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The Pilgrimage

SAUDI ARABIA | Friday, 2 May 2014 | Views [70] | Scholarship Entry

As I exited the air conditioned hotel lobby, the hot, dry wind hit me in the face as though I had stepped into a relentless oven; the stifling Meccan heat bringing tears to my eyes. I licked my chapped lips, wishing I hadn’t forgotten the lip balm. The slight dampness on my face, left behind as evidence of the ablution I had performed before departing, dried almost instantly and was replaced by beads of sweat as I made my way through the narrow alley leading to the main road. The call to prayer seemed to be a magnet pulling hundreds of people towards it. An army in hues of Black and White, all marching towards one destination. I caught a whiff of expensive atar charred with sweat as a woman clad in a black burqa hurried past me.

I felt like the only shade of grey in a palette of Black and White. My heart thrummed a strange, primal beat against my rib cage. Bhum bhum bhum. My body’s response to that faceless voice that called out “Hayya Alas Salah”. I glimpsed my family ahead, only for a second, before they were dissolved into the sea of Black and White.
They say the very first time you lay eyes on the Khana-e-Kaaba you can ask for anything. What could I ask for? With each step, the question became more and more urgent, making its presence felt. Bhum bhum bhum. I could see the minarets of the mosque looming ahead, beautiful and aloof. Their pure white glory causing hidden doubts to bubble to the surface. In plain view. For all to see. With wide eyed vulnerability, I ventured forward. Past the women displaying their merchandise on either side of the road. Past the colorful prayers beads, some opaque, some transparent enough to show you the world in a different color. As my slippers finally slapped against the white marble, marking the beginning of the mosque, I slipped them off expecting to feel the burning ground. Instead, I felt an icy coolness seep off the floor into my feet. In the distance, my eyes found arched gateways leading to the House of Allah.
I’ll never forget the day that I saw the Khana-e-Kaaba for the first time. Shrouded in a halo of light, its solid black and gold presence exuded an incomparable and effortless majestic beauty. It stood in the center, inviting, exerting a strange magnetic pull that would draw any observer closer. Simple and understated, it encompassed everything I attributed to my God. And, in that moment, all the doubt was sucked away into the grey leaving behind only Black and White and I knew. I knew what to ask for.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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