© Mark Lowey 2022. All rights reserved.

In this series, Mark Lowey, known as “Abu Jack” (Father of Jack) to his Saudi friends, tells the story of Bdah Al Hajri, whom he first encountered in the desert as an infant in 1979. Reunited in 2013, Abu Jack and Bdah have become close friends.

The story of the Bdah’s life continues through candid conversations with Bdah and other members of his family.

In Part 1 we learned about Bdah’s grandparents and the family history up to the 1973 wedding of Bdah’s parents, Faleh and Masturah. Part 2 begins with the early years of their marriage, their growing family and Bdah’s childhood years. Part 3 described Bdah’s primary school and boyhood memories.

Here, in Part 4, Bdah graduates from Salasil school, attends the Industrial Training Center at Aramco Abqaiq, suffers the loss of his father and gets married.

Transition From Desert To Village

From the age of seven to seventeen, Bdah attended Salasil school (1986 to 1997). Up to age 14, Bdah and his family lived in the desert north of Fardaniyah. In 1993, his father, Faleh, decided to set up a permanent household in Fardaniyah village. Bdah’s mother, siblings, and their loyal dog, Nebhan, moved into a simple concrete block home, near the petrol station and down the street from the local mosque.

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Map showing Fardaniyah, Salasil and Abqaiq, Eastern Province, KSA.

Faleh’s home had three bedrooms, one bathroom, two living rooms, and a large kitchen. Bdah’s mother, Masturah, was very happy there. Her desert-born sense of hospitality and generosity transferred to the village seamlessly. Masturah became well-known for entertaining and cooking delicious meals for Faleh and his friends, as well as for her women friends in the village.

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
The small mosque near the Fardaniyah house where Faleh prayed when he was in town.
Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah at the front gate of Faleh’s house.
Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
The kitchen of Faleh’s house.
Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
The front foyer where guests would arrive.

Salasil School Graduate

“I graduated from Salasil school in May 1997,” says Bdah, recounting his schoolboy years. “I studied a lot. In the lower grades, my scores were always 100%. My mind was very clear, you know? I was living in the desert. No time for playing, no electricity at night. So, I focused on the books.”

“Also, my father recognized my potential and encouraged me to succeed. I remember when I was a boy, each day before going to school, my father would prepare the fresh camel milk and I would drink it. He said I should drink before going to school so I can get number one. He told me, ‘You are not a Pepsi boy. You are a camel milk boy.’ It was good for my mind.”

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah Al Hajri, age 16, in 1995.

“By the time I finished secondary school, my overall average score was above 90%. This qualified me for the Aramco Industrial Training Center program (ITC). I started at the ITC in Abqaiq in November 1997. I spent two years training there.”

ITC Abqaiq

“Your English is excellent. When did you learn it?” I asked.

“In May 1997, after secondary school, I spoke no English,” Bdah told me. “I only knew a little grammar and a few words. At the ITC Abqaiq, they gave me a placement test and I started English from level two, which is almost basic. I learned from American, English, and Scottish teachers.”

“Do you remember those guys? They must have been big influences on your career.”

“Yes, I do. I remember the American teacher, James. He was an older man that had retired from Aramco and then returned as a contractor. He taught me English from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. And I remember the Scottish teacher named Patrick Rogan. He was a good teacher, as well. And the teacher that I learned advanced English from was Robert Holiday, a Canadian. He is still working for Aramco now. I met him recently at the Dhahran College Preparation Center. He is very close to retirement.”

“Those teachers influenced you and helped you succeed.”

“Yes, they did. When I met Robert Holiday last year he said, ‘Bdah, I still remember you. You had just come from the desert and feeding your camels and you told us stories about your father. I still remember you describing your life in the desert.’”

“You were the Bedouin boy coming to the ITC from the desert,” I said. “I love that.”

Decision To Remain in KSA

“Faleh Munir, husband of my older sister, Moniyah, helped me a lot,” said Bdah, recalling his path to Aramco. “His father, Munir, was my uncle, my father’s brother. Faleh Munir was a superintendent in Aramco Pipelines. He helped me get accepted at ITC. He always encouraged me to enter Aramco.”

