This is a continuation of the journal I kept while on Hajj from Oct. 30th to Nov. 20th. I’ve tried to keep it as true to what I wrote as possible with only minor editing. Any interjections from the present are in parentheses.

Nov. 6th, 2010

Yesterday I did something I’m quite ashamed of.

Maybe it was because I was tired.

I’d gotten up for Fajr and prayed on the roof of the haram! What a sight to behold! The sun beginning to rise over the hills of Mecca. Birds wheeling in the open space above the Kaaba, making their own tawaf, only going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, and below the throngs circumambulating the Kaaba, each person reduced to a speck, mostly black and white, but other colours too.

I found a spot beside another woman. A little sea of ladies surrounded by a barrage of men. We were right by the balustrade, so when we stood up we could see the Kaaba.

It’s not fair. There are certain areas designated for women in the mosque, and there is a set of Zamzam taps that is designated for women, but men freely violate that.

We women were huddled up to the balustrade, catching glimpses of our beloved Kaaba and then a man wearing a Saudi type uniform came by yelling, “Hajji, Hajji, Yulla! Yulla!” Telling us to move out from among the men.

That was to be expected. No way we’d get to keep that coveted spot.

So we had to pack up and vacate. Later on in the day, my sister in law and I decided to make the preparations to do another umrah. So we caught a bus to Masjid Aisha–the closest Meeqat.

We didn’t leave much time to catch Zuhr at the haram and coming back, the streets were packed with pilgrims making their way to the Kaaba.

My sister in law was determined to make the prayer so she ran off ahead. I thought I was too tired and only wanted to go pick up the laundry but at the last minute I changed my mind.

There was an entrance to the Kaaba clearly marked ladies, so I headed for it.

There were some Saudi guards at the door sitting on chairs doing crowd control. It was clear that every spot inside that part of the haram was packed toe to toe with ladies and still women kept stepping past the women who’d planted themselves in the courtyard outside the entrance and were trying to get in.

The guards turned them away, which was the right thing to do.

There was such a nice cool breeze coming from the interior and a smidge of shade so I planted msyelf down to wait for the call to prayer. I couldn’t help noticing the men who were also sitting in the coveted shade, some of them side by side with women.

And it irked me that the gurads didn’t shoo them away! “Hajji, Hajji, Yulla! Yulla!” (This situation would come to impact something I did later that I came to regret.)

What can I say? There definitely is a double standard here.

And in the ten minutes I sat there in that smidge of shade, waiting for the prayer time to arrive, the sunlight moved. The shade vanished and I was at the mercy of the searing Arabian sun.

That was enough to make me very cranky, and when a lady stepped through the back of the crowd, over prayer mats spread out and insisted there was enough room beside me for her to sit, I was in no mood to oblige.

There really didn’t seem to be any room.

I was hot, I was bothered and I was crowded. I told her not to sit down, but she did anyway.

Soon after that I felt a tentaive tap on my shoulder Another lady, hunched over, with a wrinkled face, was gesturing to sit down.

Of course I should have let her.

I don’t know what possessed me to turn her away. I really thought there was no room.

She ambled away and I heard some other ladies make room for her, feeling quite the heel.

Then the worst thing was, when the adhan rang out and we stood to form the lines, there was plenty of room, on both sides of me. I hope God will forgive me for turning that old lady away.

Nov. 6th (cont’d)

We were going to sleep for a while, wake up at 1 am and then go, when hopefully the crowd would have thinned, but 11:00 pm rolled around and I didnt’ want to disturb my sleep so we decided to go over then. After doing the 7 rounds of tawaf on the roof that morning, my feet were too sore to try it again. So we decided to brave the Kaaba’s packed courtyard.

My son in law had warned me about the African men who often locked arms and jogged through the crowd oblivious of those in their way. My son in law had warned me to just avoid them, stay out of their way!

So I did. But oh the jostling and the pushing, no way did I even try to touch or kiss the hajar aswad, black stone.

(The black stone is said to be from heaven. It is lodged in one corner of the Kaaba, and is the spot from which each round of tawaf begins. If you can, you’re supposed to kiss it or touch it, but usually the crowd is too prohibitive. It’s enough to just raise your hand and kind of salute it, say Bismillah, Allahu Akbar (In the name of God, God is Great.) and begin your tawaf.)

When the Africans came around again, I got an idea.

I slipped in behind as them as they pased. Wonderfully there was a tiny little hollow vacuum behind the wedge of Africans, like a still spot, an eye of the storm, and for a while I jogged along happily behind them while they cleaved through the crowd, just like a plow!

It couldn’t last though.

Pretty soon others filled the vacuum and I was separated from them.

(Maybe it was a mistake to do that third umrah. I might have ruined it by inadvertently lying at the end of it. At each entrance of the haram there are ladies head to toe in black who check women’s bags for cameras. You’re not allowed to bring cameras into the haram. People do anyway, and they really can’t prevent all the cell phones but they do their best.

Earlier I had been checked, then came in through another entrance and a lady wanted to check me again and I had waved her off saying I’d already been checked. I didn’t have a camera that time, but this time, for this umrah, somehow I’d brought one. As I was finishing up sa’ee I walked by one of those ladies and instinctively I told her that I’d already been checked, and then remembered that I had not. I had slipped past the lady at the entrance while she was busy checking others. I had lied. Not sure if that nullifies my umrah. I was still in ihram at that point because I hadn’t clipped my hair.)

During one of our information sessions the subject of beggars came up. I had been approached only twice so far. Once on the road when trying to buy some lunch.

A lady held out her hand and it was clear she wanted money to eat, or so she said. Problem was she was dressed better than many of the pilgrims I’d seen. I gave her 2 riyals, no more. Later while waiting for juma prayer to start, a tall lady, also dressed well, but with a deformed arm came collecting through the rows. She’d lift her kimar (long head covering) revealing the stumpy arm, then tap it and hold out her hand.

There was something too calculted about it. I didn’t give her anything.

So that night at the information session, our group leader said that begging was big business in Mecca. Then he said that if you wanted to give some charity, the cleaners who were constantly cleaning the haram were paid very very little. They were deserving of charity.

The next day, armed with ten riyal notes, I went to the haram. I was surprised how willingly the first cleaner took the money. I approached another and another, then they started approaching me.

Squeegies and mops at rest, they didn’t hold out their hands, they just came and stood near so I could see them. Their silence and dignity was surprising and yet felt quite desperate.

It brought tears to my eyes. My ten riyal notes were disappearing too quickly and I wondered how much money I had left.

Finally I said, “Khalas, Bus”–meaning ‘the end’ and they dispersed. And I couldn’t help but feel quite silly and humbled. How quickly had I closed my purse. And yet God gives without measure. The more we ask, holding out our hands, begging, the more He gives, and it says in the Quran that He is Al- Ghani, the Wealthy, and He never tires of giving.

to be continued…