6

pacific ocean

When a blue whale dives into the water, its head is already deeper than most scuba divers dare to go before its tail leaves the surface of the water. Close your eyes and try to process this fact for a minute. Amazing, isn’t it?

Masood and I found ourselves in Point Lobos State National Reserve without having had prior knowledge this place existed. Poor planning and lack of research on my part, for sure, but then we were pressed for time and couldn’t afford to visit every park and reserve that came our way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

drive from san francisco to point lobos

“Whatever you do, do not miss driving on the Pacific Coast Highway when you visit California,” says everyone who has driven on this twisting, cliff-hugging, 200-kilometer route along central California.

Also known as Highway 1, this route is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world. Prior to our trip, Masood called someone he knew had been to the US several times to ask about his opinion about this drive. “Yeah, I’ve done it but it’s been so long ago and I don’t remember much.” I promptly told my beloved that I do not believe this guy. Nobody forgets about their Highway 1 drive.

monterey

We stayed overnight at Carmel-by-the-Sea, a lovely city roughy 200 kms south of San Francisco. The town has a total population of only 3,700. Carmel is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history. Apparently, a lot of writers and poets from the early 1900s came here to derive inspiration from the beautiful landscape.

Our plan was to simply stay overnight in Carmel to rest and then resume our road trip early the next day. However, due to my consistent demand to always start early in the morning coupled by the fact that the Apple Store in Cupertino was closed when we visited (we had, otherwise, allocated a good three hours for shopping), we arrived in Carmel way ahead of schedule. This turned out to be quite fortunate, of course. The nice gentleman running the motel we stayed at suggested we visit Point Lobos State National Reserve.

carmel-by-the-sea

carmel-by-the-sea

Australian landscape artist Francis McComas discovered this scenic town and called it “the greatest meeting of land and water in the world.”

I believe this artist and, if only we had the luxury of time, would definitely have loved to stay at least two days in Carmel to explore and learn about the diverse flora and fauna of this place.

And although we visited late last year, it was hot. There’s a great hiking trail within the park but we drove around since I don’t particularly fancy perspiring in my hijab. Plus hiking takes time, which we did not have. But mainly, as much as I hate admitting it, I just did not want to intentionally get tired before reaching my destination.

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See those steps? I did not climb those so I have no idea where they lead to but they surely do make a good subject for a photograph.

But in my defense, I did end up walking – from the car park to the museum about 1 km away. Since we did not do any research, I had no idea there was a museum here. While walking on a tree-lined path, we came across a cute little cabin that reminded me of fairy tales, like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel.

Except there wouldn’t be a nicely paved, concrete road like this in the fairy tales.

whalers cabin point lobos

whale museum in carmel

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Whalers Cabin Museum.  The cabin overlooks Whalers Cove and Carmel Bay just as it has for over 160 years.

Once upon a time, a small group of Chinese fishermen and their families moved to Carmel and built their residences, one of which is this museum. The year was 1850, making this cabin one of the oldest wood-frame buildings of Chinese origin remaining in Monterey County.

More than the existence of this ancient house, I am astounded by the fact that the Chinese traveled all the way here by sea, in the 1850s. I tried Google Maps to see how many days it would take me to travel by sea but it only gave me the option to travel by air, as if dismissing the idea of a journey by ship preposterous.

beijing to carmel

Point Lobos State Reserve reflects a resplendent, natural harmony between land, sea, and sky. There is an area within the reserve known as the Whalers Cove. It consists of a sandy bottom with dispersed rocky outcroppings. Thick beds of giant kelp cling to these rocks. And where you find thick beds of kelp, you find sea otters napping.

The Whalers Cove is about 30-foot deep and is great for snorkeling and beginning divers. Please bear in mind, however, that only 15 scuba-diving buddy groups are allowed into the park each day, ensuring the reefs remain pristine and the marine life unmolested.

the cove

nature in whalers cove

A flock of Western Gulls have made this part of the Whalers Cove their bathroom.

