Welcome to my page

Salaam and welcome. I made my pilgrimage in 2012. I wanted to share my experiences and advice - so that those going in future know what to expect, or those who just want to know how I got on!

This blog is a mix of advice and diary excerpts.

Sometimes I was so caught up in the experience I didn't write, other times I was compelled to write. Some pieces will have been written from memory.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Mina - what do you need?

So Mina is 5 days long. If you are like me - then the temptation is to pack the kitchen sink....oh yes. I have been known to take a large suitcase for a weekend away.

I have to admit - I thought I was bad until the lady 2 beds down from me opened her case (yes she took a case to Mina!) and revealed, a hotplate, teapot, cups AND saucers. I laughed til I cried. Thankfully she saw the funny side of my laughter.

We were told the night before: take very little.

Oh the panic that caused me.

But lets be rational ladies: this is how much space you will have in a tent:
I kid you not. Space is a premium bought only by the rich. Chances are if you are reading my blog and making your research you are not in that minority!
Please for the sake of your tent mates keep it to a minimum. I was hemmed in by bags and bags of crap that were not opened. Why? Because there are no power points for hotplates. You want hot water off to the kitchen you go - every camp is assigned one. Or you can buy a cup of tea/coffee from people selling such things in the camp.  I was also hemmed in by my own over packing! Guilty as charged!
So from my own experience I have compiled a list of what you need for Mina/Muzdalifah.
1) A sleeping bag for Muzdalifah: this is the bulkiest item you will need. I would say its not actually essential. Truth be told - you won't sleep much at Muzdalifah, I did - but then I sleep anywhere! I would find out from your guide whether you will complete the sunnah and stay til fajr. Me and a few others from our group did but the agent left at 2am - which is permissable for the elderly, and ill.
2) A medical kit. I thanked God for this when I stupidly twisted/sprained my foot in Arafat. i would like to say I did it on the mount...but no....it was me falling on my face outside the loos and having to be be helped up by several brothers....and yes I was embarrassed! I was able to strap my foot up which was needed as I had to walk 12 hours the following day. In my kit I put a few extras in such as pain killers, paracetamol, and antiseptic spray. The antiseptic spray was a great idea - you will get cuts and abrasions on your feet - and I recommend the spray for after using the loos etc.  Pop sudocrem in - I promise if you chafe then this will sort you out asap.
3) Flip flops for the loos. Seriously just bring them.
4) One plain abaya. You can wash this and it will dry in about 10 minutes in the heat.
5) A housedress (long sleeved). A lot of time will be spent chilling in the tent - a housedress is a comfy and modest solution. Also u can get away wearing it to the showers by popping a khimar over it.
6) Khimar. Buy it out there. The one I bought in the Uk was cotton and was horrifically heavy and hot. The nasty cheapy one I got in Jeddah was very very comfortable and everyone....and I mean everyone wears them out there
7) 5 pairs of knickers....lol. I don't need to explain this ;-)
8) 1 outfit for under the abaya. I personally wore leggings and a vest top. Light and comfy and cover my legs. These again can be washed easily and dried easily.
9) Soap (unscented). Bring regular shampoo and conditioner as on Eid day after you have completed your tawaaf and sa'ee you can wash in normal scented shampoos. This can also double up to clean your clothes.
For Arafat and Muzdalifah, you need your sleeping bag, a Quran/ duaa book. I would take the first aid kit and thats it really. You will be fed, and trust me you won't shower either at Arafat or Muzdalifah.



Saturday, 8 December 2012

The post you have all been waiting for: 'Facilities'!!!

A lot of people have asked the same questions, and indeed I asked the same myself before setting off to Hajj.
  • What are the toilets like?
  • Where do you wash?
  • Is it clean?
  • Is it true there are no toilets in Muzdalifah?
I did wonder all of the above.

First of all I have to point out I am familiar with the state of toilets abroad. Not everyone is - I remember some tourists in Egypt being horrified by the 'hole in floor' toilets - despite them being absolutely clean and well looked after. I found that funny. If you are like those tourists then prepare yourself ;-)

If like me, you have a general expectation then you will be pleasantly surprised to know its really not that bad.  I shall answer the questions above:

What are the toilets like?
Well in Makkah they vary.  Generally you are going to be using public toilets. There are quite a few (thankfully) mostly located underground. The ones on the mall are European standard in design and cleanliness. The public toilets - are fine....depending what day you are using them!

The first time I used them was the night before Mina. They were clean, the cleaners were scary though - do NOT ever mess with the cleaners. Not that I did but someone did outside the Jamarat on Eid night and they then locked loads of furious women (and desperate for a pee) out and refused to open the doors - no matter how much the women banged on the doors and screamed! That was a sight I tell you. I thank God I wasn't desperate but some women were in tears :(

The toilets are hole in the floor. You will learn to love these - or appreciate them. I have always preferred them when abroad. They are convenient, you don't have to touch anything and are easier to clean for the cleaners.

You will probably never have seen public toilets as vast, but let me tell you on Eid day you will still find yourself queuing! Its quite common for people to bang on the door. I was annoyed by that at first and then I soon became a door banger! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow!

The public toilets also double as showers. This is where queuing for the loo becomes totally part and parcel of hajj.  In Mina people will shower before EVERY prayer. My husband did (he only had to unwrap the ihram and away he went), but women do as well.  There was another blog where the lady was bemoaning the 'showering princesses' in her camp - and related it to her country. Well - I am from the UK, and trust me it was happening in every camp! Its annoying but this is Hajj.....its all a test. You soon learn which loos are used quicker, which will be cleaner (as the days go by in Mina) and which times are best to go. Hardest thing I think for everyone was waking up to use the loo before fajr. Everyone wakes up needing the loo. The pushing and shoving as fajr gets nearer and nearer is not fun.  I was lucky (I think!) my tent companions liked to be up an hour before fajr. Lights on and chattering. This meant I woke before the toilets went mental.

where do you wash?

