entries and photographs with his network in the Kingdom, but he also has become a dear friend of Mark. Who knew such a chance encounter in Abqaiq would lead to such discoveries? Who knew that Mark’s photography would help connect the children of Bedouin tribes to the story of their own past?

As I read various articles that Mark has written, I came across an early journal entry of his, in which he wrote, “I want to meet a Bedouin.” He didn’t know how, or when, but he knew he wanted to. Soon enough, his desire swiftly carried him into the overlooked communities of the Kingdom. Crossing the hoops of language and culture barriers, Mark created a home in the hearts of many people, and those connections keep him connected to his past. Through his writing and storytelling aspirations, his past has now become a part of his present.

Far too often, we confuse politics with culture and humanity. I continuously run into this fissured terrain, where I feel judged and misunderstood. Putting politics aside, there are cultures and hearts to be found and appreciated everywhere, and I find this sentiment to be the most beautiful aspect of cross-cultural exploration.

Our hearts are a weapon—one that is able to sustain the barriers to human connection like language, norms, religion, perspectives. Perhaps it is the heart, nestled with a pulsing curiosity, that accompanies countless academics to embark into risky fieldwork zones.

I hope that you give Mark’s elaborate stories a read—they will truly open your eyes to a world hidden away from politics, media, and common narratives. Riddled with the undertones of simplicity, curiosity, and inspirational wonder, his colorful stories carry you back in time, into the Arabian desert in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in 1978.

Below I have included the links to some of Mark’s stories for Aramco ExPats, his interview in the Arab News, and his Twitter account, which includes countless picturesque emblems of his journey in the Kingdom.

Many thanks for reading.

Explore more of Mark’s stories:

Follow his photography and journey on Twitter: @molowey

Arabian Nights and Mornings: The Emblems of an Expatriate Upbringing in Saudi Arabia

Anushka is a Graduate Student at Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. She spent her youth growing up in Dhahran, where she attended Dhahran Elementary, Dhahran Middle School, and Dhahran Academy. She loves learning about new cultures and is fascinated by the diversity that brings us all together, especially the expatriate community, where the only thing that is common is that we are all different, in culture, religion, and the perspectives we hold. One day she hopes to publish a book on the third culture kid experience. Dhahran holds a big place in her heart.