Anyway, going back to our story, the Chinese lived peacefully and quietly for four years. This was rudely interrupted by the operation of a granite quarry at the mouth of the cove. Few years later coal mining begun in nearby areas and since the only economic way to get the coal out of the area is by the sea, a coal chute was constructed in Whalers Cove.

As if these activities weren’t enough to destroy the natural beauty of Carmel, the Portuguese soon joined the party. But they weren’t interested in coal or granite. Instead, it was the annual gray whale migration that attracted them. They set up residence in Whalers Cove, and about 15-20 men were part of a crew that hunted Gray whales that migrate along the California coast between mid-December and May.

Open-top boats were rowed out to sea where men would try their luck with harpoons. If a whale was killed, it was towed back to the cove, hoisted out of the water and its blubber sliced into large strips. Next the blubber was cut into smaller chunks and melted in large iron cauldrons called “try pots”, to produce oil used primarily for lamp fuel.

iron cauldrons

whale oil

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whalers cove

Whale skeleton that is 100 years old.

Fortunately for the whales, with the advent of kerosene lamps in the late 1880’s, demand for whale oil slacked off and the local whaling industry fell on hard times.

By 1920, a group of scientists and foresters arrived to study the Monterey Cypress trees growing at Point Lobos and at Cypress Point on the north side of Carmel Bay. They realized that these trees do not grow naturally anywhere else in the world.

Monterey Cypress trees

The museum opened in 1987.

Archaeologists and volunteers conducted an archaeological dig in the cabin’s floor and they found evidence of Chinese and Japanese occupancy. They also found whale vertebrae serving as the foundation. Thanks to the farsightedness of A. M. Allan, the last owner of Point Lobos, whose family sold the land to California State Parks in 1933, designating it to be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. (source)

There were several interesting things on display in the museum and there’s a recorded sound of the whale playing in the background. We were highly impressed by the friendly, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent who helped us understand the history of the place and told us very interesting facts about whales.

the pacific ocean

We truly appreciate the work and dedication that goes into the preservation of life in Carmel and would highly recommend visiting this park if you’re in the city.

And although the whales decided not to show themselves to us that day, we returned home inspired to study about them. We learned, for example, that fin whales pee the equivalent of about 3 bathtubs per day.

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Route 1, Carmel, CA 93923
1-866-338-7227

Posted in Carmel, Pacific Coast Highway | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments
6

airbnb

It’s been around since 2008, but it wasn’t until October last year that I’d first started looking for a place to stay in using airbnb. Masood and I had planned a two-week trip to San Francisco late last year and I had wanted to experience living with the locals.

For those who aren’t aware, airbnb is a platform that connects hosts (people who want to rent out their home/room) and travelers (people looking to rent home/room). When I signed up—because you can’t book a place without being a registered user first, and that is just fair—I was asked to take a picture of a valid ID and upload it to the website. Both guests and hosts verify their IDs by connecting to their social networks (valid email address, Facebook account, LinkedIn, etc) and scanning their official ID or confirming personal details.

Once my account was verified, I was then able to check availability of the rooms as well as contact their respective owners. Airbnb’s website is nicely built and very user-friendly so I ended up spending hours looking at pictures of other people’s homes. I remember it felt strange in the beginning; it was as if I was peeking into other people’s private residence. I suppose that’s what makes it fascinating. It’s not the same looking at hotel room pictures on the web.

Picture taken from airbnb

Our comfortable bed for the next 4-5 nights. Picture taken from airbnb because my own was blurred.

After spending a lot of time going through countless photographs of various private properties, reading hosts’ profiles, and studying the reviews left by guests, I found a place that looked perfect for us.

It’s called the Cole Valley Suite, being hosted by an Asian-American lady named Nancy. Masood and I wanted an affordable room that offered complete privacy – own entrance, bathroom, etc. so that I can walk around without having to worry about hijab. Wireless internet connection and access to public transportation were also our requirements.

I sent out a message to Nancy through the airbnb website and she responded as soon as she could, taking into consideration the timezone difference. We exchanged a few messages and, once I felt satisfied, looked into paying for the room.

