To have a happy life, I believe that everything should be balance, importantly my hedonistic and religious side. Like my favorite religious architect, Antoni Gaudi who had built the wonderful Sagrada Familia but still he didn’t want to construct something higher than what God had created, Montjuïc hill. So, after having a long sabatical period in Europe this year, though a part of the journey was for my travel writing project with Visit Flanders, I wanted to travel differently this year. As my decision, I flew to Saudi Arabia.
I felt that I had been very lucky in the recent years to travel around, meet wonderful people changing my life, which I hope, to the better direction and realize my life goals. That’s why just 10 days after landing from my last trip, I went to do Umrah, the smaller pilgrimage like Hajj, but it can be done anytime of the year, to Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia in order to be closer to ALLAH (SWT) and Muhammad (PBUH) in a very special moment during Ramadhan, in which Muslims do fasting in order to feel the suffer and hunger of the needy people and to maintain the health of body (and for me, to keep the line of my body) while trying to be a better and pious worshipers than other time of the year.
Many stories that I had heard about experiences while doing Umrah and Hajj, said that there would be many challenges in the way and it depended on how you had behaved. My biggest challenges were patience and selfishness. A second after landing, I had my patience was directly tested as I had the only immigration officer who had a pause to break fasting so I had to wait in the line longer, a provincial old woman pushing me for 20 minutes in the immigration border and I found my luggages were piled up among other luggages on non-rotating baggage carousel. Saudi Arabia really gave me an unforgettable first impression.
Medina, the favorite city of Muhammad (PBUH) enchanted me with locals’ generosity during the Iftar, break fasting time, at Al-Masjid an Nabawi, the mosque where the prophet and his two best friends, Abu Bakar and Umar bin Khatab were burried. It is a feast in the mosque during the whole Ramadhan, like you can possibly gather food from benefactors and come home every night with a huge plastic bags full of dates, kefir, juices, yogurt, breads, fruits, Zam Zam water and even main courses. I preferred just sit with locals inside or outside part of Al-Masjid an Nabawi and had food delivered to my spot. I could even share it with other people that I didn’t know. I really like the idea of this good deeds domino effect which worked like, I got something from somebody, I gave something to somebody, and it could go continuously.
The strongest religious moment that I had in Medina, was when I visited the holy grave of Muhammad PBUH. I cried spontaneously, like eventually I met with the most important figure in the religion that I have faith in. As I believe in his thought, teachings and Quran towards peacefulness. I told him my wishes and as the Rasulullah, I hoped he conveyed them to ALLAH SWT directly to be granted. Also, I was a bit sad because a few congregations were practicing like shirk, by worshiping and believing that the power of the pillars and borders nearby the grave…What a pity…
There was also a cultural disturbance that I saw in the crowd of congregations, without attention to accuse or to be racist. After three days staying in Medina, I analyzed that touching head or overstepping somebody praying were something banal for some congregations coming from Middle East and Africa. Meanwhile, congregations from South East Asia, like Malaysia and Indonesia were trying their best to be on the front line, as the nearest side of the grave, by walking through narrow spaces in order not to disturb other people praying. As in my culture, touching or grabbing head of strangers consider to be highly impolite. The funny fact was the Middle East women would be very angry if you touch their bottoms, even another woman touching it accidentally.
It’s a pity that just a day before the Ramadhan 2016 over, a terrorist did suicide bomb near Al-Masjid an Nabawi. I felt so lucky that it happened 2 weeks after I left Medinah. I don’t think that this terrorist was religiously extremist, like what I have read from mass media. I think that these terrorists are just a shallow minded people who can be easily brainwashed or paid by a specific party which can load lots of profits by harming people or rule regions as many as they can.
I was ill on my way to Mecca because I didn’t rest enough. I was finishing some works in the middle of my worshiping activities. Indeed, I didn’t use my masker because I was honestly too lazy. That’s why, I understood why Saudi Arabian ladies wearing Burqa. It’s not only to cover their body but also to protect their respiratory because the condition was very dry and dusty. With my insurance on my hand, I told my tour leader to bring me to a hospital. I was a little grateful that I was sick because the tour leader was very nice to give me a free personal tour around Mecca on the way to hospital and back, as I don’t like a tour with a bus with too many participants. I was surprised the check-up and medications were free of charge! Good for my insurance company… :p
Oh, I didn’t go with the male tour leader only. As it was stipulated in Syariah Law, we had to be accompanied by another woman, the daughter of the owner of the tour agent. I told her that it was pity as a woman, you couldn’t independently travel around or even drive. Women seemed to be very dependent by men in Saudi Arabia. In the beginning, she felt really restricted but more and more, she understood that’s the way of how men were created to protect women. As I was very independent, mostly I went around mosques and hotels in Medina and Mecca all by myself. I found that it was safe, but few conventional old men would stare at me.
I was also amazed by how people in Mecca praying. They literally fulfilled the road. I have never seen any congregations as much as in the surroundings of Masjid Al-Haram. Those who see this, they will see practical religious people who worship ALLAH asking for prosperity, happiness and peace for themselves and their big families. As, it’s not a secret Arabian men tend to have big families from more than one wife in order to spread their wealth. This is a logical thought and realistic ways to get “beautiful angels” surrounding them in the real world and by taking care of them, hopefully their good deeds will take them to heaven.
