Was My Hajj Experience then Hajj, I'll probably put it in a March 13, 2001 when I finally finish it.
About a year ago I get a phone call from this guy who just moved here from Saudi Arabia. He had just moved to Buffalo so that he could attend Dental School at SUNY Buffalo. He needed a computer, and got my name number from another person in the Dental School. No problem. We determine that he needs to get a computer from the accursed CompUSA. I go with him to purchase the computer. After that I spend the night at his house setting up Arabic Enabled Windows, Arabic Office and America Online. After that I spend another couple of hours showing him how to use the computer. In the middle of all of this he asked me if I had ever made hajj. "Nope." He asks why. "Don't have the money." No problem he says. He says that he knows the son of the King of Saudi Arabia and he can get them to give me an invitation. It all sounded fine and dandy to me. No sweat off my back. At the time I didn't think it would come through, but what the hay. My friend, his name is Feraz, contacts me a couple of days later. He tells me he needs a copy of my, and my wife's passports. No problem. It was almost the hajj season already so he was in a big rush. At the time my son was only 8 months old, so my wife didn't want to go that year. I tell Feraz this. No problem. We put off the trip till next year (2001).
11 months go by, and no word from Feraz. I figure the trip is off, until I get a message from him one day on my answering machine. He tells me he needs to talk to me right away. I try to call him back, but his number seems to be disconnected. I jump on my bike and take a ride over to his house. He gives me the 411. It seems now I have to write a letter to Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd asking him to invite me to make the hajj this year. We were running out of time and the fact that I am the quintessential procrastinator didn't help. I gave him the letter about two weeks before the hajj season. He was pissed, to say the least. A couple of weeks go by and I finally I get a call from Feraz that I should be expecting a call from some dude from Saudi Arabia. This is where things start to get interesting.
Over the next few days I get three calls from Saudi Arabia. The first was from some Saudi Arabian woman who spoke next to no English. It took about 20 minutes to figure out that she didn't call me...and I didn't call her. Go figure. The second arrived at four in the morning. I don't know what the heck that guy was talking about. The last was the only one of any importance. Some guy leaves a message on my answering machine, in Arabic, shouting a bunch of numbers at the speed of light. I record the message onto my computer, write it to floppy disk and bring it to the mosque down the block from me to get it translated. Everyone was pretty busy, so they agree to listen to the message the next morning. I actually held off a day, being that procrastinator that I am, and showed up the following morning.
We finally sat down at 7am to try and decode the message. The person translating the message looks across the desk at me with the kind of look you get on your face when you see a person get kicked in the crotch. After listening to the message about 7 time he finally figured out that the numbers belong to a cellphone in Saudi Arabia. We gave it a call and Talaq answers. Talaq turns out to be the person in charge my invitation from Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd. Good news, I've been invited to make the hajj. Bad news, my flight leaves at 9:30pm from JFK. More bad news, my Visa and tickets are in Washington.
I rush home and wake up my wife. She didn't seem to be too thrilled about going to Saudi Arabia that day. She was even less excited about the fact that I was leaving in an hour and a half to goto Washington to pick up our Visas. After I gave her the skinny and bolted over the my job. It's about 7:30 am when I get to my job. They thought I was kidding when I told them I was taking 2 weeks off in an hour. I ran up to the robotics lab and coded for an hour and a half. Talk about coding under pressure. Alhumdulillah, no compilation errors. I figured testing this robot should hold them off for 2 weeks. I bolted home, grabbed my backpack and my skateboard, then raced to the airport. Washington D.C. here I come.
I land in God knows what airport and take a taxi to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The guard at the front door confiscated my backpack and skateboard and direct me to the Visa office. The people behind the desk are very much like those behind the desk at the DMV. Needless to say, they weren't very excited about helping me, especially since I had no idea what I was doing. I mentioned that I got an invitation to make hajj and some dude called me and gave me a bunch of numbers. At this point I proudly displayed my numbers. Of course, neither one of us knew what they where supposed to mean. She asked me who invited me and the only name I had was Talaq. That didn't help much. After this tribulation I thought I was going to get a spanking. Forget about Saudi Arabia, at this point I was hoping to make it home. I got away with being turned away with a sneer.
I spent the next 4-5 hours trying to get in touch with Talaq, but to no avail. Finally just before the Visa office closed I called the person who spoke to Talaq. He gave me some emotional support and told me to head back over there, give them the numbers and tell them they must find your Visa. He was also nice enough to give me new numbers.
Lucky for me there was a different person at the desk. I went about the same process, but told them to find my Visa this time. It worked. The woman went to find my Visa, but after 5 minutes or so, returned empty handed. She came back with the same question that the first person kept asking "Who invited you?" Talaq is the only name I know, that's my contact. She went back into the office for another 5 minutes, but this time returned with a piece of paper in her hand and a look on her face like she had just seen a ghost. "Your invitation came from Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd. You have to go to Saudi Arabia." At this point I'm thinking; of course, doesn't everyone's invitation come from Prince Abdul-Aziz bin Fahd? At this point she throws two applications at me and tells me to fill them out right away. "You have to have two pictures of each person." Needless to say I don't have two pictures of me and my wife. All I have are our passports. "Forget it, you don't have to have the pictures. You have to go to Saudi Arabia." As I'm sitting at the table filling out the applications the woman comes back and asks me for my vaccination records. Again, needless to say, I don't have any vaccination records. "Forget it, you don't need vaccination records. Hurry with the applications, you have to go." I turn to the guy sitting across the table from me, who I will refer to as the VisaPro, for an explanation. "Your invitation came from Prince Abdul-Aziz. You have to go to Saudi Arabia." Yeah, that's what they tell me. Maybe I'm just not getting it. "No...you have to go to Saudi Arabia. If Prince Abdul-Aziz finds out that you didn't get to Saudi Arabia because the Embassy held you up, they are going to lose their jobs. All those people back there are running back and forth to get you your Visa." I turn around and sure enough, people are running. "You better hurry with that application." As I'm filling out the application the VisaPro tells me too look behind the counter. I do so and see some guy that wasn't there before. "He is the (some title I can't remember). Without him no one can get a Visa. This is only the second time I've seen him, and I've been here everyday for years." Cool.
I finally get done with the application and get pushed of to the office of Saudi Arabian Airlines to pick up the tickets. At this point the story gets pretty boring for the next 24 hours. I get to the airport, wait for about 4 hours. I did meet one skater dude that was even older than I. That was cool. He kinda looked like Tony Hawk, and had a vicious scar on his knee. Turns out he skated with all the big boys that I grew up reading about. My wife caught the flight from JFK and I got it from an airport in D.C. The flight from D.C. to Jeddah was about 14 hours. I met a pilot on the plane that gave me the skinny on all the details of being a pilot. That rocked. I would have loved to node that, but I don't remember most of it. I should have taped it.
Finally we land in Saudi Arabia, after what felt like an eternity. Again, God knows what airport we landed it. All I know is that it was huge. Huge as in the size of a city. It also seemed to be in the middle of the desert.