“He wanted me to apply for the five-year College Preparation Center program and said, if I was accepted, he would send me to the USA. But I refused because I wanted to be around my father.” Explaining his reasoning to stay in Saudi near his father, Bdah said, “He was getting old. I wanted a job as soon as possible, so I can earn a salary and help Faleh. Otherwise, I would have gone to America to study English for five years – and stay, perhaps another four years, to get a degree.”

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Abu Jack with Faleh Munir, at his Khobar home, in 2021.
Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah’s father, Faleh Al Hajri, age 64, around 1995.

In hindsight, Bdah says, “It was a difficult decision but, I believe, the correct one. I do not regret it. My father passed away in August 1998. He was only 67. I am thankful that I was there for him during his final years.”

Head of Household

“When my father passed, my responsibilities increased a lot,” Bdah recalled. “On that day I became responsible for the whole house. Mother, sisters, my brother Mohammed, 100+ camels, and 200+ sheep. We also had two Indian employees and one Sudani. I became very busy. And I was not married yet. I was still single.”

“Bdah, Take A Wife”

“During the last three years of my father’s life, he often told me, ‘I want you to get married.’ He would always say this to me. But I chose not to marry for one main reason: I knew my father’s financial position was very limited. He did not have a lot of money. I didn’t want to put more pressure on him. So, he wouldn’t have to collect money to buy me a car, to give the bride’s family money, to get me a house. So, I said, ‘No, please, I do not want to get married now.’”

“Whenever Faleh was with his friends and I was there to get them coffee or tea or water, he would say, ‘Look at Bdah. He is not married. He doesn’t like the women; he doesn’t like the girls.’ Oh, that hurt me, I hated that. He was pressuring me. He was making fun of me. But I resisted. My chance and reason to marry would come soon enough.”

“What year did you marry?” “I married Amal in 1999, one year after my father passed away. Soon after his death, my mother, she said, ‘Bdah, please get married.’ Still, I refused. Finally, she said, ‘Bdah, look, your father asked you many times to marry and he hoped to see your children. And now he has passed. So don’t wait longer because I might pass away, as well!’ Then I started crying. I felt badly. I told my mother, ‘Yes.’ At the time, I felt that my agreement to marry was just to make my mother happy.”

“How did you find Amal?” I asked.

“She’s part of the family,” Bdah said. “She is my cousin. My mother arranged it. I went to her and said, ‘If you can find a wife for me, I will accept.’ And she was happy. Then after a couple of months, she came back to me and said, ‘How about Amal?’ I knew Amal very well, I accepted. And my mother said, ‘OK, you accept her. We will talk to the family.’ So, my mother made the proposal, they accepted, and we were married in September 1999. Now, I have six children with her. Three boys and three girls.”

“I married my second wife, in 2006. Maha and I have four girls and two boys. I am still young with twelve children! I told them both, six kids each, this is enough, Khalas! The cost is very high, you know. So, Alhamdulillah, six and six, that’s very balanced. That’s enough for us. “

Aramco Career

I asked Bdah how things were going at Aramco. “How is your job working at the Gas Plant?”

“Alhamdullilah, I am doing great. Remember, I only have secondary school education. I received a two-year diploma from the ITC in 1999. At ITC I was trained in English, Math, Physics and Gas Plant Operations. When Aramco hired me in March 2000 I started as a Grade Code 7. Within a few years, the management recognized me as a very hard worker, respecting the company regulations one hundred percent.”

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah, center, receives the Aramco 5-year service award in 2002. [1]
Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah, center, with sons Faleh and Munir at left, receives the Aramco 15-year service award in 2012. [2]

“I worked hard and learned the business. In July 2019, I was promoted to Grade Code 14. That’s uncommon for someone with no university degree. I now have 22 years experience. I am grateful for the people around me who support me. In my department, we have a good number of people from different parts of KSA.”

“You have made very good progress, Mabrouk!” I said, congratulating Bdah.

Abdullah Bin Faleh Munir

In 2020, I had a brief telephone conversation with Abdullah bin Faleh Munir, nephew of Bdah. He was visiting his grandmother, Masturah, at Bdah’s home. At that moment, he was standing in the courtyard beside Bdah enjoying the cool evening air.

Abdullah introduced himself, “Greetings. I am the son of Faleh Munir and Moniyah. Masturah is my grandmother. How are you, big guy? I know you from Twitter. Thank you for all the photos I received from my Uncle Bdah. I appreciate you, man. Thanks for everything you did for my grandfather, Faleh. I have seen all the pictures. At Desert Designs, I have seen them. You did a good job. You make us very proud, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, and I enjoy being part of your family,” I said.

