This photo was taken at JFK Airport NYC, before the 7:00 pm Pan Am Flight #12 from NYC to London – Tuesday March 14, 1967. This was the first MSA (Muslim Students Association) sponsored Hajj. Several notable Muslims are in this photo (click to enlarge): Daoud Haroon is in the center with arms outstretched. The Emir al Hajj was from Algeria his name is Ben-Yusef: he is on the far right of the first row, wearing a light colored jacket. The man in the second row, second from the left is Abdullah Ghandistani, a well known writer and mathematician from Philadelphia. Taught Math at Temple University, Phila, Penn. Third row right behind Daoud Haroon with glasses on is the well known Albanian scholar and writer: Imam Vehbi Ismail, Graduate of al Azhar University, son of the late Mufti of Albania prior to the Communist Invasion of Albania in the late 1930’s. The late Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, then Wallace D. Mohammad – son of the late Elijah Mohammad founder of the Nation of Islam in America (The Black Muslims) can be seen top left corner, smiling that lovely smile of his. That Hajj occured two months before the Egypt/Israeli June War. The scaffolding was being put in place for the renovation of the Haram Sharif – so the old walls were still prominent – much of the old Turkish Architecture in Mecca was still in place – before it was replaced with the high-rise Hotels that now blot out the sun and dominate the view. Check out the old Pan-Am logo on the shoulder bag to the right front corner. Click here to view a collection of photos from the pilgrimage: https://mancebomosaic.pixieset.com/hajj1967
The Moths Circling the Candle Flame of The Kaaba: Hajj 67 By Daoud A. Haroon.
For almost fifty years I was never predisposed to talk about Hajj to my closest friends. As far as I was concerned I had never really performed Hajj.
I had convinced myself that my prayers and my sacrifices had not been accepted because I had consistently lost my temper. I was consistently brought into some type of encounter with people that invalidated my original intention (niyyat). I had read Malcolm X’s account of Hajj and related strongly when I was there to the many obstacles that he encountered, particularly with the formal and informal interrogations that happen regularly, at least they did during the time I traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1967. For me it was a done deal…no Hajj for me and no use of the title Hajji.
It was after thinking these things through that I finally realized that just as no two people experience anything the same way, why should I expect my travels to be like anyone else’s or to expect that my experiences and observations would even follow suit to any book I had read on the subject. Most certainly God must have intended everything that happened to me to happen. And it is from these truly remarkable memories and insights that I have decided to share with you. Indeed one never knows what God has in store for you.
As I look at the group photo taken at JFK on the day we all left for Arabia I can’t help but remember that for the most part of my great adventure I spent more time with just five of the faces shown. Wallace, Ghandistani, Abdullah Vehbi Ismail and the Emir al Hajj Muhammad Bin Yusef. The other brothers were cordial and friendly and as I remember solicitous as befits the role of the Pilgim to Mecca.
Most were University Students registered in schools throughout the continental United States, a few had come in from Canada, Arabs of one sort or another from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. And the others were from Pakistan and India and I recognize one brother from Multan, a city in Northern India, who used to dye his hair and his beard black. Toward his right wearing a light colored fur Jinnah cap was a Dr. Jamal who later sent me a set of Qur’ans from Pakistan, one small pocket sized which I have either given away or lost and the other medium sized (8×10) written in Arabic, which I still have in my collection. Ahmadi the Indonesian brother who visited me at my loft in Chinatown, New York, with Abdellah Ahmad whom I have written about in other accounts is missing from the photo. Let me see: 6 Arabs, 9 Indo-Pak, 1 Albanian, 4 Afro-Americans.
I awoke in the middle of the night and rose up from my sleeping bag on the floor to the sound of my two sleeping companions; Wallace D. Mohammad & Imam Vehbi Ismail. Their breathing was deep and I could hear their sinking deeper and deeper in to greater relaxation, their bodies tired and weary after traveling half way around the world. And a strange thought occurred; that we had traveled half way around the world to find ourselves laying on the floor in this dark room at the center of the world.
