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Day 12 – Khamsein?

Every day has been such an adventure here, subhanAllah

11/2/11

Of course, getting back to our rooms was not easy, why would it be? :P Not only did the main group bounce without waiting for everyone, it took the rest of us forever to get a cab. Took at least an hour to find a taxi willing to go to Aziziah, then once we got one, it took the driver an hour to get us to our place. It’s only a 10 minute drive. He got completely lost and didn’t know how to get us there, even after asking everyone & their mom along the way. We actually took 2 cabs & split our group up. I was in the first cab with my mom and the other women from our group and my dad was in the second cab, with the uncles. It took my dad’s group another hour to get a cab after we had gotten ours, we basically back to the room at the exact same time.

The uncles negotiated with our driver and worked out that each passenger would pay 20 riyals, about $5. As soon as we got in the car and started driving, he turns to me, in the front seat, and says, “Khamsein?” I just stare at him, dumbly. He pulls out 50 riyals worth of bills and waves them in front of me, asking each person to pay that much. I’m like, “Nah bump that”, and reach for the door handle to get out while he’s driving. He quickly changes his mind back and is like “ok, ok! ‘Ashrein (20)?” Much better. Egyptian drivers have been such characters. He tried speaking to me in Arabic, and realized I didn’t understand. As he was driving around, lost, he’d turn to me in frustration and try asking me something in Arabic and I’d just shrug my shoulders. He’d give up and be like “Ahhh! No Arabic…!”

He really couldn’t find our spot though, and we hadn’t been there more than one night, so I really hadn’t gotten familiar enough with the area to help him either. So, we called my dad’s group to see if their driver could guide our driver. Their driver, mA, talked to our driver, found out exactly where he was, drove up to us, and had us follow him to our front door. May Allah bless that man, that’s such kindness & generosity. And competency. Our driver, after being guided to our destination, asked for more money. I might’ve actually given him something for his troubles, but then he had to go & ask for money, which ruined his chances with me. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction, I can’t help it. We were also already standing at the front door, no leverage homie. We got in at 12am.

We did get to eat at an Afghan restaurant before leaving, near the Ramada, by the Haram. It was decent food, just such a pain to get seats. You had to literally poach chairs by standing over people while they were eating. The second someone got up, you had to sit down, or someone else would get there before you. We spend 20 minutes trying to be civil and waiting for tables to clear out, and we found that everytime we’d go check, new people would be in the seats. You couldn’t even stand on the side of the room and jump in when someone got up, you had to physically stand over their shoulders and wait for them to finish eating. The hospitality industry here is majorly lacking. That’s just awkward.

The food was different than what you normally find in American Afghan places. It tasted less…sanitary. Like, way less sanitary. I actually thought I was gonna throw up after I had the kabobs, they really didn’t seem cooked. I have the sneaking suspicion that most places don’t use real meat in their food. Meat in general has been pretty hard to come by. I’m guessing they process in alot of…filler with the meat. Sounds gross, but that’s probably the reality. Most people in 3rd world countries really just can’t even afford to eat meat.

Honestly though, Food Corner would smash these Afghan joints. We have such amazing food in America, at least in Northern VA (wut, wut!), Alhamdulillah. I mean, I still enjoyed it, oddly enough. Pathan Urdu is definitely still the best. They have such a sweetness in their tongue when they speak, with their incorrect grammar. Makes the language suddenly more interesting & dynamic.

I think the plan is to stay in Aziziah and just chill tomorrow. That might be best after our fiasco with the taxis tonight. Going back and forth from here to the Haram is such a hassle. After tomorrow, we head to Mina and the real fun begins. We’re almost there.

Every day has been such an adventure here, subhanAllah. Hopefully, that’s been conveyed in these writings. I feel like it makes these pages out to be quite the interesting read…should I ever let anyone read them…j/k, I prolly will share them. At least, parts of them – some things have been too personal, but who knows, maybe? It’s definitely been a pleasure keeping this journal :)

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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 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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Day 3 – Blank Scars

“The simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher.”

10/24/11

It’s 8:30pm, we’re on the bus now finally, waiting to ride to Mecca. We’re going to go straight to the hotel & eat, rest & I’ll probably head to the Haram (the Sacred Place) to do my ‘Umrah (ritual of visiting the Sacred Place).It’s funny, Hajj is supposed to be a journey that teaches you patience. We often assume we have the chance to learn patience later, as things try us throughout the journey. We haven’t even gotten to the Haram yet & we’ve had to show so much patience. You never know where it’ll come from – the simplest thing will take hours for no apparent reason. THAT is your Hajj, that is your teacher. So far, I think I’ve been keeping up alright, iA I am actually considered patient by Allah & I can successfully endure what else we face.
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The waiting game is real. We’ve been playing since we got here, round after round, subhanAllah. It’s 9pm – still on the bus, waiting to leave, the driver finally got here. Now we’re just staring, hoping to pull out any second!
Sitting here, I looked down at my hands & saw this scar on my thumb & felt like it was so distant & foreign. I sat there, staring as I forced my way through my mind to recall the accident I had, sawing wood to build a float for a Homecoming Parade in high school, almost 11 years ago. It’s like I’m in a whole different world & everything before I got here is but a vague memory I can barely recall. This has become my reality, I almost don’t remember any life before this morning, before this plane ride. I was born when I put on this cloth – who was I before this? Was I before this? All seem completely valid questions right now. I am, or appear to be, a pilgrim, a Hajji, that is how I am called by others. That has become my identity. I have completely lost all other notions of my self. This is not an exaggeration, this is not me dramatizing my state. This is real. I try to remember others, my loved ones, & I can see their faces, but I feel nothing. All I feel is this yearning to reach my destination. I am coming! O My Lord, I am coming! Please accept me! Labbayk Allahuma Labbayk is all I know in my heart right now. Alas, we embark for Mecca, just after 9pm.

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I imagine tawaf gives the ultimate Axé. The concept from Capoeira is so captivating & intoxicating, I’m eager to see if this feeling will compare. Maybe the act of tawaf is the ultimate Roda. Maybe it is part of The Divine’s decree for His creation, for them to be so engrossed & lost in His Orbit. This is such an interesting topic that I have to contemplate further.

Axé (ah-shay) is a term used by the Brazilian martial arts form of Capoeira to describe a feeling of intensity that emerges from within, in the midst of a Roda (ho-da), or demonstration circle. It is the free flow of energy from the members of the circle to the fighters – a dizzying concoction of adrenaline, excitement, fear, ambition, and raw passion. Everyone in the circle claps and sings ancient songs that tell the history of their people and their beautiful art-form. Meanwhile, the fighters throw powerful movements, one after another, at each other – with an aim not to injure, but to flow seamlessly. The most beautiful Capoeira will have little if any physical contact, with fighters constantly moving through the space within the Roda, nearly crippling one another but never actually striking a blow. You could get seriously injured in any second, with fervent voices at your back, thrusting you forward. There is the excitement of overcoming yourself, while finding complete harmony with others at the same time. That rush is Axé.

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