© Mark Lowey 2022. All rights reserved.
Photographs courtesy of Richard Moffitt and Quriyan Al Hajri
In this piece, Mark Lowey shares a touching tribute to Quriyan Al Hajri as told by Quriyan’s longtime friend and Aramco colleague, Richard Moffitt.
Mark met Quriyan in 2013 when their chance encounter led Mark to reunite with the long-lost Bedouin families whom he had first met in 1978. In contrast, Richard Moffitt, originally from New Zealand, became acquainted with Quriyan in 1999 while working in Aramco’s Exploration Survey Department. Over the years, Richard and Quriyan together explored the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, experiencing many hardships along the way.
Quriyan Mohammed Al-Hajri
In 1957 Quriyan was born deep in the desert, in the shadow of Jebel Bateel near Thaj, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia. Later, his family moved to a small house in Old Ain Dar. In 1966, Quriyan first became acquainted with Aramco when his Saudi school’s third-grade class went on a field trip to a drilling rig four kilometers from his home at Ain Dar Well #74.
Quriyan Al-Hajri, age 9.
On that fateful day, Quriyan was inspired to join Aramco, eventually 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 Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter) in 1995.
After a 36-year career, Quriyan retired from Aramco in 2015. He now spends much of his time at his farm in Junayah, off the Dammam-Riyadh Highway, where he regularly hosts gatherings of Aramcons, dignitaries, students, foreigners, family, and friends. And, in the best of Saudi tradition, he continues to be an enthusiastic ambassador and voice of Bedouin culture and folklore.
April 2004. Saudi Aramco well sites inspector Quriyan Al Hajri, left, reviews a map detailing the location of a new gas exploration well with surveyor Richard Moffitt in the desert 80 km north of Khurais. (Photo by Stephen Brundage)
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THE HARE’S LUCKY DAY as told by Quriyan Al Hajri
In 2011, Quriyan was traveling across the desert in the Empty Quarter on a well sites survey. He sat in the passenger seat beside the driver. Startled by their approach, suddenly a large hare jumped in front of their vehicle. The driver immediately began to follow the hare, and the chase was on. Quick and agile, the hare darted this way and that to escape. But the driver was determined to catch the hare and swerved the vehicle right and left with every move the hare made.
The Cape hare, or desert hare, al'arnab (أرنبة) in Arabic, is found in Africa and in diminishing numbers in the Arabian desert. Known for its speed, the Cape hare has only one natural predator that is able to outrun it—the cheetah.
Quriyan was alarmed and shouted for the driver not to hurt the hare. Ignoring Quriyan’s pleas, the driver increased his speed. Finally, Quriyan lunged for the ignition key and pulled it out. The vehicle came to an abrupt halt, stuck in the sand. The hare scurried away, disappearing unharmed into the desert. “Why?” asked the driver. “I don’t understand. I wanted to catch that hare.”
Quriyan smiled and said, in a sing-song voice, “What did the hare say? ‘Thank you, Quriyan, you saved my life!’” Quriyan wants hares and other animals to live peacefully and multiply in their native habitat. “It is the law of nature as God intended.”
The driver was dumbfounded and looked hard at his colleague. Then he realized his mistake and laughed out loud. “Quriyan, I am sorry. This is a good lesson. You are a kind and unique person.”
The Cape Hare, also known as the desert hare, lives on the Arabian Peninsula and in Africa.
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A DAY IN THE DESERT as told by Richard Moffitt
Quriyan Hajri was born ten years before me, beneath a jebel near Thaj, in the desert of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. As a small boy he grew up in the old way with his family—two parents, one brother and five sisters—as nomadic Bedouin.
They spent most of that time in the area east of As Sarrar and around Thaj, moving north and south with the seasons and their camels. Later, they, along with majority of their tribe, settled in the Ain Dar valley where villages were established. It was there that Quriyan went to school and began a transformation of sorts.
I have known Quriyan for more than 20 years. I have worked with him in remote areas and visited his farm at Junayah since its inception. He is a colorful character, widely known, and widely recognized for his storytelling, hosting of events, and tradition-keeping. He is an unofficial ambassador for Aramco and the Kingdom.
Here I attempt to share some of what he has told me and how I have come to know him and understand him.
I spent a day with Quriyan a while back, January 25, 2020, just the two of us, travelling around his area to see some sights and share some stories.
