© Mark Lowey 2021. All rights reserved.
In Part 1 of this story, we met Faisal Al Qahtani’s grandfather and his father, Salem Al Qahtani, and learned about their lives in the early 1900s. The story continues here in Part 2, as told by Faisal to Mark Lowey.
Faisal Comes of Age
Faisal went to school in Al Rajhah village and Abqaiq and then studied Business Administration at the College of Administrative Sciences and Planning at King Faisal University in Al Hofuf. He married Hessa Al Mishali Al Qahtani in 2008. They are raising four children, Salem (12), Alanood (10), Mohammed (7) and Fahad (1). To his friends and family, Faisal is known as Abu Salem – an honorific nickname he loves.
Faisal and five-year-old Salem in 2014. © Mark Lowey
Faisal and seven-year-old Salem in 2016. © Mark Lowey
Faisal works at Aramco in the project management office in Abqaiq, but falconry remains his passion. Already, his young sons are budding falconers.
Salem with the falcon, Salman. © Mark Lowey
Mohammed with the falcon, Hadlan. © Mark Lowey
Falconry Runs in The Family
Faisal’s nephew, Abdul Mohsen Muhammad Marzouq Al-Mashaali Al-Qahtani, is the family’s most serious falconer. He is a member and expert analyst of the King Abdul Aziz Falconry Festival in Riyadh. His falcons participate in beauty contests and hunting competitions. (Follow Abdul Mohsen on Instagram, hora_n.)
Faisal prefers the more traditional lifestyle working regular hours and, after spending time with his family, enjoys falconry as a hobby in his spare time. Occasionally Faisal is invited to give falcon hunting demonstrations to friends and relatives.
A Day at Quriyan's Farm
I was privileged to attend one such demonstration at the farm of Faisal’s uncle, Quriyan Al Hajri, in Juneiah. It was February 2016 and Quriyan had invited friends and representatives of the US Consulate in Dhahran for a day out to enjoy Bedouin and Saudi culture. Faisal was kind enough to demonstrate his expertise with his falcon named Salman.
With the party guests observing at a safe distance, Faisal placed Salman, fitted with a hood over his eyes, on a low stand. As the falcon waited patiently, Faisal walked about twenty meters away. He had tied a dead pigeon to a two-meter length of rope and let it fall on the ground. On Faisal’s signal, an assistant removed the falcon’s hood. Salman was now transfixed, focused on the bird on the rope and flexing his legs in quick motions as if to take off and fly. Faisal let out a series of high-pitched hoots and started swinging pigeon in circles in the air. Salman spread his magnificent wings and took off.
Before the performance, hooded Salman is poised on the stand. © Mark Lowey
Faisal swings the bait to attract Salman. © Mark Lowey
Faisal swings the bait to attract Salman. © Mark Lowey
The falcon soared and glided out of sight for a short time and then returned. Attracted to Faisal’s hoots and the swinging bait, Salman made two or three fly-bys and then swooped in and snatched its prey off the ground at speed. Salman then landed a short distance away, proud of his performance as the spectators applauded. Faisal went to retrieve Salman and rewarded him with bits of raw meat.
Suitably impressed, the party guests were invited to pose for pictures beside Faisal and Salman. We wore the protective leather glove for Salman to perch on.
Mark holds Salman after the demonstration. Bdah Al Hajri, at left, Faisal Al Qahtani at right. © Mark Lowey
A Rest and a Shower
Later, Faisal took Salman to a shady spot to rest on his stand. The beautiful bird appeared to be basking in his glory but must have been hot and tired as he gratefully accepted a water-bottle shower provided by Faisal.
Salman enjoys a shower.
Faisal and Salman get a well-deserved rest. © Mark Lowey
Salman. © Mark Lowey
IN FAISAL’S WORDS
Lessons From A Father
Faisal was born when his father was 68 years old, but he retains indelible memories of an intriguing and principled man. Here are some of Faisal’s thoughts about his father:
My father was a moderately religious man of Islam. Even before he was imam, he used to advise the neighbors in matters of morality and law.
The neighbor was something sacred to my father. He would say, “If you buy food for the house then you must give your neighbor half of it.”
Regarding parenting, he always said, “A little brother should respect his older brother and an older brother should have mercy on his little brother.”