Showers are combined with the loo. Again something that did not shock me. Its quite common in the Mediterranean, North Africa etc to have a shower hose in the same place where you toilet. Logistically there is nowhere else to put the showers. Its 5 days - and boiling hot, you will shower whatever you may think!  I did think I would avoid showering in Mina. But the heat makes you sweat and I also was running a fever for 2 days in Mina - feeling clean becomes worth waiting in that queue.

The shower heads/hoses end up breaking very soon. The sheer amount of people leads to breakages.  You end up using the hose to clean your bits. Let me tell you whatever standards you have before you go to Hajj they go.....totally go!

I have to confess here that I used the men's loos to wash in. A few people were shocked by this and some conceded it was a fantastic idea. Mens facilities doubled the amount of women's in our camp. That again is down to logistics. Women can't travel without maharam and men can travel to Hajj alone. Ladies - we are outnumbered!  Mens loos were twice the amount of ours. Yes their queues were crazy at prayer time aswell.  However between prayers. Particularly when Isha was past the men's loos were dead.  No queuing....and a LOT cleaner.

Is it clean?

Logistics thats all I can say. Whenever something grinds you down on Hajj just think logistically and you realise why things are the way they are. People come from all over the world - we all have our own ways, and then there is simply the sheer VOLUME of people. You will never see so many people in your life.

My first night in Makkah was fine. Toilets were clean etc. Mina was where it went downhill. women are not as clean as men. I am half tempted to hold back - but quite frankly if you have been reading this blog or know me personally then you know I tell it as it is.  Women leave more 'waste' products. Some women even brought toddlers, so nappies were left. Washing etc in these conditions is a bit off. This is why I started using the men's. The men's had none of this 'litter'.  Thankfully after a day at Arafat, the litter was cleared. But still - I preferred the mens loos for showering in. 

On Eid day when everyone back home is chilling, celebrating etc we are doing the toughest day of Hajj which releases us from ihram. This means people washing and men will shed their towels for their regular clothes - which I am sure they were thrilled to do! The more affluent hujjaj will have booked hotels in Makkah and before making their tawaaf will have gone to shower, nap etc. The rest of us mere mortals have to use the public loos or wait until we reach Mina.   I have never wanted a wash so much in my life. I have never stank so much in my life. But fear not! Every single person stinks so you literally can only smell yourself, its bizarre but heartening.  The public toilets become something else.

Everyone is showering. There are Hajjis who don't even have Mina accomodation - they HAVE to shower in Makkah.  The sights. I have never seen anything like it. If the toilet was not being used guaranteed it was filthy.  Because everyone was showering you had to wait aaaaaaages. Patience is a virtue on Hajj and boy do you learn it. One lady decided to make her shower in the ablution area. SubhanAllah. But you know what? You become very understanding. I felt sorry for her, if I felt stinky but not enough to do what she did - imagine how she felt. Who knows what happened. Accidents do happen on Hajj.....

The underground passageway to the toilets becomes a beauty parlour/laundrette.  Because men do not pass the stairs, women unveil and make themselves at home. This was on Eid day though. Many wash their clothes, hair is washed and some women make a bit of a 'day' of it. Settling on blankets, hanging dresses, scarves and abayas along the corridor.

Is it true there are no toilets in Muzdalifah?

This is a funny one. My personal experience was that yes there were loos in Muzdalifah but it all depends upon where you are sleeping.  My friend's husband warned us there would be none and that terrified me. I have since heard there were none in certain parts of Muzadalifah.

We were lucky. Again bear in mind the whole fajr time craziness. We went an hour beforehand before the queues were 20 deep. No joke. 

My advice for Muzdalifah is that its only a few hours. Its not too bad. I would say its the need to make wudhu thats an issue.


Major major factor ladies (and gents if there are any reading) is the wu'dhu factor.

There are simply not enough taps for wudhu....LOGISTICS! ;-)

A lot of people made wudhu within the toilet cubicle. Personally I didn't like this. The toilets were not clean enough. And at home would you make wudhu on top of your loo? The water sometimes did not drain down the loo and if someone missed the target then this meant the flooring around the loo was not clean for wudhu.

I was gifted a wudhu water bottle. However you can use a regular water bottle, or even a spray bottle (even better as it distributes water evenly).  A lot of women were surprised to see me make my wudhu over the drains. I like to think they appreciated the fact I didn't hog the toilet to do it perhaps ;-) 

At Muzdalifah it becomes even more imperative to use a bottle. The queues for toilets and taps are 20 deep. I felt it far far easier to use my bottle than fight my way to the taps 5 times a day.

So that concludes the facilities - if you want to know anymore please ask! I am of the opinion to be prepared means you can cope with hajj.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Mina - day 1

I admit to not writing in my diary in Mina. Why? well for starters space was at a serious premium and these were the serious days of Hajj....so time was spent doing our hajj rites and being sick - as you will see.

Mina Day 1

We were advised that we would be leaving for Mina after fajr. So after fajr we packed our bags for Mina. Umming and ahhh'ing over what to take. Take too little and be annoyed, take too much and well you will find out what happens! I managed to pack quite lightly (for me) and went with a backpack and a small drawstring bag. The backpack was mostly taken up by the sleeping bag I was to use in Muzdalifah.

Umm Yacine did better, one backpack!

I felt like crap. Oh yes, the sore throat that hassled me all night along with the tooting all night was still there.

We had our morning cup of tea and went to the lobby to see about the coach. Not there. A theme for my hajj was 'rubbish transport'. Indeed our coach was not there. We had been warned the night before were we to miss the coach we would have to walk to Mina as its a coach arranged by our local Mutawiff.

So back to the room we went - I suspected the coach was going to be hours late.

An hour later we trudged back down. The lobby was full of the older ladies in our party with all their luggage around them looking very stoic. No sign of the coach. 

We chilled in our room and I decided to nap. Fajr was at roughly 5am and not much sleep was sinking in. I passed out to hear the door being banged. Mr was saying the coach was here. So up we got and trudged down to the lobby. Lots of people and no coach. Not happy, I turned tail and went back to my room. I was sleeping end of.

