Al-Hajj {The Pilgrimage}

MY HAJJ EXPERIENCE

Sunday, October 16, 2011 5.15 p.m.


{Fore-Word: This is a personal, day to day experience of events during the performance of the unique, ultimate, spiritual elation known as the Pilgrimage - "AL HAJJ"} 




  It has been a cloudy, rainy day in Nairobi, almost two years since I accompanied Mum for her last trip to Pakistan after which she passed on, leaving her love and spirit with us all the time.  I was up at 5 a.m. today, even before my usual alarm for 6 a.m. rang.  Most of the night I had been dreaming that I was roaming in the city of Mecca.  

  Yesterday, I had gone for the Hajj meeting at Munira Shaukat's house in Pangani where Mr Hassan Jethwa informed us that we had been granted the visas for Saudi Arabia and he would give us the tickets on Tuesday.  The meeting was an introduction to the Pilgrimage to Mecca.
  Just a month ago, I dreamt that I was at the Airport with many people around me. A lady gave me a handful of white 'motia' flowers and gestured that I was also accompanying  the others who were heading for the Pilgrimage. The next day I related my dream to my sister and asked her to ring Khalla Sakina in Stockton, who had told me two yeas ago, on Mum's death, that she had kept some money for me for Hajj.  
 It was sheer chance that my brother in law mentioned Mr. Hassan Jethwa who had come from Mombasa to Nairobi for organising his Hajj group for this year.
  On Sunday 25th September, I went to meet him at Sarit Centre. He gave me all the information and asked if I knew a lady doctor who could accompany the group. I suggested my sister in law Reema who was over whelmed that she could be sponsered for the trip. I was so hyped that the next day, accompanied by my sister, Safia and her driver Omar, I went to Nyayo House to give in the application for my renewed passport. I had to stand in long queues but amazingly I received my passport the next day.
  Of course I had to take permission from my school where I teach, to collect it. Safia was with me and I wished she was also going as in my dreams she was accompanying me to Mecca. That evening I informed Khara, my husband, about my plan.  He was in Kampala since a month after quitting his job in Nairobi. He thought he could join his friend in business there in Uganda. He had no objection on my going for the Hajj with a well organised and safe group.
  My daughter had gone for a Psychologists Conference in Kilifi for ten days. My son was in his own world applying for further studies over seas. My prayers have always been for the happiness and success of my children and spouse wherever they are.  May God show them the right path, forgive them and shower his blessings on them to have Halal earnings and joyous matrimonial lives. Amen.
  On Sunday, 2nd October, Safia(Baji) came over to discuss my plans. I showed her all the information I had. She was so inspired that she said she would try and convince her husband to let her also join the group. The next day Reema and I were supposed to go for the inoculations, so if Baji was to come too, she had to decide immediately, other wise it would be late.
  Lo and behold, the next day, she rang me at 8 a.m while I was in a briefing meeting in school, that she was coming to pick me from school to go for the inoculations together.  We were going for the Hajj together! We reached the Aga Khan Hospital at 9 a.m and Reema was already there.  There were 6 jabs o be had - Typhoid, Yellow fever, Meningitis, Cholera, Hepatitis and 'Flu'.  We had 5 that day and had to go back the next day for the 'Flu' shot.  I got a big black and blue bruise on my right arm but I didn't care! We also had to meet the travel agent at Hashmi's, U K centre to process our documents.
  On Saturday, 8th October, at 12p.m. Baji, Reema and I met with Mr Hasan Jethwa in Sarit centre and gave in all our official papers, passports  and the money for the tickets and the stay in Saudia. He gave us mobile phone sim cards for use in Saudia and said we could start our packing for the trip.
  And we did! The 'hunting' in wardrobes and suitcases started cotton shirts, socks, hijaabs, medical kits, slippers, lotions etc. I adjusted some clothes that Mum and Khalla had given me. Whenever I wear their clothes, I get comfort, peace and a strange protected feeling. 
  We were still grieving from Mum's death. The Hajj would certainly be a healing process for us all and especially Reema, who had lost her own mother just three months ago.  It would indeed be an experience once in a life time, a meditation period, a connection with the Creator, spiritual elation and so much more......
  Today, my son  had gone to his friend's house as we had no electricity in our area and he was so bored.  My daughter was at  a Birthday party.  I had applied 'henna' to condition my hair and on my nails to colour them them.  Later I had gone to shop for the week at Chandarana, Lavington shopping centre. I had to ring my husband in Kampala, as he had not given me any money since the last three months.  He told me as usual not to worry but I had to pay the rent, utility bills,  renew the car insurances and buy rations for the house so that there would be no problem while I was away.
  At night, I went through the Hajj booklets to get a better idea of the performance of all the required rituals an steps. My younger sister helped me with a lot of advice and the paraphernalia needed there  as she had been to Mecca twice.   
 
 
 

Monday, 17th October, 2011 9 p.m

The alarm buzzed at 6.00 a.m. Snooze time is so sweet!  I saw my sweet daughter was in my bed. She still does that! She has grown up to be a fine lady with Mastes in Psychology but even now when she feels cold, she pitter patters into my room just lke she used to do when she was small. Sometimes she is  such a baby and other times, so wise, head strong, independent and a bit stubborn. She is so beautiful and has a heart of gold. I worry for her; I want her to get a wonderful life partner who will make her happy and appreciate and cherish her. She deserves the best.

  I prayed, then made the tea, prepared the dogs food for the day and went through the newspaper, Daily Nation, and had my tea with a cookie. I got ready and soon was on the road to my school.  The road outside our house is being built at last. With mountains of soil, trenches, tractors and loads of cars, it's a mess but quite smooth compared to what it was with crater sized potholes and rocks jutting out all along. I had taken my daughter's blue Vitz.  I reached school by 7.30.  These days we had a 'punch' system in which we had to thumb on the gadget at arrival and departure. Like factories, it is supposed to curb absconding and disappearing of the teachers from school. Of course the ones who want to skip will find the loop holes!
  In the briefing, we were told that The Prize Day  which had previously been postponed indefinitely would now be on Wednesday, 26th October and Sports Day on 2nd October.  With the mid term exams going on, the tension of the marking and the filling in of the report forms, nobody was pleased but we teachers  being so 'mice-y', never objected.
  In the morning I had a two hour extra duty with 9A and in the afternoon with 11A. Walking around the rooms all that time gave me cramps in my feet.  At lunch time I had a cup of tea and some 'chevra' after which I went through the Hajj booklet and marked all the important points. On reaching home at 4.15 p.m I had a quick snack and started making the dinner - coconut rice, fish curry and some vegetables.  Both the children were at home too.  Their father rang from Kampala. He had deposited some money in the bank account for the house expenditure. I heaved a sigh of relief.  He also said he would come to meet me before I flew for Hajj. I told him he must definitely come because it could be the last time we would ever meet. He got upset! He doesn't say it often but he is still madly in love with me and misses me a lot when we have to stay apart. 
  In the evening, my brother rang me to ask about my plans.  I could hear the small children squealing so I knew he was in his second home.  Later when I rang Reema, she said she had finally told him and their son Taseer that she too was going for Hajj.  My heart bleeds for her. She has been so brave but understandably, she still has not accepted the children and the other woman that her husband  had married. Personally, I didn't want to judge anybody. Each person is answerable individually for their own deeds. Let everyone reap what they sow.  I just pray for strength to accept what we cannot change.

Friday, October 21st 2011 9a.m

Today I have a mid term holiday a relief from the mad house that the school has become.  I have taught here for the past ten years and things seem to be deteriorating.  Last Wednesday, during the exams, some kids were caught with drugs. It became a big discipline problem.  With a number of teachers away for various reasons and the B. o. G always absent, things are worsening.  As the Head of the Science department I try to do whatever is in my jurisdiction but I do not want to be part of the highly politicised administration.  The solution would be to have sincere managers who can be role models with scruples, upright moral behaviou and the well being of the children at heart.

  Yesterday was Kenyatta Day, a public holiday so I went to Diamond Plaza, a shopping centre in Parklands, to buy a 'burka' but didn't find one. I did get the cooking 'gas' for which there had been another shortage. We are all feeling the crunch of inflation as  prices of all essential commodities are up and it is tough to make ends meet. I bought the suitcases for my travel from Uchumi, Sarit Centre, paid the electricity bill and got other household stuff. In less then two hours I had spent Ksh 50,000.!
  In the afternoon Baji and I met Reema at her house to go through the Hajj booklets and C.Ds. Taseer had gone to the Aga Khan Library to study for his 2nd year medical exams. His sister was at a friend's place and his Dad at his other house. After tea, we had to meet Mr Hassan Jethwa at the Equatorial Airlines, D.P. where he gave us our passports, visas, special I.D.cards and instructions for the Hajj procedure.  The tickets were on the way. He was flying to Jeddah today with he first group of Hajis.  Another group would be going on 22nd October and our group was scheduled fo Saturday, 29th October, Emirates flight at 4.30 p.m.
  As we walked to Baji's car, we felt as if we were already going around togeher in Mecca. This was surely God's will as we had never imagined we three would go there together.

Sturday 22nd October 2011

I woke up even before the alarm at 5 a.m., made tea, sorted out the kitchen, prepared the dogs' food, prayed,read the paper, had the tea with some 'barfi', washed my hair and tended to my 'money-plants'. These were the same plants that Mum and her sister had grown in the Nairobi West house almost 40 years ago. I love them and other plants; wish I had a nice garden but at the moment I enjoy my house in-door plants.

Dusting the sitting room, I saw my brother's 'walima' photo which I have still kept in a silver frame on the corner shelf. How happy they used to be.  Every body thought his wife was so lucky - he was so loving, caring; they had a son and a daughter; Mum and Dad loved her so much. After Dad passed on, things started turning sour. He re-married and set up another separate house. Reema had to face it and brave it all because of the children.  She used to cry day and night. She contemplated suicide and many times she thought of running away from it all but we advised her otherwise and morally supported her to hang on accept the situation. It was shocking news for all of us and unbearable for Mum who had the brunt of it all - with the arguments, tantrums in the house and misunderstandings, she began to fall sick more frequently  and finally left this world to join her husband in heaven. 
Baji's children were all in the U.K. The eldest daughter was married and had a kid and the others were studying there. So Baji was practically alone with her husband in Nairobi as the girls come over only during their holidays.
 
