© Mark Lowey. All rights reserved.

In Part 1 of this story, we recounted Hamsah and her mother’s journey to Al Hasa, Hamsah’s marriage to Mohammed Quriyan, and her new life in Ain Dar. The story continues here in Part 2, as told by her son, Quriyan, to Mark Lowey.

A Mother’s Journey Part 1

A Growing Family

In the years that followed her arrival in Ain Dar in the autumn of 1948, Hamsah and Mohammed lived according to an annual rhythm, summering in Ain Dar village and moving to grazing areas with the herds for the rest of the year. Having grown up in the desert near Ar Rayn, Hamsah thrived in the nomadic lifestyle.

Five years passed before their first child arrived. Daughter Dathah, was born in their Ain Dar house on a day that every Saudi citizen living at that time will remember with sadness, November 9, 1953, the day King Abdul Aziz peacefully passed away.

Four years later, in 1957, their first son, Quriyan, was born in the desert. Below is an excerpt from Tales of the Bedouin - Part II:

Tales of the Bedouin - Part II

In 1957, Quriyan was born deep in the desert, in the shadow of Jebel Bateel near [the village of Thaj and] 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.

The family grew to eight children, five girls and three boys. The third child, Salem, was born in 1964 in the family tent. Handa was born in 1967 in the Ain Dar house. Daughters Shaikha and Jaza were born in 1970 and 1972, respectively. Sahmi came in 1974 and later died tragically in an automobile accident at age 25. The youngest son, Nawayer, was born in 1978.

To support the family, Hamsah’s husband, Mohammed, worked intermittently 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. Sometimes he would be away for up to four months. Hamsah would stay home and take care of the children and the herds.

Mother's Helper: The Camel

Hamsah and her people were quite familiar with the symbiotic relationship between the pastoral nomads and their camels, whose primary attributes are well known. Camels carry cargo and provide transportation, milk and meat, and hair (fur) for weaving carpets and tent partitions. Perhaps less well-known, but important to a mother raising a family in the desert environment, camels provided additional benefits.

Camel Dung

When suitable firewood could not be found, camel dung was used for the cooking fire. The dung burns well, forming long-lasting hot coals [1] and fragrant smoke.

Disposable baby diapers did not come into common use in Saudi until the 1970s. Before that, cloth diapers were not practical in nomadic life due to a lack of water-consuming laundry facilities. What was a mother with babies to do? Dried, round camel dung pellets were gathered, ground into a powder, and applied to babies’ bottoms. [1] Infants were then tightly wrapped in cotton and wool. The camel dung diaper pack provided good absorption, killed germs, and prevented odor. Seldom did the babies suffer from skin rashes. Quriyan’s mother used this method when he was a baby.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Faleh Al Hajri holds his swaddled infant son Bdah Al Hajri, a cousin of Quriyan.
(Photo by Mark Lowey, ©1979)

Camel Urine

Camel urine has many uses, as well. Bedouins used it as a topical antiseptic, shampoo, mouthwash, and, taken with camel milk, as a cure for stomach ailments. It was also thought to be a treatment for hair loss. Newborn infants were bathed in camel urine. [1]

For millennia, the camels’ diet of desert grasses and shrubs was pure and natural. These days camels are often fed commercially-grown hay and barley. The urine from modern-day camels is no longer considered beneficial for the purposes described above.

Ain Dar's Evolution

When Hamsah and Mohammed arrived in Ain Dar village in 1948, there were no houses, only tents and a few shanty structures made of scrap sheet metal and canvas. With the growth of the Kingdom’s oil and gas industry and demand for labor, many more Bedouin began to leave the desert life and take salary jobs in the cities and towns. Housing demand in Ain Dar increased.

In the early 1950s, the building of simple houses made of adobe-like clay bricks began to grow in number. In the 1970s, cabins made of wood became popular. Quriyan describes them as wooden cabins as seen in old Western movies. Ever resourceful, Mohammed and Hamsah recognized an opportunity.

