June 24, 2010, 12:15AM Saudi time
On this first trip to the Kaaba in Mecca while in a wheelchair, I am encountering lots of interesting people along my way. The Germans on our Lufthansa flight and those at the Frankfurt airport truly impressed me with their level of patience and care. Two people of note are the woman who personally escorted us through the large airport and made sure we reached the plane safely, and the passenger who stayed on the plane long after everyone had left and explained to the airport worker that I cannot stand or walk and needed the aisle chair to be properly brought to my seat.
In Mecca, I see plenty of wheelchairs in Masjid Haram (where the Kaaba is located) but they are almost all elderly people or small children who would get tired if they walked. I have never been asked this many times if I needed to be pushed (and in so many languages), although I always kindly decline. If you have been around me enough, you know I only accept that kind of help if I am dying or really struggling. If I have the ability to do something, why would I ask for assistance to make things easier? I wanted to be able to complete my Umrah on my own.
While in the food court in the mall in front of the masjid, I was stopped by someone with the Muslim greeting of peace and salutations. I guess it was the fatigued jeans and western-styled shirt that prompted him to speak to me in English.
"Is this your first time here for Umrah?" he asked.
"No. Well, I was here in 2004, but this is the first time since my accident, which was a year ago," I responded.
"Oh, it's been one year? I myself have been like this for four years. You know, God loves us. Really. Always remember that. These illnesses and trials we have to face in this life are actually blessings and we will be rewarded for them in the next life, if we are accepted inshaAllah." He made sure to smile very warmly at me as he spoke this.
"Yes, inshaAllah." I've heard people tell me that before, but of course it's different when someone who is in the same situation is saying it. I was glad he was saying it to me in front of my parents, too.
"We have to have patience. A lot of it. I am from France. Where are you from? Britain?"
"My nationality is Moroccon, but I lived in France. I am currently here teaching at an American university. You and I are connected. We are both Muslim and we are both connected like this."
"Haha, yes, yes."
"The first year or two of being in a wheelchair is the hardest. Absolute hardest. For both you and the family," he said, glancing at my parents. "I was not able to live independently. Now, I am living here with my son. See, I am taking care of myself and raising my young child!" His smile radiated and I could see how genuinely nice he was.
"Oh, wow, mashaAllah." He looked very young, so his son must only be a few years only. I did not ask where his wife was in this picture, in case he lost her in the event that led to his paralysis.
"Now, I really feel like my life is better than it was before all of this. It really is a blessing. And sometimes, I even forget that I'm in a wheelchair. It's only when I reach stairs or something that I even remember that I'm in a chair. Otherwise, things are a lot better overall."
"Haha, yeah," I said while laughing at the thought of both of us looking awkwardly when encountering a set of stairs. I could relate to what he was saying. I seem to forget a lot of times that I am in this situation, too.
"How is your hotel? Everything good and accessible here in Mecca?"
"Yes, very. I'm surprised."
"You should see Madinah. Everything is even more accessible. Take my phone number. Call me if you need anything, please. I live here. You seem to be doing very well, mashaAllah. I can see the light coming from your face. SubhanAllah. Just call me any time. We are brothers in Islam, and we are also linked in a special way."
We talked for a little while longer about his job as a professor, my future plans, and some other things. I didn't expect to meet and talk to someone that cool here. I guess it's a hidden blessing.