The journey ends with us arriving in Mecca. While everyone else was straining at the windows trying to get a look...I was barely aware that we had arrived. I seriously needed to lie down fully stretched out and could think of nothing else I wanted or needed in life but a space large enough to do so. I dont really have any memories of our arrival in Mecca...I was in the middle seat and couldnt really see anything anyhow and it held no interest for me at that moment...I just couldnt bring myself to care that I had arrived in the holiest Muslim spot on the planet...a spot I had dreamed about for years...I just wanted a soft pillow and some quiet.
When we arrived at the hotel the lobby was a madhouse of people and luggage. It turns out our rooms werent ready yet and so all the luggage was piled up in a corner and my fellow bus travelers went off to perform Umrah...I collapsed on a couch in the lobby and Im unable to tell you what went on around me for the next 2 hours. I slept the sleep of the dead...dont ask me about my modesty...its possible something showed that shouldnt have etc...I didnt have the strength to care about such formalities. I discovered later that my son had stayed behind and "kept guard" over me. I also discovered that the cousin (brother to my friend) had also stayed behind to watch over me (as he would do for the remainder of the trip...and still does to this day)...my unofficial brother. He is one of the best men I have ever had the honour of knowing.
As soon as the first room was made available...Kaleefa (unofficial brother) made sure that I was escorted to it...and I crawled into a bed fit for a queen and slept a further 4 hours. My son stayed outside the door. Eventually Kaleefa had my son wake me up and said I needed to perform Umrah before the day was over since that is what I had come for...was in a state of ihram (I believe thats the word) as well as himself and my son. So I prepared myself and Kaleefa led us from the hotel. I anticipated a long walk to the Kabaa but it turns out our hotel was practically in the shadow of the mosque...we stepped out from the hotel and the mosque was right there on the doorstep pretty much. I was pretty shocked to say the least...but had to keep moving as Kaleefa was striding ahead...barely looking back...sigh. My son was helping me along but boy was I exhausted. I was already out of breath and we hadnt even got to the actual mosque yet.
Once we entered the doors (after passing security that made sure we didnt have cameras etc) (which was funny considering so many people were taking pics with their phones) I was amazed at just how long it took to get from the door area to the actual prayer areas and the Kabaa itself. The place was packed with people and Kaleefa was holding himself back Im sure to keep an eye on us...but he was still keeping up a good pace. I barely had time to register the beauty of the mosque and the cosmopolitan atmosphere...I was concentrating on not losing sight of him and not falling down as my abaya was too long and I was too tired to lift my feet properly.
When we finally reached the main area of the mosque that had the Kabaa...I just stood there in awe. To actually be face to face with something I had only ever seen on tv was surreal. People were bumping into me...voices all over the place...birds over head...sun shining...kids crying...you name it...but none of it registered...I was in a state of awe...and wanting to enjoy it to the full. However, Kaleefa had other plans. He handed over a mobile phone to my son...gave us some instructions about how to deal with the crowd...how to perform the Umrah itself...and what to do if we lost sight of him (which was a given of course). He instructed my son not to let go of me under any circumstances...and while I know my son would try his best...I had little hope in all that throng that he would manage it. (I was amazed later that he really did keep hold of me throughout...the multitudes of people seemed to have only one intent..pull us apart)
And off we went...we flowed into the crowd of people and immediately I felt like I had been there before...I felt a sense of deja vu so strong...I stopped in my steps to take it in...but of course you cant stop while circumventing the Kabaa lest you get run over...so on we went.
I cant really tell you much about going round the Kabaa...I was concentrating too hard on not getting trampled by the crowd...I was much slower then most of them as I was plain exhausted. I sort of went into a robotic like mode...one step...one step...one step...while chanting the same words that Muslims through hundreds of years had gathered and chanted as well. I was also trying not to lose track of how many times we had went round the Kabaa...its kind of hard to keep a mental note of that...as every side of the mosque looks pretty much the same...so in a small corner of my mind I also chanted...3...3...3...or whatever circle we were on...and watched for the corner of the Kabaa that had the black stone as a marking spot. It took my son and I nearly 2 hours to do our circumventing...I found out later it took others just under and hour or so. I was tired...did I mention that?
When we finally finished Kaleefa was long gone so we made our way to Marwa and Safwa to begin our 7 trips back and forth. I spent a further hour and some shuffling back and forth between these two spots...trying to keep track and wondering when it would all be over. My son stayed with me for awhile but felt he should be jogging it like so many other men were...so he left me with promises to find me when he was done....sure...ok...whatever (2...2...2...2). The hardest part of that particular trek was that at each end, the spot where you did a Uturn of sorts and headed back the other way...the ground was cemented with little bumpy protrusions. Im assuming so that people could get a grip with the toes and climb up the incline without slipping. What it meant for me and my very swollen sore feet was agony each time I reached one end and had to traverse this spot in order to begin the journey back. (3....ouch.....3....ouch....3.....oh my feet). (later many of the women asked me why I didnt allow my son to push me in a wheelchair like many others...but I felt that as long as I could actually still walk...I would...no matter how long it took)
Finally....I was done...after what seemed to be years of shuffling, counting, agonizing and chanting...I was finished with my first Umrah. My son was nowhere to be seen so I weakly made my way to the side out of the way and waited for him to find me. Oh to get off my feet at last was heaven!!! even if it did take me 5 minutes to actually make my way down to the floor. I felt like I was 100 years old and couldnt imagine a time when I didnt feel like this. (I want my bed and I want it NOW!!!)
My son finally found me and he had Kaleefa with him. They needed to go shave their heads now as a final ritual....which meant I had to get up off the floor. With nothing to lean on to aid me...it was an ordeal all by itself. My knees were grouchy...my ankles were hollering...and my feet had gone off on vacation apparently as Im sure I couldnt feel them. I realize that men are reluctant to touch females that are not related to them in the Muslim world...so I was greatfully surprised when Kaleefa offered me a hand up, which I readily accepted. It still took me some time to gain my feet...and even then I wasnt sure I would stay upright...I was down to my last ounce of strength...and we still needed to get back to the room....OMG!!! OMG!!!! OMG!!!
I did manage to finally make it back to the room...to find my room mates on the way out. Now that Umrah was out of the way...many were excited to start on the second most popular reason for coming to Mecca...Shopping!!! I was happy that the room would be quiet so I could sleep without the constant babble of chatter in the back ground. I crawled back into my lovely sweet smelling soft bed and slept without regaining conciousness until fajr prayer. The ladies were waking me to go down to the mosque for prayers...but my legs just wouldnt hold me properly. I was wiped out. They all left and I struggled to wash and perform my prayers and crawled back into bed once again. Where I would remain for much of the next 5 days.
*to be continued