UrbanLegends: Serial Expat Jameela loves Mecca!

Jameela is a thirty something ESL university teacher who blogs about expat life in countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, providing much needed recent and up-to-date information for future expats on her blog Diary of a Serial Expat.

Earlier this week I published a guest post on Jameela’s blog, describing what life in Pakistan is like for a Muslim expat. Now, in a Ramadan special, she answers the UrbanLegends interview questions about her favourite city in the world Mecca (Makkah), Saudi Arabia.

Downtown Mecca, Al Azziziyah district

Downtown Mecca, Al Azziziyah district

What is your favourite city in the world, and why?

Up until very recently I would have said Cardiff in Wales or even Sidi Bousaid in Tunisia but that was before my first trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Mecca has now become my no. 1 favourite city.

 

When did you first visit the city, and what was your experience like?

Less than a week after moving to Saudi Arabia I went to Mecca to perform Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage Muslims make to the city of Mecca outside the dedicated period of the main pilgrimage, called Hajj. I was very excited to finally see Mecca with my own eyes and what I experienced was beyond anything I could have imagined. It was so overwhelming I cried, seeing the Kabaa in front of me for the first time, having prayed towards it for 8 years was something I will never forget. There is also a very peaceful, relaxing feel to the place: imagine a place with millions of people in the same small place and yet it is fairly quiet and it’s a very powerful thought that all these people are here for the same thing. Hard to explain but by far the most intense experience of my life. Ohhh and hearing the Adhan (call to prayer) while being in Mecca is amazing, again made me cry.

the famous clock tower can be seen from anywhere in the city of Mecca.

the famous clock tower can be seen from anywhere in the city of Mecca.

What is your favourite place to go/thing to do in this city?

Of course praying one of the 5 daily prayer there is my favourite thing to do, but outside prayer time I like to go to the clock tower building and take the elevators as high as allowed to guests (people who stay in those hotels can go higher) which is about the 12th floor. There you have a breathtaking view of the Kabaa and the surrounding areas. Best view in town.

Shot from the 9th floor the clock tower building

Shot from the 9th floor the clock tower building

Do you have a special memory attached to this city, and what is it?

Ever since travelling to Mecca became possible (I am based in Jeddah, less than an hour away) I had this dream of praying in front of the Kabaa. It happened the second time I was there. We were on the top ring, first row so the Kabaa was right in front of us and we realized we were actually right behind the imam too. Performing prayer that day was incredible.

I took this picture of the Kabaa the second time we visited as we stayed 4 days and could take our time

I took this picture of the Kabaa the second time we visited as we stayed 4 days and could take our time

If you could dedicate a sound to this city, which one would it be?

The Adhan from Mecca, live!

 

If this city was a person, what would he/she be like?

The most quiet, peaceful and content person, without a worry in the world

Crowds of people arriving at the Mosque, the place is packed 24/7

Crowds of people arriving at the Mosque, the place is packed 24/7

Do you have any insiders tips for visitors to this city?

Yes I have 2 in fact:

  • One was given to me before I visited for the first time and I’m so glad I had remembered. Bring a little plastic bag to carry your shoes inside the mosque. You never know which way you might come out so it’s best to keep your shoes with you at all times. I had a little children’s backpack for my son’s things and I used to put my flip-flop in it.
  • To ladies intending to perform Umrah, bring a pair of scissors with you. Barbers nears the mosque only cater for men and your Umrah won’t be completed until you cut a lock of hair. Take a pair with you and use the many washrooms to cut your hair after Umrah so you can get ouf of ihram.

 

Is there anything you don’t like about this city? (be honest!)

Unfortunately the hotels closest to the mosque offer poor quality rooms and it’s a shame. They know people are very keen to stay within walking distance of the mosque so they assume that any standards will be acceptable. It’s a disgrace, some hotel owners should be ashamed of themselves. Outside of the major “peak times” such as Hajj and Ramadan I would advise taking a taxi to Al Azziziyah district where they can find cheaper and better hotels. All those hotels offer free transport to the Mosque 5 times a day.

Approaching the Mosque from the back. Large billboards send messages to people and also display the temperature; 47 degrees Celsius that day!

Approaching the Mosque from the back. Large billboards send messages to people and also display the temperature; 47 degrees Celsius that day!

If you could sum up this city in a word, what would it be?

Peaceful

Jameela's favourite shot of Mecca, without any building cranes in the way

Jameela’s favourite shot of Mecca, without any building cranes in the way

Has this city been featured in any works of art, cinema or literature?

Mecca is a historical site of great importance to Muslims. Having studied some of the history of the Islamic Empire it is quite interesting to find yourself in the exact same locations. Seeing the mountains around Mecca in particular was a powerful experience for me, as soon as I saw the mountains it reminded me of the battle of Uhud and I was thinking: wow I’m here! I guess it would be the same thing in other historical places such as Rome or Athens…

 

If you enjoyed this interview, don’t forget to check out Jameela and her musings on social media!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/diaryofanexpat

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DiaryofanExpat

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/+JameelaDeen

Comments (6)

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans Reply

    WOW… What an awesome read. So cool to see cities through the eyes of someone that loves it. I really like the picture of Kabaa, I feel like I have seen this in a movie or documentary or something, I wonder what it would feel like to be in a place that was so dedicated to prayer and religion. Thanks for the insight.

    Hope you are having a super weekend my friend. Happy hellos from a freezing cold Canberra. 🙂

    June 20, 2015 at 11:39 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks for reading Anna! Yes, the Kabaa turns up in a lot of media actually, it’s basically the centre of the Islamic world. I’d love to go there one day – I’ll report back to you then!!

      Hope you’re doing well! Sending salam from a hot and humid Lahore! 😀

      June 21, 2015 at 11:36 pm
  • Agness Reply

    Mecca is incredibly inspiring. I am not surprise you love it so much!

    June 21, 2015 at 3:11 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      I know!! I can’t wait to go myself!! 😀

      June 24, 2015 at 1:45 am
  • Andrew Reply

    fantastic! I love Jameela’s blog, but this personal experience relayed here is a wonderful read and the photos help to imagine the place.

    June 21, 2015 at 10:52 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks for reading Andrew!! She really captures the feeling of the place.. the devotion, the awe….

      June 24, 2015 at 1:45 am

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