38. “Home” (The Hajj Journal)

September 29, 2015

It’s been a long, grueling day of travel.

It started with a hectic rush to the airport in Jeddah at 1 AM—I’d only gotten an hour of sleep after tawaf. People were just clamored together. There were 7 of us on the flight back to Edmonton: myself, Ahmed, Lubna, Husnain, Abdulrashid, Loreen and Fatima.

I got a seat near the back [of the plane], and didn’t have to share it with anyone. Score! That meant I could lift up the arm rests and sprawl across the three seats to sleep! Except the arm rests in this particular row of chairs were locked. And try as I might, I couldn’t lift them. I spent at least an hour or two (at intervals) trying fruitlessly to maneuver myself into a comfortable sleeping position.

But I just couldn’t do it.

12 hours and no sleep later, we landed in Washington. It was only noon in Washington and our travel was only half over. Coupled with that, I started getting sick again. I kept telling myself to hang in, that a comfy bed at my parent’s house was waiting for me. Every part of me ached, but I forced myself to keep going. Then I and Abdulrashid missed our flight to Toronto, and there were scheduling complications with our tickets, but I’m not complaining because alhamdulilah, it all worked out. I wasn’t the only one affected either, as Lubna, Ahmed and Husnain also got rerouted to Ottawa. In both places it was a [rush] to make it to the plane. But alhumdulilah, as I write this, we’re flying en route to Edmonton.

[In Washington,]I checked Facebook for the first time in a week, and everyone was worried I was dead because of the stampede.

When we landed in Ottawa, it was a relief just to be on Canadian soil again. Even writing my nationality as “Canadian” on the customs form felt good.

Canada. Home. This journey has given me a greater appreciation for that word.

Canada is my home. And the broad spectrum of Canadians are my people. Of them are my brothers and sisters in faith and my brothers and sisters in humanity. I can only imagine how the ancient pilgrims felt. Their journeys for hajj would take months, [sometimes] even years, and there were no airplanes or taxis or security guards. To them, the left home knowing full well they may never come back. That is why the title “Hajji” was such a big deal then. They had survived deserts, bandits, wild animals, sandstorms and more all for the sake of responding to God. For me, I’ve had to struggle for a mere day of discomfort to get home. And those pilgrims of old, when they returned, were they as elated to be home as I am? More so?

The saying goes, “home is what you make it”. But I believe that home is what makes you.


Commentary

Jeddah to Washington

The journey home was torturous.

After our Farewell Tawaf, we went to Sheikh Tamir’s hotel room—the meeting place for everyone who was flying home—and I laid down to try and get some sleep. We got back just after 11 PM and had to leave at 3 AM. For whatever reason, I just could not fall asleep. I drifted into sleep for a few minutes, but would wake up, either from noise in the room or seemingly for no reason at all.

When it was time to go, we all went down into the hotel lobby and waited for the cab to take us to Jeddah. There were too many of us, and too much luggage, so we went through several cabs until we managed to get one that could fit all of us.

We got to the airport in Jeddah in time for our 6:30 flight. The airport was chaotic as everyone just kind of stood in the lobby and waited for the guards to announce their flight, so they could go through the gate and get their baggage checked and so on. Pilgrims were also given a 5L bottle of Zamzam water, and all shipping fees were covered. I found it kind of funny when the people at the baggage check in Washington referred to it as “holy water”. Which I guess is kind of accurate, but not really.

We boarded the airplane for our 13 hour flight back to the western hemisphere. It was here that fatigue and sickness were starting to take my toll. I prayed that I would have a row all to myself so that I could lift up the arm rests and lay across the seats and sleep. Things were looking good: I had a seat at the back of the plane, and no one else seemed to be sitting near me. I saw one guy walking towards me, and was relieved when he turned and walked into the seat in front of me. No one else came and sat beside me. I breathed a sigh of relief. However, my elation quickly turned to dread when I saw that the arm rests wouldn’t lift up. I spent a combined total of at least two hours trying to shift and maneuver my body and head into a position I could sleep in. I tried jamming my legs underneath the armrests and leaning against the window, but it was like being clamped down on a table. I maybe dozed off for half an hour or so, but overall my efforts to sleep were in vain.

