May 18, 2012

A woman traveling on her own to Mecca

Every year over three million people descend upon Mecca from all corners of the world to obey one of the five pillars in Islam. It is not a trip for the weak-hearted, but an enormous and strenuous undertaking. Women cannot travel to Mecca without a mah’ram which can be a brother, a father, a nephew or a male relative in the family. This article will deal only with dress code, behavior, and what is and what is not allowed in the holy city of Mecca.

Behavior in the holy city

At hajj classes a few months before leaving for Mecca, the imam leading the group said something I will never forget: “One of the most important requirements for this trip is sab’r – patience – and you will need a lot of it. From the moment you arrive in Jeddah you will be tested. You might have to wait four or six hours for a bus to take you into Medina, and then when the bus arrives, the driver first has to have his tea and his cigarette. And when he is ready he leaves. Here, when you are traveling, you are traveling by South African rules. There, you are traveling by their rules. Don’t try to be smart with the Arab.”

Do’s and don’ts

• Think carefully about your accommodation and spend an extra thousand for a room just for you and one other person.

• If you are a smoker do not travel with a non smoker. Women are not allowed to smoke on the street and end up smoking in their rooms.

• Travel with someone you know well and have been friends with for a long time. This makes it easier to negotiate things.

• Make sure that what is in the contract is what you get; it is too late when you are standing in front of a hotel and your name is not on the list.

• Negotiate things like showers and whether the air conditioning should be switched on before or after prayers at the Kabaa. The same with switching off the light at night. Some people pray the whole night and leave it on making it difficult for the other people to sleep.

• Travel light. You need only two bras, two sets of ihram, three panties, two pairs of socks as things dry easily. You wash out one pair and wear the other.

• Take all your vitamins and medications and make sure you have enough to last the whole six weeks you are gone. Have a doctor’s prescription as they are strict with drugs.

• Have a bladder prescription from the doctor and an all-round antibiotic in case you contract bronchitis or pneumonia from going in and out of air conditioned premises.

• Pack in a box or two of glycerine suppositories, especially for those outdoor toilets where you have to squat.

• Buy a good pair of walking shoes for that long road through the tunnel.

• Have a cloth bag with a good shoulder strap where you can keep the rolled up prayer mat, bottle of water, and dates.

• Bring along a piece of elastic to tie around your waist so that your robe can be hoisted up around your hips when you go to the outside toilet which is wet.

• Have enough bottled water and toilet paper if you are going to visit a site which will take longer than an hour.

• Drink lots of water and avoid sugary drinks.

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