Archive for the 'travel' Category

23
Jan
09

On Leaving for Hajj

We left on Sunday morning with some trepidation as we had only collected our passports with visas the day before.

The preceding week was very stressful as there was still some doubt that our first group (we had been split into two as we were such a large group) would be able to make hajj. They left Trinidad on the Tuesday before us and since then had missed so many flights and there was some talk of having to pay change of date fees and rebooking fees.

Furthermore, during that week we didn’t hear much from the first group directly. There were many rumours floating around that they were “locked up” and “starving”. They left Trinidad without their passports as the visas had not been issued yet and were supposed to collect them Tuesday morning at Caracas with the visas (the Saudi Embassy is in Caracas) and then continue on with their connecting flights. Caribbean Airlines said they would take people with some sort of photo ID and Trinidad and Tobago immigration said if Caribbean Airlines would board our group then they have no problem letting them leave. I assumed Venezuela was okay with 40-odd passengers being in transit waiting for their passports.

Well our whole group didn’t get visas until Thursday and ours arrived in Trinidad on Friday. So the first group had not left before us as was the plan. But they weren’t locked up. They were staying in a hotel outside of the airport. This was rather stressful. A couple from our jamaat were part of the first group.

During that week we got many calls from many people saying, yes we got it!, yes we got it! (and we would wonder but didn’t you say we got it yesterday?). It got to the point I didn’t want to answer the phone anymore. One Hajj leader, a friend of dad, sent a message with his wife for us to not leave Trinidad without our passport and visa! Don’t!

In that week, we also heard that one group didn not get through at all. Can you imagine a group of 50 paid their money for everything and then their visas are refused?

You must be really careful in picking a group. People may not talk but somehow you should find out for sure whether your group leader is licensed or not. If you can’t find out, sometimes the students in Saudi Arabia might be able to find out for you…I don’t know how…they might be better able to listen to what people are saying. Also, you have to get previous hujaaj to tell you honestly about their experience. And just because it was good one year doesn’t mean the next year it will be so.

So, Sunday morning, we left. We had confirmed bookings. We had visas. The only thing that could stop us was immigration at any point. There was enough layover time at each stop (or so we thought anyway). We were just worried about our fellow hujaaj in the previous group. The hajj terminal in Jeddah closes on Tuesday midnight and our group was scheduled to arrive Monday. If you’re not in by Tueday midnight you’ve missed it. They won’t let you in to make hajj. We didn’t know what their flights were anymore. We heard they would take the same flight with us out of Caracas to Frankfurt and when we went on to Jeddah from there, they would go through Amman and arrive the day after us. Cutting it very closely, yes?

Leaving Piarco (Trinidad) was hard. Our neighbours carried the four of us up. And we were the first to check-in I thought. We were starting to wonder if we were *late* (was it even 4 am??) It’s sad when the whole family is going because there is nobody to wave you goodbye. But then, isn’t it sadder when you’re leaving someone behind because then you *are* waving someone goodbye? Either way ti felt strange.

Thankfully in the throngs that came to see off the last hajj group, friends and family did appear. One group came with samosas and such (pre-arranged) so we’d have some extra food/snacks for the trip. Relatives of the people from the first group came to see us off too, and talked dad’s ear off. Dad was even able to thank one of the persons responsible for our group actually getting our visas.

With all this stress, I decided not to take gravol (much needed medicine for flying…but it puts you to sleep). We would arrive in Caracas around 11 and not leave until 5pm…and I didn’t think it would be wise to be asleep and groggy throughout that stay. The stories we’ve heard!

05
Jan
09

A House for Mr Biswas

As we were leaving Makkah, en route to Madinah, we saw some “houses”. There were quite a lot of them in fact, unfinished, roofless, windowless, doorless, abandoned structures.

One of them, about two to three hours into the drive, had BISWAS written on the side, in capital letters! Unfortunately I have no photographic evidence (we were in a bus)!

If you’re interested, check wikipedia or Amazon.com.

