Day 5 – Blame It On Al-Baik

“Paranoia lingers and brings such unrest to the heart.”

10/26/11

It’s 7:50 am, I just made it back inside my room. That’s right, I’ve been out since 2:30 pm the day before, with only a 45 min power nap in the Haram. I feel fine though – apart from my feet, which currently need amputation. I just had *quite* an adventure. Some excitement, some exploration, some rude awakenings, some failures, & some successes. Yes, all that since I last wrote in the journal. So much to tell, I hope I can get all of it down…

As soon as I walk in to the room, my dad’s like, “Are you ok?? Everything alright? You should have told us you were going for so long…we have a tour in an hour, go take a shower.

Uh…ok…

More adventures I suppose. That’s fine, pack it all in. Before I forget, the search for Al-Baik is the reason I did all this in the first place. I’ll have to start from when I left the room yesterday to really paint the whole picture of my recent adventures.

——————

Ok, managed to shower and freshen up, sitting on the bus now, waiting for this tour to start. Not really looking forward to it – apart from potentially seeing historically significant sites. This group is the only thing I don’t like about this trip – I can’t stand some of these people. Loud, self-righteous Punjabis just get under my skin like no one else can.

So, about yesterday, I left the room at 2:30 pm, went to the Haram & prayed ‘Asr on the roof. After ‘Asr, I went down & sat near Mount Safa to write in my journal & wrote until Maghrib. I ended up moving around until I was on Mount Safa during Maghrib. The imam, I think Shuraim, recited a verse about Safa too. Then, I headed out to get something to eat, but by the time I made it through the crowd and got outside, it was ‘Isha time. So, I prayed ‘Isha in the courtyard outside of the masjid, in front of the ‘Abd Al-’Aziz gate. I went after ‘Isha to Burger King, had a double whopper, ate with some Algerians and felt disgusting afterwards. I went around to find some water, or a big bottle to fill with Zam Zam. I went to this Super Food Mart & got all kinds of drinks (juice, water, soda). Took it back to the hotel & found everyone but my dad in the room, so I didn’t want to stay. I bounced after a few mins & headed back towards the Haram. Picked up a bottle of water on the way to try & clean out my system, I felt so gross.

I went to the roof and chilled for a while. I eventually left & started to head to the hotel, but got curious about this restaurant I kept hearing about, Al-Baik. Everyone said I HAD to go there, so I wanted to find it. I also wanted to see the other gates to the masjid, so I started walking its perimeter. I discovered the other gates…and went all the way around, to the outskirts in the North, still couldn’t find Al-Baik.

I continued walking around, when I was approached by a random man, just outside Marwa. He looked like any other devoted follower – big beard, head covered with the red-checkered garment, loose robe, warm smile. He came up to me and gave me salaams, with a big smile on his face. He grabbed my hand, gripped it with two hands & started asking me questions. I thought nothing of it & started to answer as best I could. He spoke only in Arabic though, didn’t understand my attempts to get through to him in English or Urdu, my usual backups when my sparse Arabic runs out. I understood enough to get that he asked my name, whether I was here for Hajj and where I was from. Then he asked, “kam auwlad?”, right after I had told him I was from America. I know “auwlad” is baby/child, I didn’t know what “kam” meant. I thought he wanted to know how old I was when I went to America, or how long I had been there. I didn’t know enough Arabic to tell him I was born there…and felt apprehensive about even giving him that information.

He started to insist. While holding my hand, he repeated the same question at least 30 times, very seriously. Why I stood there that long is beyond me. I didn’t want to be rude and pull my hand away and bounce, which is what I should have done. Instead, I tried to be respectful and answer him. To try to help me understand, he would mimic cradling a baby in his arms, and even “wah-wah’ed” like a child to show that he wanted to know how many kids I have. I started to get it…but…why do you care so much about how many kids I have? I started to get creeped out. Then he asks, “wife?”. I go, “No”. He frowns, “no wife?”, followed by an unnecessarily sad, pouty face. “Parents?” He asked if my parents were alive, here for Hajj, or back in America. I’m still staring at him, thinking, ok…why does he want to know all this? Then, I catch him looking up behind me, as if there was someone back there. I look back to see who was there. This felt really shady now. He plays it off, “Ahh, parents..here? Where?”, starts pointing to random spots and looking inquisitively at me. I ask him in English, “What do you want??” He was confused. I ask him again, and he had no idea how to respond. I pull my hand away, say salaam, turn my back and walk away. It only took me 10 minutes to break him off, real smooth.