This is the third month since my husband went to Kampala.  After slogging for 33 years as a site manager with a  road construction company and receiving no retirement benefits at all, he finally decided to join his friend in business in Uganda. I really miss him and wish he comes home soon.
My daughter has set up her consultancy web-site together with a friend and yesterday both the girls were busy printing their 'flyers' and cards to send to Ethopia. What talent and creativity! Hope they find success in all spheres of life!
My son is waiting for a reply from Cape Town, where he has applying for a Masters course. There are too many formalities and he is already running late. 
I have already received the tickets from 'Emirates' for Saturday 29th October, 2011, 4.30 p.m. flight from Nairobi to Jeddah, via Dubai. After many tries, I managed to ring my sister in law in London to tell her about my trip. She congratulated me and told me that her niece had come from Sialkot to stay with her and study further.  I also rang my aunt in Stockton and talked to her and her son. Without their support I could have never made it. She was so emotional. She has always loved us immensely. I prayed for her health and happiness of her whole family. Then I rang my mum in law and cousin in Sialkot, They were all so happy for me  and gave me the latest happenings in the family. Khalla Minnie was planning to go for 'Umrah", Bhai Chapa was unwell, his daughter had started her B.Sc. studies; Dolly was happy with her recent marriage, Billu had night duties so his wife Tahera was lonely and upset most of the time.
At 4.30 pm I went to my sister's house where she had invited a few friends and the prospective 'Hajjuns'. Mrs. Khan gave an informal speech about the proceedings of Hajj. She is such a sweet and sensible lady.  I still remember being in her Class 5A at Muslim Girls' School ages ago. She was and still is my best Teacher and I, her favourite student. Whenever we meet she is full of praises for my handwriting and hard work in school.
Baji and Reema had come and Sadaf who was in our group going next Saturday, was also there. A few 'naats' were recited and after enjoying the high tea and taking the tickets from Reema, I came back home at 7.30 p.m. My husband rang from Kampala, that he would come home Sunday morning, just for a day, to see us. So before going to bed, I made chicken, daal and rice for the next day. That night I dreamt of my Mum again.

Sunday, 23rd October 2011

As usual, I was up early and started the chores. The house help is off on Sundays, so I have to get everything done myself.  I fried some cutletts, made 'aloo-chanay', 'dhahey-phoolian' and 'koftay-anday' especially for my husband. At 7.30 a.m. he rang that he had already reached the bus stage at the Mall, Westlands.  Still in my night clothes, I sped with the car to pick him because I didn't want him to wait. He looked tired and seemed to have lost weight. As usual, he was haughty for no reason - may be the 12 hour bus ride was showing its effect! At home, I quickly made 'parathas' for him as he had not eaten since the previous day. He started watching T.V. and soon was fast asleep.

I got ready, went to the Supermarket and then to my long-time friend, Shamim's house in Parklands to say Good Bye. She li ves alone, has problems walking and just stays indoors most of the time. We used to teach together and share fond memories of years gone by. I also went to see Mum's friend, Iqbal, an old lady living with her daughter in Chiromo.  She was so touched that I had come personally to see her and we talked about Mum most of the time I was there.
When I returned home in the afternoon, the children had gone out with their friends, so my husband and I had time together.  We discussed the arrangements for the house while I would be away for two weeks. I told him all the plans about the Hajj.  His sister rang from London and I sent all my friends messages to say good-bye. The children came back and we all spent the evening together. The whole family at one place had become quite rare these days.  When my husband is away, I really miss him even after all these years that we have been married.  This November, 6th (Eid-ul-Hajj) is going to be our 35th Wedding Anniversary and we will not be together. I don't know if we will ever meet again.... but we have to be positive.... and hope for the best.....   

Monday, 24th October 2011

I got up early, prayed, made the tea, fed the dogs and got ready quickly.  My husband was still sleeping. I kissed him Good-bye and drove to school. The Prize Day was this Wednesday, so the briefing was all about that.  My duty was to organise the parents' refreshments. I submitted my application for leave for Hajj. Everyone at school was happy for me as this is considered to be a call from God and a feat that happens once in a life time.

The morning was spent in the rehearsal of the Prize Day and the afternoon was a Sports practice. The reports for the Mid Term had also to be completed.  I felt this was the most disorganised era of this school - too much politicising and no room for proper discussion! Any way, I had no other options at the moment but to comply.
After school, I picked my husband from home and took him to to shop for Kampala. He got a toy for his friend's grand daughter. We had tea at home and then at 7 p.m. we all went to drop him at the Bus Stage.  The traffic was unbelievable.  At a snail's pace, we reached the Caltex, Westlands after an hour. After several calls, the conductor of the 'Queen Coach' let us know that the bus was stuck in a jam because of a 'Shabaab Blast ' at O.T.C. in River Road. Such terror attacks were becoming quite common here.
At 8.45 p.m. the bus came at last and my husband boarded it to go back to Kampala. My son drove  us back and we finally reached home after the exhausting three hours.  

Tuesday, 25th October 2011

 
 
In the morning, again there was the Prize Day rehearsal and a Sports practice in the afternoon.  At around 10 a.m. my son texted me to come home at lunch time. He had had a tiff with his sister. I had to go and pacify them and told them to tolerate small differences and behave cordially with each other as I was about to travel in a few days. She was buying a new Lap top and he was refusing to 'inherit' her old one.  He later agreed - they both are good children but they often get bouts of sibling rivalry and show so much aggression - it is in the genes, I suppose!
  In the evening I shopped for a few things that were still remaining for my Hajj preparations.  My husband had reached Kampala in the morning and I was lonely again. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In school, the morning was very busy preparing for the Prize Day. At lunch time, I picked some chicken 'wraps' for the children and went home to change for the function in the afternoon. My duty was to see that all the tables were set with the crockery and the food for the refreshment of the guests after the function. Every thing went on fine and when  I reached home at 5 p.m. my feet were cramping.

Later in the evening, I made 'biryani' for dinner and by the time I went to bed, I was so weary and drained.


Thursday 27 October, 2011

Most of the staff in school were stressed  and upset as a few 'friends' of the administration had been rewarded in the previous day function.  They felt that all the teachers slog for the betterment of the school and they all should have been appreciated but a lot of injustice was going on. They had so many grievances. I agreed with them. Generally teachers do not get the respect and renumeration that they deserve in this country. Anybody who raised their voice was told to pack up and leave as they had hundreds of new graduates on waiting lists for the job. I did not want to get involved in the politics and any way I had other things to take care of.
Today I had two A level classes so I got really busy organising their practicals and theory. When I reached home in the evening, some friends had come to give me some presents for Hajj. My daughter served every one with "kashmiri" tea. Later it started raining cats and dogs. The electricity disappeared for the whole night so I could not finish my packing.


Friday 28th October, 2011

The morning school briefing was 'hot' as people were  still burning with disappointment.  As usual, all questions were evaded and nobody had the guts to stand up to the unfair decisions. Every body was expected to go on working like a team of donkeys and when the time came for sharing the cake, it was gobbled up by the cunning foxes! The teachers were utterly demoralised, wished they could 'strike' but went back to class in fear that they would lose their jobs if the did so.
After 'my classes, I said  'bye to a few people and signed out early as it was my afternoon 'off'. Two of my sweet students came to wish me good luck for my journey.
I had to pass through the hard ware shop to buy a new flush handle for the house. I also picked some croissantes for the children. The electricity had just come back, so I put the digital camera to charge, fixed the flush and had a much needed cup of tea.
Today I had to do my final packing and say good bye to people who had really supported me for the Hajj. I am looking forward to this auspicious trip with so much longing and excitement. I want to feel complete peace with my Creator, connect to the ultimate Power and pray for health, happiness, prosperity, wisdom and success for myself, my family, all relatives and my friends. It will indeed be a spiritual adventure, an enlightening experience of the Islamic history and a time to forgive and ask for pardon .
I have always tried to be truthful, loyal and faithful to my husband and children.  I have tried to do all my duties towards my parents and children to the best of my capacity. I have worked hard and diligently at my places of employment and given 200% support and guidance to my students.  Honesty and integrity have been my forte. I will go for Hajj with a clear conscience that I have supported my husband in every way - monetarily, morally and spritually -  I have loved him with all my heart and will continue loving  him even after death. My children are my two eyes. They are the reason of my being and they have have given me the inspiration to live again and again.

Saturday,29 October 2011

I was awake at 3.30 a.m. Today was the day I had been waiting for so long. I tried to dose a bit but got restless, so I got up, prayed, had my tea, gave the doggies their breakfast and talked to them. I would miss them , too.  At 8 a.m. my sister came to pick me to go to the 'Kabristaan' as I wanted to pray there before I embarked on my journey.  Because of all the road constructions going on, there was a lot of traffic and it was drizzling. Whole night it had been raining. We said 'duas' at our parents' final abodes..The graves had been cemented and name plaques had been installed. I became emotional and couldn't help crying. It was because of them and their blessings that I was seeing this day. I gave some 'sadaka' at the mosque office and then we were on our way back.

On reaching home, I checked my suitcase, made some phone calls and sat hugging both my children for some precious time. We all had breakfast and got ready to go to the airport. I wore a black 'dupatta' on my head. Some photos were taken and at 12 noon we started for the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. My son was driving, it was still drizzling but the traffic was not bad. By 12.40 p.m. we were at the airport parking. I rang Reema who was coming with Baji, her husband and their driver. Baji and Reema seemed a bit nervous but beeming with joy. We said the final good-byes and checked in - I was the first one,then Reema and finally Baji. There were so many people around but we were in our our own world. There was no hitch. After the immigration, we sat in the waiting lounge. While we were waiting, we prayed and ate some white chocolate. We were still getting messages on our mobiles. Reema sent a message to her husband but he did not reply.
At 4.30 p.m. we were directed into the plane.  Our seats were D38-E,F,G.  The 'Emirates' plane was a jumbo one and was fully packed. Other people of our group were also there. We made the final calls to our loved ones till the mobiles had to be switched off. We also took a few photos and laughed a lot at the results.
It seemed like a dream.  The take-off was smooth. In fact the whole flight was turbo-free.  I was seated at the edge, Reema in the middle and Baji was next to another Haji.
After prayers, we watched a bit of T.V.  Soon we were served with juice, crackles and a well presented meal of salad, main course, dessert and tea.
Around 10 p.m. Dubai time, we were in the City of Lights. The aerial view was a feast for the eyes- it seemed all the stars from the sky had been strewn onto the earth. When we landed, huge buses took us to the Airport building from the runway.  It was warm and a bit humid.
 Our group leader, Hafeez , assisted us all to check in and get our boarding cards for the connecting flight to Jeddah which was at 5 a.m. There was lots of time so we walked around the grand duty-free shopping area and found the Women's prayer room downstairs.  It was a peaceful place with blue carpets, wash places and a big clock. We washed up, prayed and tried to rest, lying on the floor but we could not sleep.  A lady who had come in, started rummaging in her plastic bags. She kept on removing stuff and putting it back, causing a most irritating crackling 'choon-choon' sound.  After an hour's search she managed to find what she had been looking for   - a banana that she started gobbling immediately. Then a group of Swahili women and children came in talking at the top of their voices about 'oga' and 'hara'.
Ignoring them, we decided to don our 'Ihram'. This consisted of a cap-like kerchief covering the hair completely and a long cape for the head and the shoulders. Under this were normal clothes covering the rest of the body. This was the first step of the Hajj proceedings and it had to be done here as Dubai was the Meeqat, that is a place around Makkah where   intending pilgrims are bound to wear Ihram before entering the Holy city.

Sunday, 30th October 20 11

We had worn this attire the first time - we looked cute and funny at the same time. We had to say our prayers after wearing the Ihram to confirm our intention (niyyet) of performing the Hajj.

