27th November 2008 1.45am

We are in the plane. We are sitting in seats 23B and C. Guess who is in A? Rasheeda’s garrulous Uncle, Azard “Japo” Ali!The flight is pleasant, uneventful. I am forever seeing my two children in my mind’s eye, Ihsie and Nabsie….

We arrive at JFK. Everyone is collecting his / her luggage. I collect ours.  We are looking for Rasheeda’s US resident sister, Lima. She can’t be seen. I borrow a phone from another pilgrim. As we hand back the phone, Lima appears. We are set to go. But wait! Where is Japo? I remember seeing his bag in the baggage area. It meant that he hadn’t been cleared by Immigration. But he was in front of me. He was overtaking everybody and rushing to the front to be cleared. 

I see Sheriff, our group leader. I ask about Azard Japo Ali. Sheriff forms his hand, his fingers really, into a fist and flaps them at me. “Is he mouth that got him into trouble,” I surmised.  Everyone is now out. But Japo is still not visible. Images of him in handcuffs and being escorted to a waiting plane, form in my mind. But wait, you don’t go into a plane “just so”. You first have to appear before a Judge or Magistrate. Images of him being carted off to prison to be interrogated form in my mind. I walk anxiously to the exit point of Immigration and Customs. Japo is emerging. A very short, very petite female officer is directing him outside.

“Thank God!” I murmured to myself. “He is out”. “What happened?” I asked as I met up with him. “Is meh name,” he replied timidly. He was white like chalk. “The fella say that my name look like a name he know.”  I decided not to pursue the matter.

Rasheeda and Lima both breathed a collective sigh of relief on seeing him.  Outside JFK is bitterly cold. It is 37 degrees F. Japo is dressed in a cotton ‘T’ shirt with the words “Eat Football, Sleep Football-Drink Coco-Cola” written on the front. He has an equally thin, dress pants and a pair of leather slippers that is a shade too small for him, which lets half of his heel outside the slipper.  As we open the door to step outside, the bitterly cold weather bites into his unprotected body. He dips into his suitcase and pulls out an old, worn blanket not more than five feet long and four feet wide.

“Hee,Hee!,” he giggled. “I get this blanket about five, six years ago from BWIA!”

On the way to Lima’s house, we stop to buy breakfast. We purchase  roti and baigan choka, bake and saltfish, roti and smoked herring, roti and baigan and aloo. We also purchase coffee from a Dunkin Donuts.  Today is the US Thanksgiving holiday. The shops are closed and the roads are almost empty. The weather remains bitterly cold. We chat with Lima for awhile. She is busy preparing a huge Thanksgiving dinner, which later proved to be extremely delicious.

I  tried to sleep at Lima’s, but I couldn’t. We talk to Nabsie and Ihsie; he seems O.K. but Nabsie definitely is emotionally distraught.

The day passes quickly. Krishna, Lima’s husband, who was at work returns and he eats with us. Sometime later, Hakim, my brother in law, Rasheeda’s brother, drops in from work. He is delighted to see us, and we likewise.

We arrive back at JFK airport at 7 o’clock and our Amir, Sheriff is upset. He wanted us at the airport at 6’o clock. The flight is for 10:30 p.m.  After a considerably long time, we finally check in for the next leg of the flight to Amman, Jordan. Our luggage is tagged for our final destination, Jeddah. Uncle Japo was at it again. The Homeland Security officers were directing passengers to remove their shoes and belt etc. as part of their now routine, pre-boarding security check.

“Please remove your shoes,” directed the officer.  “But I have on a slippers. I don’t have shoes,” protested Japo. The officer glared at him. “You must remove your footwear.” Apparently remembering his morning incident, when he was pulled in and questioned, he decides to comply.

Soon we are in the air on our way to Amman, Jordan. The flight is eleven hours. We are served two lavish meals.

Japo continues to be talkative- striking up conversation with just about everybody. Perhaps that’s good, but I wish he wouldn’t parade up and down the aisle with his toothpaste and toothbrush.

The Jordanian airline is equipped with GPS-enabled moving maps feature that allows one to see the terrain over which one is traveling, the speed of the aircraft, its altitude, the distance from the destination, the time –just about everything that one would wish to know about the journey.  The flight is long. Rasheeda and I join our salah. We landed in Amman a little after 4 p.m. on November 28th.  We are to take a connecting flight for Jeddah at 10 p.m.

At Amman, we are to change into Ihram-the men that is, the women had changed in New York.  It was difficult to find a place to shower and change in the airport at Amman. After trying about four bathrooms, they all turned out to be toilets.  At one of the toilets, there was a cleaner who told us that we could shower there. When we understood what he was saying we realized that he suggested we use the bidet shower hose, normally used to wash oneself after “one’s and two’s”, to actually shower! Guess what? Some of us actually did.

I made my niyyah (intention) for Umrah and donned my Ihram. I somehow managed to get the two pieces of cloth over my body and a strange feeling came over me. It was a feeling of sobriety-of detached calmness of serenity of-look -I can’t explain how I felt. But something told me that I was about to undertake something very important…

I went to the prayer area in the airport and performed Maghrib and Isha together. Then I performed the two rakaah nawafil as intention for the Umrah. Having performed all my salah, I went in search of Rasheeda (my dear wife). I knew where she would be, she was sitting in the gate four area. She saw me. I noticed something on her face that I had never seen before in our twenty four years of marriage. I was beyond love- husband and wife love, that is. It was look I can’t find words to describe what I saw in her face- love was there, yes, respect, yes, but it was beyond those emotions. Maybe, it was something out of this world. But in that moment, I have never felt closer to her and my heart became overflowing with caring and kindness and love and that indefinable something that told me that we belonged to each other, both in this life and in the Hereafter, Insha Allah.

We were some distance away from each other still and when I greeted her “AsSalaam  Alaikum,” “I am ready.” I told her about the trials of bathing etc. and advised her to perform her Maghrib and Isha that I had already done so. She said she would pray right where she was and immediately got up, spread her mat and performed her salah. We boarded the Royal Jordanian airline (the same one that came from New York) and were on our way to Jeddah.

On the plane, resonated with the Talbiyah –Labaik allahuma labaik. “Here I am O God, at Thy command.”---! as most , if not all the passengers were on their way to Hajj. We were served dinner. We were all hungry and ate well.  The pilot announced the station of the Miqat and the guy next to me explained what the pilot had said. He completed his meal quickly and performed the two rakaah. He was a Jordanian, living in Canada and this was his first Hajj too.  I followed him in eating eating quickly and performing the prayer. Rasheeda did likewise.