That day, the sun rose just as I enter the farm soon after 6:30 a.m. Quriyan does not know I am coming, but I find him sitting on his porch in front of his farmhouse, alone on a chair, with a fire going in a steel fire pit. It is a brisk morning, perhaps the coldest of the winter so far.
He beams when he sees me and says, “Oh, you should have been here yesterday when we had a lot of visitors.” Quietly, I am glad I did not visit that day—the only good thing about visiting together with others is one can come and go as one pleases, but if you need to see the man himself, you do not have a chance to talk, as he will be fully occupied as host to his many guests.
Quriyan shouts to his cook and helper to bring tea, coffee, and so on. A lean young man from Mali, Africa—he has not been here long—greets me with a cold hand and a willing smile. “It is rare here,” says Quriyan, “to have a guy from Mali. He is a good man. His salary is fair. His air ticket is big.”
Quriyan tells me he has already been for his early morning walk around the farm. We drink hot milk with coffee and eat bananas. He does not offer bread, as he knows I cannot. But dates are presented, and they have to be the right ones. “Take those away and bring the other ones.” Always a minor commotion on my account.
Quriyan enthuses about his fire now. “My wood, we call it keena, split in long pieces to make the fire, mixed with some Indonesian hexagonal hollow charcoal amongst it.”
Work on The Farm
After a while sitting, we walk around the farm, first greeting a team of four men who come to work for Quriyan a couple of weeks every winter. They spread stones along the farm’s interior roadsides, as a landscaping feature. “We just finished work on the date palms, cleaning them, pruning, etc.”
We stroll toward his old majlis, where a vacated house tent has been cleaned out and renovated for the workers to live in temporarily.
There are several simultaneous, in-progress projects on the farm. To the Bedu, everything is transient. There is always another project, another camp move, something that can be changed and improved.
We walk toward the trees, where his tall gums are mixed with thorny prickly pear, Chinese apple trees, and a few other assorted shrubby species. There used to be some good pomegranate here, but I have not seen one in a while.
There in the middle of the farm is the elevated earthwork track with a large level seating area on top that Quriyan is redeveloping for the nth time. Frangipanis and bougainvillea are planted around the edges. He says his wife wants a small ladies’ house to be built there. The view is lovely to the east, especially at sunrise, whilst the vegetation in the open area is looking its best with green winter-spring growth.
We proceed down to the open area, and he steers me away from the vegetable garden as he guides me instead to the planted area where he has many Washington palm, Chinese apple, moringa, and the occasional male date palm.
“Somewhere here there is a fox. Where is his burrow?” As he walks among the trees, Quriyan shouts, “Salaam Aleikum! Where are you?”
Quriyan laughs and reflects. “I like all animals,” he says, “I will not get rid of a fox these days, he is welcome here on my farm, let him make his burrows, now we need to protect the environment including the animals.”
We continue through the open area, and he takes pride in showing me the various species of grassland shrubs, abal, etc. “This one is like kuzama, but not the same.” It has peppery leaves and purple flowers.
He knows their names and uses, some are good for stomach, and so on. He is quite knowledgeable about traditional plant- and herb-based remedies, having contributed to a book on the subject with his mother. 
When I came to Saudi in 1994, we had to drive slowly in the desert at maximum speeds of maybe 20 kph, weaving through dikakha and other shrubs. Now we can go 40 kph in any direction, the desert is wide open. Quriyan and I discuss this.
It’s very sad for both of us, the changes, the desert laid bare, denuded, stripped. I’m not sure Quriyan sees it the same as I do. I believe the water tankers and trucks delivering sacks of barley, and the exploding number of livestock, are what have denuded the desert.
A Saudi friend of mine says it’s primarily due to the lack of rain. Maybe Quriyan thinks the same, and for a long time might not have recognized it as overgrazing. To me it’s clearly not only due to lack of rain. (See reference 3, below, for information about Quriyan and the Environment.) 
We return to the vegetable garden. There are spring onions, carrots, coriander, and radish gone to seed. Also some tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and zucchini. It’s not thriving as I have seen in the past. Quriyan tells me there have been some insects this year. He is not focused on the vegetables this year as much as he would like to, using his resources instead for landscaping improvements.
To The Desert
“Come with me to the Urayarah area. We go and see the jebel canyon, very green two weeks before,” Quriyan says, referring to when he went with an old friend. He wants to go there – I do, too. I call my wife and let her know. The only problem is maybe the wind today, we check a forecast, but nobody knows. “We go in my Lexus,” (Landcruiser) he says.