As we had been given food vouchers at the group leader, we got some  take-aways from MacDonalds. On the way we bought small gifts for our children. We checked in at 1 a.m. and were soon in the plane for Jeddah. Baji got a seat away from us but she refused to sit with a strange man, so the air hostess assisted us to get seats together in the middle row.  The plane was jam packed mostly with 'Hajis'.  We were given food but we did not feel like eating. We were tired but too excited to sleep. The flight was smooth and at 7a.m. we landed at the Jeddah Airport.
The sun was out. It was warm. We beamed at each other as we breathed the air of Saudia. We walked with hundreds of other people and our group  to a place where we had to identify our luggage from thousands of suitcases stashed together. I even bruised my shin when some one's trolley banged into me. We walked some more to the stage where we were to get into the bus for Makkah. It was a long wait, so we were given bottled water and some fruit. When the bus came, our passports were taken by the Saudia Haj Officials and we were given I.D. cards which we were supposed to keep with us all the time. The bus was congested as the whole group sat in it. Half way, we were given free meal gift packs (biscuits and juice)  which were supposed to be a welcome gesture from the Saudia government. 
After a gruelling 6 hour ride, we reached the coveted, holy destination, Makkah. I noticed a huge board saying "Prohibited for Non-Muslims" as we entered the city. When the minerets of the sacred Mosque came into view, all the passengers hailed in unison and prayed. It was a hot afternoon, 30 oC. We were all dropped at the multi-storeyed Hilton hotel where we were to stay while in this city.  It was on the road just opposite the Mosque. Thankfully, it was air-conditioned and had a beautiful, welcoming atmosphere. We all had to wait in the lobby for quite some time before we were allocated our rooms.
Finally, we entered the lift and went to our room on the 21st floor. We were six women sharing the huge room which had 5 beds. There was no space for another bed, so Reema agreed to share the double bed with Baji. The other women were Sadaf, from Nairobi and Yasmin with her daughter in law, Samira from Meru.
After settling down a bit, we all went eagerly to the Harrum, the area around the Ka'abah. We entered the main door, "Bab-e-Fateh" of the Mosque, 'Masjid-e-Harrum'.  Oh, what a magnificient sight! It was evening; the whole place was flood-lit.  The floors of the palatial halls were carpetted from end to end.  The walking areas were all marbled. The huge chandeliers, the architecture was breath-taking and the first sight of the Kaabah was over-whelming. You couldn't  believe that you were actually seeing what had been hearing about and imagining all your life.

The Kaaba was a simple, black, box-like structure with a huge black and golden covering, shining like a jewel amidst the thousands of people moving around it, for 'Tawaaf''. For centuries this movement of people walking and praying is a continuous 24 hour feat happening all the time.

  The historical back ground is that it was built by Prophets Adam and Abraham long before Prophet Mohammed was born. It was packed with idols that were worshipped by non-muslims. When Makkah was conquered during the quest for Islam, the idols were knocked down by Prophet Mohammed himself.  Since then the Kaabah became the Sanctuary for Muslims, the central focus during the performance of Hajj rituals and the direction in which Muslims all over the world face when praying. There are special compasses available to show the correct direction of the Kaaba wherever you may be on the face of the earth. 
  We prayed with a lot of emotion and tears as we joined the throngs of people doing the 'Twaaf' (Circumambulation).  This is a special mode of worship and has to be done with essential decorum.  You are supposed to be wearng the Ihram and remain with ablution (wudhoo). You start from the point where you can see the Black Stone (Hajr-e-Asvad). This is the point where one round starts and ends. You walk in the anti clock-wise direction, reciting prayers at special points - Multazam(portion between the Black Stone and the door of Baitullah); each corner of the Kaabah - Rukn-e-Yemani, Rukn-e-Iraqi, Rukn-e-Shami; Meezab-e-Rehmat and the Place of Ibrahim which has a glass compartment with a stone that has the impressions of the foot of Prophet Ibrahim. When you finish one round, you can give a flying kiss to the Black stone as it is impossible to touch it. You continue walking till you complete 7 rounds. People want to be as near the Kaaba as possible but grilles have been constructed around it to protect the ages old structure.
People were frantic, charged and some ruthless. Reema, Baji and I held each other and stayed together enduring some jostling, pushing and hard marching. We were mentally prepared for the 3-4 km walk and had worn socks to avoid blisters on the feet. We each had a small back-pack for our shoes, mat and mobile. All bags were inspected on entering the Mosque by the security people.
After the 7 rounds, we had "Zum-Zum" water. This is the holy water that springs out of wells in the basement of the courtyard of the Mosque. It is pure drinking water with proven medicinal properties. Numerous water coolers have been installed for the convenience of the Pilgrims.

We were now ready for the 'Sayee' in the long, huge, marble hall.  This comprises walking to and fro between 'Safa' and 'Marwah' in seven rounds (2-3 km). Al-Safa is a hillock on the south and Al-Marwah on the north-east side of the Kaabah.  This practice  commemorates Lady Hajara, the mother of Prophet Ismail, when she ran on these hills in search of water for her baby Ismail, who while crying and kicking with thirst, dug a hole through which gushed out springs of water "Zum Zum" that is still available to this day. 

At Al-Safaa, you have to face the Kaabah and recite special invocations and then start walking along the Musa'ah which is the space beteen the two hills. In the middle are green lights, Meelain Akh-zarain, indicating fast soldier-like walk for the men.  The floor is all marbled and very smooth, so it is not so diffiult to walk if you keep a good pace. The wheel-chair pushers for people who cannot walk, are a problem as they do not stay in the lanes allocated for them. They can easily ram onto your feet or ankles - ouch!  
Along the length, in the middle of the hall, are many coolers of 'Zum Zum' that is so sweet and cold; but you can't drink too much as you could break your 'wudhoo'. Some people even poured glasses of water over their heads to cool down.
We were exhausted as we finished all the lengths successfully with no injuries. Now we had to look for a private corner and cut a small lock of our hair to signify the completion of Sayee. I had a small pair of scissors and we helped each other. Men are also supposed to either get the whole hair shaved off or cut off some of it. Then we offered our prayers to thank God for giving us strength. We prayed for our families, friends and for peace in Kenya and the whole world. As all the essentials of our first 'Umrah' had been performed, we could now remove the Ihram till the next Umrah.  
We walked back to the Hotel which was just opposit Gate 79 of the Mosque. We decided on the land mark, K.F.C. where we could meet if ever we got separated in the crowds.  All the shops in the malls were open although it was the middle of the night. The roads were flood lit and peolple were walking around as if in broad day light.  
At last we lay on the clean beds of our room and rested after a long, long day. 

Monday,31 October 2011

When the Fajr Azaan went on at 5 a.m. we were all up.  The other women in the room had already gone for 'Tahiyad' prayers at 4 a.m. We washed up - there were two bathrooms with hot and cold running water all the time - so there was no problem. With our small back-packs we went to the Harrum and found places in the women's area to pray just in front of the Kaabah. Finding the way back was quite a task, as there were so many people moving in or out, even in the verandahs and near the roadside.  There were so many gates, we got confused but keeping our land mark the K.F.C building, in focus, we managed to come back safely to our room.

We made tea with the small electric kettle that we had brought with us from Nairobi and used the mugs that a friend had given us as a gift.  Baji had brought 'Mathees' and 'Mahanay' so we enjoyed these and some criossantes for breakfast. 
With the lift we came to the reception and walked through the parking area towards the shops outside, just along the road.  Our plan was to do ' ziaret' of the Holy places in Makkah in the morning and then perform the 2nd 'Umra' later during the day.
We were lucky to find a taxi just near by with a driver called, Mujib, who could understand English and Urdu.  The local drivers were rude, could speak only Arabic and were reluctant to talk to women. This man was a good person. He seemed a decent, hard working, honest man.  He drove us a long way around the City and gave us the historical background of all the places that we saw. As we sped on the smooth road to the out-skirts of the City, I was struck by the contrast of this desert terrain with hardly any trees, to the lush green vegetation of Kenya. 
The first site was the birth place of Prophet Mohammed situated in a building including a library in the street called Souq ul Lail.  Then we saw the famous grave-yard 'Jannat-ul-Moallah' where many companions of the Prophet are buried.  We also saw 'Bait-e-Syeda', the house of the Prophet, his wife Khadija and their daughters.  Among the historical mosques were Masjid-e-Al-Rayah, where a Flag was hoisted on the day that Makkah was conquered; Masjid-e-Jinn and Masjid-e-Namra.  We saw the 'Jabl-e-Noor, a mount on top of which is the Cave Hira where the prophet used to worship in seclusion. Wherever we stopped we said  short prayers and admired the sacred places. We saw the Mount Arafat, the place of the Prophet's last sermon, and the Valley of Mina where the pilgrims have to stay for a few days. Preparations were already in progress as there was a continuous spraying of mist to  cool the place.

Finally, we went to Masjid-e-Aisha, the mosque which is a 'Meeqat', 3 km from Makkah and from here you can don the 'Ihram' for 'Umra'. As we were in the correct attire, we prayed in this quaint, well kept mosque and did 'neeyat' for our next 'Umrah'.

Heading back to the Makkah Harrum, I took pictures and video-ed the City streets.  We were happy with the respectful way in which the driver had taken us around. He charged us 40 pounds and we took his phone number for future use.
We decided to perform the "Tawaaf" upstairs this time as the crowd downstairs was just too much. We were amazed at the huge lifts at every floor and security checks at every landing.
Upstairs, we had to walk a longer distance because the circumference around the Kaabah becomes bigger. We braved it as there were less pushes and nudges.  In about one and a half hour we had completed the seven rounds. I was keeping count. We had the 'Zum Zum' and then did the 'Sayee'. Even this had longer lengths than downstairs. The strength was Gog given and we completed the walk without any problem.  After the ritual of cutting the lock of hair, we prayed and thus finished our second 'Umra'  We were delighted but completely exhausted!

Tuesday, 1st November 2011

Our legs were aching from yesterday. At 9.30 a.m. the other three women in the room went to the Mosque after an hour of rustling and crackling with their belongings.  Reema and I were fasting today. At 11.30 a.m. Reema went to the Hotel Prayer Hall. Baji and I stayed back to clear up and organise our room.  We sent messages to our families in Nairobi.  I rang Khalla Rashida in Sialkot to tell her that I had dedicated my 'Umra' to her. She cried a lot and asked us to pray for her health and the happiness of all her children.

