Hajj Trip: October 8

Below is my recollection from day one, October 8, of our trip… getting to Madinah. Posted on a later day, 10.27.13, I chose to keep the dates in mark with their corresponding dates for convenience. You can see a link of all the post-trip posts by clicking here and scrolling down. Click here to see the previous post and click here to see the next day’s post.

Tuesday October 8.

Leaving home, for whatever reason, was a lot more emotional than I thought. Since early morning on the day of our flight, like I mentioned earlier, it was a pretty emotional one. I couldn’t describe it, but the feeling was like no other. When it was time to say goodbye [to my brothers] at the airport that Sunday night, that was another release of emotions. It’s not like I haven’t been away from them for so long or as if I was going alone. I just can’t simply describe it because there truly were many emotions all at once. But I just can’t put my finger on it or describe it.

Even so, the very LONG airplane trip from New York to our stopover in Dubai was just that. Long and tiring. But hey, I did get a taste of my first ever halal McDonalds while waiting at the Dubai airport…

Anyhow, there was yet another [very indescribable, hard to put my finger on it] feeling in the pit of my stomach as I belted in for the flight from Dubai to Madinah. Now it was, indeed, becoming real. I’ll admit it was something to see Muslims as a majority at every turn and corner too. Obviously there is a huge Muslim population in the US, but in no way are they the dominant group of people you see anywhere [unless it’s at a Muslim associated area like a mosque, etc. obviously.].

After traveling for about 24 hours, as we finally landed in Madinah, it was already very apparent that it was definitely like no other trip I have ever taken.

Landing, you could see the dust/smog. We originally thought, from the plane, it was fog or rain. Until the second we stepped off of the plane and went down the stairs to take the bus to the airport to collect our luggage (such a small airport that it had no terminals). Then there was no question that it was dust/smog we were breathing in. Landing around 2:30 AM local time, this was one of the only indicators that we were now in a desert.

As you unboard the bus and enter some part of the airport– then there is only one way to describe the next part: complete and absolute utter chaos. Unlike anything I have ever experienced in life. Which, by the way, became the theme of the next twenty one days.

Aah, patience. Much would be needed indeed. All the preparatory reading that said to pack lots and lots of patience… yeah, do it. They aren’t kidding. Patience became mandatory in a second and everything else was mere optional at best.

It’s from one line to the next, and, mind you, they all look like they are in their early teens at best. Back home, this age group can’t even take out the garbage without being told a million times…

Some hajj form you filled in the plane is taken from you. For the nth time, passports are checked to ensure hajj visas, the fees and who knows what else is there. Some guy puts a sheet in your passport and removes one of the stickers from the sheet for his record for tracking purposes, I guess. I hope. Some guy checks that it is done. There is more but it is already a blur about twelve hours later when I am writing this.

Then the next room over is baggage claim. Luggage everywhere. And these were for just two flights. And separated by the flight itself. Yet, its an ordeal in itself. Suddenly one small carry on seems like it should fit everything for the three weeks whereas 24 hours ago all the luggage didn’t seem enough.

When you are finally able to locate and retrieve your luggage, there are guys that rush you and your luggage to your transport outside. The chaos in this, you just have to see it to believe it. Men with yellow shirts with “Dar el Salam” written in green on them were present and guiding us towards the right buses. These men were visible throughout our trip everywhere to help guide us in the right direction and traveled with us whenever we went anywhere as well. We had blue “Dar el Salam” ID tags that we wore from the moment we got to the airport on October 6 and through the duration of our trip.

Waiting at the exit, however, are more young guys. Some guy, it seems like any guy, then abruptly takes your passport away from you for the duration of your trip. The very thing you should hold onto for your dear life as it is your ID and ticket home, you are suddenly passing off to a mere stranger in a strange country. Let alone a kid. Reading my mind, he says to us “don’t worry: we do this ever year… you’ll get it back”. Reflecting back on this now, hey, he spoke English!

It was like an Islam 101 lesson on iman (faith)… at least that’s how I chose to look at it.

The luggage? Tossed on top of the bus that would transport us. Another thirty or so minutes later we were on our way to our hotel, Hotel Anwar Al Madinah Movenpick, right next to masjid al-Nabawi (about 20 minutes from the airport). Alhumdulillah, we got there just before fajr prayers.

The masjid illuminates from far but then you lay your eyes on masjid al-Nabawi and everything else suddenly just doesn’t matter. It’s so captivatingly beautiful. Just being in it’s presence and admiring it… I can’t even tell you what it feels like.

There is just no way to describe it, but you just want to sit there staring at it with a huge smile — which is exactly what I did throughout breakfast through the window. And every other chance I got. Too bad we don’t have that view from our room.

On a side note, I was so worried about the heat, and even though it was 99 degrees when I was writing this, we were just out earlier and it felt nowhere near 99 degrees. It just is very dusty, and hard to breathe whenever you leave the hotel, but heat-wise: not an issue here in Madinah.

Day one, early on, it was also apparent that the language barrier would be an issue. I was under the impression English would be understood by some… instead we would just be relieved when we would find someone who spoke Urdu. They speak [only] Arabic for the most part. Tip to all future travelers: learn basic Arabic words. You’ll thank me for it later.

The time difference, the currency exchange, the language barrier, etc… so different from home, yet at the same time it felt right: absolutely amazing to see Muslims everywhere from all walks of life. A unique feeling of being one.

Early Day one, yes day one, would also be when my dad lost his shoulder bag with his iPhone, duas, the Qur’an and some other stuff. Right in the beginning of day one– he went to do wudu for fajr and left it. Remember the iman I talked about earlier? This shoulder bag also housed our passports throughout our travel thus far. Suddenly a mere stranger having it suddenly doesn’t seem like a bad idea after all…

Click here to read the next day’s post, from October 9.

Posted on 10.27.13

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