Category Archives: Medina

Day 11 – Familiar Faces

The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything…These are events which try your patience.”

11/1/11

The desert calm that clings to the soul. Forcefully grabs hold and enshrouds the heart. There can be no escape, only surrender. It is to this tranquility we retreat. There is no salvation from it, until the desert is left behind – mountains at your back, city streets under your feet. Only then, may you find peace from the Peace. A peace, by which, there is no solace, only yearning – for the perfectly blended skies and warm radiant rays of the brother you left behind.

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2 things: SubhanAllah, nothing compares to the beauty of a desert sunset. I was in total awe, I could have stared forever.

Second, 6:30pm, SubhanAllah, we stopped at a random rest stop on the way to Mecca to pray Maghrib & I saw Ali Hanif! SubhanAllah, that was incredible. Hanif is a good friend of mine from college, I met him and his wife, Nasrin & took pictures together. Allah is the Best of Planners. We may not get to meet again, but I’m grateful to have found a familiar face & extend a warm embrace with my beloved brother. He’s staying at the Al-Massa hotel, I remember seeing the sign, it’s somewhere around the city center. I’ll try to run into him again iA. I made du’a a few days ago to run into people I know, because I was ready to share these moments with my friends & I was finally granted the chance, Alhamdulillah. I was in the prayer area and I saw him standing there. I just rushed up to him and gave him a big, crushing bear hug :) Squeeze first, ask questions later.

I saw Mona Haydar yesterday. Though we don’t talk, I knew she was coming to Hajj from her CNN video, so it was cool to see her. She was in Medina, in the courtyard outside of the masjid, carrying a bunch of shopping bags :) May Allah accept all of our efforts & make our Hajj Mabrur iA.

——————–

That was the perfect ease to accompany this hardship, my heart feels at complete peace. That was, until the slow-boy crew grabbed the mic and started the dyslexic talbiyah, short bus status. The speaker system in the bus needs to get regulated by someone with some courtesy. Can we not have the mic circulate between 4 people with equally horrendous voices that sound like their throats are closing up from peanut allergies? Seriously, man? That’s too much self-confidence, put the mic down, walk away. Take some Benadryl.

Cool thing about the drive from Mecca to Medina is that there are signs posted with different adhkar (reminders of God), periodically along the sides of the road. Reminders to remember The Most Near, Allahu Akbar!

7:20pm, dark, on the bus, not enough light…

——————–
8pm, about an hour left iA. I’m remembering our drive to Medina & how awesome it was. Our driver was something special, subhanAllah, what a character :). That Pathan restaurant was so amazing!! My dad said it was the best food he’d had in years. Not to be taken lightly. I want to remember that whole adventure well iA.
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We got to Mecca at 11pm. It was 11:30 by the time we got out of the Pilgrims Processing Center. The bus ride got much worse before it got better. We hit insane traffic & were stuck for 3 hours. I was also getting talbiyah brainwashed, with it blaring repeatedly, directly over my fatigued head. At least I got to get out at the Pilgrims Center and use the bathroom and blow out some face phlegm (gross, I know – wait till you get here :P). I’m feeling a bit more refreshed, Alhamdulillah. That’s the awesome thing about this journey, I suppose – you get hit with stuff tailored to make you go insane..and want to punch old Persian men in the face…and other group members…sometimes even complete strangers…But, you learn your limitations, your weaknesses and your actual capabilities. Don’t worry, no one got punched. Not by me, at least.

——————–

Allahu Akbar. We finally got to our rooms in Aziziah, just northwest of Mecca. It’s 3am. Our trip from Medina to Mecca really did just take 12 hours. That’s as long as my flight from DC to Jeddah. Normally, it’s only a 4 hour drive between Mecca & Medina. I’m so tired and hungry, but so relieved. The worst thing about the trip was the frustration of being trapped, not being able to go anywhere, do anything. We were caged in on the bus and had to just wait for things to take their course, on their own sweet schedule. These are events which try your patience. The drive to Mecca has been difficult both times now, while the trip to Medina was actually alot of fun & was really memorable. It was so dysfunctional and ridiculous that you couldn’t help but laugh. There was nothing amusing about the hardship this time.

I think things are getting more and more difficult as the time for Hajj nears. I wonder if it’ll be easier once we’re done? I’m *hoping* things will ease up once we’ve completed our Hajj. We’ll see iA.

Things take so long for no reason other than to test your patience.

My dad went down the street and picked up some pizza. It’s actually really legit, I’m totally killing this at 4am. No hesitation. So good…

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Thus far, I’ve seen two things which are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in my life – the Ka’aba & the desert sunset.

The Ka’aba is a masterpiece. It carries such magnitude & grace that it’s just awe-inspiring. It is significant for so many reasons – it stands as a historical landmark, a spiritual symbol, and a social phenomena, amongst other things. It is the anchor for so many worlds. Gazing upon it will make the heart swell & put one into a trance-like state. The hypnotizing, ceaseless circumambulation of pilgrims penetrates the soul with its beauty. Everyone orbits the Ka’aba in fluid motion, while that structure stands as an absolute pillar, from which we all draw stability. Not only whilst making tawaf, in the Haram, but all around the globe, it is our direction of prayer. It is a metaphor for our Universe in so many ways. We orbit, as celestial bodies in space do, mimicking them in movement & in appearance – joining ourselves to the order of the galaxies. It is also reminiscent of the nature of our very own existence. We derive stability from the only Absolute in the Universe, while fluidly in motion, according to His Whim. This is the epitome of “going with the flow”. Being a part of that phenomena, participating in this analogy, is what makes this place even more fantastic. If only we could carry the lessons with us, throughout the other aspects of our lives.

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Day 11 – Rollercoaster to Mecca

I’m in ihram and trying, tryingTRYING not to flip out on this bus and start getting reckless. 

Book 2

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

11/1/11

This is awesome, I filled up the whole first book & we haven’t even started the actual Hajj rituals yet. There’s still 3 or 4 more days to go before it really starts.

