Hajj: Diary of A Pilgrim

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This is a travel log during my first Hajj last year.


Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 | 8th Dhul Hajj

00:37 I’m sitting on the floor of Mellie’s bedroom. She’s sorting out her clothes before Hajj. I’m reading about Prophet Mohammed’s Hajj and feeling humbled. This is our first Hajj. It’s come for both of us at turning points in our lives. I’m a bit anxious and apprehensive about Hajj. There are going to be millions of people, all praying for their hardships, hurt and problems; all praying to the same Lord.
07:10 We arrived at the designated bus stop before 7 am. Our group was meeting at the Czar Hotel close to United Doctors Hospital. The streets were empty on the way to there; we could hear seagulls, and then there were buses parked all over the place. We were given tags to wear that had our bus and seat numbers. We were one of the first people to arrive. Others started coming with their families to bid them farewell. Mellie and I sat in the bus for a while, excited to be the first ones there.

08:10 This lady (later known as Areej) popped in and asked why we were sitting alone in the bus when there was a breakfast buffet being served at the Czar hotel. She put her bags on one of the back seats and we all stepped out. Areej said her goodbyes to her family and we walked to the hotel. I met Mellie’s aunts, Bouthaina and Basmah, for the first time there. We weren’t particularly hungry so we grabbed a few finger snacks. Areej lives in the States with her husband and son. She studies something in New Jersey. This isn’t her first Hajj. Mellie’s aunts are lovely. Also while getting breakfast, I met one of my former students (Nour Musbahi) whom I used to teach high school computers. We had our tea and left the buffet.
09:10 We left the bus station point.
10:35 Arrived in Makkah and the bus parked in Kudaii. Mellie stayed in the bus and is on the way to Mina now where our accommodations are located. I am going for Tawaf and Umrah with her aunts and uncle. Buthaina is sitting on my left and there’s a wheelchair on my right.
13:45  Completed the Tawaf Ifadah and Umrah in about three hours. We are on the bus back to Kudaii where we are going to meet our group and head to Mina.
14:11 Back in the Mahmal (group) transportation after a half and hour’s wait. This bus seems and smells MUCH cleaner than the one we took from Jeddah to Makkah in the morning.

It’s a nonstop stream of humans in the city of Makkah. Everybody is dressed in white and plain clothes. So many different souls and languages, but it’s one God they speak to and He understands them all. The new Haram expansions barely make you feel you’re in a crowded space, unless you’re on the ground floor. However, performing tawaf on the ground floor has a different feel. It’s more humbling and you feel grounded.

Upon reaching Haram, we were in search of someone with a wheelchair and who would push it for Mellie’s Aunt Buthaina. They charge insane amounts of money for that during Hajj. It was scorching hot at 11am when we started our Tawaf. I had forgotten my water bottle and cap (and almost everything else) in my other bag which I’d left with Mellie. Aunt Basmah is a sweet soul. She started Tawaf in high spirits, but got exhausted quickly because of the heat. She managed to finish her Tawaf but with great difficulty. We drank cups of cold Zamzam water after. It never tasted better.

Umrah was relatively easier because it was indoors and there was air conditioning. I was distracted by thoughts and tiredness and stress. Aunt Bouthaina got lost when we finished but we eventually found her.

We are still on the way to Mina. Aunt Bouthaina has fallen asleep on the seat next to mine. I’ve nodded off a couple of times.

14:50 I can see the tents of Mina from the bus. They go on as far as the eye can see. Now we go settle at the hotel.

17:25 I am writing from my sleeping spot at the hotel. I’ve showered and eaten. There are about twenty women in the room and it’s like a community home. Some people are sleeping in the room while others are outside where a lecture is in progress about the significance of Hajj and it’s regulations.

Mellie is asleep next to me on my right. Aunt Basmah got herself some tea and she’s sitting on my left. Aunt Bouthaina has made her bed across from us.

18:30 We prayed Maghrib at the hotel and then napped for a while. There’s a talk being held in the hallway about what we need to do during the upcoming days of Hajj. Mellie and I had icecream. I dreamt about electronic kittens during my nap.
20:00 It’s Isha time. Mellie and I walked the length of the street where our hotel is located and then back. We are sitting in this wide tented area next to the Jamarat bridges facing our hotel buildings. Men in white garb are praying, some are sitting on the floor, talking, while theres a continuous flow of people around us. A man walks across us with his toddler, she falls on her knees and we both look up. Both of us comment on how brave she is for picking herself up and not crying.