Well later on about 12pm we were summoned again, but this time the coach was here.

But we had paid for staying in our room - unlike the stoic ladies of the lobby. There were no seats left. Seriously we had been provided with one coach and it wasn't enough for our group.  We struggled onto the coach which was boiling (no air con) and the first thing I noticed were loads of men sat down. Us later ladies were stood and not one got up to offer their seat. I was furious.  It had been pointed out in the meeting the night before that travel arrangements were for the infirm/elderly and ladies first. This was certainly not the case. I wasn't well - it was 36-38 degrees and there was no air con.

I immediately started to complain loudly - lol. Umm Yacine was a little embarrassed until she realised the men were not moving and then started to be angry - in a very quiet stoic way. My husband then squeezed onto the coach by the second door and I loudly told him 'look at this' and gestured round the coach. My husband did not look impressed  - he agreed with me - it wasn't on. Thankfully two guys got up letting me and Umm yacine sit. I immediately passed out.

The coach journey took three hours. I kid you not.

Mina is a 15 minute drive from our hotel and yes we did arrive in Mina after 15-20 minutes. But we then got horrifically lost. I felt like hell and kept passing out - I thank God those men gave their seats to us. It was so hot and I fel sicker and sicker.  Despite how awful I felt seeing Mina was a sight like no other. I was amazed and shocked at the same time. People - so so so many people from all over the world. And the tents. Miles and miles of tents.

We drove round, and round, and round. Between bouts of sleep/unconsciousness and feeling like I was being slowly roasted - I was fascinated by what I saw. I was also nervous. From my research into hajj I knew Mina would test me.....in fact Mina was what I personally dreaded. 

We finally arrived - at camp 32, our home for the next five days.

We were led to our tent along an astro-turfed 'corridor'. I couldn't believe how packed and how many tents were in our camp. Our tent was ok - it had sofa beds that were able to be made into chairs or beds. We were given a pillow and a blanket each.  I didn't take any pictures in Mina, simply because I was either making hajj rites or in the tent where women were not in hijab etc.

Pics from web but this is pretty much how our tent was.
We were lucky. I later heard that people who had gone on earlier hajjs did not get sofa beds, or carpeted floors.
We had air conditioning which was good - nearly 40 degrees and stuck in a tent with 30 women you need it!  I found a spot in the corner which was perfect for me. I get claustraphobic - hence why I dreaded Mina so much. Not that I was bothered. I was soaked with sweat and feeling even worse. I went to sleep - I couldn't even be bothered to unpack (theres no storage anyways).
That day was awful. I descended into fever. I was going hot and cold and having delusions. At one point I was believing I was sat with my dad having a cup of tea in his house. My poor father is dead and I was on hajj. The other ladies noticed I was unwell and one thing I have to hand to Algerian women they are walking pharmacies! One lady had some tablets which helped me feel better. I was able to get up and change into my housedress as my clothes were soaked. I got to check the toilet facilities out (this is another blog post - I promise!) and sit up and have a few cold drinks. 
We were lucky to have a plastic barrel with water and ice in, filled with cold drinks. I later learned other camps didn't have this facility. We were given two meals a day. I didn't eat my first meal, I was too poorly - and the women just left it at the end of my bed but I threw it out as any food kept in that heat would not be good to eat hours later.
This first day in Mina was spent settling in and fulfilling our prayers. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Night Before Mina

So I woke up full of energy despite having been up till way past fajr.

One issue were my feet. They were elephantine. They reminded me of my father's feet before he passed away - swollen badly. I was worried. They also ached. In fact all the time I slept I felt my feet ache from my Umrah - LOL. Too much sitting down (days in fact), flying and then walking caused it.

My husband had the same issue but also knew the cure - exercise.  All I had to do was flex my feet and toes and apparently it would ease off. I hoped so - It was uncomfortable.

Mr decided to go on a trip to see the Cave of Hira. He did offer for me to go - but I was shattered and these feet were not up to a major walk.  Its a popular place for pilgrims to visit, should they arrive in Makkah at a reasonable time before we set off to Mina.

Information on the Cave of Hira

The Cave of Hira is situated two miles away from the holy city of Mecca in Jabl al Nur. It is a small cave with about 3.5 meters long and 2 meters wide. The cave was Allah’s apostle (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) most adorable place for mediation. It was in this cave that the archangel Gabriel revealed the prophet's the first divine revelation.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was in this cave when Gabriel appeared for the first time to order him to read. However, his reply at that time was “ I cannot read” .

“Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who created, created man from a clot. Read! and your Lord is the Most bountiful, (he who taught) the use of pen taught man which he knew not.” (Al-Qur'an 96:1-3) ;

These were the Qur’anic verses that Muhammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) received in the Cave of Hira.

The Cave of Hira has got a significant history and it faces the Ka’abah. It is accessible just for Muslims.

Visiting the Cave of Hira has nothing to do with any form of worship. The cave is located on the way to Mina ; about 3.5 kilometers away from Mecca on the Nur Mount.