House Builders

Mohammed soon arranged a supplier of wooden planks. A reliable laborer was found in Al Hasa, and he was brought to Ain Dar. With the help of his family, Mohammed built himself a wood cabin of three rooms. To prevent fire, the kitchen was clad in corrugated sheet metal. This house was one of the first of its kind in Ain Dar.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Only the kitchen, clad in corrugated sheet metal, remains of the first house built by Mohammed Quriyan in Ain Dar.
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)

Soon, neighbors began asking about it, and so he offered to build houses for them. For five years, starting in 1967, Mohammed, the laborer, Hamsah, and Quriyan constructed houses for cash, charging SR300 (USD $80) per room. Quriyan recalls that he and his mother would follow his father, hammering nails as they went. A four-room house cost SR 1,200 (USD $320). In all, they completed around fifty homes.

Their earnings allowed them to purchase a new 1976 Datsun pickup truck [2], an upgrade from the used Dodge Power Wagon [3] that they had been driving. The Datsun was the pride of the family for many years. They called the vehicle Umm Mustarah (“Rolling Mother”).

In Saudi Arabia, it was illegal until recently for women to drive vehicles. In the desert, however, while Hamsah never drove, Quriyan’s sisters became skillful desert drivers, given the dictates of their workload and the practicalities of daily life in the desert. “Everyone had to pitch in when work was to be done. No one relaxed,” recalled Quriyan.

Weaving Hamsah's Ru'ag

Hamsah spent autumn, winter, and spring living in the desert with the herds. For long stretches, her husband, Mohammed, was away working in remote locations. Back in the encampment, Hamsah ran things and was adept at the important responsibilities of the female Bedouin.

Among their many duties, the women oversaw the care and maintenance of their black-brown woolen tents. These responsibilities encompassed the construction, repairs, erection, disassembly, and transport of the tents and all other belongings to the next encampment. [4]

Having reached the age of 28 and already a mother of two, Hamsah was ready to enhance her abode with a traditional ru’ag, the decorative and practical tent partition-wall that separates the men’s section from the women’s.

During Eid celebrations in early March 1962, while encamped near Naeriyah, a group of women neighbors and female family members gathered with Hamsah to commence the creation of the new ru’ag. It would replace the old, worn-out one, and the finished piece would become a beautiful and enduring family heirloom.

Coming together whenever they could spare time away from their daily tasks, Hamsah and the other women spent nearly three months completing the ru’ag, piecing it together, section by section, until it reached a length of fifteen meters. In the family’s possession to this day, the finished ru’ag is quite unique. In 2000, it was loaned by the family to Aramco for an exhibition in Dhahran about traditional Bedouin culture. During that event, Hamsah demonstrated and taught weaving techniques to interested Saudi and expatriate attendees. Today, in the Naeriyah winter market, a high-quality ru’ag might fetch a price of up to SR50,000 (USD $13,300) depending on its length.

In a May 2020 text message, Quriyan wrote, “I will call you in the morning, Abu Jack. I like the black tent, especially with her ru’ag inside. My mother made it. I raise my hand to Allah to keep my mother in good health and l feel happy every day when I see her.”

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Hamsah’s ru’ag.
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)
Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Quriyan in front of his mother’s handwork in 1981.
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)
Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Quriyan prepares coffee beside Hamsah’s ru’ag in 2000.
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)

Violet Dickson, wife of a British diplomat, traveled extensively throughout the Arabian Peninsula during the mid-20th century and became well-acquainted with many Bedouin families in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In her book, Forty Years in Kuwait [b], Mrs. Dickson describes her experiences:

Life in the tent: When a visitor or strange man was in the tent, the women would not come into the men’s section; when only the family was present, the women would come in, each bringing with her a hank of wool and a spindle. One had scarlet wool which she had dyed and held in a cleft stick; others had white sheep’s wool or brown camel-wool to spin. This was mainly the duty of the older women, who also did the repairs to the tent and its inside partitions, but the younger women also spun as a relaxation after a morning’s hard work. In the morning they had to fill water skins at the well and tend to the herds. In the afternoon they had to go out and bring in firewood and collect the dry camel dung from the area round the tent where the camels had crouched for the night.