At 2 p.m. Baji and I went to the 'Harrum' and found a place from where we could see the Kaabah right in front of us. There were thousands of people around in every corner, on the stairs and the side walks.  We were also cramped together - Baji in front and Reema on my side.  The security women with black robes and veils covering even their face were around. The dedicated cleaners were ever ready to mop up any mess around. There was a continuous, low buzz of people's prayers and the never ending movement of the "tawaaf" was on.   
I could see a corner of the Kaabah from where I was seated on the carpetted floor. The golden Arabic 'ayats' shone on the black cover.  The magnificience of the site is more prominent at night when all the lights are on. Then it just looks like a jewel amongst the continuously moving sea of humans, charged with spiritual fervour and energy. My God, I wondered if 'Bush' or the Queen could ever see this spirit of the Muslim fraternity.  It is amazing how millions of people converge here in their faith frenzy that is alive since thousands of years.  The organisation of this magnificient occasion is just out of this world.  Soon we and all the other women were asked to move to the basement to make space for the men for the 'Asr' prayer. The basement was musty and full of sounds pf coughing and sneezing.  Reema gave us dust masks from her medication pack. We couldn't help laughing at each other as we looked like monkey cartoons after wearing them! 
The 'Azaan' call was heard and immediately everybody stood up in straight rows facing one direction. It seemed like a military training.  The voice of the lucky person reciting the prayer came loud and clear in the speakers all around the hall. By the time the prayers were done, we were feeling a bit dizzy so we inched our way towards the open 'tawaaf' area and heaved breaths of some fresh air. The way we got jostled and pushed, it was a miracle we managed not to fall but stayed put near a pillar. The huge number of people around, the jam, the frenzy was unbelievable.
It was 4 p.m., the sun was hot, but still people were performing the round of 'Tawaaf'.  We three decided to go upstairs. After quite a 'battle' with the on-coming human traffic, we managed to reach the upper floor and found a spot near a 'Quran Shelf'.  Every where in the Mosque halls you can find 'Qurans' in many languages including Russian and Hebrew.  People were busy either reciting the Holy Book or praying.  Every type of people was being represented here, irrespective of gender, race or colour. Some countries like Indonesia, Nigeria and Turbikastan, even had uniform clothes for their groups and they were always together at every step.
I was 'feeling' the fast now so I lay on the mat on the floor of the Great Mosque. I dozed a bit and dreamt of my husband.  He had been ringing me from Kampala but the lines were not clear. I missed him and prayed for his happiness and success. He's had such tough luck and needed a break.
Soon we decided to go back to the hotel so that we could break the fast there. We started walking towards the outer gate and realised what a mistake we had made. It was 'Asr' time. People were teaming in and we were weaving through a human maze in the opposite direction. We had almost reached the out side when the 'Azaan' was recited. Everybody just stopped in their tracks, spread their praying mats where ever there was a space on the road, footpath or in front of the  street shops. No vehicles were allowed around the area. The whole area around the Harrum had become a praying ground. Security people were guarding hotel lobbies to prevent trespassers entering their premises.
 We also said our prayers. The maalim who was leading the prayer on the loud speaker was so emotional - he seemed to be crying at each sentence. I supposed he was an Arab and understood each and every word of the Arabic recitation more profoundly than we could.
After the prayer Baji and I realised that Reema was not with us. We had been separated in the confusion. I clutched onto Baji's shoulder as we walked through the unimagineable throngs of people. We were heading towards the K.F.C. land mark that we had decided on, in case we got lost.  After getting jostled and pushed from all sides, we trudged on and found the way to the K.F.C. building. We had taken a full hour to reach here, Reema was still not there. We rang her, she was still walking. We told her we would buy some food and meet her in the B1(basement lift) of Tower 3, Hilton Hotel.  The food shops were just at the edge of the road near our hotel.  There was so much rush at the shops but we managed to buy some chicken, pitta bread, water and juice. We paid in dollars as we had not had the chance to get the local currency. It was already 'iftari' time so while we waited for Reema, we had some ice-cream. At last she came, we went up to our room on floor 21 and had food, lots of water and some tea with 'mahaney' and 'mathian' (remembered Mum whose  favourite snacks were these).
Our room mates had also come back and Yasmin who had performed Hajj before, gave us many tips as we went through the guide booklets. There was a strange peace over coming me; I thanked God for being so sweet and kind; before I knew I was fast asleep. 

Wednesday, 2nd November 2011

This day, after breakfast, we got ready, dressed in modest clothes, covered from head to toe and jostled our way to the 'Harrum'. The number of people was getting bigger and bigger by the hour!  In the mosque we found a place where we could get a glimpse of the Kaabah. At the time of the 'Zohr' Azaan, the guards started telling all the women to move to the women's side or go to the back of the halls. We walked upstairs and I was amazed to notice first time, that there were escalators too in this mosque which is more like a colossal palace , all marble, gold, chandaliers and carpets. The security women were around in their black veiled attire and the men in brown uniform suits, some with whips in their hands.

We prayed with the congregation which became organised in straight lines in a few seconds and all movements were synchronised with the 'Imaam'. You could marvel at this beauty of the religion - the disappearance of disarray and the immediate military-like discipline.
The other women of the group went for 'Tawaaf' while Baji and I stayed put there for the next three hours, praying and reading the Quran with translations.  I had carried a special seat to avoid hurting my back but it took too much space and was bulky to carry around - not a very good idea after all! When Reema returned it was Maghrib time.
 After the prayers, we all walked through the crowds and eventually found the shopping floor of our Hotel.  We literally hunted for ice-cream but it was nor available in any place. How could they not have it, we wondered, because the mall was full of millions of food items, mostly imported. We bought some rice and chicken and raced our way to our room after the usual jostling in the crowds.  There were lifts every where but they were always packed. In fact a few times even the alarm went on because the lift was over loaded. We finally reached our room, had dinner and messaged our families back home.  There was a huge T.V. screen in the room which showed continuous live happenings in the 'Harrum'. We watched a bit while massaging our aching feet with a soothing balm. Another exciting but tiring day was over.

Thursday, 3rd November 2011

When I woke up, the first thing I remembered was that today was Umar's birthday. He was our beloved nephew who had died suddenly at the tender age of 16, almost ten years ago. It was a family tragedy which had left an indelible mark of grief on all of us. There is never a day when we don't think of him - the handsome, charming person that he was! 

By 10 a.m. we were in the Harrum.  We all found a place, on the stairs, just ten metres from the Kaaba and we prayed and meditated for a good two hours.  I revelled in the presence of the holy place and thanked God for this chance in a life time. It was indeed proving to be a test for our patience, perseverance, endurance and faith. It was a lesson in humility and simplicity.  
 Away  from the rat race of a materialistic life, this was a retreat in itself, a soul searching exercise, a meditation, a spiritual adventure, a connection with your creator and a unique, enlightening experience. I wished this 'one-ness' of all creeds, races, colours and languages could always remain to become the source of peace in the world.
At 'Zuhr' time, we were herded to the 'makhsoos zanana' place. To find a spot to stand was like looking for a needle in the haystack. We got some space near a wheel-chair and settled for the 'namaz'.  Again I admired the aura, the whole atmosphere, the huge building, sparkling chandeliers, the unique architecture and the sheer beauty of the whole Harrum.
Around 5.30 p.m. we started going back. From the second floor of our hotel tower, we bought some pizzas, pies, fruit punch and credit for the mobile phones. We took the lift to the 21st floor where our room was. To our frustration, the key wouldn't open the door. We went back to the lift, thinking we were on the wrong floor. We tried again but in vain.  Really puzzled we went to the basement to ask for assistance.  We were shown the entrance to our Block A. We had been going up and down in Block B.  My God, what a blunder! What a laugh we all had when we finally reached our room!
 We ate heartily, prayed and organised our luggage for the next day when we were to head for Minaa. Suit cases were not allowed so it became quite a hassle fitting things in small bags.  Only the most necessary items were packed. 
The place looked like a hostel room, a messy den, with clothes scattered all around and a group of laughing and chirping 'girls' getting into each other's way! Suddenly one of the ladies holding a pink 'thing' in her hand started shouting,' Whose undy is is, whose chaadi is this?' Baji looked at it and exclaimed; it was her head cap which she was looking for since two days. All of us roared with laughter. We were doing everything happily. We were quite a compatible group and had no problems stayi'ng together all these days.
 We all had one purpose on our mind and the night before the start of the Hajj had arrived at last. We all had a peaceful sleep and woke up at the first call of the 'Azaan'

Friday, 4th November 2011

It was 5 a.m.on 8th Zul Hajj, the First Day when the Hajis depart for Minaa.  Baji and I prayed in the room; the others went to the mosque in the Hotel.  After a quick breakfast of pies and tea, made with our little electric kettle, we washed up.  The bathrooms were really modern, with showers, a tub, hot and cold water, shampoos, lotions, soaps and clean fresh towels.There was even a hair-dryer outside, near the tiny fridge.
Observing all the details of the requirements of the Hajj,   we donned the 'Ihrams' that our sweet childhood teacher had gifted us before we came.
The 'Ihram' for women consisted of long white robes with trousers and special head cover and scarf. The men were dressed in two huge sheets mostly white in colour.
After checking our final packing, we locked our room and headed to the 'Harrum' which was teeming with people all in white 'Ihrams'.  We managed to find some space to pray right in front of the Kaabah. We also took some photos. We had been told the photographing is not allowed here but nobody stopped us. We had to go back to the room to get our back-packs, and then to the foyer of the hotel where our group leader had organised a meeting to give us all a briefing before we embarked on the trip to Minaa.
With the whole group we walked to the 'Harrum' and with escalators descended to the basement full of buses ready to go. Our bus was clean and air-conditioned. After a short wait for everybody to settle in their seats, the bus started onto the road to Minaa. On the road we could see huge groups of people walking towards the same destination. Our bus was moving at minimal speed, continuously hooting in the unbelievable traffic. 
Everyone was reciting 'Labaik' (Tulbiyah) most of the way and thanking God for showing them this day. I remembered my family and children, wishing they too were here with me.
In an hour's time, we reached the area around the Tents in Minaa. It was a sight to be remembered - huge white tents spread over acres of land being sprinkled continuously by over head sprinklers to keep the desert atmosphere cool. 
The bus driver and conductor suddenly started arguing and shouting at each other.  The nincompoops had not realised that they had passed the correct turning to Zone 1 and gone a lot further. In the impassable traffic, there was no way that they could go backwards as tough security had blocked the roads. We had to wait for the bus to cool down as the clutch seemed to burn, giving off a putrid smell. The group leader could not do anything. The bus had to join the highway and drive all the way back to the correct turning.
Finally we reached Zone 1 and waited for all the group members so that we could walk together to Tent B where we found our Kenyan Tent with the flag of Kenya. It was quite hot, so we used our umbrellas as we walked.
On reaching there, we were taken aback that there was no space for our group. Our alleged tent had been forcefully occupied by some other women's group from another African country. Our group leader went to sort out the problem while we stayed in the wide 'corridor' between the tents. Tables had been set here, laden with water bottles, juices, pies and fruits. Food was on the house - we ate and later prayed in the 'corridor'.
I peeped into the tent which was full with 20 women, lying or squatting on mattresses provided by the organisers.  Although there was air conditioning, the heat and the large number of people inside was nullifying its effect. There was a continuous whirring of generators, noise of the women chattering away, sermons being given on loud speakers and the 'Azaan' being recited in the tent mosque.
This was indeed an experience of a life time - the humility, the inconvenience of public toilets and  the patience  required at every step were lessons to be learned from the whole exercise.
Soon we were served with lunch of rice, caulifower and potatoes. There was also tea and cake.  Loads of sodas, juices, bottled water, packets of crisps, pies and cheese were available on the tables all the time.
The amazing fact was that these tents were semi-permanent with facilities of electricity, water and air conditioners. I felt that Saudia had surely put their 'oil' wealth to good use to provide such convenience for the 'Hajjis'.
At long last, we were allocated a tent in which we were 25 women all together.  We were marking our spaces near the entrance when suddenly another woman just barged into the tent and lay down on the first mattress that she saw. She refused to budge even on the request of the original occupant.  Some people just cannot stop exhibiting their selfish streak even at such a holy event! We all let it go as we wanted to help each other and share everything in a cordial manner. Our group leader felt bad that already we had been inconvenienced by another group taking over our original tent. 
We lay our mattresses, prayed and went for the early dinner, for which there were long queues.  Reema and I brought a plate for Baji as she was feeling a bit low.  The 'corns' on her feet were hurting as she was wearing shoes that were not so comfortable. I rembered the times we had been together in Pakistan, when we were studying in Kinnaird, Lahore, in 1974.  And now, God had brought us to this holy place together - it seemed a miracle. I was praying for all our difficulties to be solved and the opening of new doors to success and happiness.
There was a sermon in a near by men's tent, in Kiswahili, to let us all know the program for the next day when we would be going to 'Arafat'  and then spending the night at 'Muzaldafah' where we were to collect pebbles  to pelt on the 'Jamrat' the following day.
It was 10 p.m., we were fagged out.  We lay on the mattresses, in rows of eight, sharing pillows and sheets.  It was quite cool now and every body fell  asleep immediately.
 
