Today the hardship is in the transportation. As the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the King of Saudi Arabia has done a lot to ease the conditions in Arafat and Mina. In Arafat, where almost a full day passes under the sun, cool mist is being diffused from towers to create a feeling of open air conditioning. At every corner it is possible to find cold water, juices and meals being distributed free of charge. But transportation is still a problem. I have heard that the Saudis are planning to establish a rail system between these four stations. But, for the time being, walking is still swifter than taking a car.
After getting lost on our way to Muzdalifah, we had a second nightmare between Mina and Mecca, and a third one while returning back to our Mecca hotel. One dimension of the problem is the inescapable traffic jam, but the second dimension is the drivers who have never been to Mecca before. The busses are given escort cars, who are supposed to know directions, but they are lost by the bus drivers in minutes. In our last nightmare, we waited for the escort police car for one hour and lost it in ten minutes. One should ask, of course, how much of the traffic is genuine and how much is being created by lost bus drivers.
After Arafat-Muzdalifah-Mina hardship pilgrims turn to Mecca and circumambulate the Kaaba one last time. This ritual is called Wada Tawaf, the Farewell Circumambulation. Then starts the journey back home.
Saturday evening was a psychologically loaded one for me. I took the shuttle from our hotel to go to the mosque. A Bangladeshi journalist was in the shuttle also and was asking help to find his way to the open bazaar to buy a bag. It was easier than I thought. Hundreds of people were returning from the bazaar with newly bought travel bags and valises on their heads. "Follow the bags!" was all I had to say. Then I saw plastic jugs in their hands. There were thousands of jugs filled with the holy water of Mecca, Zamzam.
People were leaving the Kaaba.
"Kaaba" is a feminine name. Among its several attributes, it is referred to as a 'mother' and it is believed that it embraces the pilgrims as a mother embraces her long lost children. The Quran refers to it as Umm al-Qura, the Mother of all Settlements.
The pilgrims were abandoning their mother.
Then I saw two funeral processions walking into the mosque. Some children of the Kaaba had died in the bosom of their mother. I lost my mother at the age of 16 and maternal separations, losses, cries and songs effect me more than others. But it was not until I heard the voice of a fearful mother's cry for her son, "Tarik, Tarik!" that tears flooded to my eyes.
We had performed the night prayer and a new round of circumambulation had just started. My feelings were aroused by this mother's search for her son. She looked just like my late mother; with a face that told stories of thousands of hardships suffered for the sake of her children. Tarik was her son's name. But her voice, full of fear, hope, excitement, questioning, anger and loneliness, was making this "Tariiiiik!" into some kind of mourning, similar to the sound of seagulls. Tarik was gone! Tarik's mother was abandoned. Tarik's mother had lost her child; she was in the middle of nowhere. She was running here and there, just like Hagar running for water for her son Ishmael.
The images in my mind came together: bags, jugs of Zamzam water, funerals and Tarik's mother. Tarik's mother became the Kaaba. The jugs became full of her tears of separation. The funeral was for Tarik himself and the bags were carrying his goods back home. As if this was not enough, my own mother came into the scene: "I am also separated from my children," she said, "You are also a Tarik!"
Than came Fatma, with plastic cups in her hands full of Zamzam. Fatma was Tarik's wife. She had gone to bring water for her mother-in-law. Tarik's mother started hugging and kissing and also cursing Fatma. Tarik was still gone, but Fatma's appearance meant that he would return also.
I was lost among the feelings of separation and reunion. I was lost among Tarik's mother and my own, lost among the bags and jugs, lost in the bosom of the Kaaba. My tears filled my own jugs of Zamzam.
Three days from now, I will also go to the bazaar. I will buy a bag and a jug. I will fill the first with gifts bought from the streets of Mecca, and the second with the tears of the Kaaba.
'Keriiiiim!' will call Mother Kaaba after me. That call will invite me back to this land forever; until the day I am embraced by Mother Earth, to meet my own mother.