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There was a big throwdown at breakfast between our group leaders & all the uncles. They’ve been complaining for days behind his back, but to his face they would barely speak a word. Whatever the case, I would highly recommend going along with a group, where you buy the full package & everything is pre-arranged and planned out in advance at each step. Apparently, there are groups some of the guys learned about where people have full packages, where they get everything, and at good quality, for $3,800. Much better than us, who paid around the same amount & did stuff individually & have so much entropy to deal with. We essentially bought our own ticket and latched onto a smaller group for our housing and transportation arrangements. There’s some guy they found here from Abu Dhabi who paid $10,000 for his package & got put in the same hotel as us. What a screw. He didn’t complain though, not as far as I could tell – just got used as fuel for our group members’ complaints about how messed up the system is. May Allah accept his Hajj, ours too.

Bus is here, 11:40am, heading back to Mecca, iA.

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It’s past 1pm, still in Medina, waiting to load the whole group in & head out soon iA.

So, I’m not sure exactly, but I think gas is stupid cheap here. Like, the bus driver we had that took us to Medina, filled up his bus with diesel fuel for 10 riyals. That’s like $3-4. Maybe he just didn’t fill up? Either way, it’s retardedly cheap. It’s no wonder they love these big, gas-guzzling American SUV’s here. There’s so many Saudi’s pushing Toyota 2400 pickup trucks like they’re Civics & Corollas in America. Suburbans, Yukons, Land Rovers, all that.

Problem we’re having now is that we are jam-packed in this bus. We actually have so much luggage that the cargo compartments are all full, so the whole back row of seats has excess luggage on it. That leaves 4 ladies with no seats. Our group arranged for a 52-seat bus for 54 people, then 4 seats have suitcases stacked to the ceiling. Dang. We’ll see how this works out.

——————–

2pm, we finally started to leave Medina. We’re headed to the Meeqat (entry way to Mecca) to put on our ihram, so we can perform ‘Umrah upon entering the city of Mecca. I’m thinking of doing it for someone else – maybe my brother if I can do it for someone living. Otherwise, my grandmother maybe, on my mom’s side. I never really knew her while she was alive, but she seemed like such a sweet woman. I am at a loss for not having the opportunity to have known her better & think I would like to do this for her.

Before we left, there was a little scuffle. Someone shoved our group leader, one of the Hajj officials I think, to keep him off the bus. This fired up alot of the men on the bus, who immediately shot up out of their seats and almost bolted out of the door. Our group leader tried to stop the bus from leaving too, which went on without him & the 4 women he tried to get on. They were refused by the official because apparently they weren’t on the final list he had. Our group leader said he paid extra to have them added later. No dice. All this messy stuffs, I’m just chillin though, dikrin’ it up iA.

We just got to the Meeqat Dhul Hulaifah. It’s a nice masjid. It’s about 2:20pm. Will return in ihram, iA.

Meeqat Dhul Hulaifah

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We’re on the bus, driving for the past hour. I’m in ihram and trying, trying, TRYING not to flip out on this bus and start getting reckless. The old Persian man next to me, for SOME reason, chooses to hold all of his ginormous shopping bags in his lap. I asked him if he was planning on setting the bags down in the aisle. “Yes, soon.” Continues cradling his bags. I’m all crammed in the corner here, against the window, with no space. On top of that, the driver’s been blasting this all-Arabic, angry-man khutbah over the speaker system for God knows how long. I woke up and the speaker, directly above my head, was blaring & I got so pissed. Alhamdulillah, other people said something & he turned it down. Soon as I started writing, we randomly started hitting bumpy patches of road. NO, it’s ok, I’m gonna stay cool, no worries iA. Let’s see what else gets thrown at me.

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Day 11 – “Fashion”

“Like, you really reppin traffic, homie?”

11/1/11
That date is cool :). We leave Medina today, iA. Just prayed Fajr at Masjid Nabawi. I’m locked out of our *luxurious* 2-star hotel. Further advice: make sure your group leader is fluent in Arabic – speaking & reading. They also should have gone through this journey before, as a group leader, and know the basic fiqh (legal rulings) regarding the rituals, and have a basic history of the places being visited. Stay away from tabliqi’s. Straight up. [Apparently groups typically have an Imam (spiritual leader) that tags along. Gee, that would’ve been nice…]

Have you noticed how foreigners wear clothes with charged English words, but they’ll be mad random? As if they’re thinking, “yeah, that’s real big in the West – everyone cares about that!” For example, this one’s common, you’ll see dudes rocking t-shirts – or shoes, backpacks, hats, etc. and the only thing written on them will be the word “SPORTS”. Like, in big, bold letters, across the chest. I saw, a few times actually, dudes wearin tight t-shirts with the word “Fashion” written on them. Right. Fashion. Really, dawg? The best one, and this is what made me realize that they go for words that are loaded in the West, emotionally charged, serious stuff. Guy had on a shirt, across the sleeve there was the word “Traffic” in elegant, script letters. Like, you really reppin traffic, homie? I don’t get it. But, I do laugh about it everytime I think about it.

Look Me.....wth?

I also saw a group of Desi guys, stuntin harddd at the masjid – all wearin they stylish jeans & t-shirts, swag-walkin through the Haram. One of the guys had a shirt I still don’t understand. It was a red t-shirt, like the (RED) campaign joints. It said, all bold & dramatic: “If you can’t see the future, turn on the lights.” I’m like damn, that sounds so heavy…but…makes absolutely zero sense whatsoever. SMH at overseas fashion. Yall too funny. Thank you for giving me plenty to laugh about though. Who am I playin though, I know I look like a total bum here. I’m so ready to shave my head, long hair don’t care status right now. I got these thobes for 10 riyals each. I throw on a different one each day & each one rips at the leg, they’re not wide enough for my stride. So, I’m basically all disheveled, walkin around with some flip-flops, a torn thobe, a low cut collar with the chest hair bangin. Can’t see me in these streets son, Hajji status. Sigh.