When we were young, we played together with the children of our neighbors. If a quarrel took place between the children, my father would punish us and did not accept us striking anyone.
He was a generous ascetic, and when my father died, he had no money.
And my father was always happy.
A Memorable Day in The Desert
When I was thirteen years old, a beautiful, terrifying, and instructive story happened.
I went with my dad on a one-day hunting trip in September 1999, with a 1985 Jeep, and the vehicle wasn't in particularly good condition. We didn't have a cell phone, but we had water to drink, some dates, and a little bit of food. Enough provisions for a day, provided that we return that evening.
We had a falcon and a hunting dog, we left the house around four in the morning, and headed south from Abqaiq through the desert. East of Al-Ahsa we were wandering quietly through the desert and we encountered someone who knew my father. We stopped and sat drinking coffee with him, we talked a little and my father asked him about an old friend. The man told us that my father’s friend was about fifty kilometers away, so my father said, “We will go to him.”
I told my father that the car’s fuel is not enough, and we don't know exactly where the man is. It was noon and the heat started getting worse. He said we were going, and I couldn't convince him not to go. I just had to obey him. Off we went and it was rugged desert.
During our search we found a Sudanese man looking after some camels. My father asked him about his friend, does he know him? Does he know his whereabouts? He said, “Yes, I know his location, but it is far, the place is rugged, the weather is hot, and your car is old and might not make it.” I thought to myself, my father is old, and I am very young. I was worried.
The camel shepherd told us that a few days ago someone died of thirst here because of the heat and his car was new. But my father was determined to go. At around two o'clock the wind increased, and sand and dust filled the air. We had no visibility, and we were lost in the desert. I began to fear for my father because he was over 80 years old and could not walk far. He suffered from high blood pressure and heart disease. We stopped for about an hour due to the bad weather and then the air returned to normal, and we continued on our way.
Then the Jeep’s fuel ran out, the engine overheated, and the car stopped in the desert. I started crying for fear for my father, but my father laughed and said to me, "Don't worry. Go with the binoculars to the top of a sandy mountain and look in all directions, hoping to see a passerby to help us.” I went and saw one camel, so I went back to my father and told him, and he said that there must be someone with her. I went again and saw a person far from the camel. I went quickly to him and it was the same shepherd whom we met, and he said, “Where is your father?” I said, “In the car, it stopped.”
The shepherd and I went quickly to my father, and we found that he had given some of our water to the falcon and the hunting dog. I cried again and refused to drink before my father. He and the camel herder drank a little and then they gave me some. It was now five in the afternoon.
My father asked the shepherd if he had any fuel and could he spare us some. He said, “Yes, I have fuel.” So, my father told me, “Go with him and get us fuel.” The shepherd and I walked about seven kilometers. When we reached the tent, it was after sunset. He gave his camels dinner and water and then we took the fuel and went to my father. The night was dark, and we could no longer see anything. We did not know his exact location, but my father was clever, and he started turning the car lights on and off several times. We soon saw him and filled the car with a little fuel, enough to reach the shepherd’s tent.
My father decided we should sleep there. I was against this idea, but he did not care, and indeed we had dinner and drank camel milk with the shepherd and slept in his tent. Early the next morning the shepherd provided as much fuel as he could spare, and we departed.
We drove on, looking for the road leading to the city. When we approached a village, the fuel ran out again. I walked to the nearest house, and an old woman opened the door. I asked her for fuel, she gave me some, and she asked where I was from. I told her Al-Rajhah village, and she told me that she was born there. She invited me to bring my father and have coffee and lunch, but my father refused and said we must go home quickly because my family might be searching for us. It was true, we went back to our house and found that my brothers had already called the Civil Defense to search for us and my brothers were also searching everywhere because we did not tell them when we will return. Alhamdullilah, we made it home!
After about a week, my father decided to reward the shepherd who helped us, so he went to a man he knew and gave him some money to give to the shepherd.
These were the biggest lessons in my life: keep calm when facing a crisis and trust and help your neighbor whenever possible.
I am truly inspired by my father. As I grow older my aspirations are to advance in my career and lead one of the Kingdom’s major projects. Ultimately, my goal is to become an effective person in the service of humanity.
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.
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