I rose early this morning with more energy than usual, and less reluctance. Finally today, almost three years into our stay on the Arabian Peninsula, we are embarking on Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage of Islam. The opportunity to travel to the holy cities certainly added weight to our decision to make the move here in the first place, and early on we were excited about the prospect. But during that first year, which seemed to be all trough and no crest, the idea of travel to these places fell off our radar. We were down on so many aspects of culture, really struggling to figure out how to navigate, looking for circles of comfort and most often failing. Day-to-day experiences that got me down were things like the entry fee (!) to my local green space, smog, noise, and traffic that wasn’t so much a case of choked roads but of thoughtless, arrogant, and narcissistic drivers. I left the house daily, but only to cross the beach road and walk up and down along the Gulf, removed enough from the noises to reconnect a little with the greater stuff.

The kids were busy with school that year, another exploration that didn’t pan out in the end, but a worthwhile experience. Their 6:30 AM bus rides, uneaten lunches, and hours of homework seemed to indicate–and this turned out to be true–that not a lot of academic growth was taking place, but that they were learning an awful lot about meanness, racism, social class, and consumerism.

That first year included a short trip to Jordan. There, we visited Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the Holy Land; the grave of Prophet Shu’aib; and the baptism site of Jesus (upon all of them be peace). We visited Roman ruins at Umm Qais in the north, we saw the Dead Sea, we stopped at the Cave of the Sleepers. This was just the dose of eternity and connection we needed, and for months after, we marveled. This helped us carry on.

Our second year, after leaving Dubai and making some big decisions–bringing the kids home to work on school with me was probably the biggest–we took a short trip to Kenya. En route to Maasai Mara Park, with its breathtaking animal life, miraculous rains, and the most succulent and rich-scented earth I could have hoped for, we stopped to ponder the Great Rift Valley. The Garden and the Fall. At that moment it lay itself bare before us, asking for just a moment’s consideration.

The staying, we have found, is something we can only do with generous and appropriate punctuation. This has meant a trip each year–which, let’s be honest, is great. We’re forced, if by the fatigue of the day-to-day, to take advantage of living in an international travel hub. We get out not only to get home and visit family (we do that too, on both continents, each year), but to learn something new. This year, we thought long and hard about where to go. We all still have places on our list that we wish we could see, and frankly, we wouldn’t mind going back to those places we’ve been, but Mecca and Medina have their own magnetism. Finally, this year, the kids are both big enough and tall enough–and maybe worldly enough–that we believe they are ready to walk the seven circles and the seven lengths. Deciding to fund the Hajj of my father-in-law tipped the scale, and I commenced the nagging: this year, we go on Umrah.

It took about two months of that nagging.

See, the husband’s work-and-related-travel schedule can be a fickle thing, so it can be hard to pin him down. This year, thankfully, we have this period, right here, of relative (and I do mean relative) calm, when he can access some of that precious vacation time and cancel those conference calls. It’s a hard thing to learn, how to push hard, firmly enough, without becoming a real nag. Keeping the wishes positive, pulling sometimes instead of pushing. But finally, we took a walk one afternoon to a Hajj/Umrah agent to inquire, and this trip was finally–and suddenly–set in motion.

Our window of opportunity is narrow, so, less than twenty-four hours after visiting the office, we were in the waiting room of the public health office, queued up for shots. For whatever reason, the kids’ bodies hardly noticed the immune system onslaught, but the parents needed almost forty-eight hours to recover. Vaccination certificates in hand, we returned to the agent and booked the tour. Unlike the usual travel experience, there were no glossy pamphlets, so we took to the Internet, researching the to-do lists, packing lists and prep recommendations for Umrah. Happily, I had begun–at my husband’s urging–to read to the kids, an hour each night of Martin Ling’s biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This has prepped them with a lot of information on the history and geography related to the cities and the tribes of the area.

Of course, there was some shopping in preparation for the trip–ihram garments, lots of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer, food for the trip. Packing, it would seem, is entirely my job, while the kids have been working hard at school assignments, so that we can leave all that entirely behind us and be present in every moment, to the best of our abilities. Bedtimes have been early in an effort to bank the rest, and we’ve been eating home-cooked food and lots of vegetables to support our health–funny, shouldn’t we always be doing these things, anyway?

And today, insha’allah, we embark, with prayers of gratitude for the opportunity, prayers of trust for our safety, and prayers that Allah accept our pilgrimage and use it to draw us into more perfect alignment with the paths He has designed for our destinies.

I hope that I can take some photos, and I hope to record all I can of the trip–more for me than for anyone else, of course–and I will share what I can.

Peace and blessings, friends.

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