Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hajj Vignettes #2

We left home at about 8:30 a.m. Friday morning. More than 30 sleepless hours later, we were sitting, clueless and bleary-eyed, in the Jeddah Airport, waiting for our passports to come back.

A random airport guy comes back instead. He looks as though he’s been electrocuted, hair standing up, frenzied eyes, compulsively drinking a cup of something. He talks with the men in our group who are trying to understand where our group leader is, when we can be on our way, and where our passports went. A few minutes later, the airport guy is shrieking and throwing up his hands. The group manages to stay calm as the man with our passports breaks out into a primal panic before our eyes. Egyptian, of course.

38 hours later. 50 tired people are sitting on a bus parked outside of Jeddah airport, waiting for one person to sort out an issue with his hajj fees. The bus is eerily quiet, amidst the honking of migrating buses and shouting, stressed-out, non-Saudi drivers around us. Our driver steps inside every half hour to count us… seven, eight, nine. No one is allowed in or out of the bus.

39 hours later and 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five… My father-in-law mutters quietly, “No one left the bus. How many times are you going to count us?” The driver’s head practically shoots off his body and hits the bus ceiling. He raves like a madman for two minutes. Then he spats, “And now you made me forget where I was!” He begins counting again. Egyptian, of course.

My husband, next to me, is gasping for air, laughing uncontrollably, exhausted. I join him when I find he is still laughing hysterically, several minutes later.

40 hours later. We’re finally on the road to Makkah, normally a one-hour drive, but I have a feeling it won’t be that short. Paperwork, checkpoints, inspections, plastic bracelets, funny, little rules that you better not mess with. We stop every twenty minutes it seems. We’re stuck in traffic. My stomach growls loudly with hunger.

44 hours later. The bus stops at a “Welcome Station for Pilgrims.” I try to sleep, but can’t. I need to lie flat. I can barely smile at the awkward, sign translations: “The Ministry of Salutations is Joyful for Your Coming and Serving You.” A uniformed worker who looks like someone who works at Wendy’s steps onto the bus with boxes filled with colorful packages. FOOD! Oh yes, oh yes! I’m getting tired of our pasty power bars. We are all handed a confection-like rose, wrapped in cellophane, stuck onto a green straw. That’s all.

In the dark, I stare at the rose in my hands. I look at the other people on the bus to see what they will do. It looks like candy. Maybe a little too perfect. What are we supposed to do with it? I quell my urge to eat the rose—it’s foam; just a cheap little souvenir.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watch an exhausted gentleman sniff, take a furtive nip, then quickly lay it down before anyone saw him trying to take a bit out of a pink foam rose. A hysterical laugh rises like a lump in my throat. My eyes tear up and the corners of my mouth ache as I try not to snort.

A few seconds later, my hungry husband nibbles the rose. Exhuasted but oh-so-tickled, I break out into that uncontrollable, suffocating laughter that only happens when you have reached the limits of human endurance. Muhammad laughs along with me, if only that he doesn’t get what was so funny and is wondering why my eyes are streaming and I’m laughing so hard I can no longer breathe.

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