 

Saturday, 5th November 2011

Baji and I woke up at 2 a.m. and went to the bathrooms which were nothing to write about but at least they were clean and had running water. Baji went back to sleep but I couldn't so I sat to write all this. The light was dim, many people were up and even having tea with snacks that were available throughout the night. They were also getting ready for the tough day ahead. They were all in their 'Ihrams'

The 'Ihram' is the costume of the typical era of the Islamic revolution in Arabia.  For the women, over the under clothes, they have to wear a pyjama, 'shameez', 'kanzu', head cover and the final umbrella shaped 'chaadar' covering you from head to toe.  Vain that we are, we felt this suits tall, slim, young girls! Most other women looked like little mushrooms scuttling around. Although this is part of the typical muslim arab dress, I felt that the whole personality gets transformed with it and I could not be comfortable wearing it for ever.
I was really missing my children and their Dad; wished they were all here with me.....
After the 'Fajr' prayers and breakfast, our group was rounded up and led to the main road, where all the buses were supposed to pick the people. The whole Kenyan group was together. We saw our tailor, the Pangani mosque priest and other acquaintances from Nairobi. Some people took advantage of the electrical plugs fixed on a wall nearby and charged their mobile phones. It was a thoughtful facility provided. After a good hour's wait, sitting on the stone stairs, we got onto the bus which had the same driver as the previous day.  He was as haughty as before, shouting at the poor conductor and swearing at other drivers as he drove through the jam packed traffic.  For him, driving was a competition in braking and hooting! Thousands of buses were on the road moving at a snail's pace.  Millions of people were trekking on foot to the Mountain of Arafat which came into sight after the long ride.
We were led to the huge tents. Of course the men and women were in separate tents.  Lunch of rice and chicken stew was served and we ate it in the tents which had been carpetted from side to side and had coolers. Outside it was quite sunny and hot. There were long lines for the public wash-rooms. People were praying sitting or standing in the open grounds.  Sermons were going on in different languages. We had to stay in our tent till sunset.
At 6 p.m. our group leader called us.  We packed up, collected some food stuff which was being distributed and started the walk to the bus.  The traffic was a night mare and it took several hours to reach the plains of Muzdalfah.  The half crazy driver dropped us all at the top of a bridge and sped away.
It was dark now.  From the higher point that we were at, the sight below was something unbelievable.  People seemed like ants spread all over the acres and acres of plain, bare land. We walked down to find a clear spot, near some parked buses and spread our mats to mark our space.  The group now had to split into smaller batches because of the lack of vacant ground.  People were stationed at every nook and corner available. Even on the foot paths, every inch of space was taken. Finding the way to the toilets was a task through the human maze!  
We were so tired that soon after the night prayers, we lay on the single mats on the bare ground and looked at the beautiful sky with the moon and stars blinking at us.  Baji had collected the pebbles and washed them already. Each person was supposed to have about 70 small pebbles kept in an envelope, to be used later for the pelting of the 'devil'.
Feeling the humility and simplicity of the basic needs of life, we fell asleep for a couple of hours in spite of our hard 'beds'.       

Sunday, 6th November 2011

Noise of revving buses, hoots and voices woke me up at 2.30 a.m. Today was the 3rd day of Hajj (10th Zil Haj) - the Eid Day. It was also our Wedding Anniversary.

People were already up and praying.  Finding the way to the wash places, through the mats, baggage, sleeping heads and wailing kids, was a hassle. Women were literally hanging onto the doors of the toilets for their turn.  Some were even cutting the line, pretending, just like school children, that they were really pressed!
As we were packing up for the departure, the buses near which we had settled for the night, suddenly started moving without a word of warning. These drivers were really ruthless, sadistic nuts. They had already begun their incessant hooting.
After the 'Fajr' prayers, we joined the other millions of Hajjis to walk towards the 'Jamrat' which was quite far. We walked and walked for hours, following our leader.  The jostling and pushing continued. Every minute or so we would turn to check that we were with our group.  This was the place where you could fall and be crushed without anybody bothering.  The crowd is just pushed on.
There were security men around, confiscating extra huge bags from people.  The huge concrete tunnel seemed endless. It was covered at most places, so the sun was of no problem.
When we reached the 'Jamrah Uqba'(Big Satan), the crowd seemed to get emotionally charged.  The pelting of the pebbles at the devil started. This called 'Ramee', an obligatory act of Hajj. The devil was symbolised as a a wall on which people projectiled the pebbles, seven each. Of course some landed on other peoples' heads.    
We walked on to the end of the tunnel. Baji and I had stuck to each other. Reema was just behind. Some where on the way she dropped and lost for ever my small white bag which she had volunteered to carry. It had the 'accurist' watch that my cousin had given me when I went to England the first time; some silver trinkets and a sapphire ring that Mum had given me; the precious 'Vicks' and my suitcase keys. It would have been useless to go back against the on-coming sea of people to look for the bag. It was unfortunate but it was gone - for 'sadaka' may be.  By the way, we saw many beggars, some crippled, sitting on the floor of the tunnel, asking for alms as people walked on. There have been cases of Hajjis being literally ripped off their wallets and hand bags by unscrupulous people taking advantage of the multitude crowds and the confusion around.
Now we had to walk back to our tents in Minaa.  All the entrances had been blocked because of security reasons. At one juncture, we had to plead to the security to allow us to cross to our tents. In fact one lady lost her temper and shouted at them. We were permitted to enter and finally we reached our tent. We wanted to rest a bit but we had hardly  washed up when we were told by the group leader that we should go back to Mecca before it was dark.
Of course we had to walk. All the roads were full of the pilgrims walking and there was no sign of any buses or cars. We had to go through the Jamrat tunnel again.  The crowds seemed  more and even rowdier now.  We kept to the side of the wall and managed to find the turning towards Mecca.  There were over head signs showing the directions. We trudged on. The sun was hot.  We tried to use our umbrellas but found them cumbersome. The best way was to cover your face with the veil and walk fast.
Some people were in wheel chairs. There were some 'motor bikes' for the sick and weak.  I don't know where we were getting the strength from; we went on braving  the tough road to Mecca.  We had glucose tablets and water now and then but did not stop any where.    We took the underground route to the 'Harrum' on reaching the city of Mecca. It seemed like a simulation of olden times of the early Muslims.  We were enacting the era of the Prophet and his followers. This road was tarmacked and covered so it was not so hot.
At one point, there was a pool of standing water from a leaking drain pipe. People sloshed through it regardless of the splattering and the stench.  We, too, marched on oblivious of any aches or pains in our body. My shoes were  quite comfortable and I had worn two pairs of socks to prevent chafing. Baji's  feet were feeling the pinch but we kept on walking with the aim of reaching our destination without any mishaps.
We sighed with relief  as we approached the 'Harrum' and jostled our way through the thousands of people around.  Baji and I were in front while the other women were a bit behind. One of them was feeling weak so they had to slow down a bit.  There were so many people around that if we fell, we could be crushed.  Baji couldn't help scolding one fellow as he tried to push himself forward without regard of others.  She was holding my arm tightly. He said,'Is ka haath chorh do' and Baji snarled back, 'Kyun? Meri bahen hai, ghum gai to tum dhondo ge, zaleel!'  We just walkedon clutching each other.  At one time, we had to take 'refuge' behind tall, huge people, one of whom seemed to be a prince with body guards. They were all 7 foot tall. We looked like pygmies behind them and we walked under their 'cover' for quite a distance. We reached the K.F.C. safely. Our hotel room was in the same building, so we took the lift and entered our cool, cool room, thanking God with every breath.
We showered and rested. Now we were supposed to wait for our group leader to ring us and inform us that our 'sacrifices' had been performed. The sacrifice is part of  the important obligatory rites of Hajj. The animals (sheep or goats) are slaughtered in special slaughter houses in Minaa and the meat is distributed to the needy. This ritual is done in remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim who submitted to God and was prepared to sacrifice his son, Ismail, for the cause of Islam. This gesture is to remind us to be ready to part with our dearest possessions for the protection of  the sanctity of our religion. 
Without the sacrifice, you cannot complete the rest of the rituals of Hajj.  We had a long wait ahead.  We prayed 'Zohar' and 'Maghrib'. One of our room mates and her Mauritian friend finally got the message from the group leader in Minaa that our sacrifices had been offered. It was past 7 now. We prepared ourselves for the 'Tawaaf-e-Hajj' and walked to the 'Harrum' once again. We had been getting messages of Eid Mubarak from friends and family who were glad that we were about to accomplish what we had aimed for.
The Harrum was full - over full!  We took the escalator upstairs and started the Tawaaf.  Up here, the distance was certainly much longer but the crowd and the mad jostling was slightly less.  Also, you could see the Kaabah clearly - the 'Ghalaaf' (covering) had been changed for Eid while people had gone to Minaa.  Now it was all golden with some black. It shone like a jewel in the sea of people moving around it,
There was a huge computerised screen over head to show the start and finish points of the Tawaaf.  Every round has to be counted so that you do seven rounds in all.  At every corner, we prayed and moved on. You could not stop  as you go on with the crowd flow. At the start of every round you send a 'flying kiss' to the 'Black Stone'.
After our second round, the "Azaan" was heard. Of course every one stopped in their tracks, faced the Kaabah and offered the 'Ishaa' prayers, after which we continued walking.  We were exhausted by the last round but we did it and completed the 'Tawaf-e-Ziaret'.
We then went to the "Sayee" area, had 'zum-zum', sat and prayed and bravely started walking the seven lengths. The 'Sayee' was another obligatory act for the 'Hajj-e-Tamatto'.  We started from 'Safaa', descended and then ascended to 'Marwaa' reciting special prayers all the time. Baji's feet were giving her trouble; she had corns, blisters and bruises. Like every one else she was wearing socks but poor thing, she had to walk on her heels to prevent pain in her toes. She was in front of me and Reema was just behind me. We wanted to stay close and not get lost in the crowds.
Trudging along we managed to finish. Some how Baji had disappeared from our sight. I got so worried.  We rang her, she was already on her way to K.F.C., our meeting point. Reema, by mistake, led me through a very long route back to the shopping mall where we all met.
We wanted to buy some cake as it was still my Wedding Anniversary day. I felt I had never had a tougher anniversary, but this was a special one - a spiritual pleasure.  The children and their Dad had rung me to wish me but for a short time. I really missed them a lot and hoped we would be together next time.
After getting the cake, pizzaa and some pudding, we went to our room and had some food. It was 11 p.m. The other women were resting. Just then we got a message that we should immediately meet at the lobby as we had to start going back to Minaa where we should reach before sun-rise.
We took our small back packs and walked to the escalators in the basement parking of the Harrum. The noise of the buses hooting, the generators and the general public was deafening as there was so much echoing effect in this colossal tunnel. After a bit of looking around we managed to get a Taxi.  The driver was a young Arab man who agreed to take us all to Minaa.
We all squeezed into the vehicle. So tired were we, that we dozed most of the two hours that the journey took.  
  