Later on, my mother and I were walking and we saw a guy wearing a black t-shirt, with rainbow colored letters that said, “MY LIFE IS GEM STONES”. I pointed it out to her and went on my little rant about how ridiculous all of these shirts are. I was like, “Seriously, what does that even mean??” She laughs, then thinks for a second and says, “It means his life is precious”. My jaw drops. “OMG…I think you’re right! How did you…?” She just…got it. It’s a FOB thing I guess. I normally don’t consider my mom a FOB since she basically lived most of her life here, since high school pretty much. Stuff like this proves she clearly still has a different perspective. 

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Day 10 – Al-Baik, Take 2

It was intense. There was pure, raw, unadulterated venom in her gaze.

10/31/11

This morning at Fajr, I actually prayed next to the exact same guy I prayed ‘Isha next to last night. It was this large fella, wearing an “L.A.” shirt this time. I don’t know if he recognized me or not, I didn’t say anything. We just prayed, then I bounced. I have that habit, avoiding people. Don’t know why, it’s just something I do so I don’t end up having to talk, which I really don’t like doing. I’m so content just doing my own thing, living in obscurity, ignored & unnoticed by others. It’s only with certain people, close to me, that I want to interact with & feel noticed by. The rest of the world can remain a passive observer & I would be totally happy.

By the way, these thobes that I got are awesome! They keep me totally covered & breezy – so dope. I used to hate on thobes, but this is seriously the best way to be comfortable here. Highly recommended. Especially since I only got them for 10 riyals each, so cheap! Amazing :).

Also, really surprised I filled up this whole notebook pretty much & I’ve only been here a week, haven’t even done the actual Hajj yet. Good thing I have 2 more waiting to be filled – hopefully it’s all enough iA. We head back to Mecca tomorrow iA. I feel like I do more contemplative writing there. Hoping I can encounter more mind-opening thoughts & realizations that I’ll be able to transcribe and *maybe* share later iA :P.

This is so much better than tweeting, forreal. Tweeting has helped me be brief & terse in expressing myself. This gives me the opportunity to express so much more though. I actually really love journaling, I hope to keep it going after I go home. I haven’t gone back & read very much, I started to on the bus ride to Medina, got to like page 30, got bored, & fell asleep. It’s all too recent I think, just feels repetitive while it’s all so fresh. I need to go back and just review though, to fill in any gaps before I completely forget.

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Africans, specifically West Africans, have the dopest prayer beads. So Boss. I wish I could buy those from the bazaars here.

There’s been a janaza (funeral prayer) with every single prayer in the Haramain since I’ve been here. That’s so wild. That’s alot of people dying. I wonder how you get them to do your janaza here. 40 people praying your janaza is enough to have all of your sins forgiven, 200,000 – 400,000 people praying for you is straight Jannah (Paradise) iA. Apparently, if you pray janaza for someone, you get a reward the size of the mountain of Uhud. When I hear that now, it actually means something, with Uhud covering much of the horizon to the North of the city. Earlier, during the tour, someone mentioned that the Prophet said, “We love Uhud & Uhud loves us”. Oddly…I’m also developing feelings for this mountain. I never thought that would happen…

We’re going to Al-Baik now, iA. Just finished ‘Asr, 3:50pm. My parents and I set out on our own journey to find Al-Baik. Surprisingly, it’s been equally as arduous as the one I undertook in Mecca. We traveled the perimeter of the entire mosque, a huge distance, took at least an hour. My mom got to see Jannatul Baqi’ (The Holy Graveyard) finally, since the restaurant is at the end of the cemetery. Women aren’t allowed inside, but the walls have openings that allow you to see from the outside.

Mom & Baqi'

It took us an hour to get here, my parents both had to rest a few times, but we finally found it! You could literally smell the fried chicken from ¼ mile away. We walk in, take the long way to go through the family entrance, thinking we would have an easier time there. We show up to the entrance and there’s a guard posted at the door. He stops us outside and says, “it’s closed until after salah”, in Arabic. My mom cursed something in Punjabi. It’s only 5:15pm, Maghrib isn’t until 5:45pm. Allah SWT is seriously making it difficult for me to get this fried chicken, it’s just comical. Maybe, I’m meant to remember Him, even when I undertake these journeys. But, it’s just some fried chicken…

This better be worth it. Madd people hyped it up & we traveled alot to get here. It’s like its own hijr, for Al-Baik. smh. If they just put em closer to the hotels it wouldn’t have to be this way, I’m just sayin…

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That. Was. Insane…

7pm, we finally got our food. I just witnessed pure barbarity, over some fried chicken. It makes me ashamed. Even the taste of this pretty awesome food can’t make up for the total lawlessness and savagery that people displayed right in front of me. If I wasn’t so hungry, I would have lost my appetite entirely. I’m going to have that look of pure rage & seething hate in that niqabi’s eyes etched in my brain – forever associated with Al-Baik. Maybe this is why Allah SWT prevented me from visiting it for so long. Alhamdulillah wa Shukr (All Praise and Thanks belong to Allah). I don’t think I can really comprehend how this happens, may Allah forgive & guide us. Surely, we are a people in dire need of His Divine Intervention. And, I missed two prayers at the Haram, serves me right. Final verdict: not worth the trouble.

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Ok, so the chicken was good, not gonna lie. It messed up my throat though, cuz it was oily. I’m still shocked at how ridiculous people were behaving. My dad tried telling me this was nothing compared to how people normally are ‘back home’. That’s…comforting…so maybe it’s not a big deal, I guess? I just saw this perfectly decent group of young, Brit Desi’s nearly fight, like full-on throwdown, a group of Somali niqabi’s because they were pushing and *kicking* them to get to the register to order & pay for some chicken. When the guy pushed them back and tried reminding them that there was a “queue” (what a silly word), they started screaming & cursing at him and his family. Everyone got real pissed, real quick. I could literally see the Somali woman’s eyes bulging through her niqab’s peephole. It was intense. There was pure, raw, unadulterated venom in her gaze. The Brits pushed back, but really, they weren’t ready – not ready for what happened, nor ready to allow themselves to transgress the limits of sanity, just to stay in line for a few pieces of fried chicken. Luckily, they got their order quickly and peaced out. It shocks me how people can lose total sight of their humanity and feed the Nafs so heedlessly. It only becomes stronger and gains even more control. Please, don’t feed the animals.