Washington to Toronto Ottawa

When we landed in Washington, I was sore and tired and sick and disheartened by the fact that my journey home was only half over. To my body, it was approximately 7 PM, but in Washington it was noon, and I was exhausted and sleep deprived. Of course, the security checks in customs were stern and humourless as they tried to discern if I was a terrorist threat.

My travel companion, Abdulrashid, was pulled aside for additional questioning. I was freaking out because we only had an hour from when our flight landed in Washington to when our flight to Toronto departed. When we got to the check-in terminals, we learned that we had missed our flight, and immediately I imagined that I would be spending the next day or two stuck in an airport. However, Saudi Airlines had rerouted our flight sometime between Washington and Jeddah—without telling us, no less— and now we were going to Ottawa. I only learned this, however, after Abdulrashid had already re-booked his flight and was through the terminal on his way to Toronto. Needless to say, it was a bit of a mess.

Washington airport was the first place I could access Wi-Fi in almost a week. Naturally, my first order of business was going on Facebook and telling everyone I was alive. My message inbox was full of people asking if I was alive and ok. I responded to each message individually before posting that I was on my way home.

I don’t remember much of the flight from Washington to Ottawa, other than I was sore and sick. There was an inexplicable feeling of relief that came over me when I landed in Ottawa. I was no longer a stranger; I was a citizen. I was in my own country again, even if I was on the other side of home. This was apparent because airport security is a lot friendlier in Canada than the States. The lady who checked my luggage was quite upbeat, even if it was almost midnight, and as I unpacked my luggage filled with souvenirs she asked me how my trip was and asked what Hajj is. She knew my flight was leaving soon so she hurried as fast as she could. To be honest, though, at this point I was so done that I no longer cared if I caught my flight or not. I just rolled with whatever happened.

Ottawa to Edmonton

I couldn’t sleep during my flight from Ottawa to Edmonton either. At some point my backpack had bottomed-out on account of all the books I had in it. Books were my souvenirs from the trip; Islamic bookstores are rare in Canada, but are obviously all over the place in Saudi Arabia, so I stocked up on as many Islamic books as I could. Most were in my backpack, since they couldn’t fit into my luggage, and, well, there were consequences for that.

I landed in Edmonton around midnight and called my Mom so she could pick me up. I was going to stay at their place for a few days to recuperate. However, I would be sick for over a month after that. My voice was raspy, almost wheezing, and my body ached. My throat was sore and I coughed frequently. Even still, I would have many stories to tell and many people to tell it to. I would make a Powerpoint presentation to show to my friends, family and co-workers, detailing m experiences in Hajj. My cat, who had been under the care of my grandmother, wouldn’t recognize me when I picked him up (probably due to my bald head).

But all that was for later. For now, I had to get my luggage.

I called my mom and she drove to the airport to pick me up. When I saw her, she was on the verge of crying. It felt like such a relief just to hug her. I felt like a kid again, overwhelmed with safety and comfort just knowing that my mom was here. I was happy just to be sitting in the passenger seat, talking with her as we drove back to Leduc.

I walked through the door to my parents place and set my stuff down. The promise of a familiar bed was tantalizing. I grew up in this house, in this city, in this country. In Hajj, there were times when I thought I would never see this place again. I had travelled across the world, faced my fears, faced death, faced myself. I felt I had come closer to myself, and closer to God, than ever before. I had completed the last pillar of my faith: Hajj, the sacred Pilgrimage.

And now, at the end of it all, I was home.

When you have fulfilled your sacred rites, praise God as you used to praise your forefathers ˹before Islam˺, or even more passionately. There are some who say, “Our Lord! Grant us ˹Your bounties˺ in this world,” but they will have no share in the Hereafter. Yet there are others who say, “Our Lord! Grant us the good of this world and the Hereafter, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.”

[2:200-201]

Prev: Farewell

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