Our first Arabian tent: The first tent we took out to pitch in the desert was a sixty-pound white Indian tent which was difficult to erect and hard to control in gales or storms. We liked the idea of having a real Arabian tent, a badawin one similar to those we saw everywhere in the desert. My Badawin friend, Ashma, wove from the black wool of their sheep the six long strips necessary for the roof of a four-poled tent and later made two dividing curtains and back piece. Now we had a tent of the kind with which every badu is familiar so they could adapt it for us to the variations of the wind and weather as they did their own. It could be more easily carried by the camels to our next camping-ground.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
A typical Bedouin encampment near Ain Dar.
(Aerial photography by Mark Lowey, ©1979)

Quriyan Falls Ill

In 1966, when Quriyan was nine, he began experiencing continuous nose bleeds. Alarmingly, the bleeding would not stop. Terrified, his mother, Hamsah, was afraid that Quriyan might die, being all too familiar with the family’s history of child mortality. Since they had no car, a close friend, Badr Al Qahtani, offered to take Quriyan to Abqaiq to see a doctor. Cradling Quriyan in the back of the 1961 Chevrolet station wagon, his parents rode towards Abqaiq in tears, praying for their son’s safety.

The clinic in Abqaiq had two doctors, an Egyptian and a Syrian. The doctors quickly placed an ice pack on Quriyan’s forehead and gave him two injections. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), his nose bleeds subsided, and Quriyan quickly recovered.


In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, experienced an outbreak of cholera. In March 1970, Quriyan, age 12, contracted the disease, suffering acute diarrhea and dehydration. He lost weight and had a fever and muscle cramps. Late one night, as his illness worsened, Hamsah was beside Quriyan’s bed begging her husband, Mohammed, to go across the village to their friend with a truck, Khalefah Mohammed Al Khalefah. Surely, Khalefah would agree to take Quriyan to the hospital. Mohammed replied, “I cannot disturb Khalefah in the middle of the night, I will go first thing in the morning.”

Early the next day, they left in Khalefah’s red 1966 Ford pickup, heading south to the Old King Fahad Hospital in Al Hofuf, two blocks away from the Qaisariah souq. It was a government hospital and treatment was free of charge.

Hamsah and Quriyan rode in the back in the truck’s bed, Mohammed and Khalefah in the front. In the hospital Quriyan was given three injections and hydration therapy – small amounts of drinking water with sugar and salt added. He drank this syrup every three hours. After two days in the hospital, the diarrhea stopped.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
A 1966 Ford pickup truck, similar to the one owned by neighbor Khalefah Mohammed Al Khalefah in Ain Dar. (Stock photo)

When Quriyan was ready to be discharged, the plan was to take him to his grandmother Shaikha’s home, a modest dwelling eight kilometers southwest in the Ar Ruqayyiqah neighborhood. Shaikha, by then divorced, was living with her two daughters, Nafla and Shafiyah, age 14 and 16. Quriyan would spend a week or two there recovering.

Knowing that she could not arrive empty-handed, and so as not to burden her mother, Hamsah needed to bring food to prepare for her son. Her family did not have extra money at that time, so she decided to visit the gold merchants adjacent to Qaisariah souq and sell some of her jewelry, including a gold bracelet, for cash. She then bought a supply of bread, meat, vegetables, and rice.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Hofuf Gold Souq
(Photo by Mark Lowey, ©1979)
Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Hofuf Gold Souq
(Photo by Mark Lowey, ©1979)

Since taxis were relatively expensive, Hamsah hired a gari, a donkey-drawn cart, a common sight in Hofuf, especially around the Qaisariah souq. Alongside the groceries, she laid a blanket down for Quriyan, and, for SR1 (USD $0.25) they were taken to her mother’s house. They stayed with Shaikha and her daughters as Quriyan slowly regained his strength and, after two weeks, Quriyan had recovered sufficiently so that they could take a lorry truck back to Ain Dar.

“I tasted the lemon, before the honey!” exclaimed Quriyan upon finishing this story, recalling the ordeal of his illness and recovery and the subsequent joy of his homecoming.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
A donkey cart, known as a gari, in the Al Hasa oasis.
(Photo by Mark Lowey, ©1978)
Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
A donkey cart in Hofuf.
(Photo by Mark Lowey, ©2010)

Pilgrimage to Mecca

The Islamic ritual of Hajj, the Arabic word for pilgrimage, occurs once a year and lasts for five or six days during the last month of the Islamic calendar. Adult Muslims are required to perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime if they have the physical and financial ability. [d]

A devout Muslim, Hamsah performed Hajj three times, in 1974 and 1979 with her husband, Mohammed, and again in 1981 when she and her son, Quriyan, joined a group of seven pilgrims. The group traveled together in a Chevrolet Suburban driven by a fellow Ain Dar resident. The two-week trip cost SR 1,200 (USD $320) per person and included meals and lodging at Mina, the city of tents, on the eastern edge of Mecca.

