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Memoirs of an American Haji, Part IV

February 7, 2006

edit, Wednesday Feb 8th: Visit
www.xanga.com/pkpowerhouse for the greatest of all truths. Take notes,
there will be a quiz later.

Saturday, January 7th
(corresponding to 7th of Dhul Hajj)
– We had been told last
night that the bus to take us from Madinah to Makkah would arrive by 8 am and that everyone was to get ready to leave
immediately after Fajr. Once again, I privately smiled as I saw the group
members strive to make sure they were ready to go, starting to pack and get
everything ready on Friday night itself. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t even
attempt to go to Fajr; though I felt miserable inside that I would miss my last
prayer (of this trip, Inshallah) in Madinah, I simply couldn’t go on. I prayed
Fajr in the room and hobbled downstairs to meet the group at breakfast since
the Q/A session last night was cut short due to the hotel management asking us
to wrap it up (*insert Chappelle Show quip: “wrap it up, B” here*). I was
having breakfast when I saw an exhausted, I-got-attacked-by-wild-animals SU
trod into the restaurant. I asked him what happened, and he mentioned how last
night, he had gone to the Mutawwif’s office to make sure that our bus would
come on time.

A word about the Mutawwif’s office: these are basically
large rooms with a large table in the middle that contains anywhere from 100 to
500 passports strewn about carelessly. Each office will have about a dozen
seedy-looking men who will be preoccupied with smoking cigarettes and hookah,
drinking chai, talking on their cell phone, and meeting every Arab that comes
in as if he’s their longlost childhood friend. Of course, they could care less
about you if you’re not Arab. If you want something done, unlike America
where bureaucracy actually works (more or less), these people will take their
own sweet time. ASAP means they’ll offer you some chai, sit down, tell jokes to
one another, smoke a few cigs, call everyone on their phone book, watch a
soccer match, and then get to your task several others later. This is how
things work in other parts of the world. Count your blessings.

Anyway, so SU narrated to me the events of the previous
night and how the Mutawwif’s office was bustling all night with various people
trying to get their jobs done. He coolly mentioned to me the complete lack of
security or observation, and how anyone could just walk in, more/add/remove
passports and no one would be the wiser. The problem that had occurred last
night was that the buses move from Madinah only when the Mutawwif can fill the
bus with 50 people. Our group had 48 people, which was good enough. However,
another American group had 37 people, and they knew that their bus wouldn’t
move until the Mutawwif got around to filling their bus with leftover people,
so the “clever” fellow basically steals some passports from our group and adds
them to his pile, making his pile a complete 50 so that he gets the bus on
time. SU mentioned how he had to convince the Mutawwif, using the passport
copies that he had (it’s a good time for me to mention that you should make
multiple passport copies and keep them with you since chaos is the order during
Hajj season) that our people were really our people. It’s also a good time to
point out that people are willing to do anything—no matter how immoral or
under-handed—to get their work done. After finishing breakfast and questions,
we headed back to the room to get our packing done. Since we didn’t have rooms
in Makkah during the actual days of Hajj, we had to divide our luggage into
handbags (that we would keep with us during the days of Hajj and contained all
the things we needed during the actual Hajj) and suitcases (that would be kept
in storage and only accessible after Hajj. I could probably write a separate
post on the list of things that one should keep during the days of Hajj. Moving
along, I spent the rest of the morning sitting in the room, sulking and waiting
for the bus to arrive. Shortly before Zuhr, my mom decided that the only way I
could pull off this Hajj was to get a wheelchair so as to be completely off my
feet. Upon realizing this, I felt terrible, one of the worst feelings I ever. I
thought to myself, Subhanallah, all my
life I’ve been able to walk and run around and do everything on my own, and now
here I am in these lands and I’m reduced to a wheelchair?
While it was
quite frustrating (and there were many moments of frustration at this
handicap), it was also a realization, that despite my stupidity, this was how
Allah wanted me to perform this Hajj. I had a plan but God had another plan;
that’s something that’s key to understanding about Hajj: you’ll read historical
accounts of Hajj, books about Hajj, and hear from those who have gone before,
and will thus have your own vision of how your Hajj will go. My advice is that
while this vision is somewhat beneficial, be fully prepared that nothing will
go as you had expected.