Abdullah continued, “Most Saudis do not have pictures of their parents and grandparents. We are very lucky. I showed my friends in Qatar the photos and said, ‘This is my grandfather,’ and they said, ‘No way, cannot be.’ You know, these pictures are famous, even back in Doha. Hey, words cannot describe how I feel. I just came from Dhahran and stopped by to say hello to my grandmother, Masturah. I love her very much. It’s Friday. Every weekend and every holiday I come here to say hi. She is my only grandmother left.”

Family Tragedy

Abdullah’s mother—Bdah’s eldest sister, Moniyah—died tragically at the young age of 31.

I asked Abdullah about his mother. “I had never seen my mother’s picture, even when she was young. But after seeing the photo you took of her as a small girl; I knew she was beautiful. She died in 2005. It doesn’t happen to everybody, losing someone close like your mother. I was eight years old and in the 4th grade. My little sister, Nouf, was only 15 days old when our mother died.

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Moniyah Al Hajri, age 5, in 1979.

“After that our grandmother, Masturah, looked after us. Since then, we have her, Masha ‘Allah. She is like my mother. I know she has been through a lot of difficulties. She is from a family that was living in the desert, she married my grandfather, Faleh, and went to the desert and had a difficult and harsh life. When I was young, she came to our house in Dhahran, and made sure we went to school every day. She made sure our bellies were full. Al Hamdulillah, she is a gift from God.”

“I agree,” I said. “Your grandmother is an amazing person. And I always enjoy meeting your little sister, Nouf. But what a tragic family history! That is so sad.”

“No, we are good,” responded Abdullah. “It happened. We believe that she went to a better place. We believe that she is the lucky one, you know? I am not a very religious guy, but we have a saying, I think from the Quran, that if a Moslem – no, anyone, not necessarily a Moslem – if a young person suffers from a disease or illness and passes away, then they go to heaven without any judgment. Straight to heaven. Those who die from burning or drowning and people who die defending their family, their land or property, they go, too.”

Abdullah handed the phone back to Bdah, and I asked him, “How is Abdullah’s sister, Nouf?" Bdah answered, “We call her Small Nouf because my sister is also Nouf. Small Nouf is 15. Now she wears hijab, but not niqab. My mother says she has a choice – to cover or not. Nouf’s father, Faleh Munir, says my mother has full authority over Nouf. He supports his daughter and visits her often. But Nouf lives full-time with my mother.”

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4
Bdah, Abu Jack and Small Nouf, age 11, in 2016.

I could hear Masturah call out from inside the house. I asked, “Is it time for dinner?”

Bdah answered, “Yes, my mother says dinner is ready. Something like that.”

“OK, you had better go,” I said.

“No, it’s OK,” said Bdah.

I reminded Bdah, “Next time you are going to tell me about Al Zakhnouni and the Salasil school.”

“For sure. For sure,” he promised. “We will talk again soon. I will spend the whole day tomorrow in my mother’s house. What time is it there? Can we talk to each other 8 o’clock morning Saudi time?”

I answered, “Yes. For me, that’s 9 p.m. California time. Nice to talk with you, Bdah. Shukran!”

And so concluded another fascinating conversation with Bdah, full of rich details of his family history.

- - -

To be continued in Part 5:

  • 2013 Reunited with Abu Jack after 35 years
  • 2015 The family’s winter encampment
  • 2019 King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival in Riyadh
  • 2021 more memories

References

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4

 [1] 2002: Aramco 5-year service award. At left is Muhammad Salman, Shedgum Gas Plant Manager. At right is Saleh Al-Mulhem, Operations Division Head.

Tales of the Bedouin – Part XXIV: The Remarkable Life of Bdah Al Hajri – Part 4

 [2] 2012: Aramco 15-year service award. Left to right: Bdah’s eldest son, Faleh; second son, Munir (front row); Saad Al-Shahrani, Shedgum Gas Plant Manager (retired in 2013); Bdah; Ahmed Al-Saadi, VP of Gas Operations (now Senior VP); Yahya Al-Bukhdaim, Operations Division Head (now Operations Manager).

Mark Lowey
Abu Jack and Bdah at his winter encampment in 2015.

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.

Email: moloworking1@gmail.com

Part 23