If you had asked me the name and the address of this small alleyway in Mecca I could not tell you…all that I could tell you was that we were here in Mecca in a dark room.
My attention was drawn to the thudding sound of feet all moving in the same direction, out of the window and to the left in the direction of the Kaaba, from which direction we three, in the company of thirty other odd travelers had completed our Umrah and our first Tawaf around the Kaaba, the undeniable Sanctum Sanctorum for an estimated 2.08 billion Muslims in the world.
I envisioned this Kaaba (X) point in space and time as the very center of the world and all the streets in Mecca pointing their way to the Kaaba. I allowed my imagination to drift closer to the ceiling and then to the roof and then further into space, each time envisioning the streets and then the roads of Arabia and outward until I could envision all the roads of all the countries of the world pointing in this direction. I then began to envision all of these 2.08 billion Muslims around the world facing the same direction adjusting their compasses and aligning themselves in accordance to the Qibla or Mihrab on the wall of their homes that indicate the proper direction and in their mosques. With this ever increasing overview I began to envision this scene as a gigantic cosmic sized asterix. And in an unexpected instance I saw the center as a giant candle flame and all the lines leading to it filled with moths and butterflies all dressed in their white Ihram moving toward the flame to be consumed in absolute brilliance.
While in the holy city each time I visited the Kaaba I had this thought. Since then, no matter where I am on the planet earth, and I have been blessed to have traveled to many countries, each time I stand for prayer I am blessed with this vision. It may occur at any time and at any place.
The First Miracle I witnessed during Hajj
I had been told years earlier by my teacher and namesake Sheikh Daoud that when I arrived in Mecca I would in all likelihood would experience many strange and mysterious things. I am certain that he had no intention of trying to scare me, and I remember his telling me of some of the strange things he had seen and experienced during his several visits to the Holy cities of Mecca Mukarama and Medina Munawara.
His first meeting with a Saint (Wali) his observing The Cow Woman, his reviving an African Diplomat at Muna who had been overcome by a beam of sunlight that had leaked through the top of the tent. His re-occuring dream of Ghalib Mohammad’s wife Afifah reminding him to pray for her at the Ritual of the Holding, etc. his receiving a solid gold Rolex from King Abdullah, King Faisal’s older brother, etc.
Nothing can prepare you for a miracle, they come as naturally as rain that falls from the sky and yes many men consider that act within itself a miracle particularly when it rains in the desert, and it does but very rarely.
Image if you will thousands of people encircling the Kaaba, perhaps even more people than you could ever count, spreading out from the center of the courtyard in concentric circles that grew larger and larger as they expanded outward until this very large courtyard was filled with endless circles, people hand in hand like endless strands of prayer beads or a spiral of a chain, each person a link, all moving counter clockwise around the Kaaba.
What are the chances of a break occurring in this mammoth fine lined bulls eye at any point in the circle which would allow for a straight unimpeded roadway to appear that ran from the Black Stone at the center to the outermost ring of the circle of spiritual revelers? I ask you again gentle reader, just what are the odds?
Well to my utter amazement my group of thirty plus had just entered the courtyard and had taken our places side by side and hand in hand to join what appeared to be the very last line to fit into the courtyard.
If you looked toward the center you could see the brick masonry of the Kaaba and from about midway to the summit it was covered with a gold embroidered black cloth (Kiswah) which at this time was drawn up half way to keep the ecstatic revelers from tearing it to pieces. The golden embroidery of the verses of the Qur’an that circled the Kaaba also caught the light of the sun and thoughts of the news streaming around the periphery of Times Square came to mind in a momentary flash.
Brother Abdallah from Detroit was holding my left hand, I think that Dr. Muhammad Ghandistani from Philly may have been holding my right hand. We had been drilled since we arrived and cautioned not to break the chain, and by all means never let your partners hands go… We had name tags pinned to our shirts that also had our address in Mecca just in case anything unexpected took place.
