Day 6 – The Road to Medina

Realistically, only Allah knows what will really happen.”

10/27/11

The culture here is so much more different than ours in America, especially in the American suburbs. Spending habits alone are so telling about the way people live. People buy, not for weeks in advance, but for the day at hand. Not large, unwieldy quantities. Sufficient portions. You buy what you need, when you need it. Why worry about getting more? You’re so close to stores that there is no inconvenience. You won’t use everything at once, so why dedicate resources towards handling excess? It’s hard to carry everything when you walk everywhere anyways. You would end up with your already low amounts of money tied up in stock you don’t have immediate need for. Who knows if you’ll even live long enough to use the 64-pack of tissues, or bon-bons, or granola bars, or whatever. If you die unexpectedly, hopefully you will have left behind something more than leftover groceries.

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So, I’m still sitting in the hotel lobby, my mom & I apart from the rest of the group of course. It’s almost 1pm, our flight is at 4pm – last flight to Medina, out of Jeddah airport, which is an hour and a half away. Still no sign of the bus. I think we’re kind of screwed if we miss this. Apparently, yesterday was the last day to travel to Medina by road & today is the last day of air travel [this later proved to be incorrect]. We also already checked out of our rooms, so we have no place to stay if we don’t make our flight. I actually think we don’t even have staying arrangements in Medina right now either. Such is the organization of this group. Alhamdulillah. Gives me plenty of time to write at least.

I think the honeymoon period is pretty much over. It didn’t happen suddenly, it’s not even like I’m “over” it. I just see things more completely now, less naivete. It started when I was sitting on the ground in front of the Ka’aba, waiting for Fajr, and dudes are yelling at sisters to get up & move back, away from the front. I’m sittin there like, yo that’s not cool. This is supposed to be the one place where none of that matters. I don’t know if they were acting out of ignorance or if I’m just incorrect. Either way, showed me things aren’t always so peachy here.

Shortly after that, I was wandering around & stumbled onto the ghetooooo. I didn’t even think Mecca had ghettos, definitely found out the truth there. It was straight up like Pakistan – dirty, smelly, trash everywhere, old metal doors on houses. It was all uphill too, that made it kind of interesting. Reminded me of Battle for Algiers.

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Nothing is easy, almost by principle of going for Hajj. We’re attempting to get to Medina, but our bus driver had no clue how to get to the airport. We missed our flight. After much arguing & conjecture, we’ve decided to risk the 4 hour drive to Medina & try to still get in by road, despite the supposed restriction on road traffic entering the city. It’s about 5:30pm now, we’re expecting to get there by 10. Realistically, only Allah knows what will really happen. It’s comical, really, this driver is almost entirely incompetent. Adventures are afoot.

I think I’m getting sick too. Sore throat has started, a little headache & fever too. InshaAllah it’ll be ok.

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Best meal I’ve had since coming here. I woke up and we had pulled into a rest area, where there happened to be a Peshawari kabob spot. Really good food, Alhamdulillah. This was the ease we needed after the hardship of our travels. Let’s enjoy it, our next hardship is sure to come soon, iA.

The Driver With Our Passports In His Lap At Dinner

I love the way Pathans speak Urdu, it has such a sweet sound. I had some chapli kabobs, naan, daal, and a little chicken karahi. It was all served so fast and was sooo good mashaAllah. The group’s Punjabi side came out instantly. Everyone was barking out orders nonstop, poor waiter kept having to run back and forth the whole time. When everyone was well fed, they finally calmed down & got quiet. I wonder if he’s used to Desi’s being this way. Knowing when they go silent, he’s done his job right. Resuming drive to Medina, no light….

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It’s 11:30pm, we’re about 30-40 km from Medina. We’re all pretty certain our driver is illiterate. He clearly can’t read signs. His bus doesn’t seem to go over 30 mph, it’s so old and raggedy. We’ve also stopped at least 3 times, in search of “shai”. He goes nuts at each stop, excited that we may find some tea, usually there’s none, everything is closed. Poor guy. Each time we pass a rest stop, he goes, “Shai! Shai? Shai? Shai! Shai!”. He has a good heart though, he means well. It’s been a stressful trip for him, I’m sure. He was responsible for driving a bus full of 18 American Hajji’s to the airport and he got there too late and they missed their flight, now he’s braving a 4-10 hour drive to try making up for it.

All the men in the group have been cursing him in Urdu/Punjabi. So wrong. How quickly we forget our role as invited guests, we forget the place we ought to be in, as humbled servants. Our Master will provide, do not despair. He do be carrying our passports around in a plastic bag whenever he gets out. That’s a bit concerning. Tawakkul ‘Alallah (place your trust in Allah).

The stop we just made has tea. InshaAllah this helps my Egyptian driver brother man. His outfit is interesting too. He’s basically got on a green jumpsuit, that’s been cut off below the waist to make a shirt, with the pockets still in tact, and then actual pants underneath.

 

Our Ride To Medina

 

Also, when we drive, I can see the stars, it’s glorious. When we stop, you can’t see anything, rest stops are too bright :(. The landscape is so interesting though. It’s basically all mountains, surrounded by desert. The weather at night is beautiful. It’s probably like 75 deg, with a cool, light breeze, no humidity. Really, really pleasant, Alhamdulillah. Much nicer than the hot blaze that was Mecca. Not that I didn’t enjoy that as well, you know sometimes I likes it hot ;)

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We crossed the checkpoint into Medina, didn’t get stopped or even looked at, Allahu Akbar. 12:45am, almost there iA. Everyone on the bus broke out into songs in praise of the Prophet & Allah. Cute. A little cheesy & over the top I think, but whatever floats your boat. One man said in Punjabi, “See? Allah helped us because of how much we love the Prophet. Because we’re such good people!”. SMH. See what I’m dealing with?

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We had a little hulabaloo upon entering the city, though we got past the checkpoint without any issue. Some of our group members left without us in the morning, going to the airport on their own to catch their flight, ditching the rest of the group. Apparently, that’s a problem because passports are transferred to locations along with the group, in bulk. They left on the down-low, so their passports were with our bundle still. We show up at the Pilgrims Reception Office in Medina and they’re like…um…22 passports, 18 people…what’s the deal? Our driver had to reassure them, frantically, that he hadn’t left anyone behind. Needless to say, it took a while to sort out.

We just got into our rooms, 2:45am. As soon as I get comfy & lay down, they’re like, “Hey! Let’s go to the mosque!” I’m like…uh…it’s late…I just wanna sleep & hit it all in the morning. I need to get rest to beat this cold too. We’ll see what happens, iA.

First impressions – just at first glance – Medina is pretty lush, for a city in Saudi. Alot of trees everywhere & even grass. I mean, it’s no Virginia, but it’s not bad for a desert :). But, I feel like, if Mecca is NYC, Medina is Chicago – just with West Coast weather for both. We’ll see how this holds up over the next few days. The distance from one to the other is basically like DC to NYC. Not too bad, but amazing to think about that trip being the Hijra (emigration) of the Prophet. Seeing where he was, where he went & where he traveled to get there has been an absolutely phenomenal experience, Alhamdulillah.

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