Cave of Hira (web pic)
So I took it easy - sat reading, went to the local shop for an icecream and nearly boiled to death in the 5 minutes me and Umm Yacine took to get there and back. It was worth it for a chocolate ice cream. We had lunch which was exactly the same as dinner the night before....the BBQ chicken Umm Yacine had been excited about. This was to become a recurring theme. It was also what we had for lunch the previous day. Hmmmm chicken and rice three meals running.
Generally it was a lazy day. Reading, chatting and staying in the air conditioned room. I was desperate to go to Makkah and see the Kaba again but Mr did not seem to appear. I was getting peed off but then finally he turned up bearing gifts. A huge bottle of strawberry Fanta, a new hijab and a ring (nothing flash....it later turned green!).
He went off to shower and we then went to Makkah.
We made it into Makkah as the adhan went off for maghrib. Everyone outside the Masjid Haram were in perfect lines for prayer. Only we didn't have wudhu. We couldn't pray. We tried to squeeze through to get to the wudhu stations but as prayer was secomds away people started nudging us away or not letting us pass through. I started panicking.....Imagine thousands of people all lined up to pray and you running round like a headless chicken....not fun.
people praying outside masjid Haram (web pic)
We started running around - desperately but the prayers started.....I was in meltdown mode!
The we spotted a door.....oooh a door we both thought and ran towards it. However at the door was a guard complete with gun. He yapped in Arabic at us.....basically no entry. We explained we needed wudhu and he said no. Looking uninterested.Don't ask why I did what I did next. I decided to attempt to run through the door....I randomly thought if I went through the guard would let my husband through!
The guard grabbed my arm and flung me away from the door! Mr looked horrified and started yelling leave her alone. I held my hands up and said no no its my fault...lets go.
So we had to wait by the guard's barrier - yes with him glaring at us before we could go make wudhu....it then took us forever to get to the top floor - and it was rammed with people. Literally there was no space to pray - on the top floor! And it was not even prayer time! Finally we found a space for 2 of us and off we went....to then be stood on and walked in front of. Hmmm. Well Alhamdulilah we finally managed our maghrib. As soon as we finished a man started yelling at us. What now?! Apparently women are meant to leave their husband's side - yes in a mosque that can take millions of people and pray separately. But there was no space - mr told the man this and we decided to go.
We were glad to be out. We hadn't even spotted the Kaba. So we decided to go eat. We didn't fancy chicken and rice a fourth time. So we picked our way across the crowded courtyard to the mall. as we reached the outside of the mall - this took a while as there were so many people and I needed a toilet stop, as did Mr - it was time for Isha prayer. so we prayed outside a row of shops just outside the mall. A nice Turkish lady let me share her prayer mat. We prayed and then it was time to go shopping!
We had a walk around and I was amazed by how many abaya shops there were. There were some beautiful abayas, but Mr kept saying - hold on until Medinah....its cheaper there. I was overwhelmed with choice. There was one I fell for instantly - and to this day I kick myself for not buying it! It was simple; plain black with a multicoloured zip detail with Chanel zip pulls. Its simplicity is what made me like it - it was unique as well - I have never seen an abaya like it.
We were starving by now and knew there would be food somewhere so we went up a few escalators and arrived at a floor with lots of chairs and tables and people eating happily. Great we thought we are here. Five minutes later we had not spotted one food outlet. So we circled the area and stopped several staff who didn't understand what we were after; despite my husband speaking Arabic.  I was so annoyed and snapped 'whats that then? magic food?' pointing at people eating. Finally we realised the food courts were on the next floor below.
We got to eat!
After eating we had a walk around and as we were walking someone grabbed my waist. Horrifed I whipped around to give the perpetrator what for when I saw Umm Yacine laughing her head off.  We were glad to see each other (despite having spent all day together) and we went to find her husband's neighbour from back home who was also making hajj. We then bumped into some men also staying at our hotel and we all were ready to go back.
Well what happened next I can only claim came from the madness of waiting for nonexistent taxis.
Everyone had to head back to their hotel - we were all due in Mina the next day - yep all 6 million of us.
Now remember what I said about our hotel being right at the edge of Aziziyah. The cabs that did stop and these were very few were charging a lot of money. Of course we refused. We will get another cab. Of course we will. Ages later and about half a miles walk through crowds of people all trying to hail cabs we realised this was not going to be as easy as we thought.
Entering into the hajj spirit of patience me and Umm Yacine started singing  - 'we gotta get out of this place' and laughing at the sights that passed us by.
piling on (personal pic)
yes these cars were really this overloaded (personal pic)
The amount of people hanging off roof tops of cars, mini vans etc was hilarious. I couldn't resist taking a few pictures. I even have a video which I will put on the Facebook page for this blog as I don't seem to be able to upload videos here.
We eventually got a taxi and accepted the inflated price.....we were too tired to care. Some of the men who had been with us had given up and decided to walk back to the hotel (crazy!) and we actually passed them as we drove back. But we were so fast we couldn't stop the driver. Those poor men had miles to walk.
We got to our hotel and decided to get some sleep in as we suspected that Mina was not going to be restful nor the actual 'Hajj' itself.
I started tossing and turning. My throat felt like I had swallowed a razor blade. Umm Yacine reckoned it was the air con that I couldn't seem to live without so I turned it off in the vain hope of appeasing my sore throat. We opened the window for air and noticed immediately the crazy amount of beeping going on. It was roughly 1am and the traffic going towards Mina was already crazy. 
We tried to settle but the beeping was too much. We started joking. Why is it the beeping always seems to be at our hotel? I even suggested one of the guys who worked for the agency I disliked had put a sign up saying 'hoot your horn when you pass' outside the hotel. We were in hysterics over that. I stuck my head out the window and spotted the issue. A coach had broken down just past the hotel....and because the traffic was so dense people didn't realise it was broken down and were beeping at it to move! To befair the Saudis love to toot their horns but this was excessive!
Crazy traffic! (personal pic)

So between the noise and my throat driving me nuts - i was sucking pastille after pastille to no avail it was a sleepless night. Me and Umm Yacine had some giggles and a good chat - so I have quite fond memories of that night.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The first night we left the hotel about 1am to do our umrah (minor pilgrimage). We got a taxi as a group and arrived at the Masjid Haram in about 10 minutes. I was so excited, but firstly I had to make wudhu. The toilets were just outside the masjid based underground - a bit like London but on a larger scale. Coming back out of the toilets I was horrified to see the gates shut and my husband peering down at me from the other side.

The cleaners - a pair of non-nonsense Thai ladies were cleaning the stairs. A lady next to me decided she wanted up the stairs and started yelling at the cleaners, and OMG did the cleaner let rip back. They were shrieking at each other. Whilst this was going on Mr was yelling down at me to come up the stairs. Hell no - this cleaner had a huuuuuge broom and was screaming at the lady next to me. I could see once they were done the gates would be opened. The gates finally were unlocked by some guards and we charged up the stairs with the lady next to me laughing her head off at having wound the cleaner up...hmmm.

