This is the third post of my Hajj journal. I’ve tried to inscribe it exactly as I wrote it. Any current thoughts are in parantheses.

Nov. 7 – 10, 2010

We arrived in Medina after a gruelling journey. When I came for umrah with my parents two years ago, going from Mecca to Medina was a quick 45 minute flight. Not this time.

We left the hotel in Mecca at 2:00 pm and finally dragged ourselves into the hotel in Medina at 11:00 pm.  (Little did I know that was still fast compared to how long it would take to get back!)

The food was a disappointment.

I don’t know how any chef could cook so much meat and make it taste so awful.

They definitely didn’t skimp on ingredients.

We had been forewarned that for some reason the hotel standards in Medina left a lot to be desired.

5 star in Mecca was up to international standards but 4 or 5 stars in Medina translated to 2 or 3 stars at most.

The food was so bad–and saying that is saying a lot because I don’t consider myself fussy when it comes to food–and some of the room swere so shabby that a LOT of the people started complaining.

I doubt there were any complaints at our hotel in Mecca.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed too. I don’t care if a room is shabbier and not quite as clean as I would want, but when breakfast and dinner are supposed to be provided for you, and you’ve budgeted accordingly, then it’s hard when the meals turn out to be practically inedible.

(Actually looking back, our room was one of the better ones–which is why I didn’t take the complaints of the other guests that seriously. I found out later that some of the guests had some very legitimate complaints including cockroaches and bedbugs. Yikes!)

That said, we were only going to be in Medina 4-5 days, I really didn’t think it was that big a deal, but a number of the other hajjis didn’t feel so sanguine about it.

It all came to a head last night. The head of the hajj group showed up to try to pacify frustrated customers. Someone should have given him a course in customer relations, because it ended up a fiasco.

It seems to me that the hotel conditions were quite beyond his control. The hotels know it’s hajj time, thus rooms are at a premium, even if they get lax.

Those hajjis who’d opted for the Medina Movenpick option rather than our lesser choice of hotels had had to pay $2000 more than we had, or so I heard. It wasn’t worth it, in my opinion. Not for 4 -5 days.

And I think what happens with Muslims and other ethnic minorities from the West is that they get buffetted around so much by the mainstream that when they deal with their own people in business matters, they become downright bullies.

I call it the “King of the Dung Heap Syndrome”. Usually KOTDHS refers more to the politcal nonsense that occurs in every masjid I’ve ever attended.

Where Muslim professionals–usually doctors–who can’t seem to get any recognition in the mainstream, try to jockey for position in the masjid, become president of some Muslim association–not because they want to serve the community but rather because it’ll make them feel like a ‘somebody’.


They push out people who might be better qualified and more knowledgeable to lead just for the sake of their own egos.

Well it seems ot me that there was plenty of KOTDHS floating around the session.

This young guy from America said he was taking pictures, documenting everything so he could sue.

Oh Brother!

The head of the organization started shouting at him–not wise–asking him if he really wanted to be sent home, miss Hajj and get a refund? If so, he would be the loser.

He also said that this wasn’t the Hajj yet, it was just extra. That they were doing their best to rectify things with the hotel and that once we got to Arafat, they’d see what good hospitality they’d receive from the group.

Oh it was too much for me!

I felt like in a moment I’d push through the crowd and tell them all to calm down and particularly tell that stiff-neck young punk threatening to sue, that if 5 stars were really that important to him he should have gone on a Carnival Cruise!

This is Hajj You have to expect hardship and many many tests of patience, speaking of which, I realized that my trying to say anything would only add fuel to the fire and I’d better keep my big mouth shut and follow my own advice.

Be patient.

I should back track a bit.

This afternoon I had borrowed my brother’s ipad and checked my email. In it were a number of congratulatory notes including from my agent, a friend and the illustrator of BIG RED LOLLIPOP, Sophie Blackall!

It seems BIG RED LOLLIPOP has been chosen by the New York Times as one of the 10 best illustrated books of the year. Wow! (I know I’ve already mentioned this but this was written in my journal on this date, so I’m including it again.)