We pack his picnic set, along with a bright-colored carpet, and a few odds and ends. By 9:30 a.m. we are on our way. The wind is coming up at the same time, but we press on. The visibility is getting poorer by the minute.
After a 45-minute drive we stop for fuel and supplies in Urayarah town and visit a grocery store that features desert camping supplies. In a tent next to the shop, some men are selling fruit and vegetables.
Quriyan is at ease with the vegetable sellers, speaking to them like he knows them, maybe he does. “What’s this? Bring me that one! Where are the bananas?” They scurry about to assist their demanding but friendly customer. Quriyan tastes the produce and buys it by the box.
We will only be out for a few hours, but we have enough fruit to feed an army. Maybe it will all be eaten, back at his place, maybe not, but certainly not all by the man himself nor by me. I remember that there is a whole food chain dependent upon him, family, labor, waifs, and strays.
I ask him about the shopkeepers, are they Saudi? I thought they might be, but that would be out of place nowadays. He says they are Syrians. His charity and generosity are at work now; he must favor their shop as he knows they need business.
We head down a village road, and I ask him about the houses, wondering how long they have been there. He says only since the 1970s, before that there was little or nothing. The blacktop leads west from the town and into the desert, past some simple farms, and onward.
Visibility deteriorates further. The wind has come up, it is a weather front. We will be lucky to see anything today, let alone find our way around. He does not use GPS, but there is a compass on the Lexus center console. We both have a well-developed sense of direction, and we know the area, but his is far better than mine.
Quriyan chats almost continuously and gesticulates when making a point. Now he is discussing a former work colleague. He knows the man, he knows his friends, he knows who he went to school with. Instinctively, Quriyan enjoys demonstrating his knowledge, and, thus, his value. A born storyteller and speaker, he likes to show that his memory is superior and sometimes cleverly embellishes the truth to create memorable stories along the way.
When a well site’s location, identifying number, and drill date are debated, Quriyan is right almost every time. He has done his homework, and much is committed to memory, as is his culture. This is his home turf and playground; he retains the information to share with others. It’s their shared history handed down by word of mouth. He stores information away and is eager to bring it out to display the accuracy of his recall, a recurring theme. Quriyan sometimes questions me to check and confirm his facts.
We drive on. Quriyan says there used to be a crusher plant here, now gone. Further on, the gravel trail thins and becomes harder to follow, like a braided river. Vehicles find their way, in turn, along a general route like water in a riverbed, changing from time to time. A major intersection or a minor one? The track becomes harder to detect. Quriyan eagerly steers this way and that looking for the one he thinks is the right one, announcing each move in a continuous, play-by-play monologue. He points to this jebel or that one through the poor visibility. His passenger begins to question if this was a good idea.
The Old Days
I get him to talk about his upbringing, as a child, as a Bedouin in the Saudi desert. “It was difficult, really difficult,” he says. “Life was tough those days, people now they don’t know.” Hardship, he means.
I question him, small things. How many people in your family at that time? One brother, and several sisters. His father and mother. Other people with them? “No, only people we knew and from our tribe.”
They had camels. It was their livelihood. I don’t know how many.
What was your food? “Rice, we had rice, and dates, always plenty. And milk sometimes, but not all the time. Camel milk, if a camel was in milk. And dried milk cakes you see in the Bedouin market.” Meat? “No,” he laughs, “almost never. Maybe one time one month,” he smiles, “something like that.”
“But our food was beautiful, we make rice with dates and dried milk mixed into a paste, tastes beautiful, really beautiful.”
He reminisces about a family outing a few years ago when he brought his extended family, including women and children, to this place for a picnic and BBQ. “They loved it here,” he says.
As he navigates, he points out a place where golden sand flanks a nice rock outcrop. He enjoys the desert scenery like I do, we have a common bond. We talk about the working days we shared together, staking wildcat wells, and finding routes for new rig roads in remote areas, several in the Rub al Khali. People are afraid of the deep desert sometimes. It can be frighteningly hot and hostile, but we both know the beauty and serenity of the remote Rub al Khali, the Jafurah desert, and the Dahna sands. “Hot, cold, we don’t care, yalla, we go!” Quriyan declares.
It is Quriyan’s hope that people’s perceptions will change and that, one day, people will come from all over to see the remote places and understand their unique qualities. We laugh together about a few of our most memorable trips and then turn our attention to the present.