Our guide made it clear we had to stick together. So I clung to Mr's back pack then i remembered my phone and decided to take a few pictures - much to the dismay of one of the men in our group. He advised me not to do this as I would lose 'khushu' and that I could take pictures another time. Mr was cross that I had stopped clinging to him so I put my phone away and off we went.

We went in to the Masjid and upon seeing the Kaba me and the other girl in the group started crying. It was weird seeing it for real - because for me the kaba was like this mythical thing you see on TV and in pictures. I would liken it to meeting a A-list celebrity (sorry for the poor analogy) you know you see their pictures and you know they exist but seeing them its like - wow! But this is better than a celebrity of course!!!!

We had officially started Umrah.

First we had to do our tawaaf - seven circles of the Kaba. If you have ever seen the Kaba on TV or in a picture then you know how many people crowd it - hundreds and thousands. Because it was 2.30am there were less people but still in their thousands.

The Kaba (web pic)
In we went.
I hate crowds. Honestly. It was something that worried me about hajj from day 1 were the crowds. As we we started out tawaaf a calm descended on me. Holding onto Mr for dear life we circled making duaa.
It was fascinating. People of all different races surrounded us all there for the same purpose. It was hot, intense and yes a test of patience. People were pushing and shoving. One lady nearly fell over completely and I reached out to help her but she looked shocked, I guessed it was a cultural difference or maybe she thought I had tripped her - LOL.
Mr called out 'sabr! sabr!' (patience) whenever the shoving got too much. One man was really giving me a shove so I tensed my back up and dug my heels in - I am no supermodel.....he couldn't move me after that! It also discouraged him from shoving me without me having to interact.
Going around the Kaba was emotional. Making my duuas (prayers) for forgiveness, and for those who had requested me to make on their behalf brought me to tears. At one point I heard birds singing - they were flying over us. I said to Mr 'Can you hear the birds?' and he said 'yes they are doing tasbeeh' (worship). It was definitely not the dawn chorus.
Once we finished our seven circuits we made two units of prayer. After that we headed to the zam zam fountain.
The Well of Zamzam (or the Zamzam Well, or just Zamzam; Arabic: زمزم‎) is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba,[1] the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic belief, it is a miraculously-generated source of water from God, which began thousands of years ago when Abraham's (Ibrāhīm) infant son Ishmael (ʼIsmāʻīl) was thirsty and kept crying for water. Millions of pilgrims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water.
Muslims believe that the Zamzam well is a contemporary miracle, never having gone dry despite the millions of litres of water attributed to the well consumed every year. It had been deepened several times in history during periods of severe droughts

Here we drank the water as is customary and poured it on our feet. Zam zam water is considered by Muslims to be blessed and like food - it nourishes those that drink it. I can say honestly when I was on hajj - I drank a lot of it on Eid day and you will see I did not eat for a very long time.

The Prophet SAWS (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Verily, it is blessed, it is food that nourishes.” (Narrated by Imaam Muslim, 2473).

Once we had our fill we went on to complete the second part of our Umrah which is Sa'ee. Sa'ee involves completing seven runs between 2 mountains, Safaa and Marwa.

Sa'ee (Arabic: سعىsaʿy "ritual walking") is the back and forth movement between the hills of Safa and Marwah in Mecca. It is an integral part of the Islamic Hajj and Umrah, symbolizing the search for water by Hajar in order to give to her son Ismail

This took a while and my feet hurt a bit. But Alhamdulilah it was ok - the men had to run for part of this - and there was a green light to show the men where they need to run.  Again we made lots of duaa.

Pics all from the web
Once we completed our sa'ee that was it! Umrah was done. It was coming up for fajr time so we sat down and waited for the prayer to come in. It was amazing to hear the call for prayer - and sadly this blog doesn't like me uploading videos - so I can't share the recording I made of it.
We had to walk a fair bit to catch our taxi back to the hotel and a fair few of us were hobbling along - especially me and the other girl.....until we spotted shops! That perked us up! But alas - we were spirited away to the hotel. I woke my roomie up so she could cut a piece of my hair off to signal the completion of Umrah and then I passed out!


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Hand Luggage tips

When travelling - specifically to Hajj I would recommend taking the following items in your hand luggage.

  • Travel pillow - sleep needs to be taken on an as and when basis. The pillow will help you achieve this. Mine made me very comfy draping myself over my suitcase in Cairo!
  • A small towel and bar of unscented soap - in my case I spent days getting to my destination in hot conditions. Taking a shower can really make you feel fresh and human again. Soap has to be unscented to meet the conditions of ihram.
  • fresh underwear, again - this will make you feel better once you have had a shower.
  • Ihram for men and for women i would say take a spare outfit such as leggings and vest top for under your abaya.
  • Sabr!!! Hajj is a test and as I and my travelling companions found the test starts as soon as you leave your front door! You need patience. I suprised myself by having so much more patience than I usually do. You have to really go with the flow.

The journey to Makkah continued......

So I left off with us boarding the flight in Cairo.

Here follows my diary written as we touched down in Jeddah

Jeddah Airport, God knows what time! 20th October
What a journey!!!

We hit an air pocket and basically experienced the worst turbulence ever. At one point I was actually screaming out loud. Food and drink went everywhere. At Jeddah you can identify who was on our flight by the food stains.

We hit the air pocket not long after coffee was served. Poor Mr watched me gulp my tea down as if it was going out of fashion as he longed for a coffee. I never usually rush my tea but I think with it being cramped (this was NOT business class!) I felt it best to drink it up. Finally the coffee was offered and Mr sat back to enjoy then BAM!