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Day 10 – A Day in the Outskirts

“The way the burnt orange horizon flawlessly blends into the dark navy sky above is perfectly seamless…I was awestruck.”

10/31/11
I’m sitting here, contemplating the events I faced so far – with these random dudes being shady in Medina and the guy in Mecca. Such interesting stories, I can’t wait to share them with my friends. I’ve realized something – if someone is trying to talk to you, as an official especially, and doesn’t know Urdu or English, be very, very careful. All officials here, store owners too, know or speak Urdu & English – even if it’s broken & busted up, it’s still manageable. It’s similar to how most Americans can get by with a very broken and super basic level of Spanish.

I need to be quicker to react and more forceful as well. I’m way too passive, waiting for things to just happen in these situations. Ends up taking me so long to react…

I lost my train of thought – I’m sitting in my room & I can hear the men in our group yelling through the wall, from the room down the hall. The group leader is yelling at them & lecturing them about their behavior in the Haram I think, reminding them they’re on Hajj. This tends to happen quite regularly. I’m not really sure what’s going on, I deliberately keep myself out of their continuous squabbles. Whatever it is this time, it sounds heated. Got me all distracted.

Yesterday, we took a tour and saw some sites around the area. We visited Masjid Quba – which is the first masjid of Islam. When the Prophet arrive in Medina after making his Hijra (emigration) from Mecca, he was greeted at that spot. The Prophet used to visit this masjid every Saturday & pray 2 rak’ahs. He said if you travel to it and pray 2 rak’ahs as he did, you get the reward of one ‘Umrah.

Masjid Quba

Main Prayer Hall, Masjid Quba

We also visited Masjid Qiblatain. It was here, while the Prophet was praying with his Companions, during the 2nd rak’ah of Dhuhr, I believe, that the Angel Gabriel came to him. He told the Prophet to turn from the original direction of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and to face the Ka’aba in Mecca for salah (prayer). So, this masjid has two qibla (direction) markings – to the South for Mecca & to the North for Jerusalem.

Masjid Qiblatain

Facing Mecca

It’s interesting, in our Islamic Tradition, sites with historical significance get turned into masjids, not museums. They become places where you can pray & remember Allah, not just the events that took place there – which increases the barakah (blessing) of those places.

We also visited Mt. Uhud and the battleground where the war took place. It was really awesome to see first-hand, the place where the war stories took place, contextualizing them completely. We had a guide there give us the whole story, explaining what took place in each spot.

How It All Went Down

The Kuffar numbered 3,000 – against 700 Muslims. 300 more had initially joined the Muslims, but they were Munafiq (traitors) who turned back at the last minute. The strategy was to funnel the army of the Kuffar through the gap on the left, making it easier to attack and defeat them. Archers stood on the small mount and were tasked with keeping the right side protected to prevent the Muslim army from being flanked, which Khalid b. Waleed tried to do continuously throughout the battle. The Prophet instructed the archers not to leave their post no matter what, whether they were winning or losing. During the battle, the Kuffar started to run & the archers thought the war was over, so they ran down to collect the spoils. 40 out of the 50 archers left the mount, though their own commander told them not to move from their positions.

Khalid b. Waleed saw this opportunity and flanked the Muslims with his cavalry. The remaining archers were unable to defend the army and they lost the mount as well. Word also started spreading that the Prophet died, causing morale to drop – because someone who looked like the Prophet had been killed. Some of the Muslims found the Prophet still alive, a group of 9 Ansar (Helpers, locals from Medina) & 2 Muhajir (Immigrants, from Mecca), and they retreated up the mountain of Uhud. Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas was shooting his arrows from up the mountain & the Prophet gave him his own arrows to shoot, saying, “May my father and mother be sacrificed for you, O’ Sa’d, shoot!” It’s said this was the first and last time the Prophet ever uttered anything of this magnitude, greatly honoring his Companion during battle.

The Mountain of Uhud at Sunset

The Archers' Mount

The Muslims were cornered & outnumbered, having lost more than 70 Companions that day – including Hamzah, the Prophet’s uncle. They managed to retreat, having been taught a valuable lesson, to always adhere to the plan & orders of the Prophet. They were shown how giving in to personal desires and self-interests will jeopardize the situation for the entire army. Team-building exercise to the death, I suppose.

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Just had breakfast, feeling a little gross now actually. Food just isn’t the same here. It’s especially nasty when they attempt to make it more Western. Ends up with really weird, mushy textures, with the spices just all off.

You know, last night, as the final leg of our tour, we visited a camel farm in the mountains. Surrounded by mountains actually. Right at sunset. It was such a beautiful sight, completely breathtaking. There’s something so special about a desert at sunset that just doesn’t compare to anything else. The colors of the sky are so much deeper & saturated, probably from the heat in the air. The way the burnt orange horizon flawlessly blends into the dark navy sky above is perfectly seamless. Reminds me of the verse from surah Al-Mulk, where Allah directs the eyes to the sky, challenging anyone to find any cracks or flaws in its construction. I was awestruck. There were no lines, no seams, no breaks – just perfect blending. SubhanAllah.

That Beautiful Desert Sky

We went to these camel farmers, our group was kind of obsessed with getting fresh camel milk for some reason. I watched these dudes milk the camels and walk out holding big metal bowls full of white, frothy milk. They just dipped a ladle into the 10 kilo container full of fresh milk, pulled out a potful, strained it once, and started sipping it. I definitely did not partake. I’m all about being adventurous, but apparently, if you’re not used to it (which I’m not) camel milk gives you diarrhea. No, thank you. Not on a trip like this. From what I hear, the taste is also a bit salty and the texture is thicker, almost yogurty. Sounds pretty good actually, almost like lassi, or dogh, or laban. Still not messin with it though.