No sooner than we had begun to move to right in unison with the words of Tawaaf [La Baik! La Baik!/Here we are!] on our lips, a strange silence descended and my eyes were drawn from the right to left and lo and behold I could not believe my eyes. A straight lane opened up, and at the very center of the I could see the silver cover that hangs over the Black Stone. I couldn’t believe my eyes but it was real, very real.
I felt Abdallah’s hand tighten and his grip gradually loosened and I sensed he was going to bolt, and bolt he did, he pulled away from both the men whose hands he was holding and ran straight down the lane that had opened before our eyes. I watched him for a few seconds and then the gap closed around him and he was gone, disappeared, swallowed up in a swirling sea of white, not to be seen again for several days. Yes he had taken the dive and was submerged in the ocean of the Kaaba for three days before we found him.
He later confirmed that when the lane opened up mysteriously before him he heard a voice that called him and left us to answer that call. He also confirmed that no person blocked the way as he approached his destination – the Black Stone…a clear clean unimpeded WAY.
The story of what happened after his miraculous Tawaaf is just as miraculous. According to him after he had kissed the black stone and swirled around the inner edges of the Kaaba for a few more turns he later found himself wandering around the courtyard lost. He began a confused search for us but due to both fatigue and hunger Abdullah had to get off his feet and found a cool shady spot within the cloistered inner walls that also offered a spacious view of the courtyard.
He waited, and waited, and waited. He said that every now and then someone would offer him water, particularly from among the many “Zem-Zemi’s” that are employed to continuously circle around inside the complex labyrinth to offer the pilgim’s cups of water. From time to time he heard an English speaking voice and implored those people to help him. Unfortunately he had lost his ID tag with his address and the exact location of our rented apartment. A few times people actually took him outside into the streets of Mecca and they walked the streets looking for a familiar place, but to no avail.
When night time arrived he prayed his sunset and late night prayers at the Kaaba and found a quiet spot within the cloisters to lay down and sleep. A few of the patrol guards were aware of his dilemma and brought him food. But lost he was for the next three days.
The third morning when our group was performing another round around the sacred site we heard a voice call out from the cloisters, it was our long lost brother returning to us from his long ordeal he had a beaming smile on his face and a look that exclaimed that he had just returned from the trip of a lifetime.
Jebel Nur: The Mountain of Light
As the photographs that I took while on top of Jebel Nur will attest to, the sensation that while there you feel as if you are on top on the world looking down at the creation. Each direction you turn there is an endless panorama of undulating desert scenes and the rising and falling of small mountains and sprawling amoeba shaped valleys.
Coming down was much easier than going up, however on the way up I saw a great many things that surprised me. One of them was that at every turn in the numerous trails of the ascent there were little black people, actually the smallest people I have ever seen outside of the pygmies, they were huddled together in small groups squatting in whatever shade they could find, all with hands outstretched crying and whining in childlike voices: “Barak-Allah Hajji…Baraka-Allah”… Something (alms) for the Sake of God, ie; May God reward you for your generosity, Oh! Pilgim.
Many people have reported seeing monkeys here at Jebel Nur, monkeys that were somewhat annoying or troublesome, and I have often wondered if what they saw here at Jebel Nur were these very small people.
During and after the Hajj I inquired about these strange people and I received many different and sometimes amusing answers. Some folks suggested that they were monkeys dressed up like people and others that they were indeed related to the pygmies of Central Africa and yet a few others offered that they were related to the Nubian woman Halima who had served as the Wet Nurse for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Who they really were I may never know, one of the many mysteries one encounters during the Hajj.