Monday,7th November 2011

We were dropped at the junction of Jamrat as the roads were all blocked beyond this point. This meant walking again to our tents in Minaa.  It was past mid-night but nobody seemed asleep.  Open air markets were doing business as usual. Some people were resting on the paths, littered with plastic bags and trash, making it difficult for the passers-by to walk. Blaring lights were brightening all nooks and corners. The place was a bee-hive of activity. Surely people here never sleep especially during Hajj time.

It was 2 a.m. now. We were trudging along with aching feet which seemed to go numb from time to time.  As we ascended the tunnel of Jamrat, our mouths were dry and sour.  Still we kept on encouraging each other to keep our spirits high.  This was a chance of a life time, bestowed upon us by the grace of God.
At the last turning, there were five flights of stairs which we had to climb down and now we had reached the tent area. By 4.30 a.m. we were in our tent and all of us literally fell onto our mattresses, so exhausted and weak!
This was the 4th day of Hajj (11th Zil-Haj) when you are supposed to go for "Ramee" and pelt pebbles at all three 'Jamrats'. At day break, our eyes were refusing to open. Our feet and legs were crying for rest.  At 9.30 we got up and massaged our poor limbs that had not walked this much in their entire life. The total distance was 25km  that we had walked through the previous 24 hours. I don' t know from where the strength had come, but, we had done it.
The toilets were quite a night mare because of the lines of people waiting for their turns. At least there was plenty of running water and many women were washing their clothes in the sinks. Breakfast was dry stuff laid all around on tables in the spaces between the tents.  The way people were glutting was incredible and a lot of food was being wasted. Every thing was on the house, so the public was taking advantage.  There were croissants, rolls, jams, cheese, honey, sodas, juices, water and tea. Baji and I brought the plates to the tent where Reema was still resting.  We all ate heartily and were feeling very happy. Our brother rang  us. I was so glad to hear his voice - my sweet-pie! I had been texting him to let him know our activities here. He wished us Hajj and Eid Mubarak. He also talked to Baji.
Soon after mid-day, we prayed while sitting, as standing and bending was becoming to difficult.  Our legs were too stiff although other wise we were quite comfortable.  The mattresses were laid all next to each other. Blankets and pillows had been provided and there was constant air conditioning.  Outside it was bright and hot.  
Reema and the other women went for the 'Ramee'. They were going to do it for Baji and me, too. This was permissible as we had a 'legal' excuse of painful legs. Today our feet really needed to rest.
We lay inside the tent as it was very hot out side. There were some other women from Nairobi who had also remained behind. We got acquainted and one of the young girls turned out to be my past student from St. Austins.  I asked them to sign in my 'Autograph Please' section of my diary.
I texted my children who recommended us to massage each other to ease the aches but even the thought of being rubbed was painful! The other ordeal was visiting the washroom so we were keeping this to the minimal.
We had tea in the tent, prayed and had to go out to get the dinner.  There was rice, veges, steak, fried chicken and fruits. It occurred to me that who ever was catering here must be minting - there were millions of people being fed every meal time.
Reema and the other women returned after their successful 'Ramee'.  We all tried to sleep early as the next day was also going to be eventful.  
 

Tuesday, 8th November 2011

Today was 12th Zil-Haj (5th day of Hajj)


I was up at 4 a.m. I meditated for some time, prayed 'Tahajat' and later 'Fajr'. It was amazing how the tents became a bee-hive of activity as soon as the 'Azaans' were recited.  The wash-rooms filled up, washed garments were hung all over the spaces available in the tents and most people got busy scoffing!
After breakfast we rested a bit. Reema was called several times to give medicines to sick women as she was the official lady doctor for the group. Many people had developed sore throat, colds and cough due to the dust which had been minimized by the constant  mist spraying in the area.  
We started the long walk to the Jamrat to perfor the last 'Ramee'. We had to pelt the pebbles at all the three 'Satans' today. There were thousands of people in the tunnel with us. We first pelted seven pebbles on the first 'Jamrat' followed by a short prayer. Then walking along with the charged crowd we did the same at the second 'Jamrat'. At the final, Big Satan, people got so carried away that after throwing the pebbles, they even threw their slippers at the pillars symbolising  the devil. They were trying to get rid of the devil living in their hearts with all their might!
As we struggled through the arduous marching, suddenly one of my slippers came off as somebody stepped on my foot. Thanks to God, I did not fall but of course it was impossible to find the slipper. Baji who had been clutching my shoulder all the time, lest we got separated, stopped on the side and gave me her spare shoes that she had by chance carried with her. It was not my lucky day - after a short distance, one of the shoes broke and I was bare-footed.  The only solution was to wear any slippers that I found thrown around. I did that and bravely walked the rest of the way with over-size, two different coloured, bath-room, rubber slippers! 
Finally we reached the end of the tunnel and waited for a long time for the group leader to come with the bus to take us to Mecca.  We were supposed to leave Minaa before sunset. He had a habit of disappearing, not answering calls and always coming late. At last we were in the bus and reached Mecca at 7 p.m. Were we glad to be on the comfortable beds in the hotel! We nursed our poor feet, massaging balms and anti-septics on the  aching muscles and toes. But we were so happy that we had accomplished almost all the rituals without any major mishap

Wednesday,9th November 2011

At 7 a.m. Mujib, the taxi-driver rang us to say that he was already at the lobby downstairs. We had requested him to take us around Mecca as in couple of days, we would be leaving for Madina and didn't know if we would be lucky enough to come ever again to this great city.

Outside the hotel, it was so noisy and confusing that we took half an hour to find Mujib and his taxi. We relished our last drive in the historical city of the birth of Prophet Mohammed. There was a lot of traffic and hundreds of people were shopping from street vendors on the foot-paths. There were many imposing, tall buildings around. I saw a board for the Mecca University of Architecture. There were hardly any trees, just barren desert terrain. We took some photos and videos.
We stopped at the Lady Aisha Mosque and prayed in the neat and serene ambience. We felt like just staying there and meditating peacefully far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. We all said special prayers for Reema's son who was taking his 2nd year Medical exams at Nairobi University. He had worked so hard and is an intelligent, industrious young boy. We wished all the best for him. 
 It took us almost two hours to reach back at the Harrum because of the heavy traffic. After doing the Tawaff and Sayee we went back to the hotel. On the way we bought pizzas and pies. We really wanted to have ice-cream but it seemed there was a shortage - it was not available in the whole mall. After having the snacks in our room, we went for the 'Asr' prayers to the women's praying hall on the 6th floor of the hotel. The view of the Harrum from here was amazing; I took some photos and hoped they would be good - I am such an amateur at taking pictures.
We had forgotten to get credit for our phones, so we had to go to the shopping floor again.
We were fagged out but couldn't sleep so we took some 'panadol' and 'piriton' to pacify our aching legs and irritated throats. The next day, we were to go to Madina. As I Iay on the bed, I thought about what lessons I had learned and what I had gained from the whole experience of this unique event, the Hajj.
- faith in the creator who assists you in any situation
- humility in wearing simple attire and waiting in queues for the bathroom
- determination to see to the end whatever you have begun
- will power to over come all obstacles to achieve the final goal
- forbearance during discomfort and pain
- perseverance and patience when things are not happening according to your wish
- tolerance in living together with strangers from diverse backgrounds
- unselfish behaviour when faced with unfamiliar situations
- caring attitude and looking after people in your group
- remember you will be answerable, alone, to God for your deeds (misdeeds)
- gratitude for all the gifts of health, wealth, comfort, children, home, family and luxury that God has bestowed onto you
- start afresh, with more vigour to follow the path of truth and doing the right with a positive attitude
- let God do the justice, you don't judge anybody

With all these thoughts racing in my mind, I tried to go to sleep.
 

Thursday, 10th November 2011

During the night, I woke up a couple of times as the A.C. was too high and the cold was irritating my throat.  Some women in the room went for the 'Tawaf-e-Widaa' at 'tahajat' time. We also got ready and by 5 a.m. we were inside the 'Harrum'.  The human traffic was at its peak even at this early hour. We zig-zagged our way through people, some walking, some lying on the floor and others praying. We had to take the escalator as there was no space on the lower floors.  We ended up on the roof top.  Even here there were thousands of people. The 'Fajr' Azaan was recited and we had to sit for the prayer wherever we got a bit of space but we were not far apart. 

It was cool, still dark but the 'Kaabah' was shining with a new radiance in the flood lights.  The sun rise was a spectacular feast for the eyes from the point that we were at.
We started the 'Tawaf' which was our 'Farewell Circumambulation', the last obligation of Hajj. It had to be performed before leaving Makkah. Baji, Reema and I tried to be near and keeping each other in sight. I was the one counting the rounds which were really long   this time.  Other people were also walking, some briskly, others scuttling with feet that were cut, cracked, smashed and sore.
Quite happily, we managed to finish the 'Tawaf-e-Widaa', prayed, had 'zum-zum' and trudged back to our hotel room. We had break-fast, rested a bit and then started the arduous job of packing up. We carefully checked that we had not left anything behind especially our mobile phones and their chargers. We were supposed to leave for Madina at 2 p.m. but as usual we had a long wait in the lobby of the hotel. 
The bus came at 4.30 p.m. and the whole group climbed into it.  Because of the prayer time, we had to wait some more as all the roads were blocked.  Finally the bus started moving at snail's pace out of the Holy City. This bus was bigger and the driver was more civilised.
We were saying good-bye to the "Harrum".  It seemed just the other day we had arrived here and now we were leaving. There were tears in all eyes, mixed feelings of accomplishing what we had imagined and starting the last leg of our journey. 
It was quite an uncomfortable, long drive as there was hardly any space for the legs. Parts of the road were pitch dark but some had lots of lights. Nearing mid-night, we were given food packs that had biscuits, water and juice. I remembered to take my medication and dozed off and on.
These words kept ringing in my mind - 'Teray rozay tey javan, rasool-e-arrabi, khaak surma banavan rasool-e-arrabi....'  I even dreamt that I was in the Roza, a dome with a green roof, and on the floor were scattered 'motia' flowers that I was collecting with both hands. I was praying for my children, their soul mates, their happiness and 'halal' earnings.

Friday, 11th November 2011

At 2.30 a.m. the bus stopped in front of Hotel Al-Safa where we were to stay in this beautiful city of Madinah. We checked in and went to our room on the 9th Floor. We slept like logs and when we woke up, it was 7 a.m.