I know, I know, some of you Arabs/Arabic speakers (hmm do any read here?) will come and tell me what the actual significance of the phrase BISWAS is but for now…I prefer to imagine!

Originally posted here.

02
Jan
09

Of Pilgrimage, Hujaaj and Luggage


First View of the Kaabah

Originally uploaded by Chennette

The family returned from the Hajj on the 29th of December 2008. Last year :-) That was on Monday and today is Friday. But we arrived with the usual Hajji cough, cold, flu, allergies, tiredness from 3 days of travel, good cheer from the completion of the Hajj and the communion with 4 million people from all over the world…everything but our luggage. Four of us, and the only luggage we got was our little 2-gallon container of Zam Zam water!

Alhamdulillah, we got our luggage yesterday. Of course, passage through and long stay in Caracas meant that 4 were opened and a couple things snagged from 2 of them, but nothing overly important or valuable (i.e. all my new hijabs are intact).

Lilandra walked with a copybook and had the great idea for us to journal (by HAND) so that we could at least have some notes for blogging later. We did pretty well on the trip TO Saudi Arabia, even having comments (in the margins) and guest commentary and musings from the parents. That never made it past the plane to Jeddah though. Once we got into Saudi we were in full Hajj mode and that just took up all our concentration and attention.

The experience of the Hajj is difficult to explain briefly. On one level, it is intensely personal, a completion of an individual religious obligation (if you can afford it) and an opportunity for forgiveness and personal prayer and supplication. During the Hajj, you try to do as much as you can to maximise the benefits of the experience. On the other hand, it’s a massive community exercise, with millions of Muslims from all over the world descending on the same location to do the same things for a few days. Oh, the languages, and the peoples, and the crowds. It’s all just amazing to be part of that, part of such a huge celebration and really feel like one of an Ummah (nation).

Lilandra and I will nonetheless try to chronicle our journey here for posterity, and maybe for the benefit of any future hujaaj*. There are some really funny stories – especially the ones that were not so funny to us at the time. Wily old ladies and the unspoken battle for sleeping ground. The shock of the stooping toilets. Flat tyres and deserts. Saudi seasoning = salt, salt, and salt on the table.

But we’re back safely, and more or less healthy depending on when you ask us. As for photos, well, they technically don’t allow photographs in the Masjid-al-Haram (mosque around the Kaabah) and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, but I managed it in Makkah (hence the pictures of the Kaabah and more to follow). In Madinah they’re much much stricter, but I do have some courtyard photos to share :-D (Also posted at Lifespan of a Chennette)

————–
Hujaaj is the plural term for a pligrim, singular is Hajji or Hajja

27
Nov
08

I don’t want to know my blood pressure at the moment

*sigh*

More trials with regards to the visa.
Well latest word is that we got it and hopefully the group sojourning in Caracas will leave today (in two hours).

You should understand in the past couple days we’ve heard, they’re leaving Caracas tomorrow. Oops they didn’t get the visas. Oh they got the visas but not in time to catch their flight so tomorrow. But their luggage has left already. No, nobody got visas. Yes they got it finally we all got it.

So, we’re praying a lot and am waiting to have my passport with visa in my hand.

Insha Allah it will work out.

Mom says in the days of the prophet there was no air-conditioned hajj and buses and marble floors to make tawaf. We have to make our jihad somewhere if not in the actual hajj, in the travel to get there.

23
Nov
08

No Passports yet

Contrary to my last post, we didn’t get our passports at the hajj meeting today.

I wonder how the Saudi embassies operate in other regions.

Anywayz, not too many details right now, but it seemed there was a problem with the machine printing the passports and they all weren’t done. They should be done by tomorrow which means the group leaving on Tuesday won’t get them before they leave Trinidad on their way to Caracas. Their passports will be waiting in Caracas. I think our group leader has made arrangments so that they are able to travel without their passports to Caracas. Insha Allah that will work out.

Then the other helper (in Caracas waiting for our passports) will bring the rest and Insha Allah we will leave without a hitch on Sunday.