I was so exhausted when we came back last night, I just prayed ‘Isha in Masjid Nabawi, came back to the room and knocked out around 8 or 9pm. I didn’t even have dinner in the catering hall where we’re being served breakfast & dinner daily. I went up, saw the food, saw the ridiculous line to get the food, then came back to the room. I had a granola bar and passed out.

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Day 10 – The Call

10/31/11

Walking to Fajr.

Cool breeze blowing through the dark, twilight sky.

The distorted echo of The Call being carried out by the light morning air, the words mumbled, barely distinguishable.

The melody is preserved, made more sweet by the grogginess of the mind – feels like a dream state.

The only sound is that of The Call and the soft, even, steady footsteps of those answering.

Bodies slowly ascend upon the source.

The streets full of quiet, zombie-like figures, drawn towards the radiance of the minarets.

As you near, you look up to find the sky, illuminated by countless glowing spires.

A calm, emerald dome in their midst, beckoning open hearts to come & speak to their Lord, with whom conversation is better than sleep.

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Day 9 – Ziyara! Ziyara! Ziyara!

“…These men and women, so distinguished and dignified, stand in total obscurity now…They are the forefathers of our faith.”

10/30/11

Been takin it easy. For some reason, I slept forever yesterday. I missed ‘Asr & Maghrib cuz I knocked out. Wait…I prayed ‘Asr! Just missed Maghrib. I made up an ‘Asr this morning, oh well. I basically passed out around 5pm and didn’t wake up til 3:15am. No clue why I slept so much.

Yesterday, I got to hang with my parents for a while and go shopping. We hit some wholesale date market one of the guys in the group knew about. There, we got the Desi hookup & my parents copped an unearthly amount of dates – something like 40 kilos. That’ll be fun to carry around…

In The Market For Some Dates?

We got 3 different kinds – Ajwa, Medjdool and Kalmi I think. We also got a bunch of boxes of almond-stuffed dates. Afterwards, we grabbed a cab to the hotel, to take back all of the dates. Our driver was texting and maneuvering through traffic. My dad was squirming in the backseat, it was hilarious. My mom was like, “See! That’s how you drive! Now you know how we feel.” Never misses an opportunity :P

Textin' & Drivin'

We hit up ‘Asr at the masjid and then went around to grab lunch. Ended up doing a little shopping along the way at some street kiosks, lined up outside the masjid. We went to a shawarma spot and had some dinky, mediocre sandwiches, which we ate on the stoop of a nearby hotel. That’s about as comfortable as it gets. After that is when I came back & just knocked out.

I woke up this morning like “WTF?! What happened…why did I sleep so much?” I took a shower, got dressed and went to the masjid around 3:30am. It was so calm and peaceful. There were still so many people there, thousands for sure, but it was quiet.

I tried getting into the area where the Prophet’s grave is, but they still weren’t letting people in. I went in the masjid, behind the original section of the building and sat down as close as I could. I did some tahajjud and chilled, waited for Fajr.

6am, after Fajr, I walked with the mass of people to visit Jannatul Baqi (The Holy Graveyard), the graveyard where many Companions are buried. It was massive, far larger than I expected. There’s an estimated 10,000 graves there, all unmarked and unidentified. There are only headstones, indicating where graves are, no names. The cemetery is adjacent to the Eastern wall of the masjid. It was so interesting to see those graves with the grandiose minarets of the masjid as the backdrop

Jannatul Baqi' (The Holy Graveyard)

It’s powerful how these men and women, so distinguished and dignified, stand in total obscurity now. They are, however, further honored by their collective identity, as Companions of The Beloved Prophet. They each accomplished much, surely, but that’s been surrendered so they could be a part of something bigger. They are the forefathers of our faith. They are so blessed & honored. May Allah shower them with His Everlasting Mercy & bless us with an end that is equally dignified & peaceful.

I just hung around and took pictures afterwards. The light is so perfect just after sunrise – that “Golden Hour” photographers talk about. It’s beautiful, such a perfect time to be out in Medina, my favorite actually.

Masjid Nabawi After Sunrise

I was on my way back to the hotel when I saw a little scuffle in the street. There were lines of cars, trying to take people on tours. Drivers walk along the sidewalks yelling, “Ziyara! Ziyara! Ziyara!”. I figure ‘ziyara’ means ‘tour’. I have no idea what actually happened, but some drivers were fighting with some Hajji’s over something and a big crowd had gathered.

They grabbed one Hajji & forced him into a little toll booth looking structure on the corner & locked the door. One of the drivers (in the brown thobe, standing against the booth in the picture below) was yelling and pushing people. He went up to some old guy and shoved him hard and the guy went flying! He couldn’t catch himself and fell off the sidewalk, into the street. Luckily, there were no cars coming, he was completely sprawled out. His glasses and wallet go flying, his ID’s scattering out onto the road. The driver was cursing at him and kicked him again as he was trying to get back up. Poor guy. He got up, grabbed his stuff and just hustled off. I still have no idea what it was all about, but it provided some quality morning entertainment.

Hoopla in Medina

I’m back in the hotel now, just had breakfast. We’re gonna rest until Dhuhr, it’s 9am now. After Dhuhr, we’re planning to take a tour of the city.

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Um…ok…change of plans. Apparently, We’re going to some Jinn valley….now!
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That was a waste of time. There is a valley, 30 minutes from the city, that Desi’s have dubbed Wadi-e-Jinn (Valley of Jinn). They claim there’s a supernatural phenomena of Jinn controlling your cars & pushing them while in neutral. They also say, if you pour water on the ground, it runs uphill, metal bottles also roll on the ground when placed still.We went and tried everything. Yeah, these things appeared to happen. I think it’s a load of crock doo-doo. There’s probably a magnetic field that pulls everything. Watta stooopid….

At least we saw Uhud on the way there. It’s to the North of Medina. We also saw the mount where the archers stood during the battle. Uhud itself is massive! It borders the city and gives it that natural defense.