It started as regular turbulence. I thought - ooh this is fun! Then suddenly the plane started shaking and we suddenly plummetted. It was such a drop that food, drink and God knows what else went flying. I started screaming, loads of people were shouting and then started saying their shahadah - and I did too....I thought if I am going to die then I am damn well declaring my faith!

After the plane settled down and we knew we weren't going to die the plane started chanting 'labbayk'. The passengers started to help the staff clean up - they looked embarrassed that we were helping them - bless. Some people had been injured. The lady in front of me had not been wearing her seat belt and hurt her hand being thrown from her seat. A man across the plane was drenched in hot tea and bleeding. He had to get an injection and the poor man giving him it was shaking so badly.

*As I write this two Indian guys sat opposite me in Jeddah Terminal are gawking at me. Wondering is writing so uncool?*

So that was my diary excerpt. I didn't mention that I was crying and shaking for half an hour afterwards.  I have never wanted to get off a plane so badly. I took a picture of the mess on the plane. I have to say when we disembarking I noticed the front of the plane was worse for the mess.

Mess created by the turbulence (personal pic)

My diary continues in Jeddah Airport:
Its evening and its absolutely boiling in Jeddah, 32 degrees......scary.
The hajj drafts are apparently almost sorted and this time I don't mind hanging around an airport too much!
The plan is to get to the hotel, and I will try to sneak a shower in and then perform our 'Umrah'.
The elderly lady in our group wants to go tomorrow - but I think its best if we do it tonight and then get a few days rest. I am looking forward to seeing the Kaba, it will make this crazy journey seem worthwhile.
Jeddah Airport; very early hours of 21st October
Still here! Turns out the hajj draft is a lot of work and waiting around. So we begin day 4 in yet another aiport.
I got a bit frustrated and then decided to go shopping! LOL. (Note there are loads of shops in Jeddah Airport). I bought a sparkly khimar and a lace under bonnnet. Also bought a towel and a bar of soap. I braved the public showers as I didn't wash in Cairo and was stinking.
So after that I didn't write any more. But lets fill you in. We basically ended up waiting from evening until about 2am to get our hajj drafts and get on a coach. At one point this Saudi was screaming at me to gather the group up as our coach was there......thus ensued a mad panic. I had literally turned my back on Mr for 2 minutes to chat to a revert sister I spotted and he disappeared. Several of our group started rushing around trying to find Mr and his friend. I was raging.....lol. I am so used to pulling my phone out and calling him but we didn't purchase Saudi SIM cards or intend to (I was going to regret this).  One man in our group just looked so dazed and lost he was at one end of the terminal spinning round and round. I kid you not. One guy asked me where he was and I was so annoyed I snapped - 'there he is spinning round in a daze'. Then burst out laughing because it was actually hysterical.
I finally located Mr buying pizza. Felt a bit sorry for him as I yelled at him in the restaurant that 'we needed pizza like a hole in the head and that a coach was waiting'.
Well - turns out the Saudi guy had thought we were with another group. Wasn't our coach and apparently our luggage had been taken away somewhere. So they sat and ate pizza, located the luggage, and then located our coach.
Finally we boarded the coach. It was cramped....and I mean cramped. But I got my travel pillow out and determinedly slept - I wanted to sleep this journey away. So we boarded roughly at 2am.  I woke what felt like hours later - to see we were still sat in Jeddah Terminal....I was horrified. It was at least 3 hours later and fajr time. One passenger decided we were not moving until he prayed fajr.
Finally we got going. I went back to sleep - albeit it with my legs kicking every 2 seconds due to them being cramped up.
So - 6 hours after being on this bus we broke down. I am not joking. By the way I later learned Jeddah is an hours drive from Makkah - an HOUR!!!!   I decided to get off the bus and stretch my legs and have a pee. There was no toilet on the bus.  Most of the men ran and off they went peeing merrily away. But where to go. It was the road side and what bushes were around were no cover for a lady needing to pee.  I begged Mr to remove his top sheet off and hang it round me but he refused (meany) and I had to deal with the fact that anyone could see me pee. Knowing there was no toilet I felt it best to go. But I was terrified that I would be arrested for indecency!
We got back on the bus and some guy came along to fix the bus. We were thrilled to get going and off we drove only to stop 10 minutes later. We had to change bus, and be given our free food from the Saudi government.  This sounds easy but the luggage is tied to the roof. So even though we piled onto the next bus which was a wreck - we then had to wait for the luggage to be untied and transferred. Finally we got going. And here it gets fun. As the bus was Saudi ran - we had several tour groups on.  This meant going to several mutawif offices. Every hajji has to relinquish their passport to the government and this is done by their registered mutawiff. This took ages, and guess who's office was last? Oh yes.....thats right....mine. Not only were we going to offices we had to drop people at hotels.  There was us left on the coach (our merry band) and a British Pakistani family.  The coach driver slung them off and refused to take them to their hotel. The young guy was furious and couldn't understand why we were not being thrown off, alas he didn't realise several of our group spoke Arabic and had bribed the driver to take us (which was wrong as apparently the Saudi government transport was meant to take us to our hotel end of).
So we finally reached our mutawiff office. After aggggges the man looking after the passports came out and chucked us off the coach. The driver refused the bribe and had had enough, well it had been nearly 12 hours at this point. I was shocked. I felt by this time we were NEVER going to reach the hotel. I had been holding it together on the coach, teased by glimpses of 'Big Bilal' and trying to keep my cool. Thankfully within 2 seconds a taxi pulled up and seeing us stranded decided to get us to the hotel. We had to hire a pickup truck to carry the rest of the group and the luggage. That also stopped another 2 seconds after the taxi. 
So sat in the taxi I thought right we are on our way - this is it! Hell no. The taxi driver got lost. Yes.....lost. I cried at this point. It was like a neverending nightmare only in real life.
Turns out our hotel was in Aziziyah (will make a post about hotels and locations) and not only was it in Azizyah it was on the very edge of Azizyah. This is why the coach didn't want to go there.....it was in a terrible location. It was in the 'south London' of Makkah.
We finally finally finally arrived. As soon as I jumped out of the cab I saw my friend Umm Yacine and literally burst into tears.


Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Journey to Makkah

I guess the beginning of our Hajj was the journey. And boy was it a journey. Hold on tight people this is going to be a long post.

First we had to travel from Leeds to London. Thats a cab to the station and then a 2 hour and 15 minute journey which went well.

Once in London we had a few hours to kill so we went to pray Dhuhr and have lunch. This meant spending a whopping £17 on the left luggage service!  Lunch was fabulous and I ate waaaay too much. I have not yet discovered a decent Turkish restaurant in Leeds so we headed up to Hala (http://www.timeout.com/london/restaurants/venue/2%3A23022/hala ) as thats a fave of mine.

So we then had the great Piccadilly line to tackle with our suitcases in rush hour. We managed it - but my God did that train remain determinedly full to the rafters all the way to Heathrow.

Heathrow terminal 3 (personal pic)
So we reached Heathrow Terminal 3 full of excitement. A teensy bit early but thats ok - we are nervy travellers (well I am!) and prefer to be early than miss a plane. We went to pray Maghrib and I got chatting to a few sisters taking requests for duaas and met a couple who had missed their flight and were distressed (irony).
And dear reader this is where it got messy.
We had indeed missed the plane. As you will know from my first post we were not informed of our flight. We spent 5 stressful hours trying to get onto the flight we thought we were meant to be on as standby only people kept coming at the last minute and the estimated 34 spare seats went down to about 4. Rather cruelly the agent's accomplice picked a few from the group that he wanted to go through.  The range of emotions I went through was horrid, from crying to yelling at various people.
So exhausted we went to find a hotel. That night we stayed at the Premier Inn which was a reasonable £86. The bus that took us there was a not to reasonable £12.  An awful night was spent - I barely slept - and when I did it was to have nightmares about not making flights. I was relieved to get back to the Terminal the next day - determined to get on the next flight.
This time we were made to wait about 4 hours. There were only 4 seats on the plane left and this time the Egypt Air man was prepared. He had made us list our names the night before. The first 4 people on the list were to go. The first name he called was Khadijah. Khadijah was an elderly lady who's son we had befriended, and her son Abdul-gani was second. The next name was my husbands! and the last - was me!!!  We had to cough up £250 each which was fine....I would have paid a lot more....I was going to Hajj - this was do or die!
We had to rush through to the Gate to board and that was manic. Khadijah lost her handbag in the process, and then her son decided to leave the gate to go back to look for it. Stress-a-rama. We ended up waiting to board for a little while as the flight ended up taking off late.
As soon as we boarded we were shown to our seats, it was then I realised my £250 had bought me an upgrade!
Leg room baby! (personal pic)
We had leg room! a seat that went up like a bed. A pillow, a blanket. And the food! it was a three course meal. The starter was so generous I thought it was the whole meal! We prayed. I chilled watching a film and the flight was pleasant. Oh yes. Pleasant.
We arrived in Cairo - and this is where the fun part began. What I didn't realise straight off was that we were still standby passengers.  We now had to go through the whole standby process again. We queued for ages to be seen - they took our passports and boarding cards and promptly disappeared.
Diary excerpt from Cairo: Cairo Midnight-ish October 19th
Waiting again on the kindness of an EgyptAir worker to get us a flight to Jeddah. Should be tired and crabby but we are in quite good spirits.
The cleaners seem to have befriended us, though I get stalked everytime I use the loo, and she insists on having a full conversation in Arabic. I don't think she believes I am English!
There are a few characters in the airport - I would say if you love to people watch then the airport is the perfect place.
There is a crazy lady, definitely English who seems to be stranded here as well. She isn't doing hajj - thats for sure. She had decided to amuse herself by having a walk on the travelator going in the opposite direction whilst having her huuuuuuuge yellow backpack strapped to her. Honestly you couldn't make it up. She yelled at a cleaner for playing bird noises on his phone to amuse a child.
Currently sat trying to go with the flow and not worry about where the luggage is. Can't believe we were meant to be in Makkah last night but here we are in the limbo that is Cairo airport.
It was a miracle we got here to be honest. Its not just me and the Mr, theres a little group of us. Theres another Algerian man and his mother - who loves to talk 19 to the dozen to me and does not speak a word of English. Theres also a British revert brother (he later turns out to have pure Irish parents but was born in Britain). He is proper on his deen. He was meant to be on the earlier flight and knew of it but was arrested under the terrorism act. He has a proper beard and dresses very 'sunnah' - as in ankle swingers. He has been invaulable guiding us through Cairo and heloing us arrange to get on a Jeddah flight- he also speaks Arabic!. Its safe to say we are having an adventure and we haven't started Hajj yet.
Cairo airport - just after midnight October 20th
Apparently the luggage has not been sent on the flight we were on. Just when I thought we were home and dry we have hot another snag. We are trying to get a 2am flight to Jeddah where we will then be in proper Hajj craziness. I think we haven't had our quota of crazy yet!
We also need to arrange our hajj draft, another thing our kindly agent has omitted to do. Honestly I am building up an arsenal of complaints about this man. I think to keep my hajj pure I will have to hide from him.....SubhanAllah!
Trying to be positive. I think if heathrow send our luggage on a direct flight we may meet it at Jeddah. Fingers and toes crossed!
Cairo airport - fajr time October 20th
The luggage has been located! We are still in Cairo. The 2am and 4am flights were mythical - I certainly didn't see them on the departure board! Nevermind we have our luggage sat with us so whatever flight we make its coming with us, Alhamdulilah!
As I write this the guys are doing fajr in jammat. As soon as they are done I am going to pray. Considering sneaking some clean clothes out of my case. This journey really feels like a true journey.
Theres a guy from Ghana who has been stuck in this aiport for 5 days. He was ripped off by a travel agent in Ghana. He was meant to go to Johannesbourg but ended up stranded in Cairo, and has been on standby ever since to go back to Cairo. He was meant to have started a job and new life in South Africa. So here he is in the terminal, the airport have not given him his luggage (after 5 days!) and he has very little money. He has barely eaten and worn the same clothes 5 days running. This has really made me realise my situation is nothing to his.
After fajr.
After fajr prayer we were moved on to the special Hajj departure lounge. We have been here hours. A few of us braved the showers. I made do with a few wipes and a change of outfit - the showers were just flooded and nowhere to hang clothes/towel etc. I have managed to catch a few naps - and Mr kindly took a few pics of me draped over my suitcase snoozing! (will upload when he is back!).
The ladies looking after the toilets are obsessed with me! (again). One asked 'Masri? (Egyptian), No I replied somewhat afraid to disappoint. Instead of being disappointed she smiled and started blowing me kisses!
The supervisor has rckoned we will be on the 2pm plane. So yes the 2 o'clock plane exists.....but it was the 2pm not the 2am plane. Shame as we landed in Cairo at 9pm on the 19th! LOL. We plan to pray dhuhr and combine Asr as we are travellers and then insha'Allah we are on our way.
20th October 2pm-ish - Cairo airport
We have boarding cards!!! The plane is at 3.30. I am so relieved to have my pass, and know that I am getting a plane today. Sheer exhaustion has set in and my eyes are irritated beyond belief. a combination of tiredness, air con and tonnes of ihram fluff ! Its like tumbleweed, all the guys changed here and because ihram is made of cheap towelling the result is loads of fluff!  I personally changed into a long white scarf - kind of a short khimar. It had straps to tie to your head but I honestly couldn't work them out so I just pinned it! I am being a little different and wearing a purple abaya rather than the regulation white.
*Women are not required to wear white as part of ihram. The requirement is that the face in uncovered and as are the hands.*
Technically a woman's ihram is wearing whatever she normally wears (within the realms of acceptable hijab). So some women have worn regular abaya and scarf. Some have changed into head to toe white. One lady looked like she was getting married - she looked gorgeous. Can't say the same for me, I am sure the lack of sleep has rendered me scary looking.
A condition of women's ihram is to NOT veil; but I have noticed a few women ignore this. I am assuming this is because they follow the Hanafi school of thought which states the veil must not touch the face, hence the baseball cap style of niqaab. It looks odd to me but thats all down to personal choice.
Hajj style niqaab (web pic)
Mens ihram is 2 pieces of cloth is white with no stitching. No stitching is allowed for men at all including footwear. Plastic flip slops and crocs are in abundance! The clothing is meant to make men equal. We are all hujjaj whether you are a prince or a pauper. However the quality of the ihram differs. Some are patterned and some have poppers (permissible) which I guess avoids the scary chance of falling off or flapping open! No stitching = no underwear!
I am mentally preparing myself for a long wait in Jeddah. Considering we landed in Cairo at 9pm last night and are flying out at 3.30pm - I can't imagine a wait that will rival this! (well I remain positive about that anyway!).
We need to get our hajj draft sorted at the airport and then get a bus. i am hoping the stories of hot food at Jeddah are true, food today has consisted of a few chocolates, crisps, a banana and a wafer bar. I doubt I am losing weight despite not eating much!
(L-R)Khadijah, Mr and me! (personal pic)