            Zuhr time
came around, still no sign of the bus. My mom went and got a wheelchair so I
was wheeled off to the Masjid by one of the group members, Jaffer Hussain (JH),
a young guy, recently married… total good guy, mashallah. Despite my hatred of
the wheelchair, I was thankful that I got to get another prayer in the Masjid.
After Zuhr, we grabbed lunch from another nearby restaurant; one thing you’ll
notice is that every restaurant around the Haramayn pretty much serves the same
thing: rice and roasted whole chickens. Vegetables… they never heard of them. I
think this partly explains the expanding waistlines of everyone there. And of
course, despite the lung-clogging pollution, nearly everyone and their mother
smokes… I even saw niqabis smoking. It was the most ridiculous thing ever, to
see a woman raise up her niqab to grab a quick puff and then cover her face
again. These damn tobacco companies are making up for all their lost revenue in
the West by exporting these devil-sticks to our people. And we’re even stupider
to actually pay to kill ourselves with this. I came back to the room, ate,
showered, and changed into ihram.

            A word
about ihram for men here: please practice wearing it before you leave for Hajj
because it takes some while to get used to the intricacies of wearing it; most
importantly is making sure you practice how to sit/stand/pray in different
positions and make sure that you’re, uhm, ‘well covered’. I say this without
facetiousness, since it’s really important to practice this and make sure
you’re not flashing people. Trust me on this one. Anyway, with nothing left to
do and with no sign of the bus arriving, I went to sleep again. Here’s another
important thing: make sure you pace yourself and get enough sleep. One might
think that you won’t get tired due to the spiritual ecstasy of being there, and
this is true while you’re actually in the Haramayn, but once you come back to
the room, you’ll feel bone-tired. It’s crucial that every opportunity you get
to rest, you take advantage of it since the entire journey is a marathon, and
you must pace yourself lest you burn out in the final and important days. Asr
time came around, still no sign of the bus, so we scurried off to pray Asr in
the outskirts of the Masjid. I was getting quite worried, since I knew from
past experiences that the bus trip from Madinah to Makkah, despite it being a
distance of 300 km would take anywhere from 15-20 hours. I had been hoping that
we would arrive in Makkah by Isha on Saturday night, thus leaving us enough
time to complete our Umrah and then proceed to Mina on Sunday morning for the
start of Hajj. Finally, the bus arrived around 5
pm (Maghrib was at 6 pm)
and we got everyone loaded on the bus. The Mutawwif sent a representative to
take a head count and check us with the passports that he gave to the bus
driver. I always find it funny how paranoid they are about our passports, as if
we’re not going to leave Saudi and stay here. I can understand this paranoia
for visitors from India/Pak, since many of them stay on illegally, but I don’t
think anyone wants to stay on in Saudi. I’ll explain why later, in a discussion
about racism and pollution and a corrupt system. After making sure we were all
who were supposed to be, he gave the bag full of passports to our driver and we
finally got on the road.  As twilight
approached the City of the Prophet, I was getting quite worried about the time
factor. As we left Madinah, we could hear the adhan just beginning as the last
rays of sunlight payed the day’s final respects to the Prophet, creating a
surreal scene streaked with red, yellow, green and other shades of colors yet
to be named on the ramparts of the Masjid.

