Archive for January, 2009

23
Jan
09

Was I ready for Hajj?

I don’t want you to think hajj is only about the travel to and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

But unfortunately, due to all the stress and worries, our heads were in a turmoil and I was worried that I would never be in the right frame of mind to make an accepted Hajj. But then, who can say what the right frame of mind is?

I didn’t want anything to spoil my Hajj, but there I was, haven’t even left Trinidad and Tobago yet, worried that my hajj might be spoiled by all the thoughts going on in my head. I was worried about why it took us so long to get visas. Who screwed up? Did anybody screw up? What about the other group that didn’t get visas? I was trying not to be annoyed with what I heard. I was trying to be *calm* and when upset make dua or pray..

In the years leading up to our trying to make Hajj (2006 when Chennette got sick, 2007 when our other siblings had babies), I never thought it would happen. I never thought I was ready for Hajj. I didn’t think I was worthy. I still didn’t think I was the perfect candidate but then…in our religion there are five pillars:

  1. Tawhid – belief in one God and submission to him
  2. Salaah – perform the 5 daily salawat
  3. Zakaah – give the annual charity, one-fortieth of the money you’ve had for a whole year
  4. Saum – fasting in the month of Ramadhan
  5. Hajj – make the pilglrimage to Makkah, if you can afford it

And, I could afford it. Barely I guess 😉
When I quit my job I made sure I had that money put aside (even though it seemed like a pipe dream) and didn’t touch it for anything.

And Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah), I was finally making Hajj. My stomach shouldn’t’ve been in knots because of travel arrangements…yes it should’ve been in knots because of the great spritual/religious journey I was embarking on. I wanted it to change me for the better. I wanted to be a better person and a better muslim. And I was going to pray hard to change into that person.

Mostly, I wanted an accepted hajj. I know I’ve not been the best Muslim I can be and I know there have been lapses and I wanted forgiveness. Hajj gives you the opportunity for a clean slate (if accepted). But even if not accepted, I still decided it would be my turning point. There were many things I wanted (not just material!!!) and I also had to make up my mind to not be disappointed with whatever I received.

During all the worries about our visas and other groups not making it mom would announce at random, “It’s Allah’s house. When He’s ready for you to come, you will come.” Remember, Allah (subhana wa ta’ala) was ready for her to come twice before. And so with dad. Chennette and I were embarking on our first hajj. The obligatory one. And no matter what people tell you about it, you know you’ll never be ready.

And on a side-note, I was very concerned about these infamous stooping toilets or sunnah toilets.

EEK!

Especially considering certain surprises.

But don’t worry, I will have a post dedicated to that *luxury*.

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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.

05
Jan
09

Hajj Photos

Camel walking away in ArafatSlowly but surely we’re going through the photos we managed to take during the Hajj. Except for the food ones. During the actual days of Hajj we weren’t really focusing on taking pictures of ourselves or other people, or sneaking cameras into the Masjid-al-Haram. It just didn’t seem to be right to pay attention to those things when we only got to Makkah a few days before the Hajj began.

We did somehow manage to take quite a lot of photos of the things we ate (although not everything!). Somehow, I guess this seemed acceptable…I haven’t sorted through those yet. I just couldn’t face it. Soon we’ll just create an album of the daily food or something.

While I’ve only got up to the days just after the Hajj was completed, anyone who’s interested can go visit the Chennette’s Flickr album for Hajj 1429.

The photo are still of Makkah and I have some proper Kaabah shots to upload. Not to mention Madinah!! Insha Allah it’ll happen. What with relying on my cameraphone and the Olympus P&S that is supposed to be sister-the-elder’s when we thought we’d have the new Nikon Coolpix we got for the parents…the photos got better as we got used to the camera…AND I am tweaking 😀

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 😀 (Also posted at Lifespan of a Chennette)

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