Long before we got married, Nouman and I had made it our goal to InshAllah do Umrah by our 1st anniversary. Since our wedding, we had loosely discussed our 1 year anniversary plans and would voice our wish to do Umrah once in a while. As 2012 came to an end, both of our parents pushed us to visit them while they were staying in the Middle East. We discussed the idea between ourselves and although we wanted to go, the entire trip would be too costly to actually consider it. Somehow, the idea of combining Umrah and Maldives with a visit to our parents started to materialize and 4 weeks before our departure, we were rushing to apply for our Umrah visas. Before we knew it, we had our visa’s and we were on a plane to Jeddah!
Our flight to Jeddah was pretty uneventful. We headed out of Toronto via Air Canada and switched to Saudi Airlines at Heathrow airport. The food at both airlines was a major turnoff. Saudi Airlines was surprisingly appalling – both of our arm rests were falling apart and the plane was super old. At Heathrow airport, Nouman and I both changed into our ihrams – 2 pieces of towel for him and a new set of clothes (inlcuding undergarments) and abbaya for me. Thirty minutes before we crossed Meeqat, an announcement was made that we were approaching Meeqat. This meant that anyone who had not yet changed or made their niyat (intention) should do so. Since Nouman and I had already changed, we did wudhu, prayed and made our Niyat. After this point onwards, we both started to recite Labbayk Allahumma Labbayk. As we started our descent to Jeddah airport, we could clearly hear the majority of the plane reciting the same dua as us. When I was younger, my family used to go for Umrah every year. As we got closer to the Kaabah, my mom would start reciting Labbayk in the car and we would all follow. To this day, the feeling I get when I hear or recite Labbayk is hard to describe – the hair on my neck stands up and I feel tingly all over.
After arriving at Jeddah airport, we picked up our luggage and went through the visa/customs. As soon as the exit doors opened, a security guard was standing infront of us and asking everyone to hand over their passports to him. I was a little suspicious of him – why does he need our passports as we’re LEAVING the airport? Being polite Canadians, we gave him our passports and then he said to follow him. Long story short, they took our passports (along with most other Umrah visitors) to a counter where nobody spoke English. We stood around while they handed our passports from one person to another and put them on a pile. After patiently waiting at the side for 15 minutes (where I made friends with a Brit, Sabrina), I lost my temper. I marched up to the desk and sternly asked them what they wanted from our passports. I had tried to sign language to Nouman to be more stern but he is just too nice of a person. The airport personel managed to communicate to me that they had to scan our passports and then handed them back to us. To this day, I am not sure why they needed to scan the passports. Or why nobody speaks English when there is such a high traffic of foreigners going through that airport.
We breathed a sigh of relief once we got our passports and made our way back to the waiting area in search of our driver. In Canada, via our travel agent, we had booked a private car to pick us up at the airport. We had heard that foreigners sometimes face trouble at immigration if they do not have a car booked so we did not want to take any chances. I was a little worried that the driver might have left without us but then thought that he must know how long it takes at the airport. We scanned the waiting area a few times and then realized that the driver was NOT there. With nobody understanding English or Urdu, we stood around looking like lost puppies. Nouman had the drivers phone number, so we went to the information desk to ask for a payphone. The guy at the information desk did not speak English. Yup, no English! We did manage to understand each other via sign language and the word ‘phone.’ While I waited for the person infront of me to finish their call, Nouman approached an Indian worker and spoke to him in Urdu. With the help of that worker and a cashier at the duty-free, we were able to call the driver and find out that his number was not working.
Just our luck.
The cashier took Nouman to the transportation office at Jeddah airport. While Nouman went to the office to sort everything out, I was standing in the middle of the airport alone. Every single man and woman stared at me. I became alarmingly aware of just how many men were around me. Some taxi driver approached me to ask if I needed help but I’m not sure what kind of help he was offering. The whole time I was separated from Nouman, my mind was racing with unwanted thoughts of something happening to him. I couldn’t see him and had no idea which door he had gone through. At some point, a security guard approached me and asked me if I was here to do Umrah and I said yes. He said that I can go out but I signed to him that I was waiting for my driver. After a long 20 minutes (it might aswell have been 2 hours), the cashier emerged and I quickly walked towards him in search of Nouman. He pointed to the door he came from and did a thumbs up to let me know that Nouman is coming. A breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw Nouman.
Thankfully, the airport authorities had decided that since we had already paid for our transport, they would cover the cost of our taxi. Phew.
This should come as no surprise – our taxi driver did not speak English. We told him we were staying at the Makkah Clock Tower by Fairmont but we might aswell have been talking in gibberish. He had no idea what we were trying to say. We tried to say the words “clock” and “Fairmont” over and over again but it seemed like he did not understand. Finally, he had a light bulb moment and nodded – “Ahhh.. Four Minute!!” Not entirely sure if that was his way of pronouncing Fairmont, we nodded. The clock tower is hard to miss so Nouman assured me that as long as we got to the Haram, we would find our way to the hotel.
You should know that I am extra cautious and alert when I visit other countries; especially countries where I feel like I am not safe. Needless to say, I felt very uncomfortable getting into a car with a driver that did not speak my language. The entire ride, I had one arm on the door and the other on Nouman – if it was needed, I was prepared to flung the door open and jump out. Dramatic, I know. At one point, the driver went off the highway and onto a dirt road that led to a deserted gas station (there were run down mechanic stores all around it). I asked Nouman to check if he had gas and his tank was full. I kept telling Nouman that this was it, he was kidnapping us. For some odd reason, he made a phone call, waited and then went back onto the highway. It was definitely an eventful ride but Alhamdulilah, the driver took us straight to the Clock Tower or Four Minute, as he called it.
In our Ihram’s for the first time!