            We then had
to proceed to another checkpoint on the outskirts of Madinah where yet another
Saudi official checked our papers. At this office, we got down and prayed
Maghrib and then sat around for more than an hour as our driver took our
passports inside. That’s another great way to prepare for Hajj: put on Ihram
and just sit in an uncomfortable bus seat for several hours. A word about the
bus drivers as well: these guys are the nicest people in the world. They’re
usually Yemeni or Egyptian drivers that are brought in only for the Hajj
season. Most of them are quite poor, and the Hajj season is the only time of
the year when they make enough money to support their families for the rest of
the year. Being nice to them, striking up a conversation, and tipping them
generously is not only a nice thing to do, but will ensure they go out of their
way to make life easier for you. Case in point, our driver was an Egyptian guy
named Sameer. Old boy spoke the ghetto-est Arabic ever, was a chain smoker, and
despite being only 30 something, had two wives and 11 kids. He was also always
smiling, said salaam to every other vehicle that we met on the road, and always
had a tasbeeh in his hand. After this checkpoint, we had to stop at yet another
one, and then finally got on the main highway from Madinah to Makkah around 8 pm. We then arrived at Dhu’l-Hulayfah, which
is the Miqat point between Madinah and Makkah. In recent years, they’ve
constructed a large masjid at this location since this is where many people don
their ihram, declare their intention for Hajj/Umrah, and pray the two rak’ah of
ihram. When we got down here, my chair had been put on top of the bus, and
without any accessible way to get it, we were in a quandary as to how to get me
inside the masjid. I said that I’d just pray here on the bus, but the group
members—God bless them—said they weren’t having any of it. SP and another young
guy, Adnan, picked me up and carried me the whole way to the masjid. We went
inside, prayed Isha and the two rak’ah, then they carried me back to the bus.
We then got on the road for real-real around 9 pm. The roads out of Madinah
were crowded, and with a rare rainfall that had occurred, everyone was driving
slow; apparently the roads in Saudi aren’t build for effective water drainage
since it never rains there. Nonetheless, we were able to bypass nearly all the
checkpoints fairly quickly, since as soon as we got stopped, the driver would
pull out a few of the American passports and say “Amreeki”. It was funny to
notice that the guards first thought we were from Turkey and then from Pakistan,
but as soon as they saw the American passports, bright smiles beamed across
their faces and they allowed us to continue immediately. The power of the
American passport… unreal.

            The bus
driver turned off the lights and we all proceeded to get some sleep. A word
about sleeping on the bus: it’s dang near impossible to do, since the road is
so bumpy and the seats are quite uncomfortable. I highly recommend carrying
along one of those inflatable neck pillows that stabilize your head; they’re
small, inexpensive, quick to assemble/disassemble, prevent that nasty cramped
neck that you get when you sleep sitting up, and will serve you a LONG way
during the days of Hajj. Make sure you carry a few of these so that you can
share with those who don’t bring them along. There’s not much to report during
this bus ride except that it will seem like three days. It’s one of the most
boring and patience-demanding aspects of the Hajj journey. Living in the West
all our lives spoils us such that distances of 300 miles are easily driven in a
few hours; in a desert country with countless people moving from point A to B,
don’t expect to get to places quickly. Also during the journey, we started to
take our antibiotics (I recommend azithromycin or levofloxacin, trade names of
Zithromax—available in a convenient 5 day or 3 day “Z-Pak”—and Levoquin—the one
I took, it’s more of an grenade approach to killing bacteria, hehe–respectively).
Most doctors aren’t fans of prophylactic antibiotics, but with the congregation
of millions of people from every part of the world—if you listen in prayer
during ruku or sajdah, you can hear thousands of people coughing, sneezing,
sniffling in unison—it’s also a mecca for bacteria to congregate, breed, and
develop new strands to infect people. It’s better to take the meds before you
get sick so that you don’t miss out on any of the important days because you’re
lying in bed with a temperature. Nonetheless, it’s very likely to get some
viral infection that’ll cause some flu-like symptoms, but it’s less severe than
a bacterial one. Anyway, we traveled throughout the night and arrived on the
outskirts of Makkah around Fajr time. I saw a sign that said “Makkah 2 km”, and
it was here that a massive traffic jam had occurred. Since the day before, a
building had collapsed in Makkah and killed hundreds of pilgrims, the
authorities were suspecting foul play and were being overly cautious at all
checkpoints. Because of this, we were stuck in line forever—I kid you not, we traveled
½ km in 2 hours. The worst part of all this was that Fajr set in while we were
on the bus, and when we tried to get down to quickly pray on the side of the
road—since we weren’t going anywhere anyway—the police got all medieval on us
and shouted for us to get back on the bus and that no one was allowed on the
side of the road. This is another thing that one must get used to: due to
extenuating circumstances, don’t be surprised if you find yourself having to
pray seated on buses.