Speaking of miracles there are a few things that I have experienced that I would classify as miracles and several of them occurred during this pilgrimage and one in particular would occur years later in 1989/80 in Iran when I had the pleasure to have met the Ayatollah Marashi Najfi [peace be with him] a man so old and frail the day I met him at his home that he could barely summon the strength to pray while seated on his bedroom/study floor. Then later that night I was brought to the Shrine of Hazratah Masumeh by Sheikh Zaki to witness what Zaki describes as one of the Miracles of Qum to my amazement at the time of the calling of the Maghrib Adhan I saw the aged Ayatollah enter through the gates of the shine standing very tall and erect walking at a brisk pace into the spacious courtyard which contained thousands of eager pilgims, all there to witness the great miracle that was to occur before their eyes. The old man untied his turban and draped the trailing end over his left shoulder and led the faithful congregation through the sunset prayer in a swift and precise manner which I have yet to experience again. He performed each stage of the prayer with exacting precision and his rising and falling were impeccable, his voice was clearly audible above the sound of the evenings rustling breeze and the sounds of flocks of wailing pigeons that circled overhead all during this miraculous prayer.
As soon as the prayer was over he raised his hands and recited a very brief duah, rose and could be seen making his way out of the shrine through the gates that he had entered and into a waiting taxi cab that was as ancient as he, and off he went into the night.
However back to Jebel Nur. As I was making my way down the mountain following a narrow well trodden path I noticed a woman standing a few feet away standing as if in silent meditation with her hands folded under her protruding stomach looking far off into the distance, she was dressed in white and was obviously in the last stages of pregnancy, as I approached she turned my way and smiled, when she noticed the camera hanging around my neck she raised her hand and gestured to me to take her picture. I approached the lady and gave her my Salaams, she returned my salaams and gestured again assuming a very girlishly stance. I took several photos of her and began to make my way down the mountain.
Once I arrived at the bottom there were droves of people standing around stretching and reorganizing themselves and I saw the lady standing with a small group of people who by all appearances were from Central or West Africa. I approached the group to ask the lady for her address so I could send her a copy of the photo and one of her companions spoke for her and informed me that she had not asked to have her photo taken to receive a copy, she had never had her portrait taken before with such an expensive looking camera and was honored to pose for me. The second amazing thing I was about to learn was that this group of people had set out for Hajj three years earlier, they had walked from West Africa to Arabia on foot. They were preparing themselves for the long trip back from whence they came, and asked for my prayers and duah that they make it back home safely.
Oh! About the address, they had abandoned their home in the village and by the time they got back, if they did get back, the village may have moved to another location. To quote Fats Waller once again: “One Never Knows Do On
The Woman In The Desert (At Badr)
Traveling north to visit the grave of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the city of Medina we stopped at a place near Badr, the site of a historic battle that took place during the early days of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
It was a very small place that looked more like a tent than a building with a few typical raised wicker benches to rest on. There was a large grilled open fire pit that was covered with pungent smelling fish roasting over small piles of smoldering charcoal.
We had arrived in a small yellow school bus and we pulled into the space alongside the building with the front of the bus facing into the vast panorama of the desert. I was the last one off the bus and I stood there stretching my body and looking far out into the desert where you could see the faint outline of mountains on the horizon, someone in the bus said they were called the ‘mountains of the moon’ and from my perspective they did have a rather lunarscape look to them. It was quiet out there, very quiet and from time to time you could see tiny wisps of sand and dust forming into dust devils that barely rose above the surface of the desert floor and disembodied themselves into small mounds that further disembodied themselves into tiny scattered puffs of sand hanging on the hot dry desert air.
The smell of roasting fish was in the air as well as the smell of tobacco, several of the bus drivers and cabbies were huddled around a portable TV puffing away on water pipes and cigarettes cheering Muhammad Ali on to yet another of his recorded triumphs. Everywhere we travelled the people were gathered to watch the great champion demolish his foes in the ring and the sound of his name rang out throughout the Middle east and the Third World, loud and clear. Ali had intended to have travelled on this initial MSA sponsored Hajj, but much to the dismay of King Feisal and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia just before we were scheduled to leave the U.S. Government had taken away his passport and put him in jail on draft evasion. But that is another story for another time.
