This is a continuation of the journal I recorded on my Hajj trip from Oct. 30th to Nov. 25th. I’ve tried to stay true to what I wrote at the time. Any more recent thoughts are in parentheses.

Nov. 12th

We left Medina last night.

I said goodbye to the city of the Prophet (peace be uponhim) with tears stinging the corners of my eyes.

I did one final prayer in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) mosque.

It was Maghrib and the temperature was sultry.

That magical mix of not hot and not cool, and the courtyard was comparatively empty. I got space inside, no problem.

All day I’d seen hajjis boarding buses to Aziziah–a suburb of Mecca, very close to Mena the site of the beginning of Hajj.

It’s the law now, ever since the H1N1 scare that all pilgrims must leave Medina two days before the start of Hajj, on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah.

We were no different, but our scheduled departure was 6 pm. (Hotel rooms in Mecca ae running up to $2000 a night and there is no space. One of the reasons why we stayed in Mecca first.)

Problem was we had to wait for the mutawaf to arrive and give us back our passports.

We didn’t end up leaving till 9 p.m.

The Hijra, migration of the fledgling Muslim community from Mecca to Medina is the crucial event that marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar (the beginning from which we tell time) and was undertaken at great risk to the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life.

The Meccan Qureish were so determined to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him) they colluded together and sent a youth from each tribe to do the deed–kind of like what happened with Julius Caesar.

With so many striking the blow, blame would be shared and there’d be no blood feud to follow.

The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) escape is considered one of the greatest in history.

Ali (the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) cousin) slept in the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) bed and right under the noses of the enemies surrounding the house, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his best friend Abu Bakr slipped away.

I’ve heard that the Prophet (peace be upon him) picked up some sand and blew it in the faces of the conspirators so they could not see, but I’m not sure of that.

When the youths rushed in to kill him they found Ali instead. The hue and cry went up and a reward of 100 camels was offered up to the person who could bring news of his whereabouts.

Medina is to the north but to throw off the chase, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr headed south to Jebel Thaur (the mountain of Thaur) and hid in a cave on its slope.

Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr used to bring them food and water everyday, and to hide her tracks, a shepherd would drive his flock over them to confound any pursuit.

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr got to the cave, Abu Bakr went in first to make sure there were no dangerous animals hiding in there. He found only a small hole which he blocked with his foot and he bade the Prophet enter.

But within the hole was  a scorpion and it began to repeatedly sting Abu Bakr.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) noticed his friend flinching and asked what was wrong. When he saw the stings he put a bit of his salivea on his finger and touched the wound and instantly Abu Bakr felt better.

Despite the precautions, there were two trackers who were still able to follow Asma’s footsteps to the mouth of the cave. Abu Bakr was very afraid. All the trackers had to do was look down and they would be discovered, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) reassured him that though there were only two of them, the third with them was God.

And God had ordered some pigeons to make a nest at the opening of the cave and in some narrations of this story, also a spider spun a web across the opening of the cave. When the trackers saw these they deduced that no one could be inside the cave and left.

Then slowly, taking a circuitous route, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr made their way to Medina.

I knew Medina was a far way from Mecca. I’ve heard some compare the distance to that of Toronto and Ottawa, about a five hour drive, but I really appreciated the distance last night as we drove it. For much of the distance there were no lights at all, just the residual glare from the bus headlights or those of passing cars. The stars were amazing.

I guess with the desert air being so dry, the stars stood out all the more against the blackness of the sky. I saw the Orion constellation lying on its side, close to the horizon of dark sand hills and it felt so strange. I used to always see Orion early in the morning on cold winter days when I used to deliver newspapers as a child and somehow I felt connected to that kid gazing at the stars so long ago.

A journey that should have taken 5 hours ended up taking fourteen hours by bus.

We stopped only three times, once to pray Isha and once to use the bathrooms and once to pray Fajr.

When we stopped to pray Isha I was pleasantly surprised by the state of the washrooms. You have to expect the worst.

2 1/2 million people from hundreds of countries just don’t all have the same standards of hygiene.

I was happy to find a ‘sit down’ toilet (basically a standard western toilet) as opposed to the ones that are holes in the floor and you have to squat. Yeah there was water all over the floor and trash in the corner, but all in all it could have been worse.

On the bus, I was sitting beside an elderly lady and she informed me that she couldn’t stand the condition of the bathroom and had decided to hold it. I told her the next bathroom could be way worse!

For the next couple of hours she drank very little because she had to go to the bathroom–also not a good decision while traveling, especially in a desert!

You really stress the body by letting it get too dehydrated.

Sure enough, the next bathrooms were way worse.

All squat toilets, none of them too clean. (Although compared to what I’d experience in Muzdalifa later on they were pretty okay!)

As one young sister put it: “Just do what you got to do and get out of there!”

And yet that elderly lady used this washroom and when I spoke to her in the bus afterwards she felt quite proud of the fact. She said she’d never used such a toilet before and she felt much better.

Like I said, a trip that should have taken 5 hours ended up taking 14. So much of it was stop and go, traffic jam, honk, honk, but I was too exhausted to let that prevent me from sleeping.

One thing I realized is that on such a bus it’s best to sit fully upright to sleep. That semi-reclining position just hurts my back.

When we stopped for Fajr I had a problem with my legs. When I sat during the prayer my legs felt like swelled up sausages.

The swelling’s gone down since, alhamdu lillah, now they just feel ‘normal’ swollen.

We’re relaxing in the hotel in Aziziah and it occurs to me that it took as much time to get from Medina to Mecca as it took to fly from Toronto to Abu Dhabi!

The distances we’re going to be dealing with during Hajj are not far. People can and do walk them. I mean from Arafat back to Mena is only about 5 -10 km but it can take the bus anywhere from 2 – 7 hours just to get half way there to Muzdalifa, where we’ll be spending the night.

5 million people calls for the world’s worst traffic jams I guess.

to be continued…