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I miss Mecca. I remember reading about the Companions missing their city when they came to Medina & the Prophet had to remind them of this being their home now & that he was with them. I completely understand what they felt and how they must have missed that beautiful place :/

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Just getting on the van for the tour, it’s 3:20pm. Things be like that with this group, everything at its own time. Funny thing, the driver we have is the same exact guy I saw this morning kicking the old guy in the street. SubhanAllah, small world :). No one else knows about this guy, even called him ‘Sheikh’ a few times throughout the tour, and I watched him mercilessly beat an elderly Hajji not more than an hour after sunrise this morning.

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Day 8 – It Could Happen Anywhere

“The reality of my situation was becoming clear to me….”

10/29/11

Yea, dinner was fine, there was actually a special buffet just for my hotel. It was decent food, no complaints. I basically went back & slept after dinner, didn’t even change out of my clothes, just passed out.

This morning, I woke up around 3:15am & got ready to go out. Took a shower, got dressed – in the same clothes I had on before – Ew..I know. I went to the masjid & prayed tahajjud, and then Fajr. Afterwards, I decided to walk around and explore the city some. It was great, weather was beautiful, saw better parts of the city, did some shopping. I found some street vendors selling stuff mad cheap. There was a lady selling thobes for 10 riyals, like $3-4 each. So, I gave her a 50, she couldn’t make change, I just bought 4 instead. I figured, I could finally blend in more, I know I stick out like crazy.

So yeah, walked around, did some shopping, came back to the hotel, tried on the thobe, fit great. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to wear underneath…it’s cheap too, so it’s a bit see-thru. I’ll figure something out, I guess. So, I’m just chillin in the room now, hangin out. Oh yea, did I mention I almost got mugged just now? That’s funny…how could I leave that out…

Right, so at around 7am, as I’m walking in the streets, my genius self decides to explore deeper into the side streets. I’m like deep inside some random neighborhood, 2 miles from the Haram when 2 guys approach me, just outside of a corner market. They were young, in their 20s, thin, dressed in pants & tshirts. One of the guys, the one who spoke, looked familiar. I recognized him because, about half an hour earlier, as I was walking around, I saw him in the street. I saw him as I was walking along in the markets, he was on his cell phone. It stuck in my mind because of the way he looked at me – he kind of stared, whereas most people glance without any care at all. But, he stared, and I remember feeling uncomfortable when I saw him. He had long hair, puffy, like Bollywood-esque. To make things easier, I’m just going to call him Jo.

About 10 minutes after I first saw Jo, I was walking in a different area altogether, and I see him walk along the sidewalk off to the right. I had stopped on the street and happened to look up and I saw Jo walk ahead, still on his phone. I immediately recognized him and thought, hmm, that’s weird, it’s like Jo’s following me. There’s no way he would also randomly be here too – there was no logical connection between this neighborhood and the last neighborhood I saw him in. I was just wandering & roaming aimlessly. So, I felt weird about him & actually went to see where he was going. When I went up to the sidewalk, he had already gone or something, I didn’t see him anywhere. So, I just kept walking, didn’t think anything further of it, thought maybe it was just a coincidence after all. Shortly afterwards, I turned a corner and crossed the main street, entering another small neighborhood. I went a good 3 or 4 blocks into the neighborhood when I was approached by Jo and his buddy.

When Jo, and the guy with him, spoke to me, it was in Arabic. I didn’t understand exactly what he wanted. He approached, gave me salaams & then said something about how he was the police, as was his friend. I looked at them, listened for a few seconds, felt really creeped out, and just turned and started walking away, not having said a word. In my head I was thinking, ok, I highly doubt Saudi has plainclothes police, seeing as how much these people love their uniforms so much. Also, I know this dude was following me! That’s shady behavior, I don’t think cops would do stuff like that. They also didn’t bother to show any IDs or any documentation that said they were police officers. So I move to walk away, but they start yelling about being the police & Jo grabs my shirt. He wasn’t trying to let me go, even though I was resisting. Now, they weren’t very big, so mentally I sized them up, but immediately thought…no way, I’m here for Hajj, I can’t be knockin dudes out. I didn’t understand what he was saying, so I pushed my way into the cornerstore, about 10 ft away, figuring the owner may help me.

I walked in. They followed, 2 more men joining their group. I gestured to them in front of the owner like, please deal with these fools. They all started talking and the owner, who looked Pakistani, looked confused. I asked him in Urdu what these people wanted. He talked to them and still didn’t quite understand what was going on. They tried threatening him and saying they were going to call the police & he was like ok, go for it. He turns to me & asks me who I am, where I’m from, what I’m doing here, he didn’t know what was happening either. May Allah bless him and increase his rizk (sustenance) and baraka (blessings) and place him in the highest of ranks in the Hereafter for the help he gave me.

Honestly, I was flustered. I could barely speak, I was kind of freaked out. The reality of my situation was becoming clear to me. I was standing in a completely unfamiliar part of town, at least 2 miles away from my hotel. I had no cell phone, neither my group nor my parents knew where I was and we had no means of contacting one another. I was also being targeted by 4 shady young men, who only spoke Arabic, so I didn’t even understand them. I had my camera, some cash and my journals on me – the only things of any real value to me. I was kind of screwed, but this store owner came through for me, Alhamdulillah. He was very patient with me too, asked me questions, nice and easy, to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I was able to tell him I was here for Hajj, from America, of Pakistani origin. I told him I was just walking around, not doing anything, when they came up to me, just outside of his shop.

One of the 4 guys actually had on a thobe and was carrying prayer beads in his hand. They kept telling him something about how they needed to call the police, to talk to me, to search me, something like that – it was all a big Arabic jumble. I heard Jo mention a camera a few times, I assumed he wanted to “take a look at it”. I wanted to make sure I would at least be able to keep the pictures on it, were things to get ugly and it got taken. I slipped my hand into my pocket and pulled the memory card out, casually, so no one would notice, moving it to a different pocket. Thobey was watching me, but I was just too slick, *brushes shoulders*. The guys would step out, talk to one another, talk on the phone, come back inside, talk to the store owner, back and forth. There was just alot going on.