Every now and then my comrades would call out to me to come and join the festivities, they couldn’t see me because I was on the other side of the bus. Several times I started to make my way to the inviting smell of fish and freshly cooked bread, but something kept me standing there as if in expectation of something or someone that was to soon appear.
As I was scanning the horizon I did a double take on something in the distance that appeared to be moving in my direction, it was there and in an instant it was gone, almost like looking at a surf boarder who disappears momentarily when the next high wave takes to the fore and the surfer recedes as if drifting backwards into the trough between the waves. Each time I looked out in that direction the wavering apparition became a little larger, the thought entered my mind for a few seconds that perhaps it might be the intense heat of the desert creating an mirage or an illusion.
Eventually after a few minutes of steady looking and clearing my eyes with the backs of my hands I could clearly see that it was a person walking with a steady and determined gait, that amorphous person was soon identified as a woman wearing a long dress and hanging headscarf trailing behind her swift stride, and she stopped momentarily as if taking a long look at me from afar. I could not make out her face but I knew instinctively that she was looking right at me and in her own way she was ‘sizing me up.’ Hmmm…What’s this all about?
It was as if we had embarked on a game of looking and not looking at each other…I would look down for a few moments and when I looked up she had moved even closer and stopped, this went on until she was about 35 or 40 feet away, and I could see her face and her eyes that now seemed to burn into my eyes and my head. She paused and raised her arms and her open hands in a gesture that both demanding and asking politely to give her ‘something”. I dropped my eyes again and she was now close enough for me to see the tattoos on her face and on her hands. Her face was blank and expressionless but her eyes were challenging me and I had no clue what she wanted.
I can honestly say that for a few fleeting moments I became a bit terrified of this woman who had floated into my life from the depths of the desert and now standing in front of me defiantly demanding something from me that I had no idea what it could be.
The fact that no one in our group could see what was going on from the other side of the bus added to my feeling of isolation and the thought: “was this really happening?” sped through the synaptic matrix of my mind in split second flashes that defied the speed of sound.
She had now come close enough to me that I could smell the fragrance of her clothes that closely reminded me of the smell of an oriental carpet shop in an old bazaar. Her eyes were ever more intense and something deep inside of me told me to withdraw, and I abruptly turned around and began to walk alongside the bus whose yellow paint had taken on an equally intense glow. As I reached the back of the bus I saw a small clay house to my right, I saw my companions sitting around the open fire and my nose began to fill with the scent of roasted fish and the air bound commingling of other scents that drew me ever nearer to the fete. Stranger even was the fact that everyone including our host was momentarily frozen in time and space mid stride whatever action they were performing.
They greeted me and one brother remarked that I must have drunken quite a bit of water to have stood there for so long. I smiled at his insinuation as fleeting thoughts of the lady sped through my mind. The meal was more than adequate and the outside of the fish was charred and flavorful as was the bottom of the rice in the pot. We sat and rested for a long while, sipped hot cardamom and mint flavored tea and resumed our excited conversation about how long it would take us to reach Medina, all thoughts of the lady had disappeared just as she had disappeared.
As we made our way to the bus to board I glanced down to see the footprints in the sand where two people had been facing each other and the long trails leading to the spot and away from the spot from which they came. As we drove away I scanned the stretch of desert as far as I could see but there was no sign of her to be seen anywhere.
Several weeks later, after I returned to NYC, I began to wake up during the middle of the night and surprisingly she would be standing next to my bed with her eyes fixed on me with her arms outstretched. This went on for a week or so until at dinner one night with Sheikh Daoud and Mother Khadija at the Mosque I broached the subject after the meal and both Mother and Baba Sheikh thought long and hard before Mother asked if I had greeted the lady and greeted her with the traditional Muslim welcoming greeting of: Salaam Aleikum (peace be unto you). This thought had never occurred to me…even in the desert I had failed to give this woman the simplest and most basic respect. Mother then suggested that the next time she appears, to greet her properly and ask her if she would like to sit down and have a glass of water.