Pilgrims perform their rituals during the day and then camp overnight in Mina, where more than 100,000 tents provide temporary accommodation for Hajj pilgrims. Each day a fleet of buses transports the pilgrims from Mina to the holy sites, a distance of around 15 kilometers. In 2010, a light-rail train, the Hajj Metro, began operation, easing the transportation burden. The driverless trains run at speeds between 80-120 kph over a track that stretches over roughly 20 kilometers. [e]

Each year, over two million Muslims travel to Mecca to perform Hajj. This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hajj will "take place … with a limited number of pilgrims from all nationalities residing in Saudi Arabia only, who are willing to perform Hajj." [f] The annual ritual is scheduled for late July 2020.

Hamsah, The Matriarch, Family Historian, and Arbiter

Possessed with remarkable qualities and skills, Quriyan’s mother was well-known and respected in the family for her advice and wisdom. Hamsah has always had a sharp mind. It seemed she could remember even the smallest details of the family’s history.

Hamsah became quite famous as the family arbiter, resolving conflicts and arguments. She could be depended upon to assist in settling family conflicts between husband and wife, brother and brother, father and son, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and so on. Those in conflict with one another could come to her for a solution. She would listen to the first party, listen to the second, and then decide what should be done. If an individual was unhappy or troubled, Hamsah’s astute advice would help solve the problem at hand.

Sometimes, family members would become angry at one another and refuse to visit or speak with one another. Conflicts could go on for months. The situation would bring down the morale of the whole extended family. Hamsah strongly believed that the family should be together in harmony and often stepped in to help. Her influence as the senior woman in the family allowed her to bring the two parties together and find a way to ease the tension. The respect for her wishes often overcame the original disagreement.

Expert in Natural Remedies and Methods

Hamsah was also known as a healer, treating people with natural herbs and methods. Knowledgeable and well-respected, she was invited to be one of the contributors to the book, Natural Remedies of Arabia, by Robert Lebling and Donna Pepperdine Evans published in 2006.

Quriyan recalls a story about his mother:

In 1978, my mother told me she needed money, SR1,000 (USD $265). I told her, “I do not have money right now.” So, she proposed to sell some of her jewelry at the souq. I said, “Wait, don’t.”

“Ok,” she said. “You don’t have money. Why don’t you go and ask for money from one of your good friends?” I told her I have a good friend in Al Uyun near Hofuf.

“OK,” she replied. “Go there and try to borrow at least SR1,000. Insha’Allah, one day when I have money, I will give it to you to return to your friend.” So, I drove to Al-Uyun and went to that guy, an old friend of my father’s.

He was there in his house with his wife. “Salaam Aleikum!” They said come in, “Ahalan Wahsalan.” This man knew me very well, he knew my family. He was a successful businessman, and I knew he had money at that time. But, as we began our visit, I could see he was not happy. He had a big, painful wound in his hand, which was making him feel unwell. It had been getting worse for two weeks. He had been to the doctor, where they had wrapped it and given him iodine and extra bandages. But the wound had become infected. He told me that for two weeks he could not sleep, and he was very tired. When I saw his condition, I knew I couldn’t ask for money.

As I was having coffee and tea with them, I had an idea. “Let me take you to my mother,” I offered. “She can treat you with natural herbal remedies.”

“Why not?” he replied. “OK, I will go with you.” Soon, we were in my Datsun pickup truck on our way to Ain Dar. My mother immediately removed the white cloth bandage, cleansed the wound, and disinfected it with sibr (aloe gel). [4] She redressed the wound and gave him tea with herbs. Then, she heated several small needles over a flame, gently inserting and quickly removing the needles four times in his head and four more in the fingers of the wounded hand. Hamsah had learned these skills, a form of Bedouin-style acupuncture, from her mother, Shaikha.

After this treatment, our old friend was perspiring and became relaxed. “Alhamdulillah, I feel better,” he said. “The pain has gone down.” Then, turning to my mother he said gratefully, “Umm Quriyan (“Mother of Quriyan”), I will never forget this. If you need anything, anything at all, please call me anytime.”

