Thursday, December 21, 2006

hajj (1982/1403)

And proclaim that the people shall observe Hajj. They will come
to you walking or riding on various exhausted (means of transportation). They
will come from the farthest locations. (22:27-28)

Johan Berthold Jongkind, "Leaving the Port of Honfleur" (1865)

my very first flight left from a small airport in new bern in the rain. i hobbled around the lobby waiting to board, a crutch under each arm because less than a week before i had twisted my left ankle so badly that the muscle tear had literally pulled bone away from the side of my foot. but they were nothing but an annoyance to me now; i felt no pain, only that they were slowing things down.

when we finally boarded i was excited about flying in a way that i have since more than recovered from. the plane pushed its way up into the gray sky and bounced its way along towards dc. my mother's face was the same color as the sky long before we got there.

by the time we arrived in nyc i decided it was time to dump the crutches. the foot never healed correctly and it still hurts for me to sit cross-legged if my left foot is on the bottom, but even now i dont regret it. i walked on two feet onto what is still the largest plane i have ever been on. the pan am double-decker had sleeping quarters on the upper floor for those who had the money. but the government was only paying for our family to fly third class.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Arabs Crossing the Desert" (1870)

it is not only the largest plane i have ever been on, it may well be one of the most crowded flights i have ever been on. i have been on other full flights since, all of which were much less enjoyable, but this flight teemed with life. there was an energy i could not have understood at the time which made the plane seem about to burst. and that energy lasted for almost every minute of the fifteen hour, non-stop flight.

it was almost as if we had booked a flight on a family reunion. people, most of whom had never met before that flight, chatted joyously like old friends, relatives departed and only now reunited. i dont remember when the singing started. somewhere over the atlantic, in a language i could not understand, people, drunk on nothing but happiness, joined together in one voice. in and out of a dramamine induced sleep, stretched across the lap of a total stranger, the festivities went on around me. this was flying, and flying was a party.

we were over land and the party went in an uneven ebb and flow when a transformation began to take place. a slow stream of people male and female began to move to the bathrooms, still three or four hours from our destination. they began to undress themselves of america and become something else. fantastic clothing, a sea of flowing white, but new to me, unseen before and thus fabulous, like butterflies. and as the transformation took hold among the passengers, leaving only us as defective, stunted human beings trapped in our cocoons, the party in the sky reached its climax until someone, in the now-foreign language that was english, announced that we were descending.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, "An Arab Caravan" (c.1870)

it was a descent into light, and overwhelming brightness. as we approached the ground i stared out the window: a small herd of camels trotted underneath us, glancing casually upwards. the plane slammed downward onto the runway, as if we could not land fast enough now. the shutters banged down and everyone let out a collective gasp, and then applause.

the plane parked not far from the terminal and a ramp was brought alongside. and we advanced slowly upon the exit. i was a child of the south, raised on heat and humidity in equal portion with eggs and grits. but when i stepped off that plane, nearly blinded by the purity of the light, i was embraced by the new world, wrapped in warmth and moisture that tangibly took hold of me. and i was in dhahran.



Suroor said...

Mashallah! You have so beautifully expressed the human feelings of going for pilgrimage. Usually we are too busy focusing on something outside. As if our spirit is outside hanging over our heads. This post is full of a feelings and love of a mortal for the Immortal.

The pictures are beautiful as well.

Maliha said...

Wow. I love it mashaallah. More, more.

koonj said...

What a raucous account! I have officially absolved you of the charge of nerdiness and your writing is now simply "fun."

BTW I'm trying to piece together identity, culture, biography from the pieces you drop here and there and they are not holding together in my head. How about one big "I am ..." post?

Irving said...

a wonderful account :) And the pictures are indeed lovely.

Ya Haqq!

homeinkabul said...

Add me to the list of admiring readers, Mashallah.

Lawrence of Arabia said...

all of you: thank you very much.

that plane trip was indeed a very unique experience and a beautiful first exposure to islam...even if i didnt even really understand for a while what i had been exposed to.

as per request, i will undertake a "who is LoA?" post before xmas comes around.

homeinkabul said...

I would like a spoiler warning before the 'Who is LoA' post...I don't think I want to know. I'm happy with the info under your profile. It's part of the fun.

you have one of the few blogs that read like novels (this is a compliment). The other blog is similar also, very lush both in pictures and words.

(I am mashallah'ing both of you now)

Lawrence of Arabia said...

i dont know what i was smoking when i said i would do the who is LoA post before xmas. i will do it this week, but it is xmas already so i have already failed to deliver on the initial promise.

best wishes to you all.