On Hajj one of the things I was going to pray for was success with my books getting more noticed–here my prayer had been answered even before Hajj!

Subhanallah! This is HUGE!

The New York Times!

Maybe having had all this wonderful news also put me in such a good mood I was more able to overlook the deficiencies of our hotel accommodations in Medina. (In fact, with what was to later come, that hotel in Medina really wasn’t so bad, but then like I said, there was nothing wrong with our room except the fact it needed vacuuming! It’s like the accommodations went from 5 star in Mecca, to 3 star in Medina, to 2 star in Aziziah to -2 stars in Mina, and – 5 stars in Muzdalifa!!! But I didn’t know that when I wrote this.)

So I turned away from the ruckus and we ladies from the Hajj group left to go visit the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) grave as was scheduled.

I had promised my mother that I’d extend her personal salutations to the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) but I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

There is a section in the Prophet’s mosque demarcated with a green carpet (the rest of the carpeting is all red) that is actually said to be part of heaven–it’s called the Rawda.

It’s a small area near his grave and the mimbar/pulpit where he gave his khutbas/sermons.

If you pray 2 nafil (non-obligatory) prayers there, the reward is huge and it’s as if you’ve prayed in heaven. It’s also a place where you can give your salams/greetings to the Prophet (peace be upon him). And the thing is that apprently every time you send your greeting to the Prophet (peace be upon him) God has granted a special concession. He brings the Prophet (peace be upon him) back to consciousness so that he can reply to your greeting.

The last time I went two years ago, it was chaos.

This is precisely the kind of thing that every Muslim wants to get in on.

It’s such a small space and hundreds of women are trying to get in there to pray, because there are only certain times of the day when women have access. The women wait hours, they get crammed in crowds, and that time I went before, it wasn’t even Hajj!

This time I expected the crowds to be ten times worse.

They were!

And everyone’s trying to get a head start, a leg up, wiggle in there, including me.

There are these ladies dressed head to toe in black who monitor the women crowds. The men have their own counterparts.

The ladies dressed head to toe in black were quite organized, I must say, compared to last time.

They had the ladies sitting by country groupings. They didn’t have one group for Canada/U.S.A..

I could have gone with the Pakistani group but the line looked longer, so I pretended I was from Kerala and joined the Indians.

As one group passed through the coveted space, they’d move each country group forward a little.

Honestly if they’d had cattle prods, it would have been more effective.

Painful but effective.

That’s what some women would understand best.

 When the ladies in black stepped aside, it was like a dam bursting. Each one rushing to get a good spot, including me.

When I finally saw the tell tale green carpet beneath my feet, I couldn’t help it, I felt moved.

Despite the cramming, I felt, wow, I’m actually in the spot where the Prophet (peace be upon him) would walk, talk, and lead the fledgling Muslim community, and right outisde the spot where he was buried, where he died, in his wife Aisha’s house.

I turned and sent him my mother’s and my own salams and then I tried to pray.

It is very hard to find a place to prostrate in such a crowd, and it is anything but peaceful.

Think of the most jam-packed rock concert you ever might have attended and mulitiply it by ten. And all this for a man who has been dead for over fourteen centuries.

I think this is something Westerners don’t understand.

They have no idea of the love that we bear for our Prophet (peace be upon him) and what he means to us.

My daughter was smart.

She told me that if you go towards the exit to the Rawda, it’s not nearly as crowded–and the carpet’s still green! It’s still part of the Rawda. Pray there! But in the crush, I didn’t think of it till I was actually exiting.

What makes it worse is that I think it’s only human nature that when you’ve waited in lines for so long–you really take your time once it’s your turn. I kept reminding myself of all the other women waiting their chance–like I had been doing and yet praying 2 nafil wasn’t enough. I prayed another 2, for my mother, who would have loved to be there.

Then I bid farewell to the blessed Prophet (peace  be upon him) and ever so peacefully I left that tiny piece of heaven.

to be continued…