Pleased that he was feeling better, we prepared to leave, when suddenly, he took out SR2,000 cash and tried to give it to my mother. We were surprised and caught off guard, as we had not told him that we needed money.

Naturally, my mother refused, but he insisted. Their voices rose in protest as they argued back and forth, good-naturedly. “No, no, no, I cannot accept!” she exclaimed. He insisted, “This is a gift from me to you.” Flustered, Umm Quriyan said, “No, thank you. This is only because you are our friend, and we take care of you as you would us.” Finally, he declared, “Wallah, I will leave this money in your house. If you don’t take it, I will put it in the street!”

So, with that, my mother accepted the gift. Can you believe it? We needed money, and it came as a gift. Alhamdulillah!


Hamsah was very generous to all people. She would make fresh bread and walk to the end of the village to give it to a family that she knew was in need.

As a teenager with a steady job, Quriyan would hand over most of his hard-earned salary to his mother, only to see her give it away to a person who needed it more than she did. She knew which families in the village were in need. “It is our duty to help our brothers and sisters whether they are family, friends, or strangers,” she would tell Quriyan.

When anyone came to the door, she would feed them. Water, bread, an apple, a banana, anything. One man was so appreciative that he cried after receiving food. Then he was quite shocked when she gave him SR100 (USD $27)!

“God keep you!” she would say.

Hamsah's Journey Continues

Hamsah Mathker Al Hajri, Umm Quriyan, mother of Quriyan, the heroine of this story, passed away peacefully on June 17, 2020, in Abqaiq. She was 86.

Much loved and respected by her family and the community at large, she had some health issues in her twilight years, associated with her advanced age. A devoted son, Quriyan adored and protected his mother and visited her daily. Quriyan says that friends and acquaintances regularly inquired after his mother’s welfare. “How is Hamsah?” they would ask.

Shortly after her passing, Quriyan told me, “Right now, my sisters and their daughters are in the mosque preparing my mother for her burial. So many people are calling me about my mother. Right now, when we are talking, I see two calls appear on my phone. AbuJack, thank you for telling her story.”

Quriyan sighed wistfully. “Alhamdulillah, that’s the life.”


When we began this journey, Quriyan and I had no idea that Hamsah’s story would end so soon upon the publication of this writing. There was no sense of urgency as the telling of her life unfolded, so, in hindsight, I consider it a profound privilege that Quriyan and his beloved mother, Hamsah, have allowed me to share her story, shedding light on her life, and, thereby, lending a voice to Bedouin women and their seldom-told stories. My hope is that others will also be inspired by this remarkable woman, whose strength, fortitude, and many kindnesses touched the lives of so many over the course of her life. Hers was the story of a wise, resourceful woman who embraced the day-to-day challenges, heartbreaks, and joys of a Bedouin life lived in the desert, forever timeless, forever cherished.

May she rest in peace.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (Arabic: إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ‎).
"Verily we belong to God, and verily to Him do we return." - Verse 2:156 of the Qur'an.


Camel dung, jallah, is collected when dry and used for cooking fuel when the family is camping in areas with little perennial vegetation or in areas where shrublets have weak, fast-burning stems that do not form good coals. Dried jallah is also pounded into powder and used to make diaper packs for babies.

Camel urine (that from females is always preferred) may be caught in bowls and used as a hair wash said to make the hair shiny and rid the scalp of vermin. I once saw one of my friends run up behind one of his female camels and catch a double handful of fresh urine, which he used as an immediate mouthwash, saying it was good “to make the mouth clean.” Camel urine was also used to bathe newborn infants. (a)

Quriyan recalls with pride the family’s first vehicle purchased new:

“It was the 1976 model. We called it Umm Mustarah, meaning ‘mother of roller’ or ‘rolling mother.’ Among the common man and Bedouin, any person who had a Datsun pickup was famous – an Amir! A rich man. The price of this truck was SR 10,000 (USD $2,650). We bought ours for SR11,000 and paid installments of SR500 (USD $135) each month.

"To drive into the desert from Ain Dar – through the sand – we installed oversized sand tires with 14-inch rims. Before entering the desert, we would decrease the tire pressure. It was a rear-wheel drive, went through the sand easily, and never got stuck!”