The room was small but comfortable with a tiny fridge on the side. We put our phones to charge, made tea and after a light breakfast, we got ready to see the 'Roza Mubarak' of the Prophet Mohammad.
We came out of the lobby of the hotel and were welcomed by a bright, warm day. We couldn't help smiling and being happy that we were actually walking in the revered city of Madinah. The road, the foot path, even the corridors along the shops in the street were all marbled. Within a few minutes we were face to face with the 'Masjid-e-Nabvee' [Mosque of the Prophet]. The sight was breath-taking. It was magnificient - the grandeur, the aura was just incredible. Hats off to the Saudis for up-keeping all the historical sites to a tip top condition.
There was a lot of security check-up and strict timings for the women to go in. There were thousands of women waiting to move inside.  As we walked in we were awe-struck with the wonderful architecture of the palatial building, carpetted from end to end, fabulous chandeliers and 'ayaats' sculpted in gold on the vast walls of the mosque. There was air-conditioning, fans and water coolers for the convenience of the devotees who were highly charged with passion and love for their spiritual leader.
The place was organised and all the women were asked to sit and wait till their group was called.  There was a big board with a notice in several languages. It said:  'Avoid troubling yourself and others by pushing and entering into Rawdah when it is crowded.  Please wait and enter it in order. You have enough time. Pray here if you wish.'
After a short wait, we were allowed to move forward. In spite of very strict security women, there was a lot of pushing, nudging and jostling as every body was eager to see the 'Roza', the actual place of burial of the Prophet Mohammad and also the final abodes of his best aides like Hazrat Umar Farooq and Abu Bakr Saddiq.  There was a long wall covered with green and gold carpets. People were crying with emotion and praying for themselves, their families, their countries and peace in the world, as we walked along the Holy Mausoleum. After completion of the special prayers of 'Darood' and 'Salam', we were led to the huge halls of the 'Masjd-e-Nabvee' where we sat respectfully and meditated.  
We all felt so lucky to see such a grand,holy place. The preservation of the Islamic history was indeed remarkable. The walls were erected with grey and beige marble; the pillars were adorned in golden decor and the glittering chandeliers added an ethereal ambiance to the marvelously architected mosque.
Since it was Friday, there were special prayers at 1 p.m. after which we walked to the outer terrace which had amazingly huge 'up-side-down' umbrellas which opened out automatically when it was hot and closed in the evening. We were led towards the area from where we could see the Green Dome clearly.  This is constructed above the Prophet's Mausoleum and is a beautiful, dignified and unique sight. Awed by the sheer splendour of the Dome, we continued walking.
The sun was hot and very bright now. The reflection of the marble courtyards was adding to the brightness around.  We covered our faces as much as we could with our veils to protect us from the heat.  We had lost our travelling umbrellas in Meccah. We reached the 'Jannatul Baqee' which is an old, historical grave yard that has graves of thousands of 'Companions' and saints. Around the vast, sandy, plain land, was a steel fence preventing any body from entering. The only live beings that could not be stopped from entering were the thousands of pigeons, cooing and fluttering around. They had become used to millions of visitors coming every day and throwing grain across the fence for them to feed on.  Every now and then, hundreds of the pigeons would suddenly fly up together like a huge grey and pink sheet of wings and amaze the on-lookers. When we got tired standing there, we all walked to the centre of the town where there were all kinds of shops.  We found a Pakistani 'take-away' shop and bought vegetable samosas, rolls, chicken and rice. They gave so many 'pittas' with every portion of food. After a long walk, we reached our hotel room where we ate and rested a bit. 
The others wanted to go shopping; we had had no time to think about this all these days. They all went but I stayed back; my body was crying for rest.  I had been having cough syrup and there seemed to be funny noises in my ears. I put some ear drops and rested in the quiet, curtained room.
It was night by the time they all came back.  Baji had bought  'tasbis', some for me , to take back to Nairobi. Reema had brought 'curry' and 'pindi masala' which we enjoyed with the pittas.     
   

Saturday, 12th November 2011

Several times I had to get up at night as my stomach was paining - was it the 'pindis'? So when our alarm rang at 4.30 a.m. I was aleady up. We all washed up and got ready to go to the Masjid-e-Nabvi for Fajr prayers.

Just outside the entrance of the hotel, I slipped slightly on a ledge that I didn't see in the dim light. I just sat like a statue as I felt a searing pain in my foot.  I asked the others to continue, I didn't want to risk further injury so I just stayed in the lobby. From here I recorded the "Azaan" and prayed right there. It was twilight now; I stood up and walked slowly back to the room. I felt slight pain in my left ankle which had swollen up. I massaged it with some ointment - thanks to Reema, we had an array of medications around. I decided to rest my foot completely and avoid walking for today.
I rang Khalla Rashida in Sialkot and my cousins in London.  They all congratulated me on completion of the Hajj, were really emotional and cried on the phone as they asked me to pray for them and their children. I passed on my best wishes for the whole clan.
As I lay resting on my bed, I felt the peace of this sacred city. It was smaller and cleaner than Mecca. We had not seen any beggars around, unlike the men, and children, some mutilated, begging on the streets of Mecca. Even some veiled women were following people to ask for money. I don't know how they were surviving in the crowds and escaping from the eagle eyes of the security.
Here in Madina, you can meditate, pray quietly, be close to your creator and be 'born again'. The whole exercise of Hajj serves as an individual and group therapy.  It helps to heal your hurt feelings, is like a rehabilitation for your body and a retreat for consoling your heart, brain and soul.
I stayed in the hotel room for the whole day to rest my foot so that on the next day I could do a bit of shopping and pack up for the return journey. The time to go back home was approaching.  Actually, now we all were at the end of our tether for strength and vigour.  It felt good to think of going back on this Tuesday.
Reema, Baji and I had spent so much  time together, sometimes laughing, crying, praying, eating or persevering hard conditions in a graceful manner. Reema had some patients for minor injuries, colds, cough and fever - nothing major - so she was happy.  In spite of her professional commitments, she had enough time for all prayers and rituals. We were, as usual, always there to support her in any circumstances. When she came back today she related a funny episode that happened.  In Minaa, we had met an ex student of mine, who had taken some medicines from Reema. Today Reema got a call from her that she wanted some more of the same medicine so she was coming to the hotel lobby in an hour's time. Reema waited there almost for two hours and on ringing her she learnt that she was waiting in the lobby of the hotel in Makaah.  She didn't know we were in Madinah, hundreds of kilometres away from Makaah. Ha ha! Poor thing! 
Lying in the bed of this small room, I was thinking of every body in Nairobi and what small gifts I could take for them.  The popular presents are 'abayaas', scarves, rosaries, souvenir replicas of the Mosques in Mekkah and Madinah, dates and 'zum-zum' water. I was really missing my children. My foot felt better, the swelling seemed less and I could move my ankle. I had also got the lock of my suitcase broken - the keys had been lost in Minaa, so now I could change into a 'nightie'.

At night Baji brought a 'potli' of 'daal' koftay and rice.  We all ate and then tried to sleep amidst the sounds of every body's coughing and wheezing.     
  

Sunday, 13th November 2011

I got up early. My mouth felt like a dry, foul smelling cave but the foot was better. I made tea for every one and had my medicine. They all wanted to go for 'ziaret'; I wanted to rest my foot so I stayed back. Another lady who was also feeling sick remained with me. After resting for some time she went to the mosque. 

It was 10 a.m. I cleared up the room, bathed and changed. I had to be really careful with my foot because I did not want to go home limping. It hurt when I tried to wear shoes so I went around with socks. I opened the shutters of the window and I could see so much construction going on in the neighbourhood. Huge cranes and tractors were busy in the building of multi-storeyed buildings. I could also see part of the mosque with the marble minarets shimmering in the bright sunlight.
I sat on my bed and meditated, the events of the past two weeks reeling in my mind.  I felt the performane of Hajj was a 'jihaad' in itself. Comparatively, 'umra' was a piece of cake. If you want to go for Hajj next year, start preparing now. Here are some tips:
- start training your body by exercise, using a tread mill or just walking for half an hour every day.
- get good walking or jogging shoes and train in them because new shoes will hurt your feet
- make it a habit to wear socks because your feet soles will crack and pain if you walk bare footed in the mosque environs
- start eating less and have a good balanced diet; fasting will help
- travel as light as possibe; everything on this earth is available in the fully stocked shopping malls in Makkah and Madinah
- use sun block, brimmed hat or veil to protect youself from the hot sun
- all your clothes, including scarves, should be of thin 'lawn', voile or cotton; otherwise you will risk rash and allergy
- avoid movement outside when the sun is too hot
- use the most comfortable slippers or shoes at all times
- do the 'tawaaf' when the sun is not so hot
- although the 'tawaaf' downstairs is most desirable, but you can perform it on the other floors or even on the roof top. The distance walked will be longer but you will avoid many pushes, nudges and hits from the wheel chairs
- wear a dust mask if can accept looking like a little monkey
- keep your money and valuables on your person; long pockets on your attire will help
- have a water bottle, some bandages, glucose tablets and strepsils with you all the time
- of course you will have your mobile phone and camera but use them discreetly; the guards who carry whips could confiscate them
- carry your special I.D. card with you all the time, in case you get separated from your group and are lost
- avoid eating too much and refrain from getting food from open, unhygienic places
- keep your guide book, your 'Quran' and the prayer mat in a separate cloth bag so that you can take it wherever you go
- be alert and appreciate what and why you are doing all this; the best prayer will be the one that comes out of your heart in the language that you understand best
- avoid loose talk, meditate instead
- keep a clean heart, clear conscience and pure thoughts
- when deciding your plans for Hajj, choose the shortest travel package that takes you to Makkah first and then to Madinah.

My room mates returned around 1p.m. after visiting the historical mosques in the city - Masjid-e-Quba, Masjid-e-Qiblatain, Masjid-e-Juma, Masjid-e-Ghamama, Masjid-e-Abubakr, Masjid-e-Umar Farooq, Masjid-e-Ali and Masjid-e-Fateh. They were given a guided tour organised by our group leader.
Baji looked exhausted and pale, so she lay down to rest while Reema and I went to the shops around the area. We bought some gift items. The shops were loaded with beautiful souvenirs but we had to consider our baggage weight so we had to be quite choosy.  All this time I walked around the streets of Madinah in socks only as the shoes hurt my foot. It was amazing that I had not seen any soil here.  The town was like a concrete jungle of sky scrapers with a few green trees that had artificial watering.  The pavements, corridors and foot paths are all marbled as they are in the proximity of the Mosque.
We prayed twice in the courtyard of the Mosque in between our shopping spree. We also had chicken 'tikka' for lunch. We took some 'bhajias' back to the room where we all shared them. Baji was better now, she wanted me to accompany her to the Jewelley shop which was near by. It was 7.30 p.m. but it seemed like day light with all the shops open and hundreds of people rushing around. We managed to find some 'Kaabah' souvenir pendants in gold which we bought to take back with us.
At 10.30 p.m. we  were back. We joined every body in a dinner of 'daal chawal' and  then fell onto our beds to get some sleep.