We finally cleared the checkpoint and our bus entered into
Makkah proper as the first rays of sunlight emerged from the weather-beaten
mountaintops. We had been in the bus for nearly 15 hours, but we had finally
ran the gauntlet and entered into the City of God.
The journey of a thousand and one miles was nearly complete.

The chant of “Labbayk, Allahumma Labbayk” was resumed with unmatched zeal and intensity. We had arrived in Makkah.


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19 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    haha aww the last line was once again awesome ( lol now im wondering if i say that out of relief- j/k!) and i never knew that it would take so long to get places.. and a wheelchair?! poor you.. and that was so nice of those two men to carry you to the masjid.. haha.. and kr.. you actually propped me for a post that makes no sense and means nothing at all? im so flattered lol.. take care!

  2. hundreds didnt die in the hotel. ‘only’ about 20 or so did

  3. One more thing, I advise against the post about the corruption of the saudis. Imam Tahir of San Jose said something really well in his set about Hajj. He was saying how we are Duyuf-ur-Rahman (guests of Allah). How would you like it if you had a guest come to your house, you served him and then that guest went on to complain about how little we did to serve him? In the same manner, we should be very cautious about saying anything negative about our experiences in Hajj. We were the guests of Allah, so to complain about anything would be counter-productive. I experienced many of the similar problems you did, but at the end of the day, the Saudis MUST be commended for handling nearly 4 million (unofficial number) Haajis every year. I don’t think anyone else could do the job they do. They have the blessing of Allah in handling the number that they handle.I don’t know how true this is, but one of the group leader’s was giving a talk the in the Hajj terminal after Isha upon arriving to Jeddah. He said the Saudis invited strategy firms from the US to help them make the Hajj process more efficient (Mckenzie?). Anyway, the conclusion of their study was to have 2 Hajj per year. He went on to say that we are here for Allah, don’t try to change the system even though we’ll feel like doing it through out our stay. The job they do is commendable. Mufti Maulana Aziz also was talking about the superiority of the Khuddam-ur-Rahman (Servants of Allah – Saudis) over the Duyuf-ur-Rahman.

  4. man, what with being busy i completely missed out on… um, reading up on your life? 😛  but really, congrats on hajj… ^_^  i need to take some time out one of these days and read up on your story – so far i’ve noticed the aching feet part though 😦
    and lol, thanks for leaving the SO non-sarcastic message. 😉 

  5. sayeed, i dunno if i implied this, but i wasn’t talking about an entire post dedicated to the corruption of the saudis. i was more thinking in terms of posting the constructive ways/ideas that i’ve thought of over the years that would streamline the process and make things safer for people. i agree with you completely, i tip my cap to the saudis for handling so many people and doing so much. however, what i have found disturbing over the years is the blatant racism that the saudis (and arabs) demonstrate towards desis and africans. i’m sorry, regardless of their accomodations, that sort of thing cannot be swept under the rug.”Do ye make the giving of drink to pilgrims, or the maintenance of the Sacred Mosque, equal to (the pious service of) those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive with might and main in the cause of Allah? They are not comparable in the sight of Allah: and Allah guides not those who do wrong. (9:19)”therefore, throughout the memoirs, i’ve jotted down various places where the system could be improved, meaning that while present accomodations are adequate, there’s still much that can be done, especially in the jamrat area. more on that later.and whats with the miserliness in eprops… loser.