Anyway, after going to hospital, I decided to do Tawaf, circling the Kaaba 7 times though my body was a little weak. On the way back from hospital, I got a news from my editor that another travel writing project has been approved by one tourism board which hadn’t had replied us for 3 months. Imagining to explore a country that I have never been, this August? It definitely instantly gave me more power. 😀
I proved to myself what people had said to me about the power surrounding Kaaba. In fact, it is circled by millions of congregations non-stop! So, imagine how the power centralized in Kaaba! I managed to finish the Tawaf, even I was very close to it. I prayed to ALLAH, not to Kaaba because it’s only the center building to direct the qibla where Muslims direct to when praying. Though, I believe that ALLAH is everywhere, I fully accept the philosophy of Monotheism to centralize and gather the Muslim congregations from all over the world in one direction to make the prayer more perfect and wholeness. As the result of this uniqueness, is a powerful place where you feel so close to ALLAH, which maybe you can feel only when you believe.
I was so content that I did my Umrah with a friend from my high school who becomes a beautiful flight attendant, Diyas. We were extremely grateful because what we had hoped, it became a reality. In the end of November 2013, I had a transit in Jeddah before continuing my long haul to Rome. I messaged her, who had already started her career in Jeddah that I wished that we could do Umrah together one day. And in less than 3 years, the ultimate wish was granted. I was very happy for her that when I met her, she was being with a man that she eventually could rely on. And the question, of course went to when would be my turn?
Finding the soulmate, it seemed to be a real wish of all my single friends who I told that I was going to Mecca, honestly including me. There is Jabal Rahma, a hill where Adam and Eve met after they had been expelled and separated from heaven. People believe that if you pray and ask for your soulmate, on Jabal Rahmah, to ALLAH toward qibla, it can be granted. I prayed for my friends and for myself that ALLAH will let us meet our life partner. Nonetheless, I do believe that my lifetime man will finally come when I am ready.
My only wishes about my life partner is that he will be a happy, honest and lucky person. I want him to be happy with me or without me, because I feel so good and positive to be with somebody who’s always truly happy. Honest to tell me my wrongs and imperfections to make me always grow through connection and communications, and definitely not a cheater as I am monogamous. Lucky, like to win a free trip for two to South America and Africa and a new mini cooper, and etc. 😉
Anyway, the next day after Jabal Rahma was my last day in Mecca, therefore I should do Tawaf Wada, the final time to circle Kaaba for 7 times before leaving Mecca, like to say “see you again, Kaaba”. That morning, a grandma in my group tour wanted to go with me. I thought it would be a burden, but I said yes anyway. It was harder to circle the Kaaba while taking care of a grandma that might be lost in the middle of thousands crowd.
When I was praying with her next to Kaaba, there was a lady came and persuaded us to kiss the Black Stone of Kaaba. It was always surrounded by more than 20 big guys tackling each other in order to kiss it. I wasn’t really into the essential of kissing the Black Stone but it was such a huge experiences and stories to tell. Because not every body who have visited Kaaba have chances to kiss it. I was helped by three agents protecting me while I was kissing the Black Stone easily, without fighting and tackling.
In the end, there was a price to pay. The grandma didn’t bring any money and I gave them my last SAR 50 that I had, for the service, for both of us. Of course those illegal agents were very angry because they only got SAR 50 for two persons, while the real price was SAR 200 per person. I didn’t ask for their service and they didn’t ask whether I had enough money on the first place. So, it wasn’t our fault. Then, the grandma and I, we tried to sneak out and mingle in the middle of thousands congregations in order not to be seen by them anymore.
When I told this story to other tour participants, they said that I was very lucky. As I saw the moment philosophically, in deeper way. I asked a soulmate to ALLAH the day before.To live with someone is not easy, especially for a bossy princess like me. So, the question whether I could reduce my selfishness?I learned that when I took that grandma with me, it was a burden in the beginning. But if let go my egoism and do things together gracefully, I still can attain my goals and even still get a bonus, a great thing that I didn’t expect. So maybe when I can be less selfish, I will be ready to embrace my lifetime partner…Who knows? 😀
Now, it’s the moment where I should already apply the lessons gained during my contemplation journey in Europe and Saudi Arabia, to cut my selfishness. I am not very happy because I can’t seize up the opportunity when my best friend, Saerah offers her house in Bali this weekend and I must postpone my diving course in order to be with my family this Eid Mubarak, the biggest celebration day for Muslims and usually we gather with family like on Christmas and Thanksgiving.
It is a hard decision for me. But last night, I found a photo in which my father and my little brother seriously embarrassed themselves to help me winning a contest to go to Paris. That showed me how much they loved me and they were able to sacrifice their dignity for my own interests. Indeed, I haven’t spent Eid Mubarak with them since 2011 because I was too lazy going with my whole family to my parents’ hometowns, spending like 20 hours driving on the road with traffic jam. I considered it as a headache than a vacation. Also, my mom told me that I might not be around my family next year due to pursuing my studies. Eventually, I saw smiles on my family’s faces when I agreed to go with them this year.
Anyway, it’s still a long road for me to be a good person, inside and outside. But at least, I am trying to change to be better, though by doing small changes. But many big things come from small things, don’t they? I also want to say, “Happy Eid Mubarak 1437 Hijriah. May the peace be with us! Happy traveling too!” 🙂
Gelato Traveler, Jakarta, 4th-10th July 2016