“Are you sure that’s safe?” asked Masood, his tone filled with suspicion, as he peered over my shoulder while I made the booking. I don’t blame the man; it was his card I was using to pay for after all.

airbnb san francisco

The spacious cupboards with lots of hangers, fresh towels, extra pillows, etc. Picture taken from airbnb’s website because … well, I’m not sure why I hadn’t taken any pictures of this. I blame jetlag.

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From the top shelf: board games, cutlery/cups/plates/glasses, microwave, coffeemaker, fridge. This picture is also from airbnb because … jetlag.

We took a cab at the airport and found ourselves standing in front of Nancy’s house by 3pm. The car drove away, leaving two jet-lagged, SFO first-timers on the roadside – with our heavy suitcases next to us. The neighborhood was quiet and we were the only ones standing on the road.

“Are you sure this is the house?” asked Masood. Well, I wasn’t but I wasn’t going to admit that out loud.

It is one thing to be arriving at a hotel where the name is clearly visible and there’s a dedicated reception area where you can ask your questions. It’s completely different standing outside a stranger’s house and wondering if it’s the correct one.

I dialed Nancy’s number. She immediately picked up and informed us, much to our relief, that we were, indeed, standing in front of the right house.

DSC_3211

Don’t be fooled by that innocent chair. It’s so heavy, only Thor can move it.

Nancy came out in a couple of minutes, her warm smile and friendly face immediately making us feel comfortable. She welcomed us and enquired about our flight. We were led to our room (which we promptly fell in love with) and shown where things were located.

With two more hours of free time before she needed to head back to work, Nancy asked whether we’d liked to be shown around the neighborhood. We hesitated, thinking why bother the nice lady. She assured us it was no trouble at all since it was time for her to walk her dogs anyway.

I was feeling drowsy by this time and wanted nothing more than to simply crash on the inviting bed and wake up three days later. Masood, after having lived with me for so many years, immediately picked up on my mood and thought it best that we took that walk. “We need to follow the current timezone and stay awake until at least 9 pm,” he said.

I don’t really remember clearly but I think he had to drag me out of the house.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.11.19 PM

Yay for super clean and stocked bathroom! This picture is also from airbnb’s website because after 15 hours of direct flight, no one has the strength to take pictures of the bathroom.

Nancy and her dogs walked ahead, all three of them filled with energy and enthusiasm. “You’re lucky,” she said cheerfully, “the weather’s perfect today!” Masood and I followed them, both of us red-eyed and languid.

“Are you guys also planning to go out of town?” she asked.

“Oh, yes. I’d love to see Yos-mayt Park,” I said.

“Oh, Yoh-SEM-it-ee Park is beautiful!” she said.

What is she saying? I wondered, my eyes and mind heavy with sleep. “That’s right. We thought it might be nice to camp overnight at Yos-mayt Park.”

“Have you made reservations?” asked Nancy, “because the camps at Yoh-SEM-it-ee are almost always fully booked.”

WHAT IS SHE SAYING? I thought again, trying to shake my foggy brain. Only then did it register that I had been mispronouncing Yosemite Park!

DSC_3207

Okay, this one is taken by me.

We walked around the neighborhood. Nancy showed us restaurants, the grocery store, the park, the bus stop, and the place where she worked. I told her she’s extremely lucky to have her workplace at a walking distance from her home. We made a quick stop at a shop to buy MUNI tickets because we decided to use the public transportation while in San Francisco. This turned out to be a great idea, considering how difficult it is to get parking in the city.

On the way back, Masood suggested we bought dinner. We thanked Nancy for showing us around and headed to the supermarket. It did not take us long to make our purchases: I only had to decide between the light brown bread with less grains and the dark brown bread with more grains. I also picked up a tub of my favorite spicy hummus.

Walking home, I thanked God we weren’t carrying heavy bags for it was an uphill climb all the way! For someone coming from a very car-centric country like the United Arab Emirates, walking in San Francisco felt like working out in the gym – there are almost no horizontal roads; it’s either up or down.