Other customers started coming in, asking questions, curious about the whole situation. The guys kept telling the store owner they needed to talk to me I guess, so he asked me if I had an ID or a wristband or passport, something that says I was here for Hajj. I pulled out the ID card I was given and showed it to the guys. Jo starts reading it and goes, “Ahhh…Amreeky!” and he hands it off to another guy. He kept repeating, “Amreeky…Amreeky!” I’m like….crap…now I’m definitely going to get messed up because they know I’m American. I make sure to get my card back, snatching it out of their hands. They walk outside, again saying they need to call the police. The store owner is like ok, good, call them. So, I ask the owner, “are these guys cops?” He was unsure. The first time, he said “yeah..I think…maybe?” As time went on, he said, “I think maybe they’re some kind of local security.” Then, after they saw my ID and backed off, he was like, “yeah, they’re nobody, just some hoodlums that are trying to rob you.” Well damn. Thank you Medina.

Jo comes back inside, shakes my hand, smiles, raises his left hand and says, “Welcome!” in a thick Arab accent. I’m like yo, gtfo. He leaves. There’s 3 guys left, but they stay outside now. The owner assumes they’re gone and tells me not to worry, nothing will happen to me. He was like, “When the police come, tell them these guys are messing with you, give them their license plate numbers, & it’ll be fine. The police may search you, but you’ll be ok.” He asked what I have in the bag on my back and I told him it was just clothing. He was like yeah, don’t worry, you’re good. He actually told me I could leave & not worry. I was like…um…what if they come back? He was like nah, they won’t. I didn’t believe it. I guess it’s not what I’m used to. I imagine, if someone is American, you definitely want to go after them. I also assume that if it’s too difficult to take someone in a crowd, you would just wait until they were alone again, and then get at them. I mean…that’s what I would do. Apparently that’s not how it really works over there? Maybe me being American means my government makes sure their government doesn’t let this sort of thing slide? Maybe, they get scared of this and start peacin out, afraid of recourse, even though I have no idea what my options are?

I step outside, one of the guys gets in his car and yells for me to get back inside, not to go anywhere, and he drives off. 2 guys left, thobey & the other guy that originally approached me, wearing a blue Samsung soccer jersey. They stand near me, thobey is staring me down, hardcore. I hold eye contact with him and look away nonchalantly, then casually stroll back inside the store. By then, a few more people are inside, asking the owner what’s going on. After talking to the owner they tell me, “Yeah, they’re not police. They just want to pretend so they can search you and steal your money or whatever else you have.” They said, “When they leave, just go, don’t worry, nothing will happen to you.” An Arab customer came in and the shop owner asked him about the guys, whether they were Yemeni & if they were police. The guy didn’t know but said they looked like they were probably Yemeni, especially thobey. Jo was prolly Yemeni too.

While in the store, one of the owner’s friends asks me what part of Pakistan I’m from. I tell him, “Sialkot”. He’s like, “Oh yeah? This guy’s from Sialkot too”, referring to the owner. The owner asks which neighborhood I’m from in Sialkot. I couldn’t remember the name. I told him I was born and raised in America, only been to Pakistan a handful of times, 10 years ago was the last time I visited. He was like yeah…how would you know, you’re basically American. Word.

Thobey walks in, says it’s all good, they’re “going to let me go”, and him and the other guy leave. I step outside and there’s another Desi man, who was following the whole thing, posted up against the wall. He tells me, “It’s cool, you can go, they’re gone”. I’m so nervous cuz I’m like, “Well, what if they come back? My hotel is really far from here still and I have to walk.” He said, “Don’t worry, go, take your time, walk slowly. They’re not coming back.” He could see I was hesitant, puts up his right hand as if to pledge that I would be fine & could go on safely. Surprisingly, this put me at ease. I go back in the store and talk to the owner and his friend a little longer, pick up a nice cold mango juice…for the nerves ;). His friend kept telling me I shouldn’t have gotten so scared so fast, that I shouldn’t have even shown them my ID. He was like, “You should’ve just called the police yourself and told them to come.” I didn’t think I overreacted. Yes, I was on edge, it was a tense situation, even more tense for me because I didn’t understand what was happening, it was all in Arabic.

The shopkeeper said something interesting though. He said he couldn’t call the police, nor could he talk to them with me, otherwise they would scrutinize him too, as if he was involved. It’s funny because, when he was talking with the 4 guys earlier, I would see him pick up his cell phone, as if to call the police, but then he would just put it right back down. He said, “That’s just how Saudi’s stupid laws are.” I’m deeply thankful for the help & support they gave me. I downed my juice and left. I stuck to main, busy streets, checking behind me periodically. I walked all the way back to the hotel. I came back to the room and found it empty. I changed into the new thobe I bought earlier. I’m going to try to blend in more now iA. This is getting ridiculous.

After I had started writing, my dad came in and made me go and get breakfast. Alhamdulillah, feeling more at ease now. It’s funny, as I was walking around this morning, I was actually really enjoying the city. It was very calm and quiet, even started growing on me. The whole incident didn’t really even damper it, just a little setback.

Nevertheless, it’s been an eventful trip thus far. I should learn not to wander around alone and to try looking more inconspicuous. My bad. I’m chillin now though. These are good experiences, teaching valuable lessons. No harm’s been done either, so Alhamdulillah, it’s just a small test of patience. One week here, so much excitement. Nice ;)

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I’m totally not telling my parents. At least not until we’re back home, or on the plane out of here. They would freak out and not want me to go out anymore. That would just be no fun. My dad said we’re going shopping today, so he wants me to stay close. No problem. At least I’ll get to spend some quality time with them.

If I think hard enough, I can remember the names & faces of only my closest friends. I opened my du’a list just now & saw some names that were almost entirely foreign. My life before this week is seriously such a blur. It’s been a total immersion, entirely too efficient. Everything is different here. Salah is so much easier, the only struggle is getting to the masjid on time, to be with the jama’ (congregation). Back home, even praying at all is good enough. Here, if you don’t pray in the Haram, with the congregation, you feel like a failure. Everything stops at prayer time, everyone (pretty much) prays at the appropriate time. Priorities are in no confusion here. We live to worship. I eat & sleep to have the energy & health to keep praying. It’s that direct of a connection.
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Did you know cell phone’s go off inside the Haram too? See! We’re all the same :P. It’s literally like a “Silence is Golden” ad you would see in a movie theater. We’ll be in the middle of the prayer in the Prophet’s Mosque and you’ll hear that old, classic default ringtone go off. Are you really surprised…?