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
1976 Datsun Pickup. A factory photo of the model owned by the Al Hajri family.

In those days, many Bedouin drove Dodge Power Wagons. When Aramco had operated them for five years, or so, they brought in a new fleet. The outdated vehicles were sold to locals. The Power Wagon was a large and powerful truck and was equipped with oversize tires for travel over the sand. Sometimes the back bed was converted to a seating area with wood-panel sides and was known as a ‘stack body.” Serving as a sort of taxi in the desert, it was used to transport passengers, occasionally with their livestock. In the early 1970s, Quriyan’s father owned a 1958 Dodge stack body. Quriyan recalls that up to fifteen passengers would ride in the back on trips to Hofuf to buy food and supplies. In the winter and spring, they would take it, with the herds, to the Northern area, Al Khur, Al Sumaan and Naeriyah.

Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Dodge Power Wagon
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)
Tales of the Bedouin - Part VII: A Mother’s Journey Part 2
Dodge Power Wagon Stack Body
(Photo courtesy of Quriyan Al Hajri)

In Bedouin culture and society, the bayt (a tent or household) is the special domain of women. Women leave bayts in which they were born and move to that in which their husband resides. In this system, the men stay put and only move into a new bayt following the division of the herd – usually, subsequent to the death of their father. Thus, it might appear that men are the core members of the bayt. In reality, it is the women who constitute the essence of the bayt. The men are always coming and going, often spending nights away while they are herding, on a hunting trip, or on business in the city. The women almost always remain at home in their tents in the desert, even if the husbands are permanently employed in the city. Indeed, for a wife to reside permanently with her husband in the city signifies their break from tribal society. So long as the wife remains in her tent with the herd, the husband remains a member of the tribe, though he may spend long years away.

The tent itself belongs to the senior woman of the bayt. Traditionally, this woman and her daughters and daughters-in-law wove the tent themselves out of goat hair they collected. Nowadays, tents are more often machine-made and purchased for cash in the market towns. But few people buy a complete tent at one time. Strips of machine-woven black goat’s hair are purchased as they are needed and then put together by the women to construct their tent or repair an older one.

In spite of the increase in machine-made tent sections, weaving continues to be a major concern of the women. Some essential items of the tent, such as the walls and the ru’ag, a tapestry-like divider between the men’s and the women’s sections, are still homemade and employ designs peculiar to the tribe and lineage. The tent is the exclusive responsibility of the women, who take it down, fold it, transport it, and set it up again. Furthermore, no man ever lives either alone or with other men in any tent without a woman. A single man always resides in someone else’s tent, either his brother’s or that of his parents. [b]

Aloe arborescens and aloe vera are the most common and best-known kinds of the aloe plant that is otherwise known as sibr, or sabbar.

The succulent thorny green plant is known in Saudi Arabia as sabbar, deriving from the word sabr, meaning “patience” in Arabic, for its capability to sustain drought and heat in the harsh climate of the desert. The transparent, gel-like sap is used for remedial purposes. The resin, which is left to dry, is called sibr in Arabic. It comes in round solid reddish-brown hard patties, available in the herb and spice market.

Wounds and cuts are washed with water, and then the gel or the diluted dried cake are applied to cleanse and speed healing. [g]


[a] Mandaville, James P. Bedouin Ethnobotany: Plant Concepts and Uses in a Desert Pastoral World. The University of Arizona Press. (2011) ISBN-13: 978-0-8165-2900-1.

[b] Cole, Donald P. Nomads of the Nomads. Aldine Publishing Co. (1975) ISBN 0-202-01118-6.

[c] Dickson, Violet. Forty Years in Kuwait. George, Allen & Unwin, Ltd. (1971) ISBN 0-04-920032-1.

[d] Meky, Shounaz. Umrah and Hajj Explained: Your Simple Guide to Islam’s Pilgrimages. Al Arabiya English. (2020) 

[e] Smooth Movement of Pilgrims from Makkah to Mina. Arab News. (2018) 

[f] Alkhshali, Hamdi and Register, Larry. Saudi Arabia Says Hajj Pilgrimage is On – With Limited Numbers. CNN Middle East. (June 22, 2020) 

[g] Alireza, Mariam. Aloe: The Healing Plant. Arab News. (2013) 


Mark Lowey
The author and his mother in 1978.

About the Author: 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

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