Insha Allah.

But what else did we get?
Our itinerary and ticket printout for the POS-CCS and CCS-POS legs (the Saudi-bound legs are with our passports).
We got two little name tags for hand luggage and two bigger tags for checked luggage.
We got ID cards to enter the tents during the days of hajj.
And the women got their scarves to wear over their hijab/clothes so that we can be easily recognized.

And the nice jamaah with an impressive dome (masjid in construction) treated us to lunch (I didn’t take pictures although I did take the camera…I was hungry: fry rice, stew chicken, green salad, veggies: pepper).

So let’s all pray that the first group goes off okay and so do we.

Word is that a group carded to leave today didn’t because of badly printed visas.
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21
Nov
08

Hajj Visas and Passports

Every year, every group worries about getting their visas.

We’ve heard some groups didn’t get their passports back until the day of travel…in years past, visas actually stamped at the airport.

Once upon a time the embassy used to come through the region, or at least some of the Caribbean islands and set up posts and issue Hajj visas from there. Now everybody (or at least the group leader) has to go to the Caracas embassy.

And rules for giving out visas are even stricter. So many people want to go they have quotas. And they don’t let you go if you’ve gone within the last five years…(well obviously if you’re not one of the group leaders). And then, you never know, it’s up to their whim, you could just be denied!

Can you imagine the stress? After you’ve paid your money and all that and then to find out no visa. Boohoo.

Well, news just in…our hajj leader is coming back from Caracas tomorrow…and…I think everybody got their visas! Woohooo! Alhamdullillah.

One less worry (especially as we heard that a group that left yesterday Trinidad – Tobago – London – Amman/Jeddah didn’t leave Tobago; their London-bound flight had difficulties and thus…they overnighted there. Oh my!)

What that really tells you is as bad as it sounds that we’re going through Caracas, you never know. We can plan to the hilt but there are lots of things we have no control over. An airline could go kaput and we get stranded somewhere. So intentions are important. And mom’s oft repeated mantra, “Man plans but Allah is the best of planners”.

At least…we got our visas :)

14
Nov
08

Traveling For Hajj

Hajj PouchLilandra has just posted about the packing frenzy we’re currently experiencing. I know, I’m not actually there in Trinidad, amid the suitcases, but I did take my suitcase over last weekend. And I went shopping for toiletries, clothing and shoes for the month long journey, in unfamiliar climate, lots of walking and insha Allah, many more blessings.

I was actually supposed to post a month ago, almost exactly, as we went to a major Hajj meeting on October 12, where alhamdulillah I was actually in Trinidad. I was able to collect my Hajj travel pouch, get my itinerary, take my visa photo etc. I won’t come right out and say the Hajj pouch was the most exciting thing, but it was pretty cool :-) We’re like that.

As you can see, we leave on the 30th of November. That’s not that far away!

Apart from the packing, and strategising about washing clothes, and schedules and ensuring we do our best to get to keep in the peak of health, we also have some mental preparation. We’ve had some family Skype Hajj sessions – going through the steps of the Hajj, reviewing the arabic for the talbiyah, the du’a, the quranic ayaat that we will have to recite during the Hajj. I also managed a session en famille in person. LIlandra and Mom enlarged the pocket Hajj guide and home laminated it (with that plastic sticky covering used for books) punched holes and tied it together with yarn. So we have waterproof, easy-to-read and carry, Hajj guides, complete with all the steps and the things to recite.

If Lilandra ever posts the complete list of things we’re taking people might think we’re hypochondriacs. But, it’s 4 of us, each with our own idiosyncrasies and allergies (or intolerances). Plus the parents have done this before, have a fair idea of the things they’ll need, and taking into consideration the fact that they’re older. Also, we’ve traveled a lot in our life, and know our particular needs when undertaking long travel – for example, my sinus allergies after hours in planes, not to mention unfamiliar desert air and dust…better be safe and sorry, as we would like very much insha Allah that this is the best Hajj we can do.




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