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There is cable television and Nancy kept a number of movie CDs you could play but why watch TV when you have books to read!

Finally, it was 7 pm and all I wanted to do was sleep. Masood still refused to let us sleep, however, saying we’d be up by 3 am if we slept now. He was randomly changing channels and commenting something about how the viewers are bombarded with obtuse, unimaginative, and mind-numbing reality shows. You see, we rarely watch TV at home so we’re both out of touch as far as TV shows are concerned.

So here, in Cole Valley, with almost two hours to kill, he was browsing the channels and getting annoyed. I, on the other hand, picked out a book from the shelf and began reading. Twenty minutes into reading Anthony Bourdain and my mind went numb with lethargy. The sentences began to merge with each other making me go back and read them all over again, trying to make sense. Eventually, the letters got blurry and when I turned to announce that I was calling it a day, my dear husband was already fast asleep. So much for waiting until 9 pm.

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DSC_3203

DSC_3200The street on which Nancy’s house was located was a quiet one and, except for the occasional dog bark, the night was peaceful. Actually, scratch that. Masood and I just returned from Hajj, like three days ago, and we’d been coughing our lungs up all night. The kind of hacking cough that woke us up from our slumber and forced us to sit up, making us feel as if our lungs will burst and our ribs will crack any minute.

Nancy lives with her two dogs upstairs and I worried that our non-stop coughing would wake them up. I’m not sure whether their sleep was interrupted or not, or whether she was bring polite – either way Nancy did not say anything.

Masood and I were usually out and about by 9 am and wouldn’t return until 8 pm. There was a note in the room for us to leave used plates and glasses outside the room. It felt impolite doing that but since we didn’t have a kitchen sink to wash the plates and glasses in, I put them outside as instructed. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise when we returned home after a particularly tiring day to find that the plates and glasses were washed and dried. Not only that, there was a plate of very delicious and moist, freshly-baked homemade pumpkin bars as well!

Hotel vs Airbnb

With airbnb, we got to live with a local in her own home. We were lucky to find a warm and friendly host who respected our privacy and responded promptly to our queries. Masood fell in love with San Francisco so much that he abruptly decided to extend our stay. Unfortunately, we could not stay in Nancy’s house because another guest had already made a booking. So after four wonderful days and nights in Cole Valley, we moved to Holiday Inn hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf.

When you book with airbnb, you stay in a home – with or without the hosts. While hotel rooms are generic, airbnb’s apartments or rooms have character. They tell you a little bit about the people who live in them. You get to make new friends who can give you valuable tips to make your stay in the city an exceptional one. Some of the hosts would even love to dine with you!

Since you are living in someone’s home, you need to be respectful about the host (and whoever else is staying with them, like family, for example) and the property. This was, at times, a little stressful for me because I would not be able to step out of the door before making sure the place was clean and tidy. On the other hand, I can leave the bed unmade and the used towels on the bathroom floor when staying in a hotel.

While our first experience with airbnb was definitely pleasant, I would certainly advice for everyone to be careful when making a booking through them.

We all understand the difference between booking a hotel room versus renting from some stranger on the web. While airbnb tries to verify information from both guests and hosts, it can not possibly run thorough checks on each individual. Therefore, we need to approach renting through airbnb with caution and common sense.

There are a lot of guests that report being happy and satisfied with their renting experience with airbnb. Brendan was pleased with the room he rented in Manila, Brianna and her friends where extremely delighted by the tastefully decorated flat in Boston, and then there’s Bart and Sanne who stayed 30 consecutive nights with airbnb!

Remember, there are horror stories too so we need to be careful. Rent intelligently by doing research. Know your renter by going through the reviews left by other airbnb users, talk to them (ask questions, send emails, etc) and learn a bit more about the hosts. Check the prices and do a little research to know whether or not the range is fair with the city it is located in. The law of “too good to be true” should apply to Airbnb listings, so when the rent is ridiculously cheap, have doubts.