Everything seems very surreal and spiritual, yet I feel a hollowness in my heart. I need to leave the past where it belongs. I need to have a little bit of faith that the Lord who brought us here with these millions of people knows. He brought me to this place so I can just focus on asking Him and believe that He will answer. Millions of people; all with needs and He listens to them in all languages.

 

22:22 We are back in bed. Tomorrow we leave for the Day of Arafah at 5:30.

Friday, October 3rd, 2014 | Day of Arafah 9th Dhul Hajj

05:00 Almost everyone is prepared for the big day of Hajj. We reassembled our sleeping bags and tidied up our spots in the room. I woke up around 3am to find a train bracelet on my arm. As soon as we were done with Fajr prayer, announcements for leaving were made.
05:30 We took the stairs leading outside the hotel. A man carrying a sign with our group name and suite number led us to the exit. We walked to the train station to Arafah.

The sun was just rising and the sky was lit with beautiful pink and purple shades. It looked like a magical fantasy landscape with faded mountains in the distance. Aunties Bouthaina and Basmah took golf carts to the station. Paths are carved in the mountains to the station.

07:00 It is my first time on a train of any kind and it’s pretty amazing. People took seats but we stood holding on to the railings and looked at the vast expanse of white tents and people in white as our train sped to our destination. Once we got off the train, there was more walking between many tents and camps before we reached ours. The tents are segregated and they are huge.
07:30 The women’s tent that we went into has been kept very clean, given the large number of people occupying it. The tents supervisors welcomed us with smiles as we entered. There was a food area and kitchenette and three different air conditioned tents. Aunties Bouthaina and Basmah are in the small pink tent closest to the exit. It’s very cold in that tent and a little bit claustrophobic. The middle tent looked very fancy but we took our seats in the big white one. There were trees in that tent! Every sofa chair-bed had a breakfast tray and pillows on it.
08:34 Mellie is resting beside me while a woman is reciting Quran on my right. We plan to rest for a while, then find a secluded place preferably under a tree to meditate and pray. We’re going to leave around 7pm and then spend the night in Muzdalifah. I made a duaa list for everyone (people I’ve come across throughout my life) that I need to pray for. We are sitting under a tree.
10:45 A lady just reminded us to continue remembering Allah, and that even these trees and elements will remember Allah with us today and testify for us. There are leaves falling and a bird chirping on one of the trees around us.
11:05 We stepped out for a walk so we could see what’s happening around and find a spot to meditate outside for a bit. There was this elderly couple sleeping on the curb. The only shade they had was from the umbrellas they had fashioned as roofs for themselves. They seemed happy and content. Soon we headed back to our tent after roaming around for a bit. There were lectures going on the entire day and collective prayers. At one point I looked up and saw the entire tent filled with people and it was quiet. No one was talking and everyone had their head bowed down in prayer. That was the most awe-inspiring, most peaceful moment I have experienced in my life. Words cannot do it justice.
18:21 Arafah day is nearing to an end. Hajj is Arafah. They call it duaas of a lifetime for a reason. We are just finishing off and soon we will be heading towards Muzdalifah for the night. We prayed Magrib and headed out as a group. Aunt Basmah’s husband was waiting for us outside the tent. From here we walk to the train station and eventually camp under the open sky in Muzdalifah.
21:35 The line to Muzdalifah had us waiting for over two hours. On the way to the train station, it was a slow moving river of people. Upon reaching the station, we were shunted to the wheelchair section which leads to the elevators.
22:45 We finally boarded the elevator and made our way to the line waiting for the train doors to open.
23:45 Reached Muzdalifah and set camp. It’s very rocky and we are lying on mattresses that are on the ground. There was a cat in the camp and it freaked out a lot of people.

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Saturday, October 4th, 2014 | 10th Dhul Hajj

00:30 We’re lying under the sky, exhausted. Mellie’s mom sent her a message. She is saved as “My Heart” on her phone. We recorded a funny video to update her on what’s going on. The stones for Jamarat have to be collected today. We are going to do that now.

You’d think that it would be easy to find stones in a rocky place with a lot of construction going on, but no… we had to scour the entire place and finally ask someone to help us out with collecting since they had bottles filled with stones. We got back and passed out in camp.

03:00 The aunties woke us up so we could go for stone throwing at the Jamarat. I was so sleepy and exhausted and afraid that I might fall asleep standing. We got back after the Jamarat to the hotel and fell asleep after Fajr prayer.