We ascend a track to the top of the outcrops and reach the descent into the canyon. We both know the spot; it was not easy to find in the near whiteout as the wind was reaching its peak for the day. Down in the canyon it is more sheltered.
We visit the watering hole, where camels have long been taken to drink. It may not have water year-round but is fairly unique, all the same. That season we each had been there a few times. I had taken a few expats to show them and camp nearby. Quriyan had also taken a few people there, and on occasion just been on his own to enjoy the spot, and practice finding it, I bet, committing the route to memory.
Quriyan at the Jebel Canyon.
The watering hole at the Jebel Canyon.
Although he likes to impress upon people that he does not use a GPS, I have been with him a few times when we changed course and did not reach the intended destination. I wonder why he does not use GPS, as a backup, now and then, but his commitment not to is firm. “I don’t need GPS, I am Bedu.”
We walk down the canyon and take some pictures. Quriyan loves to pose for, and take, pictures, but soon he is distracted and wants to show me another place. Back in the Lexus, we head back a different way, toward the Thumb  to the north. Visibility is extremely limited. Nearly a whiteout, we become a bit disoriented. Normally we would wait it out, but we press on.
We debate the direction and distance to the Thumb. We go his way, after all he is the driver, yet in the end we never find it. The visibility is extremely poor now. It is a howler of a day, and cold with it. Quriyan changes his mind without saying so, and heads east toward the Korean road, a bumpy ride. It’s like being in a fishbowl, the sky like a blanket of haze almost equivalent to a snow blizzard.
One Day Honey, One Day Lemon
Soon we are back on the highway, I’m thinking we will likely now end up back at his farm for a meal under some shelter, but I am wrong. He pulls over, north of the road and drives along a desert track to an open area, a low area, best for shelter, but still highly exposed. “This is good,” he says. I am inclined to disagree, but I don’t say anything. Instead, I offer encouragement.
He relishes the moment. He pulls out his firewood and utensils and lights a fire in a shallow depression, whilst sand blows across the desert surface in sheets, hitting the vehicle and the fire with a familiar spraying, sandblasting sound.
I wrap myself in every stitch of clothing I have brought, hat pulled down low over my ears. The heat of the day has gone, and the wind is cold, my body is cold and shivering. Quriyan cooks some meat on the wire grill barbeque, as sand continues to hit it, but it cooks well. He knows what he is doing, must have done it hundreds of times.
Quriyan prepares the BBQ.
“I like challenge,” he says more than once. “It is not easy the life, we cannot give up, we must face it. We like it.”
“You can’t eat everyday honey. One day honey, one day lemon,” he often says. “It is the same to us, makes no difference. This is the life.” He is stoic when it is time for lemon. A sour, bitter day, he takes it in stride and does not yield. He is strong in the face of hardship, resolute. It is a moment that encapsulates the man and the day.
We are, perhaps, a lot the same. We both know it, we do not complain. Others may have given up and gone home. We sit and gnaw on the camel meat in the wind, sand blowing in our faces, teeth crunching on small grains of sand that stick to the meat on every bite. It is delicious. We smile. Quriyan does not eat much, insisting the food is for me. Instead, he captures the moment on his phone, taking videos in an interview style like he does, to watch later and send to friends to show them where he went today.
It is as if he wants to remind them, “I am Quriyan Al Hajri. I am here. I am alive. I am still strong. I am Bedu.”
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 Natural Remedies of Arabia. 2006. Donna Pepperdine and Robert Lebling. Medina Publishing. ISBN-10-1905299028.
 Devil’s Thumb (The Judah Thumb). A rock formation west of Urayarah, Saudi Arabia. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/judah-thumb
 QURIYAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Quriyan Al Hajri has long been concerned about the environment, specifically the diminished foliage in the desert areas of the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia and the Empty Quarter. Quriyan remembers the desert he grew up in, tending to the family’s camel herds. It was far greener than today, with Abal and Ghadh among the plentiful shrubbery.
In October 2020 Quriyan embarked on a “Walk for the Environment,” a three-day, 120-kilometer trek along a familiar route from his Junayah home to the village of Thaj, near his birthplace, in the north. For part of the journey Quriyan was accompanied by one of his sons and an expat friend, Scott Baldauf. Along the way they prepared the soil and carefully planted 25 Sidra and Talah saplings. Mr. Baldauf wrote detailed articles about the expedition.
Quriyan plants a Sidra shrub during the Walk for the Environment.