Ready to book your first apartment through airbnb? Go through Paul’s list of 5 tips for the first time airbnb guest. If you have had experience renting with airbnb, let me know how it was for you!

Posted in San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments
13

hajj from uae

Translating my thoughts and emotions into words for the Hajj Journal series is not easy.

First, whenever I reflect on this Holy journey, the entire experience runs in my mind like a film. It’s only been seven months since that day when I set foot in Makkah so I can still vividly recall every single detail as if it had happened yesterday. But the words appearing on the screen as I type do not do justice to this film that I’m seeing in my mind. Words fail to paint the pictures as striking and resplendent as I see them.

Second, Hajj is something that you have to experience yourself to truly understand and appreciate it. I used to read Hajj books, go through Hajj related blog posts and articles very carefully, and intently listen to someone else’s Hajj experience. Sure, they were all enlightening and inspiring, and they gave me a good idea of what transpires in those few days in Makkah and Mina, but they fail to satiate the thirsty soul. I went back and read all my previous posts on Hajj and I wonder what this might mean to someone who has never been to Hajj or even Umrah (for those making niyyah, I sincerely pray that Allah grant you the opportunity to perform these Holy trips). After Hajj, I still read Hajj books and articles, and yes, it’s not the same. Now, the words make a lot more sense. Now, each word evokes and stirs emotions and memories that immediately transport me back in Makkah and Mina. The problem is, I am not satisfied with my work. I don’t think I have written as eloquently and expressively as I would have liked to. But we all have our limitations and I should accept mine, with the du’a that some of these words would help and inspire another person.

The third and final day of stoning at Jamaraat was the most difficult and challenging. It seemed like all the pilgrims have gathered in this one place, all wanting to complete the ritual at the same time, thus resulting in total chaos.

Earlier today, we had left the tents of Mina with our bags and heavy hearts. Mina is a place that tests your patience because you are forced to live with several other strangers for three or four days, have a limited space to sit and sleep on, make do of the very basics (you are only allowed to bring 1 small backpack with you), and wait for an hour (or more) for your turn to use the bathroom. But Mina is also a place that tugs at your heart when you’re about to leave her. Without you knowing it, she makes a special place in your heart and teaches you to love her, except that you mostly realize this when you are about to leave.

Getting to Jamaraat at noon, when the unrelenting heat of the sun was at its peak, was quite a challenge. Having an umbrella and extra bottles of water at this time was a great blessing. Despite of these, people were fainting around us. There was complete disorder and confusion – a lot of pilgrims were, quite sadly, very rude, impolite, and aggressive.

When we finally completed the ritual—with our limbs intact and without having had to hurt anyone else in the process—we joined our group leaders and a young boy (one of the leader’s nine-year-old son) and headed down to the bus stop. We needed to get on a bus or taxi to get to Makkah. On the way, we ran towards the first source of drinking water we saw and joined the crowd to fill our water bottles. Our parched lips and dehydrated body haven’t tasted water as refreshing and invigorating as this cold zamzam water. Silver, stainless steel boxes with taps dispense the chilled water. You can find these zamzam “stations” all over haram and around Jamaraat. Inside haram, however, these water stations are made of marble.

zamzam stations in haram

Having had our fill, we walked towards the main road hoping to find a ride to Makkah. Soon, we discovered that the roads were filled with pilgrims as far as our eyes could see, and quickly realized that there was no way for any sort of vehicle to pass this way. We were left with only one option – walk.

jamaraat

Our group leaders, now fully rehydrated, were in a very jolly mood. They opened a couple of water bottles and began to gently sprinkle water to anyone we passed by. For someone who’d been walking under the sun for hours, the cool water on their head or faces was a welcome gesture. Masood and I also playfully sprinkled water on each other.

hajj 2015

If you look at the picture above, there’s a truck on the left with a man standing on it’s roof and there are several pilgrims on the right with their arms raised. This truck was loaded with water bottles which were being distributed for free to whoever wanted it. Within seconds, a large group of people surrounded the truck, each one hoping to get a few bottles of water. One of our group leaders went and brought back a couple of bottles for us.

hajj crowd

crowd during hajj

So we walked, and walked, and walked. The thing is, the mere thought that we’re taking the last few steps towards the end of our Hajj journey was fueling our patience and tired feet.