That night after I had been brought to shame by my own confession of a lack of Adab. I went home eager to make amends, hoping when I arose in the middle of the night she would appear and I could give her my salaams, offer her water and ask her forgiveness, unfortunately she never returned.
That was over fifty years ago and although I still harbor a strong desire to see her again standing in the near darkness of my room I have a strange feeling that I have had glimpses of this woman in the many unknown and un-named faces of thousands of women I have seen throughout the world since then. You never know when you are being tested, and then I am reminded that with each step along the way there will be a test.
As I have written earlier I met brother Warith D. Muhammad for the very first time at JFK Airport in April of 1967 when the MSA group eventually found each other and gathered together to embark on this historic trip to Arabia. An enthusiastic group of individuals, to say the very least.
Brother Wallace as I was introduced to him at the time was by far the most reserved but openly friendly in the group with the noticeable exception of our Emir al-Hajj bin Yusef, an Algerian Graduate student at UC Berkeley. Although there are only twenty people portrayed in the formal group photo taken at the airport before we departed there were a couple of woman in our group who were not photographed and several other members that we didn’t meet until we arrived in Beirut and then a few more in Arabia, notably among them was an older African American man by the name of Abu Nouri who had left alone from Boston. Abu Nouri was a very quiet person who said very little, he had informed me that he lived in the same neighborhood that I had grown up in earlier in Roxbury, but I had never lain eyes on him before. It was if he appeared from out of nowhere and later disappeared back into that quizzical anonymity that so many characters in our life emerge from and then pass as ships in the night.
Warith and I sat beside each other on the plane and began to share the details of our lives; he the son of the great Muslim leader Elijah Muhammad (ra) and the Director of Shabazz Enterprises and I an aspiring Jazz Trombonist and erstwhile jack of all trades, but most importantly for both of us was our mutual interest in the music of Charlie Parker.
We hummed and sang the melodies of many of the Parker compositions and surprisingly he had memorized a few snatches of Charlie Parker solos. Those excursions into the world of Be-Bop made the long trip very bearable for the both of us.
Later, from time to time during our travels he would take me aside by the arm and whisper in my ear “Hey Brother do you remember this?” and he would hum a few notes of a Jazz tune in a good-natured attempt to establish a challenge of sorts of who remembered who and what in the Jazz world.
As I look back and remember he was very serious, a man who was aware of his future role in life and the great burden of responsibility of that reality, direct and humble blessed with a great sense of humor. I was often stunned and impressed by his knowledge of so many different things, the feelings were mutual and we often relied on each others take on things as clarification of: “Hey Brother, did you see what i just saw?” or “Did you hear that?” Two brothers walking side by side and often hand in hand trying to maneuver our way through what was often a mine field of confusion and controversy.
We were often billeted with various regional factions of The Muslim Brotherhood, originally founded in Egypt by Hassan al Banna. Some from Sudan, some exiled from Egypt and living in countries like Kuwait, Jordan and the Yemen, many were ignorant of the true identity and purpose of his father and because of this ignorance and in many cases an extreme Wahhabi attitude towards the so-called Black Muslims in America consequently many were openly hostile toward the both of us and all of the African -American Hajjis. They smiled and often mumbled “Astughfirullah” (may God forgive me) which could be interpreted in several different ways.
(1.) truly asking for forgiveness for their rudeness and lack of Adab. (2.) asking God to forgive us particularly Elijah Mohammad (ra) and all Black Muslims in America for our ignorance and desecration of true Islam. (3.) or asking forgiveness for being direct and insulting us, however being totally justified because they all knew better.
