© Mark Lowey 2023. All rights reserved.
In this piece, Mark Lowey describes a day spent with Quriyan Mohammed Al Hajri touring his boyhood home village, Old Ain Dar, in 2021.
At Quriyan’s farm in Junayah, I awakened at first light. I knew Quriyan would have been up for at least an hour already. I joined him on his daily dawn stroll around the grounds. We walked through the meticulously planted rows of sidr trees and palms. Quriyan half-heartedly searched for an elusive owl and a shy fox that he had seen before. As he walked between the trees and ducked under branches, he cheerfully called out, “Salaam Aleikum!” to whatever creatures might be within earshot.
Dawn breaks at Quriyan’s farm.
A morning stroll.
Quriyan suggested a photo atop the pyramid of stacked boulders near his garden. After an effortless ascent, he stood erect and saluted as if to welcome the new day. Then it was my turn. As I clambered up, trying to keep my balance, I was reminded of my mild fear of heights. In the end I felt more comfortable in a seated position.
Posing atop the rock tower.
The sun was now above the horizon, and we returned to his outdoor lounge area for a light breakfast of Turkish coffee, dates, and sweet Labneh flat bread.
Time for breakfast.
The Hidden Water Well
After a short drive to the outskirts of Old Ain Dar, we arrived at the entrance to a fenced-in expanse of date palms and thick, tall grass. It was a lush, green oasis. Except for a caretaker stationed at the wide-open entry gate, there was no one around. We walked in, and Quriyan soon found an unremarkable patch of sand.
Quriyan pointed down and said, “This is the Old Ain Dar water well from before two hundred years. I remember this well, it’s covered now, inshallah, we will uncover it and see the rocks.” Quriyan went on, “My grandfather, Quriyan Nasser, and his brother, Muflah, with the help of other villagers, maintained the well. They drilled and cleared it and put rock edging to maintain the shaft. My father and uncle took over when my grandfather died.”
Quriyan stands over the, now sand-covered, Ain Dar water well.
“This area was a busy part of our village. Not like today. On their way from the north to Al Hasa, people with their camels stayed here one day to fill their goat skins and irrigate their animals. Then when they finished in Al Hasa, they came back using the same trail.”
Steineke Visits in 1946
Quriyan recalled the legend of Steineke. “When Max Steineke  and the Aramco team of surveyors and geologists came to Ain Dar in 1946, they passed by here. Khamis ibn Mohammed Rimthan  [the gifted Bedouin guide, instinctive geographer, and long-time employee of Aramco] was with them. They stopped and took coffee and tea with my grandfather and other men in the village.”
“In that time there were many people around this water well. They named the Ain Dar oil field after this well. The area was surveyed in 1946, and they drilled the first oil well in 1948. Ain Dar is part of Ghawar field. That rig, Ain Dar #1, was twenty kilometers from here.”
Quriyan continued, “In 1981 they installed this water pump. It’s the history. People, they don’t know about that. I told my cousin, please, go and dig that old one. Let the people see the rock and lining.”
I asked, “Will he do it?”
“Yes,” came the response, “he will do it, he promised.”
Under a nearby palm tree was a black irrigation hose continuously running with water from the well. Quriyan squatted down and took a drink from the hose, “Salam aleikum! Abu Jack, see the water? It’s good to drink. See, see. I like it. From the water well itself.” I sampled the water, and it was sweet, indeed.
Quriyan tastes the well’s water.
Ain Dar History
In June 2020, I wrote about Ain Dar in “A Mother’s Journey Part 1.”
Ain Dar, Caravan Hub
For hundreds of years, Bedouin and merchants visited Ain Dar to water their camels on the caravan route between Al Hasa and Naeriyah. To satisfy the demand for goods and supplies in the north, merchants would hire Bedouin and their camels to transport goods procured at the souks in Al Hofuf to the north region of Naeriyah. Camel caravans went back and forth year-round. The sweet and plentiful water at Ain Dar made it a desirable rest stop; one of several water wells along the 300-kilometer route.
Naming the Ain Dar Oil Field
During the years leading up to the drilling of the first exploratory well in the Ain Dar in 1948, Aramco (then CASOC) geologists spent years conducting exhaustive surveys and drafted comprehensive maps of the area. The nearest village was Ain Dar, with its ample water supply at its well. Legend has it that Max Steineke , Aramco Chief Geologist, on his way to and from his base in Dhahran, would stop off in Ain Dar to meet with village elders, including Quriyan Nasser, grandfather of Quriyan Al Hajri, to keep the locals informed of Aramco’s development plans. Over coffee and tea, Steineke learned the name of the famous water well that had served travelers between Al Hasa and Naeriyah for centuries, Ain Dar. The name stuck.
Ain Dar Oil Well No. 1
After World War II and with the resumption of drilling, the most obvious location to resume wildcat drilling was the Ain Dar structure, because of its proximity to producing facilities at Abqaiq. Ain Dar No. 1 was drilled in 1948 and oil flowed to the surface during testing. It was put on production in early 1951 and is still producing today with the original well casings. This well has been producing for more than 58 years with the aid of best-in-class reservoir management practices. It has produced 152 million barrels of oil and is still producing 2,100 barrels per day (as of 2008). 
Old Ain Dar Hospital
Next stop was the now-disused hospital of Old Ain Dar. Quriyan stood in front of the traditional concrete block building and recalled, “In 1965, when I was seven years old, I came here, and I met the doctor.” The hospital opened in 1964 and was closed around 1979 when a new, more modern hospital took its place.
The old Ain Dar Hospital.