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Day 7 – This Is It?

“There’s a socio-economic filter that results in Medina looking a little more bougie, with far less poverty and people in the streets. It’s kind of sad if that’s why people think Medina is more peaceful.”

10/28/11

I’m definitely getting sick. Alhamdulillah. I’ve got a sore throat, a bit of a fever and a headache. I missed Fajr this morning because I overslept. I’m in Medina now though, trying to understand this place. Even before leaving the hotel & stepping foot outside, I honestly felt more peaceful. I don’t even know how that works, but I just feel so much safer here. I got up & walked around a bit & still had the same feeling.

Today is Jummah (Friday). I’m chillin in the Prophet’s mosque now, it’s about 9:50am. I’ve been laying down, looking up at the ceiling & relaxing for an hour now. It’s a very elegant & beautiful building. I’ve been searching & honestly, haven’t found any flaws in it.

Masjid Nabawi

I want to know who built these masjids as they are now & when. I would love if they were actually old & historic. Saudi government tends to uproot legacy though, so I’m skeptical. I’m going to get up & walk around & explore some after the prayer – people are slowly pouring in and filling up the building. I need to do some shopping too & prolly should take some medicine…

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I’m disappointed in these cities. There’s no local culture or spirit. You just have tourism, basically. Even in touristy locations in other parts of the world, there’s at least locals with their own culture, food, customs, entertainment, etc. You can typically find these people & places if you’re bold & adventurous enough to go looking for them. I usually love to go looking, I’ve tried to find stuff here & got nothing. It’s like there are no locals. Everyone is an immigrant – from Bangladesh or Pakistan. So, the “local” culture you’ll get, if any, is just a Pakistani or Bengali culture, watered down. Even when it comes to shopping, there’s just nothing interesting. I understand economies have been in decline & people care more about cost, but there’s no benefit to every single shop owner selling the EXACT SAME stuff, all made in China. It’s cheaper, I get it, but it’s also garbage.

Mecca is a little better, barely, b/c there’s just so many people, it creates more opportunity in business. Medina is completely dull. I change my mind about some of what I said about it. It’s peaceful and calm, yes, but that’s because it’s boring and there’s nothing going on. I’m pretty certain the masjid is the only attraction – which is even more annoying because you can’t even go to the Prophet’s grave! It’s always roped off and guarded by police that refuse people in. Such a letdown. It was made worse by the fact that there was a ton of people inside, where the grave was, but I couldn’t figure out how to get let in. There were lines of people around the entrances, no one was being allowed in. I imagine you have to camp out for hours to get in, so whack.

Entrance To The Original Section, Roped Off

The Rowda, As Close As I Could Get

I was taking pics of the entrances & one of the officials told me not to photograph the police, who were standing out front. At least, I think that’s what he said, it was all in Arabic, so I’m not entirely sure.

Maybe I just need to get out of the city centers in these places – take a cab out or something. No clue where to go though. Medina is totally not lush either. It’s just as much desert as Mecca, equally as mountainous. They’ve just planted more palm trees. There’s less people here too, still hundreds of thousands, but far less than Mecca. It’s a different kind of people as well. I know for a fact that there’s more Americans here, just from hearing people speak and from seeing the addresses on their bags. There are probably more wealthier folk here. It’s probably expensive to get here from Mecca, so those who travel for Hajj & have nothing probably can’t make it to Medina. There’s a socio-economic filter that results in Medina looking a little more bougie, with far less poverty and people in the streets. It’s kind of sad if that’s why people think Medina is more peaceful.

So far, I prefer Mecca, I love that realness. I can sit in my room at home, with the door closed & a picture of the mosque on the wall & get the same effect as if I’m here. Bored. The masjid is very nice though, mA. I’m not knocking that at all – well, just my inability to access the Rowda (grave of the Prophet), the main reason for its attraction.

I’m feeling much better, Alhamdulillah. I slept for a while today, so I got plenty of rest. That, along with a bunch of du’as is likely the remedy that worked. I also had a decent meal. There’s too much fast food & unhealthy stuff sold on the streets. Really, the best food I’ve been able to find has been Desi food. I’m totally not saying that cuz I’m Desi. I’m so not into eating Desi food normally, but here, it’s the only way to get a decent, cooked meal. Everything else, pretty much, is pre-packaged, processed, or fast food. There aren’t even decent Turkish spots, and Turks are everywhere! I know they own lots of property here too – and they have awesome food. Quit slackin homies.

With the amount of people here from around the world – with the diversity in cultures – the options for you to engage with other cultures (dining, shopping, learning, etc) are next to nill. That’s been the biggest letdown for me. It’s such a waste of a golden opportunity. Maybe that’s just the American preference? Wanting more options, wanting more complexity? Maybe things are the way they are because the majority of people here – from other parts of the world – prefer it this way. Maybe I just need to suck it up and keep livin off laban and skimpy, cold shawarmas – or keep digging deeper to find what I’m looking for. We’ll see how this plays out, it’s only been 5 days since I’ve been here.

I think I’ll go grab dinner across the street. There’s a hotel restaurant that has Desi food – it’s not bad. My mom told me they had breakfast there & that it was included in their meal package. I didn’t know we had a meal package. She wasn’t really clear about the details, actually. I just assumed it meant I could eat there whenever I wanted without paying. So, I had lunch there. Rice, butter chicken, spinach, naan – not bad at all. Didn’t pay either. Hopefully, it’s straight, probably wouldn’t be right if I was boosting meals while on Hajj, eh? I just acted like I was supposed to be there & no one questioned me or looked twice. They’re serving dinner now, so I’ma go holla insholla.

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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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