Wallace often asked me to accompany him during media interviews which were many and often unexpected. Many of the interviewers were openly hostile and condescending. It must be understood that we were in Saudi Arabia almost exactly sixty days before the June War (conflict) that took place between Egypt and Israel and as a result Arabia particularly the cities of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina were hot beds of political and social unrest. Each day hundreds of thousands of Muslims from all over the world were pouring into these cities.
Jeddah the main Arabian seaport on the Red Sea was the only openly ‘international’ city which at the time was paying host to seamen and passengers alike who now found themselves stranded as a result of Egypt closing the Suez Canal weeks before our arrival.
The turning basin at Aswan had also been closed so those ships now trapped back to back like an endless American traffic jam in the Red Sea were unable to turn around and sail back out of the Red Sea.
In many strange and unforeseen ways that we could not foresee during our arrival, these blockades and shut downs would work to our advantage during the days ahead when we were struggling to find ways to change our flight plans to return to the USA.
As the days past it became quite evident that something drastic was about to occur, there were rumors and news reports coming in on Radio & TV and by word of mouth in the marketplace and the coffee shops that troop movements were observed in countries like Syria and Iraq and that diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel wore worsening., and that all flights to Cairo would be diverted to the South of Egypt to Wadi Halfa a distant Egyptian outpost city where most passengers would be most likely held in internment camps until the political climate in Cairo had eased.
Sensing the impending conflict there would be no telling how long we would have to stay in that internment camp. So on that note Warith and I decided against traveling to Egypt to visit his brother Akbar.
It was amazing how fast the conflict was escalating. Just a few days earlier when the political landscape was clearer Warith had invited me to travel to Cairo with him to visit his younger brother and do a little sightseeing. His mother, sister Clara Muhammad, had given him several boxes (care packages) to deliver first hand to her youngest son. As I remember there were various items like homemade jam, socks and things like that.
Wallace and I decided that the best plan of action was to pay a visit to the Jeddah airport, we went to the Egyptian Airways counter and they informed us that it was too late, that there was nothing they could do because the flight was booked and Egyptian Airways had submitted his passport to the Egyptian Embassy earlier for a Visa. We both walked out of the Airport with our heads hanging low.
We decided to take a long walk, and as fate would have it we began to walk around the edge of the airport at the far end of the take off and landing field around the edge of the airport where we found a man wheeling a portable Shawarma (Rotisserie) cart. So we flagged him down and bought two sandwiches. We sat down at the edge of the fence that enclosed the landing field and began thinking of how we were going to solve the problems when out of nowhere a voice called out in with an undeniable American accent, “Hey! Are you two guys Americans?”
We were taken by surprise and when we turned we saw a White American man dressed in mechanics clothes making his way to the high wire fence he was wearing a baseball cap and had a large pair of headphones around his neck, he was wiping his hands with a large handkerchief smiled and apologized for not being able to shake our hands through the fence.
He said that he was working on a plane nearby and just happened to look up and see us sitting on the sidewalk eating our sandwiches, he told himself that those guys must be Americans just by the way we looked. Can you imagine at that distance his instincts proved him right.
After we explained why we were there and the prevailing circumstances that had caused us to walk all the way around to the back side of the Airport, he told us to go to a certain office of the Egyptian Airways and ask for a friend of his by the name of Mr. Khalil and tell him that his American friend (Joe) sent us, he said that if anyone in all of Arabia could help us was this man by the name of Mr. Khalil. He then proceeded to scribble the address down on a small pad of paper he pulled from the chest pocket of his mechanics uniform.