  6. Niqabi’s smoking? SubhanAllah, that’s funny and sad at the same time.
    Good point about the pillows, never thought of that.

  7. haha good stuff.. esp “(*insert Chappelle Show quip: “wrap it up, B” here*)”peace,IJB

  8. kr my man……..i miss you…….its been 6 months since I last saw you…:Cries:

  9. “We then got on the road for real-real”—haha, cute.
     
    I’m surprised about all the smoking/hookah that was going on…I know there’s a difference of opinion on the subject, but still, you would think people would refrain from something that may be makruh or haram especially during hajj.  And please try to fit in a mini-post about the things one should keep with them during hajj…it really would be useful to know.
     
    Yet another entertaining post masha’Allah =)

  10. oh and really random question, are there restrooms on the bus? I was just thinking that it would be really uncomfortable during the 15 hr drive if there weren’t any…your description made me picture a ghetto type school bus, but i’m probably wrong

  11. queensarah: i’ll make a note of the mini-post and post it in a few months again when Hajj time draws near, inshallah. as for the bus, some buses do have bathrooms on them. don’t get me wrong, these buses aren’t scrubby school buses. they’re pretty decent and have cushioned seats and whatnot. the one we were on had no bathroom, so we did stop twice during the night for bathroom breaks. but an important skill to develop that goes a long way in hajj (and i wrote that down during the muzdalifah night) is to practice making wudu with small amounts of water (like a coke can) since bathrooms are often far away and crowded. more on that later.

  12. Lol, Sameer: Old boy spoke the ghetto-est Arabic ever, was a chain smoker, and despite being only 30 something, had two wives and 11 kids. He was also always smiling, said salaam to every other vehicle that we met on the road, and always had a tasbeeh in his hand
    He’s my role model now.

  13. Assalamualaikum….
    “I’ll explain why later, in a discussion about racism and pollution and a corrupt system.” hahahaha
    wow…i didnt know there were soo many problems you have to go through….when we went to saudi, we went in our car…and we would always go to makkah first, so that we wont be late or anything…..but mashahAllah, you guys handled it well…
    Allah Hafiz
    Wasalaam

  14. Here ya go kr.. eprops AND a comment to keep the Hajj memoirs flowing.. 😀 More please…The prophylactic antibiotic popping was new to me (makes a mental note that InshaAllah will do this too). But did it work though?

  15. did you expect all the props that quickly? i can’t read these posts in one sitting and even then, i have to print them and read them later. but i’ll say this: these memoirs are great, mA. i enjoy them as is and then i relate your experiences my own hajj years ago… it’s nice visualizing everything in my mind… like pretending i could go back myself…
    like a lot of other ppl, i can’t wait to read about the rest of the trip. 🙂

  16. Anonymous permalink

    i love these posts they are awesome…i dont know if i will ever go to Saudi Arabia to do hajj in my lifetime, insh’Allah so its nice that you are posthing these up so at least i can dream. As Salamu Alakium warahmatulahi wb 

  17. KamKam…sorry for not eproping this earlier, I was on a xanga fast of apathy…you are the bomb…did you actually use the wheelchair?  I was unclear on that detail…

  18. Whoa! I didn’t expect u to be on a wheelchair? It must have been really bad.I was really curious where you were when the building collapsed in Makkah. Now I know that you were stuck on a BUS…hehe! Alhumdulillah! you guys were safe atleast in that traffic jam.

  19. man, that bus ride from Madinah to Makkah scares me now. 15-20 hours in those uncomrtable seats plus being in ihram is not fun. I have been through that, but not for such a long period of time :-/Remind me to get those anti-biotics bro. They seem to be very helpful.

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