The rest of the day was spent resting and praying.

14:36 Everyone in the room is sitting in their Eid clothes and socializing. The AC isn’t working properly so there’s a guy coming in to fix that. Mellie and I are going to go for Tawaf later, on our own.
17:00 We left the hotel for Haram. A cart took us from the hotel to the Jamaraat through the back mountain. We decided to walk the rest of the way. We were in such high spirits at the beginning that we were walking to Haram. There’s an old fashioned marketplace set up by the pilgrims while coming down from the mountain. The pilgrims were selling all sorts of things brought from their home countries.

In retrospect we should have really thought about bringing along some cash. Once we were midway, our energy was spent. None of the cars would give a ride to us. So we had to walk the rest of the way for a couple of hours.

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19:15 We prayed Maghrib in Haram. Finding our way to the Tawaf area was a bit challenging because of all the construction going on.
20:00 We started our Tawaf on the first floor. We tried going to the new bridge extension, since it’s a smaller circle of the Ka’abah, but it was reserved only for trolleys.
22:00 Finished the Tawaf after many breaks. Every second round, we would sit down and stare at people going around in circles and people downstairs. Every inch was occupied. Everyone was moving in the same hypnotic, harmonious motion.
22:30 We left Haram and looked for a ride back but had no such luck. We ended up walking back again even though every inch of us was in pain. There were people on motorbikes giving rides to pilgrims on their feet. There were people walking in groups, people sitting down on the curbs, people on packed buses, people everywhere. We walked through three tunnels. A VIP envoy had everyone stopped and the crowd parted.

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00:15 We finally reached our hotel. It was yet another long walk up to where our building was and we were NOT ready for that. We sat at the gate, unable to move then took the first golf cart that came through the gates.
01:20 Showered, ate and slept.

Sunday, October 5th, 2015 | 11th Dhul Hajj

We woke up around noon, prayed, cleaned up our area and had some rice for lunch. Then we headed out.
14:00 Jamaraat was easier and quicker than any other rite we experience during our Hajj.
15:30 We walked to where the buses and rides were. It started raining a little while we were on the bus packed with people. The family next to us is discussing topics in the Quran. Their baby is babbling along with them.
16:20 We are still on the bus. The lady behind me just threw up.
17:16 We are at Haram now. Mellie has gone for Umrah and I am sitting here. She’s going to meet me here once she’s done.
18:54 Prayed Maghrib at Haram and headed out to get a ride. The prices for getting a ride are ridiculously high. Cabs are charging SR 300 per person and vans SR 50 per ride. We managed to get a ride in a van for SR 30 per head. The van stopped somewhere near Mina. The place was packed and all entrances blocked, hence we had to walk the rest of the way again.
20:00 We walked up on the bridge that said, “Entrance to the 2nd floor”, thinking we could go to the top floor from there and get a cart to our hotel. We were very much mistaken. The security and the officers were not very helpful with directions except one. He told us we would have to go back down, go a full U-turn and go straight up to the escalator to building 1. We saw a couple of guys with our hotel hotel cards and we asked to go along with them since we were quite lost.

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21:30 Finally reached the hotel, showered and ate. We prayed and tried to sleep.
A constant stream of chatter fills the room at all times. Couldn’t sleep. Woke up and went for a walk outside.

Monday, October 6th, 2014 | 12th Dhul Hajj

04:00 We were awoken by Mellie’s aunt for Fajr prayer. Went for Jamaraat right after the prayer and it was very quick and efficient.
06:30 Got back to the hotel and streets had people sleeping and camping on both sides.
07:30 Our buses have been delayed a bit, but we’ve packed up and put our luggage downstairs.
10:35 We fell asleep while waiting for the buses. Auntie Basmah woke us up saying we’ve to be downstairs right then.
11:00 Once we were all settled I noticed that my glasses were missing. Fortunately I was able to use the bathroom as well when I went to retrieve them.
11:45 It’s again a sea of people in Mina, and the bus inched it’s way to Kudaii.
13:00 We are at Kudai now and from here we take another bus to Haram.
13:30  We did our final Tawaf on the ground floor. We got Zamzam after and found Aunt Bouthaina at the wheelchair area.
15:45 We are back in our Kudai bus. We got our luggage in the right bus and waited for everyone to arrive.
16:35 We are on our way to Jeddah. It’s surreal and the past few days seem like a dream where I had left the rest of the world behind. It’s overwhelming knowing that things will be the same when I get back, yet the world inside me is different.

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