We wasted no time thanked Joe and stood in the middle of the road and hailed a cab. Once at the small building which was in utter chaos, people with papers and tickets in their hands pushing and shoving we approached a security guard and told him that we had an appointment to see Mr. Khalil and he pointed the way to a small office at the rear of the building. We pushed our way to the desk of Mr. Khalil who motioned for us to stand by and he would be right with us. After waiting for a few noisy minutes he leaned over to us and asked who had sent us, when we replied Joe he waved us to the edge of his desk gave us his hasty salaams and asked for Wallace’s passport. Mr. Khalil frowned and informed us that he could do nothing for Wallace unless he had his passport ‘in his hand’. Wallace informed him that Egyptian Air had had sent it to the Egyptian Embassy in order for them to process his Visa for Egypt.
Mr. Khalil then wrote the address of the Embassy down on a piece of paper and informed us that the Embassy was located on the outskirts of the city and barring no undue road checks by the Saudi police a cab would get us there with little or no problems and when we got the passport to come immediately back to his office and he would see what he could do. Whew! I’m tired just trying to recall this incident!
Luckily we told the cab we came in to wait for us because we would have needed a ride to the house we were staying. S o we jumped into the cab and were now on our way to the Egyptian Embassy.
As we approached the Egyptian Embassy which appeared on the horizon at the end of four or five mile tract of pebble & rock strewn gravel, the driver suddenly raised his hands and pointed ahead to what appeared to be a large cloud of dark smoke rising above the horizon. He raised his hands from the steering wheel several times and closed them together with loud claps and said out loud; Boom! Boom! Boom! Although we didn’t hear any explosions we certainly felt the ground shake a few times almost like muffled distant thunder.
As we approached closer to the Embassy a long line of men dressed in uniforms were coming out of the building and encircling it waving us on. We ignored the signal to move on drove as close as we could and a guard approached the car and asked our business.
The cab driver engaged the guards in Arabic explaining the reasons for our coming and the guard just shook his head and said ‘Impossible’ motioning to the confusion inside the smoking building. The cabbie persisted and mentioned Mr. Khalil’s name again and the guard lowered his firearm and motioned for us to go around to the back of the building where we found the Clerks and the Ambassador leaving through the back door heading for two limousines that had small flags flying on their fenders – that were ready for a speedy departure.
Wallace and I approached the Ambassador who was in a real state of excitement and fear and his two clerks who had two tall stacks of passports in their arms. The Ambassador said that they had no time to look for the passport but if Allah was on our side that Wallace could take the first few off the top and, God knows the truth, Wallace approached one of the clerks reached up in the air and took the first one off the stack and miraculously it was his, so I guess this qualifies as the second real miracle.
The Ambassador also said Al-Hamdullillah! then he and his staff jumped into their Limos and drove away. Sirens blaring as they stirred up the dust and the gravel as they entered the roadway. We stood their for a few moments looking at each other and smiling until the cabbie broke our reverie and reminded us that there may be more explosions in the building and we had to get as far away as soon as possible.
When we arrived at the office of Mr. Khalil it had grown even busier and more hectic but despite the chaos we were ushered straight to his desk where he straight away picked up his phone and within minutes he informed Wallace that all was well and he had been rerouted back on the same Pan Am flight as me.
Wallace reached into his pocket to hand Mr. Khalil a makeshift envelope he had prepared in the cab made up of the written instruction we had received earlier laced with some American dollars. Mr. Khalil intuited what was to occur and spoke with a very commanding voice telling Wallace not to withdraw his hand from his pocket and not to hand him anything. The look in his eyes spoke volumes and the strength of his command was inviolable, he placed his hand over his heart and bowed his head slightly to the both of us and murmured “Al-Hamdullillah…Asallamu Aleikum, it was my pleasure.”
When we stepped outside we shook our heads at each other in amazement and then embraced each other. Wallace said: “Brother after all of that I’m hungry and we looked around hoping to see one of those shawarma carts, we even drove around to the far end of the Airport to see if we could find the one that we bought the magic sandwich from earlier but to no avail. We looked through the high wire fence to see if we could catch a glimpse of the white American mechanic, and to no avail not a trace. If not for the small dust devils rising and falling along the dusty road and the distant roar of engines the place was empty.