© Mark Lowey 2023. All rights reserved.
In this piece, Mark Lowey shares a special video of a recent, in-depth interview with desert legend and retired Aramcon, Quriyan Mohammed Al Hajri, who has gained growing recognition in Saudi Arabia for his twin passions, advocacy of environmental awareness and preserving Bedouin traditions. One viewer remarked: “Quriyan speaks truth in this wonderful, historical and informative video.”
VIDEO, Living Between the Bedouin Life and the Work at Aramco
By Channel 8
Sponsored by the Saudi Cultural Development Fund
A group of Saudi tourists wishing to visit the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) contacted Quriyan and asked him to lead a three-day tour in January 2023. One gentleman on that trip, Mohammed Al Sadun, was so impressed with Quriyan’s desert skills and leadership that he asked if Quriyan would be interested in a video interview. Al Sadun contacted his friends at Channel 8 in Riyadh and told them about Quriyan.
Channel 8 agreed and proposed that the interview take place at various locations around the Kingdom where Quriyan lived and worked. Quriyan, always happy to share Bedouin culture and impart desert knowledge, said, “Yes, of course.”
The Making of The Video
In early March 2023, three men arrived at Quriyan’s farm in Junayah: Mohammed Al Sadun, whom Quriyan had led in the desert in January and two Channel 8 staff, Thamer Al Sunadi, interviewer, and Mouafaq, cameraman. Interviews were conducted around the farm, and they spent the night there. The next morning, they traveled to the Jebel Bateel area, near Thaj, to see the location of Quriyan’s birth on the desert sand and the area where he worked as a teenaged surveyor. Remarkably, Quriyan was still able to find the jerry can, now half-buried, that he placed long ago in the sand as a simple marker of his birthplace.
On the way back to Junayah, they stopped in the desert area just north of Fazran where Quriyan described the changes he had witnessed in his life. A photograph from 1978 reveals a verdant landscape full of grass and shrubs. Today the desert is nearly void of plant life.
Winter 1978, on the road to Thaj, north of Fazran.
After another night at the farm, Quriyan led the group on a tour of Old Ain Dar including the famous water well where his grandfather once met Aramco legends Max Steineke and Khamis ibn Rimthan, Max’s knowledgeable Bedouin elder and desert counterpart.
Finally, after a few days of preparation, two vehicles ventured south into the Rub Al Khali to the area called Al Shalfa, near the famous water well, Umm al Abel. For two days, Quriyan discussed desert navigation and survival. Mouafaq, a gifted and creative cinematographer, captured priceless images of Quriyan as he expertly navigated the desert and sand dunes by car and on foot.
Why Do They Call It The ‘Empty Quarter’?
Speaking in Arabic, with English subtitles, Quriyan wonders aloud, “I don’t know why it’s called the ‘Empty Quarter.’ It is not empty, it is full,” as he gazes across the vast expanse of desert. For someone like Quriyan, the secrets of the desert are plentiful, often revealing themselves just below the surface of the sand. As if on cue, he scoops away a layer of sand and pulls up the wispy stalk of a slender desert onion, a cousin of the more familiar green onion.
Quriyan, Son of The Desert
“I am the son of the desert and learned much from my father and from growing up and living in this environment,” says Quriyan. “I learned many more lessons while working remotely for several companies early in my career. Survival depends on being constantly aware that there are many hazards that can be encountered in such a beautiful yet harsh environment.”
During the trip, one of the vehicles in his caravan got stuck, its tires sunken deeply into the soft sand. Quriyan was soon filmed deflating the tires, digging out the sand and, eventually, freeing the car. His warning to the viewer: If you ever get stuck in the sand, remain with your vehicle. Why? If you aren’t able to free the car, a rescue team will be able to see a stuck vehicle far easier than a solitary person in the desert.
Over a period of six days, the four-man team covered over 1,000 kilometers. The interview finished, Mohammed, Thamer and Mouafaq returned to Riyadh to edit and produce the video that was uploaded on YouTube in July 2023. Since then, after hundreds of views, many people, friends, and complete strangers, have contacted Quriyan with congratulations.
Thamer and Mouafaq with Quriyan near the area where Quriyan worked in the 1970s.
Quriyan points out his birthplace at Jebel Bateel.
Quriyan in the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter).
Thamer Al Sunadi (left), Quriyan and Mohammed Al Sadun in front of the Channel 8 offices in Riyadh.
Many stories have been written about Quriyan, his origins, his life, his family. Some are directly referenced in this YouTube video. Read more about Quriyan here.
Below is an excerpt from “Tales of the Bedouin, Part 1” published January 2020.
For centuries, Saudi Bedouins have passed down their rich oral and poetic storytelling traditions. Their elders have recounted and embellished vivid tales of bravery, skill, and family values, often over a glowing campfire in their desert encampments. Since few written records were kept, the importance of collecting these stories has not been lost to the dwindling number of aging Bedouins who first heard these stories as children.
Recognizing their historical value, Quriyan Mohammed Al-Hajri shares his father’s stories in this series ofTales of the Bedouin, as told to his friend and fellow Aramcon, Mark Lowey.
Makhulah The Camel
Quriyan refers to Makhulah in the YouTube video and tells of his father calling for the wayward camel in a sing-song voice. Below is an excerpt from a story retold in February 2020.
Once upon a time in Ain Dar, my family had a female camel named Makhulah. She was a beautiful creature and a natural leader. Now, usually we keep the camels hobbled (with rope around their ankles), but one time, my father forgot to re-tie Makhulah’s rope, and so she left Ain Dar – and took all the herds with her! (Click on the link to find out what happens next.)
Quriyan’s Beloved Mother
Quriyan loved and respected his mother immensely. Read her fascinating life story “A Mother’s Journey,” Parts 1 and 2, published in June 2020.
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.
Ain Dar Water Well and Quriyan’s Quest for Knowledge
Quriyan discusses the history of Old Ain Dar, his early schooling, and he has advice for the younger generation in “Old Ain Dar” published in March 2023.