Monday, 14th November 2011

At 'sehri', I was so tired, I could not get out of the bed immediately. My legs were stiff, the feet were paining and the back felt like lead. I prayed for strength and mustering up courage and all my energy, I finally got up, made tea and had beakfast.  We all got ready and by lot9 a.m. we were on our way to see the "Roza" for the last time before we left Madinah.

There was a lot of rush of women at this time of the day and a lot of security checks.  A number of mobile phones were confiscated but returned afterwards.  As we recited the special Farewell invocations, we could not help being emotional as we had come to the end of our journey and did not know if we would see this blessed place ever again. We wanted to capture the glimpses of the Holy Mausoleum for ever in our hearts and minds.  We prayed for ourselves, our family, friends, our country and for peace in the world. Many tears were being shed as we walked out of the mosque.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the shops nearby to buy some small gifts.  Baji wanted to exchange some gold trinkets for something better. Finally she did find some jewellery of her choice at the Goldsmith outlet in the mall. The display of pure gold bangles and ornaments was quite a dazzling sight and we could have spent hours admiring the beautiful treasures but we were short of time as we were travelling back at night . We hurried to our room as we had to pack our suit cases.
As we got into the congested lift, we saw the lobby of the hotel being filled up with heaps of luggage and people who were also leaving today. Hundreds of 'jerry-cans' of 'zum-zum', the holy water, had been stacked on the side.  These were a special gift for the 'Hajjis' from the Saudia Government.  
Once in the room, we all started our final packing. We were supposed to vacate the room by 4 p.m. One of the ladies had brought 'shaurmas' for every body so we had them for lunch together with 'bhajias' and cool water. We were avoiding 'sodas' and fancy juices for the sake of our already hurting throats. We called the hotel attendants to assist us in taking all the suit-cases to the lifts down to the lobby.
There seemed to be herds of people going out of the hotel as most guests were departing from Madinah now. We found a vacant sofa to sit in a corner while our group leader organised all our luggage to be kept at one spot to facilitate it being loaded into the bus which was supposed to take us to the Airport. As usual we had a long wait.
We had to stay in the lobby. We even prayed there. A few people went to the mosque but we stayed put. At 8 p.m. we were told that we could go and rest in Room 810 as the bus was late. There were already other women in the room. We had met them in Makkah. Dinner of 'Burger and chips' was served after which we rested a bit. At 11 p.m. we were all called down as the bus had arrived.
The road outside the hotel was all lit up.  The shops were still open - they never close, I think! I video-ed the Mosque which was looking great in the lights. We were each given a 'jerry-can' of 'zum-zum' as we sat in the bus one by one.  We were then given our passports back and finally the bus started moving towards the Madinah Airport. 

Tuesday, 15th November 2011

It was past 1 a.m. when we reached the Madinah International Airport.  Hundreds of  'coolies' emerged to eagerly help us in removing the luggage.  We all checked in, passed through the immigration and waited to board the E.K.719 Emirates flight to Dubai. We settled into the seats of the plane which took off at 4.30 a.m. We were given some snacks as it was a short flight.

We were all so happy and excited to be going back after accomplishing what we had come for three weeks ago. Apart from the unique experience we had also met some people whom we would never forget. We had interaction with some wonderful people one of whom was Sadaf, a lady who was our room mate in Makkah, Minaa and Madinah. She was elegant, vivacious, strong, sturdy and an energetic woman who knew how to get her way.  She hated injustice and was outspoken and frank in airing her views. With her knowledge of Islamic History, she guided and gave us a lot of information about the religious rites and sites. Naturally talkative and friendly, she was really good company and a true friend in need. She had a political background and an influential 'zaminzar' clan in Peshawar, Pakistan where she was brought up, educated and married. Her husband was working with the U.N.E.P., Nairobi and they had two teen-aged sons. He was a very sensible, morally up-right man, with a pleasant personality and a fantastic sense of humour. The couple gave us good advice, were kind, humble and had a great sense of responsibility.  We were so grateful to them for showing care and concern for us and assisting us in many small ways. It certainly was a privilege to know such good hearted people.
At the back of my Diary, I had made a page for people to sign. Here is what they wrote.

AUTOGRAPH PLEASE!  [Al-Hajj November 2011]

It has been a pleasure being with you during this auspicious, spiritual experience. Please write your name and comments here. I shall never forget you. All the Best for the Future.                            Shama

1. It was truly a wonderful experience with all of you.  You kept my spirits high with lots of positive energy that you possess.  Thanks for the lovely time.   Sadaf

2.  It was such a pleasure meeting and being with you on this journey of a life time. You are a lovely person, always happy. May Allah always keep you in the palms of His hands. God Bless.                                         Shahnaz

3.  Although we have not spent much time together, you three are definately the sweetest trio in the group - always smiling, happy and full of energy.  May Allah accept your Hajj forgive you for any errors. May His guidance be over you. With love and duaas.       Najma
 
4.  I feel we were very lucky that we had a chance to be together for this 'fareeza' Hajj. May we always be together like this and never apart.  Love.           Reema

5.  We have known each other for a few days, yet, with the presence of Allah, we spent together some of the best days of our life.  Que cette rencoutre avec notre creatent soit pour une vie meilleure sur terre et une vie eternelle a ahirat.  Your friend from Mauritius.   Nazli

6.  As Salaam Alaikum.  We are really enjoying the trip of Makkah and I hope even Madinah will be the same all together.                                                             Yasmin

7. We have been together for many tris but this has been incredible.  Going through this spiritual experience with you was just amazing, an opportunity of a life time. Alhumdolillah!  Yours always,                              Safia

8.  I am very lucky to come across such wonderful people like you and your sis. Had a wonderful time and man pleasant memories to treasure.  Hope we do really meet again and be in touch.  Need your blessings.  With Luv.                                                                       Myra


Before I realised, our plane had touched the ground of Dubai. It was 7 a.m. but the duty-free mall was as busy as ever. We had a couple of hours for the connecting flight to Nairobi.  We also had some Dirhams and Dollars remaining so we bought some chocolates and perfumes. We avoided walking too much as our feet were aching. We rested in the waiting room before we were asked to check into the flight which took off at 10.45 a.m. and was due to arrive in Nairobi at 3 p.m. 


to be contd.......
  
   

As usual, the flight was a bit uncomfortable as there was hardly any leg space. I could feel my feet swelling as th shoes were getting tighter.  The snacks and lunch served were good - Emirates loves to feed their passengers well!

Every body was dozing while I thought about some suggestions for the improvement of Hajj facilities.  Of course the Saudia government is doing a fantastic job to ease the difficulties faced by Hajjis, due to the fact that there are millions of people present at one place at a particular period of time, every year.
I am but a very small person to criticise, but may be, one day, my suggestions can be brought into practical use:

- the train that has been rumoured to be running from Makkah to Minaa should be utilised to ferry all the Hajjis to avoid excessive congestion of the traffic on the roads.
- there should be separate areas for the men and women in the 'Harrum' at all times because whenever it is prayer time the women are sent to the back of the halls where it is hard to get space even to stand.
- on all the gates of the Holy Mosque, there should be separate 'Entry' and 'Exit' signs to be followed strictly to avoid people getting squashed while moving in opposite directions.
- the wheel chairs should be pushed only in the allocated lanes and not in between the crowds, hitting and hurting the ankles of other Hajjis.
- there should be exclusive fly-overs for the cars and buses so that the millions of people walking on the roads can reach their destinations in peace.
- more litter bins need to be placed around the streets of the Holy Mosque to avoid the shameful mess of  scattered rubbish that can be a health hazard and pollutes the beautiful environment of the sacred City Makkah.

I was alerted by Reema that we were about to land in Nairobi.  We freshened up quickly and at exactly 3 p.m. we were at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. As we walked down the plane, we sighed with relief and gladly breathed the fresh Kenyan air.  It was drizzling, the temperature was 24 degrees C.
We sailed through the immigration and waited for our luggage.  Even our hand trolleys had been put with the main baggage, thanks to the Dubai Airport. While we waited, we hugged our group members and said good-byes to our fellow Hajjans.
Customs was no problem and as we came out of the arrival hall, our family members received us with garlands of flowers.  We were all so happy. We got 'mubaraks' from every one and we hugged and kissed each other. We had certainly missed them all.  It was still drizzling. We took some photos outside the hall and finally got into the cars. It was peak time for the traffic which was choc a block as usual. We reached my sister's house at 5.30 p.m where we had tea with lots of samosas and cake. Taseer gave us the good news that he had passed his 2nd year exams and was now in the 3rd year of his medical studies.    Shortly, Reema with her children went to her house and my daughter drove me to our place where my son was anxiously waiting for me.
I hugged him, I had missed him so much, my sweetie pie, my sona beta. He and his sister had managed well in my absence. Even their Dad had not been there, as he was still in Kampala. I am sure they learnt a lot of self dependance and organisation plus cooking and doing small chores in the house.
We watched a bit of the video I had taken and I removed the gifts from my luggage.  They were so happy with the small souvenirs from Makkah and Madinah. We had dinner together. They had made chicken and rice themselves  - so sweet! 
I was really tired. I had not slept a wink for the past two days.  When I lay on the bed, the children saw my feet and were shocked. One of the toe nails was blue-black due to the pressure of the shoes; it was going to fall off soon. The swelling had made the feet look double the size. They reminded me of my aunt's feet whenever she travelled from U.K. to Nairobi. My daughter got some hot water to let my feet soak in and then my son rubbed on some ointment. He got so worried and emotional, he even kissed my feet and said it must be really hurting. I blessed them with all my heart and told them that I was fine and this was just a small price to pay for the supreme experience that I had gone through. They made me have my medication and some cough syrup.  I slept like a log with my feet slightly elevated the whole night.  

Wednesday, 16th November 2011

When my 'namaz' alarm rang, it was 6 a.m. I could not even lift my body so I had to pray in bed.  I drifted back into sleep did not wake up till 10 a.m. I sent a message to my school to report that I was back but was feeling sick. My voice was almost gone and I was weak.

My daughter served me breakfast in bed - toast, butter, honey and tea. She had become more caring and confident in the kitchen in just two weeks.  My son hugged me as soon as he got up, rubbed some more ointment on my feet and then got ready to go to 'Village Market' with his friend.
After having lunch with me, my sweet daughter drew the hot tub bath for me with salt, oil and scent. She wanted me to relax in it while she went for her N.L.P. classes.
I sat in the tub for an hour. It was sheer bliss. Later I cleaned my room, rested a bit and rang my husband who said he would come from Kampala for a few days at the end of the month.  I started organising small gift packs for my friends.  As I looked at the 'tasbis', dates, 'verse' plates, praying mats and the 'zum-zum' bottles, I couldn't help remembering all the events of the past two weeks.
I thanked God for all his blessings and the miracle that this Hajj trip had been for me. 


All these reminiscences are a dedication to my Mum, Dad, Khalla Sakina and all persons who facilitated my trip.  I cannot say whether I will ever be able to visit the Holy Cities again, but the memories of the unique, once in a life time experience of Al-Hajj, will remain with me for ever and ever .............




copy right  Shama Butt

THE MAGNIFICENT MADINA