Soon, the sun prepared to end the day’s work, its strength diminishing by the minute. We folded our umbrellas and thanked Allah for the respite from the heat. We continued walking alongside thousands of others. The road seemed to go on forever. There was still no sign of any vehicle. We’d been perspiring for hours, our skin warm, sticky, and in dire need of a good shower.

Several kilometers later, my sister-in-law asked if we could pause to rest. We found an empty spot along the footpath and sat there for a few minutes. There were orange and banana peels next to me. I ignored the empty plastic bag that flew to my feet and did not mind the dust that clung to my abaya. People continued walking towards Makkah.

We got back up and continued walking until we saw buses and cars on the road running parallel to where we were. Hope sparked within our exhausted selves. We literally ran toward the buses and asked wether they were heading for masjid-al-haram. We spent almost an hour asking countless of buses and cars, but none of them was willing to go to haram because of the traffic.

It was now time for the asar prayers and we had no clue how far we were from our hotel in Makkah. Masood gestured toward a building that looked like a hotel. “Let’s stop there for namaaz. Let’s also get something to eat and drink.”

There were security guards manning the hotel entrance. I noticed that they were turning down a few men and women, denying them entry. This made me nervous. However, we were allowed to get in when we tried. The air-conditioned lobby of the hotel felt like a slice of paradise. I felt too disheveled and grimy for this spotless place.

Masood bought us juice and asked us to sit on one of the sofas while we wait for them. We couldn’t locate the prayer room, so while the men formed a small congregation at one corner of the room, we sat and waited (and decided to offer our namaaz once we’re back in our own hotel).

As we sat and enjoyed sipping the juice, a local man in clean and crisp kandura approached us. He asked if we were guests at the hotel. We said no. He asked if we knew someone who was a guest at the hotel. We said no. He then gently, and in a very friendly manner, informed us that the hotel management does not allow outsiders to sit in the lobby. Makes sense; otherwise, the thousands of pilgrims outside would be sitting here, sipping juice instead. We explained that our men were offering salah and that we’re just waiting for them and will leave as soon as they’ve finished. He agreed, offered a brief apology for not being able to allow us to sit longer, and left with a smile.

We finally found a car whose driver is willing to take us to Masjid al Haram!

It was an old, beat-up car that must have seen several seasons of Hajj. Regardless, it was in a running condition and will, we hoped, take us to our destination safely. The driver said he will charge as 500 riyals ($134) for the trip. “How far is haram from here?” we asked. “About 30 minutes away, with all this crowd.” We agreed. I did not think I could walk another inch.

Five minutes down the road, quite expectedly, we got stuck in traffic. What we had not expected was the fact that both tunnels that lead to our hotel were filled with pilgrims. Police couldn’t do anything to stop the pedestrians, who were already exhausted and cranky. So they stopped the vehicles instead. We sat in the car contemplating our next move. The tunnel was unlikely to clear of the pilgrims for the next several hours and we couldn’t just simply sit in the car till then.

Eventually, we paid some amount to the driver for his time and explained that it made more sense for us to walk to the hotel. He agreed. We were back on the road. On our feet. It felt so weird to walk through the tunnel that were only meant for vehicles. Somehow, our moods lightened and we began to enjoy the walk. We took pictures, made videos, reflected on the past few days, and joked around.

makkah tunnel

Our mothers had been calling us incessantly, asking why we’d taken the entire day to get from Jamaraat to our hotel in haram. I broke down upon hearing my mom’s voice and cried on the phone as I told her what we’ve been through. I had not intended to tell her everything on the phone but I just couldn’t help the flood of emotions that ensued.