Choose your Hajj agent wisely!

I write this in all seriousness. Hajj is one of the biggest experiences of your life. No doubt about it. Hajj is a test.....thats another certainty.

Abu Hurairah (RA) reports that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said
“Whoever performs Hajj for the sake of pleasing Allah and therein utters no word of evil, nor commits any evil deed, shall return from it as free from sin as the day on which his mother gave birth to him”

Hajj has been called a 'jihad' for women. Jihad means 'struggle'. You are there to please Allah and its all about sacrifice. This is NO picnic!

So when you are booking your package choose carefully. Hajj is not cheap - and its not going to ever get cheaper; more Muslims attend every year and the reconstruction of Makkah AND Madinah means less accomodation. Less accomodation means less supply and more demand.

There are reasonable packages out there - but again don't be tempted to save that £500 and go for the cheaper agent. We did this to our detriment.

There are reliable forums out there where plenty of hujjaj are happy to post and share their experiences (good and bad!) of their agents.  Unfortunately my agent being fairly new was past the good old Google search (mistake number one!).

Research is the name of the game.

How many years has your agent ran Hajj packages? Are they reputable? Are they registered with ATOL, are they registered with the Ministry of Hajj in Saudi?

Research the hotels listed in the packages.....Trip Advisor is a great place for reviews though people can be overly negative on there. I reiterate that Hajj is a struggle. A great quote I read on a forum was a brother saying that whether you paid £10,000 or £2,000 every Hajj is a struggle.

I don't want to obliterate my blog by running down my agent - I have used the forum to do that! Its more of a 'I don't want another person to go through what I did'. So I will briefly list a few issues we had.
  • Our agent did not inform us when our flight was. This meant missing the plane and spending three days getting out to Makkah. It caused a lot of stress and cost me £500 in upgrading to Business Class to get on as a standby passenger.
  • The agent only booked the flights the day before and was ABROAD, yes he really wasn't even in the same country as his tour group.
  • Meetings were conducted purely in Arabic, depsite there being non-Arab speakers. It got my goat as I am a revert and wanted full guidance in my own language.
  • The hajj draft for those who missed their flights was not arranged. This resulted in 6 hours of admin work at Jeddah airport after the 'Flight from Hell'.
  • Food organisation was lazy and sloppy. Chicken and rice....every day twice a day!
  • We were told our package included 4 nights in Medinah....we had ONE night. ONE.
  • We were flown back to England a day early
Despite the above and other issues with the agents - I am thankful to Allah for letting me complete my Hajj. And I can say my story is still not as bad as other stories I have heard! Truely there is always someone worse off than yourself!

So - if you are reading this with the intention to make Hajj then please please please do your research....it will take a few extra stresses away from Hajj.