“See that room here?” said Quriyan, as he pointed to a door. “It’s the office of Dr. Abdulbhagi. He died fifteen years ago. He is the one who gave injections. This room. Have a look. See?” Then gazing upward, Quriyan exclaimed, “Wallah! (I swear!) Look at the ceiling – original. Wallah! Nice!” We moved to the next window. “That is the room for the doctor, and this is one for the nurse. Men on this side and women on the other side.”
Doctor’s office interior with exposed wood ceiling.
Window to the nurse’s office.
Quriyan described how a routine visit to the hospital would work. “First, we went to Dr. Abdulbhagi’s window for treatment and injections. Then we moved to the nurse’s window to receive medications. The very sick or injured would stay inside the building or were treated in their homes. In the early days, there was only the doctor by himself, no nurses.”
The Doctor’s Door
“If we go around, maybe we can open the door and go inside,” said Quriyan. I followed him around to the interior courtyard and we found a well-preserved, classic, mid-Century façade, featuring a still-solid, though worn wooden door with horizontal rows of protective metal studs. A thick concrete header overhung laterally above the door and timber roof beams protruded from the upper wall. Above the door header was a large hole in the wall that might have housed an air conditioner.
Entrance to the doctor’s office.
Quriyan had fond memories of this place and the doctor. “These pictures of our visit in 2021, Abu Jack, they remind me of 1965, Wallah! Wallaaah, Abdulbhagi, we liked that guy, Shaikh, a very good man. Wallaaah!”
“He was from Sudan and came to our village to help us. I remember, Abu Jack, when somebody was sick, old person, child, woman, Abdulbhagi would gather his tablets and medicine, and he walked, in the night, Wallah!, in that area with no lights, only dark, to the people to help them. Wallah, inshallah this guy is now in paradise, inshallah, I hope. He was a good guy, everybody liked him.”
“Abu Jack, I remember Abdulbhagi, in addition to his work he was a very good player. After his job, he played with us at football and he’s a good guy for football. Not only that, also basketball at the school. Yanni, he is doing a lot of activities with us.”
“I remember his wife named Sadia. They came here and got a small house near my house. He was our neighbor. My mother visited his wife all the time. When my mom had meat or chicken, she would divide it and give half to Sadia. Like sisters. This is the life. They had three sons and three daughters born in Ain Dar. I know the oldest son of Abdulbhagi named Falah.”
Ain Dar High School
We then drove to Ain Dar high school on the other side of the village. Typical in layout, the large interior common area was surrounded by classrooms and offices. We found the principal’s office, introduced ourselves and were invited to sit down and have tea. We put on our masks according to the school’s Covid policy. Quriyan explained that he was from this village and was showing me around.
The principal’s office, Principal Ahmed on the far right.
The principal and his staff were kind enough to take us to two classrooms that were in session at the time, English and Chemistry. The well-behaved students at this all-male high school listened to Quriyan’s brief story and asked questions. In the English class, Quriyan wrote a message on the whiteboard and read it aloud, “Thanks for Abu Jack for visiting Ain Dar high school. Also, many thanks for principal Ahmed who welcome us and in addition to that, the English teacher.” We signed our names.
Quriyan’s message to the English class.
Next, we visited the chemistry class where the lesson plan that day had to do with the properties of crude oil and its components. We were told that some of these students would be applying to King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran and, inshallah, looking forward to a career with Aramco.
A Lifetime of Learning – Quriyan’s Quest for Knowledge
Quriyan Mohammed Al Hajri finished his formal schooling at age 16 – two years short of high school graduation. He then went to work for a surveying company and never looked back. Now, having retired after a successful 36-year career with Aramco that included many significant accomplishments, Quriyan has decided to fill the gap in his education. A believer in the adage it’s never too late to learn, he is seeking his secondary school diploma at age 66 and plans to pursue a university degree.
Quriyan described his educational background and goals. “In 1962 when I started, my school in old Ain Dar was a tent. Then, in 1963 in a wooden cabin, and 1965 a concrete block building. Now it has been abandoned and replaced.”
“I finished school in 1973. I started working part-time in 1972, during the three-month school break. I worked on the pipeline from Ain Dar GOSP-2 to Ras Tanura with the Tamimi-Fouad company. My monthly salary was very small, SR 170 ($45).”
“From 1973 to 2020, after 47 years, I went back to school to complete my education,” said Quriyan. He attends the adult program at the high school in Salasil, a pleasant twenty-minute drive across the desert sand from his farm – a dream commute for Quriyan. “I sit for my exams at the school in Salasil. The exams are difficult, but I like it. Later this year, inshallah, I will get my high school diploma.”
7:30 a.m. February 28, 2023, Quriyan and other students arrive for the chemistry exam.
“Next year I will continue my education for university in Dammam. If I go to the school next year, I will study the environment. There is a degree about the environment or the law. I will choose one between the law and the environment. Inshallah, environment.”
“I believe that age is just a number. My dream, when I worked in the field for so many years, was to continue my education. But the circumstances at that time, yanni, to feed my family, this is one of the reasons I did not complete my education. Now, since I retired, I found myself, like, free and I want to continue. This is my dream. Inshallah, my dream becomes fact.”
“I encourage the people who have not completed their education to continue because you shouldn’t just stay where you are and not progress. Continue learning from childhood until you become, yanni, old. This is my aim in the life because I like it, I like the education.”
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Local map showing Junayah, Salasil and Old Ain Dar.
 Max Steineke, obituary. Aramco Expats. (1952) https://www.aramcoexpats.com/obituaries/max-steineke/
 Khamis ibn Mohammed Rimthan, obituary. Aramco Expats. (1959) https://www.aramcoexpats.com/obituaries/khamis-ibn-mohammed-rimthan/
 Fischbuch, Darryl B. and Soremi, Adeyinka X. Ghawar's Magnificent Five. Aramco Expats. (2008) https://www.aramcoexpats.com/articles/ghawars-magnificent-five/