At this point, I’m super paranoid. I mean…I’ve seen Taken, I know how kidnappings work. I’m thinking to myself, maybe this guy is a spotter, picking people out that look vulnerable – such as myself, a brown dude walking around in jeans & a bright green “Prince William Lacrosse” t-shirt, clearly standing out from the robed majority, all alone at 2 in the morning. So, I’m thinking, if he’s a spotter, there’s gotta be a tracker too, someone that’s going to follow me around until the time is right to babynap me. So I stop about 50 yards down, next to one of the doors of the masjid. I turn and start scanning the crowd to look for anyone suspicious, anyone noticing me. I stood for almost 10 minutes, but couldn’t find anything, there was just too much of a crowd, I couldn’t even see the guy that talked to me amongst the mass. I kept walking, but still felt paranoid.

So there I was, walking along the outer walls of the Masjid Al-Haram on my 2nd night in Mecca at 2:15am, convinced that someone was following me with ill intentions. I decided I needed to get away from the crowd, to somewhere more secluded to draw out anyone that was behind me and see what was going on. I walk across the courtyard to the As-Safwa towers shopping mall that loom over the Haram. The shops were all closed, but the buildings were still open. I duck inside. I get in, it’s dark, completely empty. I get on the escalator, directly in front of the entrance, and go to the second level. While I’m going up, I turn to watch the glass doors to look for anyone coming in behind me. When I’m almost at the top of the escalator, I see someone run inside. If there was anyone who was following me, this was him.

I get off the escalator and walk to the wall across from it. Leaning against the wall, sipping from my water bottle, I stare down the escalator to see who was coming up. I see a young African boy, maybe 14 or 15 years old, coming upstairs. He sees me standing there, looks surprised and quickly looks away, turns and goes up the next escalator to the third floor. Doesn’t look back at me. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for me to find another exit and leave. Too bad I didn’t do that. I went after him. I rode the escalator up to see where he went. I got to the next floor and found him standing in the corner, talking to a group of Saudi police officers that were posted in the mall. I was assuming he was playing off going upstairs by looking like he was trying to talk to them. I stood across the lobby, watching. After a minute or so, the police start looking at me suspiciously and I realize how shady I must look now – posted up on the wall, carefully watching all of them. So I just turn to leave and I see the kid go up another escalator to the top floor. I head back out, through the same front entrance I came in from.

I would say that I still didn’t feel completely settled. Paranoia lingers and brings such unrest to the heart. It was close to 3:30 am now, and I didn’t want to risk leading anyone else that was potentially still watching me back to my hotel room. So, I went back into the masjid. SubhanAllah, I was able to find a spot on the ground floor, 30-40 yards from the Ka’aba. Tawaf was still going strong. I prayed some tahajjud, and made du’a, to feel at ease if I really was clear and safe now. After I finished, I felt a complete calm overcome me. Alhamdulillah. I stayed in that spot, until Fajr, at 5am. I prayed with the Ka’aba directly in front of me, Alhamdulillah. Thank you Rabb, for protecting me & not testing me with more than I can bear.

I left, intending to go back to my hotel to rest. Instead, I went exploring again. I was just captivated by the crowd. At 5:30am there were hundreds of thousands of people pouring out into the streets, in every direction. It’s a spectacular sight. There’s literally a sea of people continuously flowing over every path leading away from the masjid. I’m standing there, looking around, thinking – where is everyone going…?? So I pick a direction, and decide to see for myself. I  just start following the crowd. I ended up heading Southwest, which I thought would lead me towards my hotel. I figured, after I was done exploring I could just turn a corner and be near my room since our hotel was also South of the Haram. Didn’t quite work out that way. I got so mixed up in the streets that I ended up wandering for another hour just trying to figure it all out. I got lost in the real city. I had finally found Mecca. This was what I wanted to see here – real outdoor markets – not air-conditioned shopping malls – massive crowds, street food, the hustle & bustle. Though I was lost, I enjoyed every minute. I was exhausted though. I eventually gave up on trying to route myself to my hotel from where I had ended up and decided to head back to the Masjid, in the center of the city, and to go back to my hotel from there.

——————–

I’m so drained. This tour showed all the places we will be going for Hajj – looks pretty serious. I’m hoping I can actually complete it iA.

I’m back in the hotel now, it’s 1:15pm. I’m going to try to finally get a little sleep. I can’t even concentrate enough to write more. Hopefully, I don’t forget what happened, so I can write everything in detail & not oversleep ‘Asr! Ok, yalla Hajji!

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Filed under Al-Masjid Al-Haram, Mecca, Reflections

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