We continued walking for what felt like a lifetime and finally saw the walls of the masjid-al-haram. We briefly got distracted by a nearby fried chicken shop. The aroma of deep-fried chicken wafted in the air and pulled us towards its source. People crowded the shop as if the chickens were bring distributed for free. Our turn eventually came and we had the food packed to take away.

makkah during hajj

The worried faces of our mothers greeted us at the door. The moment we stepped inside the room, they hugged us. Tears followed. More hugging continued. More tears were shed – tears of relief and joy. Tears of making it safely back to the hotel. But mostly, tears of having had completed the most important journey of our lives together.

Too soon, it was time to head back home.

My family and I left Makkah with our respective groups. Masood, mom, and I were the last to leave. The night before our flight, we visited the shops in the nearby malls and bought gifts for family and friends back home.

It is difficult to recall what exactly my feelings were on the plane back home. I became aware of my tired and achy limbs the moment I settled in my seat, and we all mostly drifted in and out of sleep all the way back to Abu Dhabi.

Outside the arrival lounge, past the immigration counters, we briefly met up with our group members to exchange phone numbers and say our goodbyes. It was then that I noticed my sister waving at me. She came to welcome us with flowers!

welcome hajis back home

It still feels surreal, this trip for Hajj. If not for the journal with my handwritten account or these photographs, I would have thought it was all a very pleasant dream.

I’ll tell you this frankly: one does not feel like a different person upon returning from hajj. It’s not like you come back and suddenly become this model of piousness and righteousness. No, it’s nothing like that.

During last year’s Peace Conference a man from the audience asked a scholar, “How can I tell whether or not my hajj has been accepted by Allah?” The scholar tells him that while it is only Allah who holds that knowledge, a person can more or less have an idea based on whether or not he is inspired to make good changes, both in religion and life. There should be this desire to learn, to seek what’s in the Qur’an and Sunnah and implement that in his or her life, the yearning to seek forgiveness and the conscious struggle to leave bad habits behind. It’s when you actually take steps to improve yourself (specially in deen) and abandon the acts that Allah dislikes is when you know that your Hajj has been accepted.

Do not postpone Hajj if you have the means to do it this year.

It is common in Pakistan, for example, to postpone Hajj until a person has finished all his or her obligations and has retired from his or her job. Hajj is something you would put aside for your old age. Well, yes, Hajj is fardh if you have the health and financial means, so you should prioritize those. But sadly, it’s quite common to see families spending a large amount of money for a couple of weeks in an exotic country for vacations. Why not spend that money to perform Hajj instead? Hajj in old age is tough. You will be unable to perform your best when you face your Lord in that most important event of your life. You will be unable to help others. You will be unable to concentrate because you’re already weak and tired. Or, more unfortunately, you may not live long enough to perform Hajj when you wanted to.

After Hajj comes immense responsibility.

For those of us who have returned from Hajj, it is our responsibility not to return to our old ways of life that is filled with activities that do no good for us in the eyes of Allah. It is upon us to improve ourselves so that we’re better, more compassionate human beings. Regardless of our status in society, we should strive to become givers so that the people around us benefit from us. We need to learn the difficult act of forgiveness. We need to set good examples wherever we go so that others may know what being a Muslim truly means.

I pray that Allah help us improve ourselves, forgive our misgivings, and bless us with more opportunities for Hajj and Umrah. I sincerely hope that some of you may find these Hajj posts beneficial, and I request that you please remember me and my family in your prayers.

For a list of all the Hajj posts, please click here.

Disclaimer:
Hajj is as much a personal journey as it is spiritual. No two pilgrims share the exact experiences. The Hajj Journal series on this blog reflects my journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in October 2014. These stories depict the pilgrimage trip as how it really transpired: day-to-day accounts of the rituals, the hardships, and lessons learned. By sharing the hardships we faced, I intend not to complain but to show you the real picture of Hajj as it happened. It is my experience that when preparing for this Holy journey, I spent hours looking for and reading personal accounts online and learn from these pilgrims. I craved for real information on what goes through a person’s mind during the rituals of Hajj. I hope, insha’Allah, that those of you planning to go on Hajj will find these posts beneficial. 
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